Magazine article American Cinematographer

Preserving the Filmmaker's Legacy

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Preserving the Filmmaker's Legacy

Article excerpt

For more than 35 years I've worked as a documentary producer-director, creating programs both independently and with such U.S. and global networks as Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, PBS, ВВС, ПУ History Channel, National Geographic and more. In collaboration with my wife, Sheera, at our company, Gryphon Productions, I've had the privilege of creating episodic series and standalone documentaries on a variety of subjects, from descending into ancient caves used for human sacrifice, to filming and then eating giant 12" tarantulas with Venezuelan blow-gun hunters, to recording soul-music classics with legendary singers, to medical intervention for silverback mountain gorillas - and even hunting for Sasquatch, in the 1990s and again with our current docu-reality series for Discovery Communications' Destination America, Killing Bigfoot, which began airing in February. And what's been nearly as staggering as our range of subject matter is the number of mediaformat changes I've had to contend with over the years - 16mm film, Sony W U-Matic, Betacam, Betacam SP, Γ analog, digital Betacam, HDCam, DVCam, HDV, Panasonic DVC-Pro -the result of which has been a wealth of vintage projects lying dormant, their potential stunted by the relentless progression of technology.

As producers look to a future beyond television production to a world of streaming and digital services, many of us are returning to our productions of yesteryear, to resurrect from old formats the bestquality images and sound we can-and the good news is there are amazing up-conversion opportunities to bring new life to older productions. Balancing the best-available image quality with the most cost-effective solution is a constant challenge, of course, and though there are limitations to digital restoration - with formats like 16mm film and 16x9 standard-def digital Betacam up-converting much better to HD than, say, a 4:3 SD Betacam - there are still many options available. And in some cases of Web-based distribution, especially on personal online channels, image requirements may be less important than the content itself.

I'll begin my restoration/archiving odyssey with a tale of a film I produced and directed between 1989 and '91 called The Spirit of the Mask, featuring author/anthropologist Wade Davis, who wrote The Serpent and the Rainbow, which was the basis for the Wes Craven zombie movie of the same name. I'm currently sitting on about 50,000' of 16mm negative containing some of the rarest, and never-before-filmed, Native American ceremonies, including unique Pacific Northwest mask dances. It was produced with the participation of leading hereditary chiefs of the Nuu-chah-nulth and Kwakwaka'wakw nations. Many of these high-ranking individuals are now gone, and preservation experts have suggested we archive and preserve this material for future generations. My two goals are now to restore the original standard-definition 51-minute television documentary for continued digital distribution, and to transfer to 2К digital files - at minimum - the many hours of native "potlatch" ceremonies.

An issue for us early on was the fact that the secure Vancouver film vault that housed our original negative had gone out of business, and the footage had been moved to a small apartment of a family member of the original vault owners. We retrieved all the film cans several years ago - or so we thought, as boxes and cans have continued to surface year by year, including recently when we located a can or two of neg at the Vancouver-based CBC News vaults!

My journey first led me to Pro8mm in Burbank, Calif., where I ran an initial series of tests on about 5,000' of footage. Pro8mm is known as one of the best places in the country to handle Super 8mm film, either for archival or new projects, with subsequent transfer to the latest 2K and even 4K formats. It turns out they also do a very good job on 16mm and 35mm film, with three different scanners - some custom made - depending on your output requirements. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.