Four Guys From Oakland Part 2

Posted on: October 23, 2011

Jim Skinner

From KTVU’s web site:

Jim Skinner, the station’s Film Director, built a national reputation by insisting that Hollywood studios send only the best prints of its films to KTVU. Any scratches or defects raised his ire and ensured that the print was returned unscreened. Viewers benefited with pristine copies of such classics as Casablanca, Rebecca, The Maltese Falcon as well as more modern blockbusters, including Earthquake, Airport 77, and Smokey and the Bandit. Furthermore, Skinner despised censorship and KTVU audiences often glimpsed on-screen nudity or heard obscenities not normally shown on commercial television stations.

As much as Jim was loved by film lovers, he was reviled by studio film departments, and the labs they used to make prints.  If it wasn’t perfect, he’d send it back, and back, and back again, until that one tiny hair on one frame was remedied.  He always complained to me about reoccurring problems with “sibilance”.  He said it so many times that I finally looked it up. (It’s the noise associated with syllables like “s,” “sch” and “ch”) During his tenure at Channel 2, Kit Parker Films used the same labs to make up prints for its library.  The labs didn’t care too much for me because was I was finicky enough, but at least I was diplomatic and would compromise.  Jim, on the other hand, was in a class by himself.  He didn’t care about making friends, and would badger labs until they were really pissed off…pushed them until they gave in and made new negatives, and sometimes multiple negatives.  The man could not be intimidated.

I’d first met Jim in 1981, and he was a perfectionist if there ever was one.  Jim loved to regale me with stories of how he battled with film laboratories and television syndicators to bring their standards up to his standards.  If we weren’t talking about print quality it was about his second favorite subject, Christmas.  One year Jim invited my wife, Donna, and I to see him during the holidays so he could show off his decorations.  I’ve never seen anything like it; tree alone must have taken days to decorate.  

Jim’s favorite movie was “Royal Hunt of the Sun” (1969), with Robert Shaw and Christopher Plummer.   When its distributor, CBS Films, sold the movie to Channel 2, they didn’t know what they were getting into.   He turned that movie down so many times for quality purposes that the air date had to keep being postponed.  Eventually it passed his muster.  Later on I distributed the CBS library in 35mm and 16mm, and ordered a new print.  Written right on the negative was “KTVU Quality.”  That was one print I didn’t have to QC.

Eventually Jim left KTVU and went to work for Encore.  “Twenty-something’s” were running the programming department, and they simply didn’t understand old movies much less appreciate the way Jim did things.  He also tired of what he claimed were constant jokes about gays, something I assumed Jim hadn’t encountered in the Bay Area.  Embittered, he left Encore, becoming a recluse in the Colorado mountains.  He’d get snowed in for weeks, and that was okay with him.  I couldn’t reach him by phone, and years later, when I was finally able to speak with him; he was dying of cancer, and avoiding everyone, even his old friends at KTVU. 

Jim Skinner had an obsession, no an obsession, with print quality.  He could see blemishes that would be far beyond a normal person’s retinal perception.  He was even more particular about audio imperfections.  The joke was only canines could hear the same upper frequencies that Jim could.   

The Fourth Man From Oakland to follow

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