Saving Yesterday

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Video Storytellers Often Forget Tomorrow’s Viewers

“There’s a way to lose more slowly.” – Jeff, “Out of the Past,” RKO Radio Pictures, 1947

The other day, we received an email from “Your Old Friend.”

It gave us a link to a “free online downloader” to save your friend’s story from Instagram, or your grandma’s cat video from Facebook

At least they were honest about the offer – “Don’t thank me, and don’t bother replying to this email – I won’t bother replying to your reply either, nor will I write you again.”

Right, like we’re going to click on it … NOT!

First, we’re suspicious of half the stuff that comes to our inbox.

More importantly, we know a little about storage–especially when it comes to good video storage archiving (granny’s cat isn’t in that category).

After film festivals like this year’s South by Southwest, the SF Film Festival and the thousands of similar events held around the globe every year; we wonder to ourselves how many of these incredible filmmakers have thought beyond getting their project sold and seen.

They’ve worked weeks, months even years to create a visual story, not just for today’s audiences but for future generation viewers.

Not only that but … there’s a lot of monetary potential in those films/shows.

It’s more than just backing up creative content, a task every indie filmmaker does religiously (especially after they lose a segment they have to totally recreate if possible).

It’s about preserving all of the content which few want to do – it’s hard, tedious work – and even fewer want to think about.

The simple response from most indies is that they archived their project in the cloud.

Cloud Mishaps – Cloud storage sounds so peaceful and friendly until it’s not. If everyone is storing in the cloud, guess where folks go to steal stuff … the cloud. Then you’re told to read the fine print in your agreement … you’re responsible.

The biggest problem with cloud archiving is stuff happens!

The sad fact is that 90 percent of all American silent films made before 1929 and 50 percent of American sound films made before 1950 have been lost.

Globally, the loss of the industry’s rich heritage in every country is probably the same and it is impossible to recreate, recapture.

It’s simply … gone!

We were reminded of the value and importance of M&E archiving during the SMPTE WIP (Women in Post) luncheon when Pamela Green, co-founder, producer, and creative director a PIC Agency, discussed her journey in making Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché.

During her 22-year career, Guy-Blache’ broke new ground, first in France and later in the US’s first Hollywood … NJ.

Her first film, La Fée aux Choux (The Cabbage Fairy), was one of the first narrative films ever made.

I wanted to show young girls and boys that a woman was one of the first to move the film medium forward and pave the way for others,” Green said. “For too long, the narrative about the origins of cinema – and other industries, for that matter – has overlooked important women and that needs to change.”

History Detective – Pamela Green searched hasty archives and dusty closets/storage spaces around the globe to recover as much early film footage of Alice Guy-Blaché’s work as possible. In the end, her perseverance paid off.

Green spent years gathering documents, photos and vintage footage from archives around the world to tell her story, vividly proving that saving the industry’s past is damn hard work.

Creative content like this is valuable, not just for history’s sake, but also to content owners.

Not Gone – AT&T bought TimesWarner for its rich library of films and creative work that they can be recirculated for new generations who will view it as a new opportunity to see the past.

AT&T’s CEO Randall Stephenson went into debt to the tune of about $109B for Times Warner and a lot of that price is represented in acres and acres of film archives that stretch back to the M&E’s tentpole Gone With the Wind and even Warner’s first film, My Four Years in Germany (1981).

Peek at History – Disney has perhaps the broadest and deepest library of visual story content on the planet, going all the way back to Mickey’s first appearance in “Steamboat Willie.” Animation has come a long way since 1928.

Disney’s Bob Iger purchased 21st Century Fox for $71+B, not just for Star Wars, Marvel and Fox studios but for the huge treasure trove of M&E content he could add to the ultra-valuable Disney archive that includes Walt’s famous 1928 Steamboat Willie.

Folks constantly berate Netflix’s Reed Hastings, not because the company is investing in current content (heavily) and earning a huge load of industry statues; but because its archive inventory is so shallow. And the company is constantly making its inventory deeper and broader as Netflix serves content to more than 167M people in 192 countries and is rapidly developing one of the most diverse libraries in the world.

And they’re sorta’, kinda’ planning for tomorrow.

At last year’s HPA (Hollywood Professional Association), we asked one of the senior executives of the Netflix LA library facility how they preserve their original work once it leaves the air.

He said they have a rigorous archiving program. Everything – scripts, RAW content, outtakes, versions and final cuts are saved to a virgin hard drive in special temperature, humidity-controlled facilities. The content on the drives is verified/validated every three years; and every 10 years, all of the work is written to a new drive.

Why 10 years?

“We’re like every smart content owner,” he said. “We’ll save the original, but we’ll also update and upgrade the content to the newest viewing technologies for a new set of viewers who suddenly discover old is really new, different.

“And we can do this for generations because good video stories and nostalgia never run out of style,” he added.

His focus on being logical/realistic remined us of indie filmmaker John Putch who likes to focus on micro-budget projects when he isn’t being kept busy directing big-budget films and TV shows for others.

Putch has squeezed in the production of five projects, winning an impressive array of film festival awards for film work including cult Mojave Phone Booth, Route 30 Trilogy and The Father and The Bear.

Camera is Turned – In a rare moment, indie filmmaker (and highly recognized director/writer) John Putch has the camera turned on him as he sets up the gear for one of his successful micro-budget films.

He had a simple set of criteria for his micro-budget projects:

  • The budget can’t exceed $100,000 (cost of a new car)
  • The crew is limited to eight
  • Actors are responsible for their own wardrobe, appearance
  • All the equipment must fit in one car and one SUV

“The first time I looked at that list I thought it was impossible,” Putch recalled. “But the biggest challenge any Indie filmmaker has to overcome is fear – fear of coming up short, fear of looking bad in front of your peers, fear of your work not satisfying the entertainment public.

But that’s when creativity really kicks in and you end up with something, you’re really proud of,” he emphasized.

He uses new hard drives for every film project because he feels reusing/overwriting a drive is a false savings and isn’t a risk that even the Indie film maverick wants to take. He also clones the drive sets, keeping them separate … just in case.

Virgin Copies – Putch uses nothing but new fully tested/certified hard drives to hold his content, including archive disks which are stored in controlled environments to protect the content.

Putch has been following the same archiving process since he produced “Mojave Phone Booth.” “I have an offsite backup of every project I’ve done,” he said. “And every 4 to 5 years, I copy the projects to a fresh drive. It’s just cheap insurance every filmmaker should have – studio or Indie.”

Loss is even more precarious since the industry embraced all of the capabilities and benefits of digital cameras because while film is fragile, proper storage of the original negatives and prints in climate-controlled facilities can save film stock from widespread decay.

Beyond Recovery – Millions of feet of film treasures have been lost in accidental fires such as the Fox vault fire in addition to purposeful destruction, recycling. Thousands, maybe tens of thousands of treasured films have been lost to never be seen again.

Many of the now lost films were recycled for their silver content or simply junked because saving them simply took up much needed fault space.

Or make a grown filmmaker cry by showing them the devastation of 10s, 100s, 1,000s of hours of creative work destroyed by fire such as the 1937 Fox, 1965 MGM, 1978 National Archives vault fires.

Universal recently reported that their archive fire of 2008 destroyed the masters of 19 artists including Elton John, Nirvana, Sonic Youth and others. Fortunately they had safety copies of the works.

Preserving rare and even routine content including movies and TV shows (film, tape and digital) has become a high priority with indie filmmakers, family legacy owners and studios.

State-of-the-Art Care – While it is still possible for advanced film industry archive facilities like Hollywood Vaults to suffer losses, the facilities are constantly checked and upgraded with advanced technology to protect the historical libraries.

Non-descript facilities like Hollywood Vaults have cropped up around the globe to protect the rich history of filmmaking, filmmakers and celebrities.

The facility is loaded with state-of-the-art film/fire suppression, rigorous temperature/humidity control and “aggressive” security monitoring. Just walking through it, seeing drawers and shelves filled with photographic and film/digital audio/video projects made us wonder how you can put a value on the creative work we take for granted.

Living Stories – Archiving and preserving visual story projects has always been expensive and difficult. The shift from film to digital makes it more expensive and difficult to do it just right so all of the content is saved for tomorrow. Depending on the filmmaker and studio, content is saved two-three times in the cloud or on physical storage devices.

Sure, you can tuck it into someone’s cloud somewhere and hope for the best; but it’s better to physically store the creative work in multiple physical locations on physical media – almost regardless of the cost – because people will want to see, enjoy, relive that creative work…someday.

Filmmakers owe it to today’s viewers, tomorrow’s generations and themselves to share the fruits of their creative efforts.

As Jeff said in “Out of the Past,” “Nothing in the world is any good unless you can share it.”

And what indie filmmakers do is good!

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Andy Marken – [email protected] – is an author of more than 600 articles on management, marketing, communications, industry trends in media & entertainment, consumer electronics, software and applications. He is an internationally recognized marketing/communications consultant with a broad range of technical and industry expertise especially in storage, storage management and film/video production fields. With his expertise and experience, he has also developed an extended range of relationships with business, industry trade press, online media and industry analysts/consultants.