Mail Order at the Speed of Radio

“You’ve Got Mail!” is the title of a 1998 movie that highlighted our enduring fascination with near-instant connection. We can hardly imagine what life would be like without it now. 

Moving image archives still live with both kinds of mail. Email plus what we now lovingly refer to as snail mail. If a film has to go somewhere in a can, it’s going on a truck at the speed of roads. The conversation about that same film goes at the speed of radio. 

What if that truck brought you a film inspection system in a box? What we used to call mail order. Open the box, set the device near the films, run the films at their favorite frames per second and do everything else electronically at the speed of radio.

 Truck drivers and shipping companies might prefer the old way, the snail mail way. Ship the films to a device where they can be seen. Then wait for the trucks to bring something back. 

Archival films don’t really want to spend their time on a truck anyway. Let’s bring back snail mail with a modern twist. The film inspection bench that you can get by mail order anywhere in the world. Like we used to buy film projectors by mail order 📩. 

Let’s leave the films safe in their cans on their shelves. Truck the film inspection bench to the films and set it up on the closest table. Send the results around electronically at the speed of radio. 

Why not?

Run the Darn Film

Sony introduced the digital video recorder 📹 in 1986. The USA introduced its Telecommunications Act in 1996. YouTube introduced online video to the world in 2005 and Apple introduced the always-online computer in your pocket in 2007.

It’s 2020 and analog isn’t how we share anymore. Film inspection changed accordingly. We don’t inspect films so that we can ship them out again. We inspect them for health and longevity. We don’t keep lots of film copies for shipping around to projection theaters, we keep the best or the only.
What do we know about a film in a can? It’s safe, cool, and catalogued. But what’s really on it? What does it look like? How is it surviving the test of time?
Film inspection should leave a digital video record. We should let computers measure every inch and centimeter. Our records should be digital; we can print paper backups if we like.
Film inspection is an important part of providing access to what we spend our time and money preserving. Film inspection records need to be accessible by that computer in your pocket, shared the way you share information today – digital.
Access video copies for public viewing are a different matter and that’s a different post. I’m talking about professional and behind-the-scenes access.
So if you open that film can for any reason whatsoever, run the darn film and capture the video, and let a computer look at the images too and do what computers do best.
Run the darn film and make what you saw accessible. Why not?

Is this Blog for You?

Only if you work around archival films. I can think of a few reasons why this might not be for you though.

  • Perhaps you don’t have responsibility for knowing what condition your films are in. Maybe you just take good care of them until someone calls for them.
  • Perhaps you don’t need to see what’s on those films. Maybe you have a cataloging system and that’s all you need.
  • Perhaps you only want video of what’s on your film if that video has been color restored, stabilized, cropped, edited, and professionally prepared for public consumption. Maybe a work print video wouldn’t do you any good.
  • Perhaps you have a very substantial budget. Maybe you can afford to send your films to the best film restoration service providers in the land.

If those four scenarios don’t sound like you, maybe you’d like to come along with us. We think archival films are important. We think they should be seen no matter what condition they’re in. We think the people taking care of them want, in their hearts, to know what condition they’re in.

Some of us have devoted our careers to archival moving images. We care; obviously we’re not in it for wealth and fame. We are technologists. We like to invent things. Things that make life better for the moving image archive community.
Right now we think that technology in general is at a fascinating point in history. Things that were unimaginable when we started our careers are in our pockets today.
When we think of film inspection we think of a system that plays the film on any office table, you can get it by mail order to anywhere you are, and you can see the work print video and the inspection results on that amazing computer in your pocket.
Are you with us?