Everyday I see the relief in my client’s faces when they walk into my studio with their shoebox full of films. The stories are more similar than they are different. They tell me that these films were shot by their grandfather, aunt and uncle, or parents. They have been thinking about scanning them for a long time. Some clients had them converted once before to VHS or DVD and they were disappointed with the quality. “These are important to me. Can you help?”
The fact is people should be worried about their home movies. Most want to do something with their growing and ageing collection of film and tapes, but they do not know where to begin. We are in a digital dilemma about our growing personal libraries and it can be a daunting task to digitize, organize, and share the material. Technology is changing so fast. We worry that we will spend money to put our home movies on yet another format that we can’t playback. So we wait. We lack the motivation or call to action to do something – until we have to.
My message is GET “REEL” About Your Home Movie Legacy Before It’s Too Late! Too late to save the material which is in a constant state of deterioration. Too late to get oral histories from the people who can tell you who is in the films and the “reel story” on the reel! Too late because your original film master was scratched or damaged from being projected too many times or transferred improperly. Too late because you were not ready when you needed the material for an important event. Too late to use the material as physical evidence for things that may happen in life.
(how will they know what the family did in the 1940s?
Technology has given us many options and choices beyond putting your analog home movies on a DVD (passive choice). You want to “do something” (active choice) with the material so that the family legacy will live!
Here are some great tips of things to think about just to get the ball rolling!
1. Vision: What is your vision for the project? Do you want to just see it, share it, edit it, sell it as stock footage, have it on the Internet, or use it in genealogy research? This will dictate the type of workflow and play back you choose.
2. Preservation: Just like photos, home movies matter. There are 3,600 still images on a 50-foot reel of super 8 film! They are not just some old home movies! They are part of our family assets, and help our legacy live for future generations. The original material needs to be protected and preserved with integrity, and should only by handled by people trained in working with original material on equipment designed specifically for digitizing media. Make sure the handler has experience is assessing the condition of the film and is working with equipment that will not further damage the material.
3. No Spoilers: Some of my clients want to see what they have before they scan it. It is difficult to get access to good projectors and tape players. Additionally, each time you project ageing film, it runs the risk of being scratched or damaged. The perforations of the film shrink over time and often do not line up in the projector properly. Our recommendation is to scan everything. (except commercially produced films) Because you are dealing with original material there are generally no copies, and it is worth it to have a back up. I have seen Mother Nature or fire destroy entire film and video libraries and if there was no back up, it is a devastating loss. Sometimes there is a single golden nugget on the reel that makes it a compelling part of the library. A back of everything gives you peace of mind.
4. Money Matters: As in most things in life, you get what you pay for and there are lots of places that transfer film very low quality, very inexpensively, and compromise the integrity of the material. Big Box stores have been known to send archives out of the country and do the transfer in an automated “factory style”. How much would it be worth to you to have films and tapes scanned to the same quality as the original material looked – or even improved? A great option is setting a budget and doing a little at a time best quality by a professional company that specializes in this work. This is a fantastic way to get the library done. Set a time line. Increasingly, I see people scan one roll best quality, put it on the internet for family members to see and use a use a Crowd Funding Website such ad www.kickstarter.com to get family members to help pay for the project. Seeing that one roll really gets people excited and they can donate directly to the project on line!
Monetize Your Home Movies as Stock Footage: There are amazing opportunities for clips to be sold as stock footage when scanned professionally (no roll bars, flickers, pixellated or ghost frames). One clip can sell for as much as it costs to scan the entire library professionally. This is a great investment opportunity for people who might be hesitant. Turning your film library into an investment might be something you would want to consider. A single clip of 8mm film on Getty Images or Pond 5 can be a revenue producer for you. You get paid a percentage each time it is sold
5. Family Matters and Getting Social: There is a growing interest in Family History and Genealogy. More and more people are finding clues in their home movies to link them to their past and find out about their ancestors. These can be easily shared on the Internet via YouTube, Facebook, etc. You can add tags that researchers are looking for, and maybe find some long-lost relatives or they might find you!
6. Get Organized: You probably have a multitude of film and video formats. If you want to do an assessment of what you have, get totes, put film in one and tapes in another. When considering what to scan, start with having the oldest material scanned first, which will be 16mm or 8mm film. Use the information written on the boxes and cans to identify what might be on the reels. There may be a “favorite” remembered from the past. Postage stamps on the boxes and postmarks are great clues! In the day, film was generally mailed to and from the lab.
7. Common Film Problems: Here are a few things you can do to see if the film reels are in trouble. If they are, you may want to advise your client to get these scanned ASAP!
– Take a whiff! If you smell vinegar, the film has something called Vinegar Syndrome. This is the breakdown of the emulsion and base of the film. The film shrinks, becomes brittle and warped. It is accelerated by heat and humidity, so get the film out of the attics!
Mold can appear as white or green chalky artifacts on the film. This was caused because the film got wet or being exposed to condensation. Get the film out of basements or refrigerators!
-Cans That Are Rusted Shut. These can be carefully pried open with a screwdriver.
– A Reel Never Developed. Very expensive to have the chemistry recreated, but possible from some specialty labs such as Pro8mm or Film Rescue.
Hockey Puck Reel. This reel got completely wet and as it dried out, the base and emulsion began to separate and it is now a solid mass. Some specialty labs offer a rejuvenation process where you can have the reel soaked for up to 6 months. In some cases, the film can then be hand scanned and sometimes there may be an image on it.
Curled Film. The film has shrunk or got wet and should NOT BE PROJECTED UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES!
8. The Home Movie Transformation: There are now so many options for getting film and tape moved to digital that is has become very confusing. In simplest terms we want to advise consumers to mimic what the studios are doing with their films so that the material can be seen at it’s highest quality and repurposed in many ways. The best workflow means have the film transferred in high-definition (1080) not standard definition. This more closely matches the original resolution of the film and looks fantastic projected digitally on our modern flat screen TV’s. Film can be color corrected (like Photoshop for your film) where needed to fix fading and inconsistent lighting conditions. Flying spot scanners have amazing dirt and scratch concealment tools. This is a fantastic reason to get film converted my a professional company. There are many tools to improve the image/ Material that is encoded and put on a hard drive is ready to edit, upload, and watch on a computer, smart phone or iPad, or even your own YouTube channel and streamed over the internet. You cannot easily edit a DVD. A DVD is just a lower quality copy of your original material.
9. Scanners (This is the most important tip I can give you) Investigate how the work is being done and by who. There are so many places that now offer transfers, often on very primitive equipment. These are usually modified projectors that can compromise the integrity of the film. Clients only have one archive! Hundreds of reels are destroyed every year. Would you go to an Internet site if you needed a new heart? You would certainly want to see the facility and c heck on the credentials of who is doing the work. The same is true of your one and only archive!
Film Chain (modified projector with a video camera in it, which tapes the image. Does not have tools to improve the picture and can damage film). This is what a majority of the transfer facilities use. Many places set these up factory style and the work is done by minimally or untrained film handlers. Can be very cheap and sometimes the work is sent out of the country.
Flying Spot Scanner (a sproketless, capstan system designed specifically for scanning). Same equipment used by the Film and TV industry. Has tools such as color correction, dirt and scratch concealment, high-resolution, framing options, speed control, and more)
10. Next Ah-Ha: One of the things I love most about having a home movie library encoded on a hard drive is that each reel or tape shows up as it’s own file when you plug it into your computer. You can name the files. Your entire media library is all in the same format, so the possibilities “ to do something” with the material are endless. You can then organize these into “play lists” chronologically, or as projects, such as just weddings or just holidays!
To conclude, the challenges we have for film and video are the same as for still images. The chore of organizing, digitizing and migrating all the material into a modern workflow is big so be ready with the analog film material encoded and on a hard drive so it can be added to your books! It will give you an edge. Educating yourself about best practices for working with home movies raises the bar and elevates our commitment as a society to elevate how important and priceless these film treasurers are. Get your family people passionate about helping your family film legacy to live!
Rhonda Vigeant is Director of Marketing at Pro8mm in Burbank, CA and has worked with home movies and legacy footage for 30 years. She is the author of the soon to be released book GET “REEL” ABOUT YOUR HOME MOVIE LEGACY… BEFORE It’s TOO LATE!