Posts Tagged ‘Academy Film Archive



You see it every day on television. Scratches, splices, specs, and hairs added by computer to reenacted scenes in order to make them appear “old.”    They do it to vintage film, and pre-HD video tape as well.  I watched a story about NASA on network TV that used video tape from the “ancient” 1980s, and they even “antiqued” it.

I’ve spent over 40 years trying to take away scratches. Whatever happened to adding “archive footage” in small letters at the bottom of the screen instead of defacing the image?

Enough grousing. In my business it is a constant chore finding suitable film material to make our DVD’s look good.

Here is a brief primer on what we look for in film materials to make our DVD’s look good.

The basic principal of film is positives are made from negatives, and negatives from positives.

1st choice for producing digital masters –

35mm Camera Negative (“EK”) – The film that actually went through the camera.  Best and sharpest element to work with.

2nd choice –

35mm Fine Grain: A positive copy made from the camera negative. Grain and contrast are kept low because each successive generation (the duplicate negative and subsequent prints as described below) add both grain and contrast.

3rd choice –

35mm Duplicate Negative:  A “dupe negative” is the source of manufacturing release prints.

4th choice –

35mm Print:  A release print as shown in theatres.

5th choice –

16mm Duplicate Negative:  Before digital, this element was used to manufacture prints for television stations, and non-theatrical exhibitors such as colleges and libraries.

6th and last choice –

16mm print. Although on rare occasions I’ve found 16mm prints struck off the 35mm camera negative, or dupe negative, normally 16mm prints are at least 4 generations from the camera negative, with expected result…loss of clarity. I use 16mm material only after we’ve searched the world for good 35mm elements.

There are many thousands of cans of films in my collection going back to 1923 stored at the UCLA Film and Television Archive and the Academy Film Archive (part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences). Both institutions offer state of the art facilities with carefully monitored cold temperature and low humidity vaults.  Both institutions are dedicated to preserving our motion picture heritage, and are a pleasure to work with.

Once the best film material is selected, it is retrieved from the vault and let stand for a day or two to be brought up to room temperature. Then it is sent to the lab for digitization.  The subsequent digital master is sent to VCI Entertainment where imperfections are minimized as best as possible using special computer programs…or sometimes frame by frame (by a very patient technician.)  If the final output is to be a DVD, special features (the fun part) and menus are added.

BTW, while distributing the Warner Bros. classics library on film, I discovered some prints of Clint Eastwood movies struck from the original camera negatives. Clint came to my office to discuss using some of my footage for his documentary about Carmel, California, “Don’t Pave Main Street,” and during our conversation (he made it clear he was not interested in reminiscing about his work before “Rawhide”!), and I mentioned the EK’s, which were subsequently turned over to him.

(Photo of actual decomposed film courtesy NFSA)


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(Sorry to say that The Silent Treatment was discontinued after publication of this blog.)

Today it seems that young people have no interest in old movies, and don’t even know that films from the silent era exist.  But, there are exceptions to the rule, and I had the pleasure of meeting one such young woman.

In March 2007, Brandee Cox came up with the idea of publishing a bi-monthly newsletter about silent films. She shared that idea with graphic designer/film buff, Steven K. Hill, and The Silent Treatment ( was born.  Their partnership in TST continues…much to the benefit of silent film buffs around the world.

I met Brandee Cox in 1999 when she sought  an internship at Kit Parker Films  while finishing her degree in Cinema Studies: History, Theory, and Analysis from San Francisco State University.

Although I was told in advance Brandee was a film buff, I certainly wasn’t expecting a young woman from the millennial generation to be so knowledgeable about old movies, especially silents.  Even more surprising was her interest in the physical aspects of motion picture film.

In those days Kit Parker Films was a distributor of motion pictures servicing the film libraries of major studios and independent producers.  We had thousands of 16mm and 35mm prints stored at our Sand City (Monterey area), CA film exchange, and employed film inspectors whose job it was to carefully check each print for damage, color fading, and other blemishes.  This was the perfect job for Brandee given her interest in film archiving, and I hired her on the spot and she was with us for six months.

With her intern credit going towards her degree from SFSU, she took the next logical next step, film archiving post-graduate work at George Eastman House in Rochester, NY.  After finishing her studies there she got and still has the perfect job, archiving films at the Academy Film Archive, a division of the Academyof Motion Picture Artsand Sciences that archives, preserves, and restores motion pictures.   Now she was, and is, able to work with all of the motion pictures she wants…and gives us The Silent Treatment.

I founded Kit Parker Films over 40 years ago, made old movies my vocation, and have been surrounded by old movies ever since.  It’s a pleasant surprise knowing there are young people who have that same passion and are making it their vocations as well.

As for Brandee, she and I are just big kids in a candy shop.


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