Real Doesn’t Always Equal Pretty

When we run a film inspection on FI-16 we’re not looking for pretty. We’re looking for real.

The photographs are meant to capture the reality of what that film looks like if you held it in your hands. In really good light. So the photography software has an automatic exposure and an automatic white balance. It’s not as pretty as what you expect to see from an iPhone.

Video editors know that you can turn blacks into grays but you have a lot of trouble turning grays into black. You can dim the brightest whites but you have a lot of trouble making the brightest white out of gray. Why? Because the video editing computer doesn’t know which parts of the image are meant to be gray so they get turned to black and white also. The same is true for colors. Instead of contrast we call it saturation. But the limitations are similar.

When you’re inspecting a film on the FI-16 you see video on the computer screen. That is the actual photography shown to you. Moving at whatever speed you set the film to run. It’s not meant to be pretty, it’s meant to be accurate. So you can see what the film really looks like, what it really is.

Here’s a fun experiment. Next time you’re sitting around a table with some friends ask everyone to pull out their phones 📱. Laptops and tablets too if they have them. Then everybody play the same video on all the screens at the same time. See how different they all look!

We live in the digital age and it’s not going to unwind itself, so to speak. Manufacturers of smartphones, tablets and laptops aren’t trying to make all the videos look the same on all the screens. They’re trying to please you. They’re trying to make their screens prettier than everyone else’s. That’s not reality in video, that’s the reality of commerce.

When you’re inspecting your film, photograph its reality. Pretty comes later.

Editorial Edits & Craft Edits

When a film archive sends films out for digitization they don’t see the difference between editorial edits and craft edits. They just see the final results.

Now that film archives can make their own video workprints alongside their automated film condition reports, they might learn more about the difference between editorial edits and craft edits.

Editorial edits are what they sound like. They’re edits made for content. They don’t contain every foot of the film. Leader, blank or unexposed segments are omitted, etc. Maybe there are extras that were included with the film but not meant for normal viewing. Maybe there are trims that should be edited together, and maybe they should be their own video. Or maybe they belong somewhere in the main video. These are editorial decisions.

Craft edits are artistic in a different way. Maybe it’s a black and white film that has turned brown and needs to be seen black and white again. How black and white? How much contrast? Should it look as if it was developed yesterday or should it look like it was developed half a century ago?

Maybe it’s a color film that is faded and needs to be color corrected. How much? How saturated or vivid should it look? Should it look as if it was developed yesterday or should it look like it was developed half a century ago?

Maybe the film has shrunk or has problems that vary all along its length in varying amounts in different segments. It can be stabilized. How much? Rock solid, or with a vintage look? Modern storytellers sometimes artificially induce a vintage look for artistic reasons to a film or video that they shot this week.

Editorial edits and craft edits are art. There is no right or wrong, there are only choices. Not everyone has to agree on every choice. Fortunately with video choices can be made again and again. Unlike a film print, it’s not cast forever in plastic.

But there is the original photography of the film. That can be done again but the film will be older. The original photography is digital and doesn’t age like film.

We think the original photography of the film should be realistic. Just take a good color photograph of every frame, edge to edge and some of the frames next to it. Let the editorial edits and craft edits turn those photographs into art. While the film rests undisturbed in its vault.

No-prep Workflow

Traditional archival film handling is a workflow. There’s a lot of preparation involved. What if there wasn’t?

  1. First you set up a space with winders and splicers and synchronizers and a light table and a magnifying glass and gloves.
  2. Then you open a film can and load it onto a reel, and another real onto the other winder.
  3. Then you wind the film slowly and take a lot of notes. Footage, frame numbers, visible damage, measures of shrinkage perhaps, edge codes, soundtrack type or none, credits, etc.
  4. Then you wind the film to a specific heads out orientation and put the film back in the can.
  5. Then you carry it to the scanner to make a video of it. Take the film out of the can again, thread it again except this time the rollers and film path are complex and finicky.
  6. Then you turn on the scanner and set the controls (expertise required).
  7. Then you put the film back in the can and take it back to the inspection station and wind it for archival storage again.

What if…

  1. You open the film can and set the film on a platter. Thread it around a couple of big and airy rollers to the other platter.
  2. Type or barcode scan a reel ID and click your mouse to start the photography. Punch a button to start the film rolling.
  3. Watch the video on a computer screen and your mind is free to think about what you see. Maybe take a note or two if you see something remarkable but otherwise just let it run. It doesn’t matter if it was heads out or tail out because the video can be edited later.
  4. When the film is wound to the other platter, simply lift it back into its can, still on an archival hub. Close the can and put it away.

Done. No prep. Open the film can one time, spool it one time, put it away.

Let computer vision measure everything about the film and produce an automatic condition report. At your leisure, or someone else’s leisure, watch the video workprint. Watch it in the comfort of your own desk or on your own phone.

Sound like a good idea?

Tiny Desk Concert

When I started in the music recording business  half a century ago, nearly everything we did involved logistics and heavy stuff. The instruments were big and bulky. The recording studios were insanely expensive and had to be purpose built. They even had special doors and ramps.

Musicians today assume they can do their work anywhere. They’ve got computers in their pockets and in their backpacks. Recording studios are still nice, but not required. They just find a desk and go to work 🎶.

Some musicians can give an entire concert from a tiny desk. What can you do at your desk?

You can inspect films at any desk, and you can choose the one most convenient to the films. Bring your FI-16, pull up a chair and start the show.

We normally imagine the film inspection to be a solo endeavor and the output will be video workprints and condition reports. To be viewed later, like a music recording. Or…

It could be like a tiny desk concert! Everybody is online these days. You could share your screen with viewers near and far at the same time that you’re inspecting. It could be a community event. Or colleagues could join you from their own desk wherever they may be.

Sounds like fun to me.