Restoration Software II: Software Harder!

So I Re-Transferred “The Meeting,” a Short I Directed in 1998

I sometimes talk to filmmakers who came up in the all-digital world who say something like, “I’d like to shoot film someday.” My pat, dickish answer is always, “no you wouldn’t. You want to HAVE SHOT film. It’s not the same.

As someone who’s personally paid for much of the film stock, processing, and transfers on my own creative projects over the years I think the Tarantino-esque romanticism of celluloid bled out of my bank account some time around 1996. When there was a viable replacement with a fraction of the cost of the sprocketed stuff, I jumped ship, if not as fast as I did on Final Cut Pro.

Spielberg is quoted saying he’d stop shooting film when they closed the last lab – I on the other hand was only a fair-weather friend to film, waiting until there was another viable option. In 2002 I shot my last project on film and haven’t really had lets-shoot-this-on-film thoughts every since… But that being said I’m secretly as swept up in the photochemical mystery of film as anyone else. And nothing looks like film – even on the internet. And to me in 1998, the way I make films now would have sounded like science fiction. There was nothing any of us making “The Meeting” would have known that would have been better than the way we did it. 35mm was a big deal back then.

So here it is, the new transfer of the old film:

Scavenger Hunt

The story of finding all of the elements to be re-transferred and the right facility at which to undertake the transfer itself might merit a blog post in itself. None of the companies I’d every transferred film negative at were still in business (RIP Sunset Post, TEDS, etc.) and when this whole quest began neither my producer nor I knew where the film elements were – safe in a Fotokem’s vault since 1999. We ultimately chose an amazing company called Point 360 to do the transfer, which was overseen both technically and creatively by colorist Mark Nakamine. Seriously, if you’re looking to do something like what I did (or transferring any film to a digital format), I’d give Paige McPhee a call.

The transfer session in-progress. I forgot how many machines it takes to do this.

The transfer session in-progress. I forgot how many machines it takes to do this.

One of the reasons I undertook to re-transfer “The Meeting” was this: Even though I have shot film, the benefit of doing it has often eluded me. When we shot this film, I wanted to make the most garish and colorful film I could. The walls were painted a color called ’57 Chevy Blue. The skin tones were vibrant. Everything was contrasty and really popped… If you could see it on 35mm. And even with the simplest modern convenience of a web link to showcase my film work (in the truest sense of that word), I had only the most substandard versions of material from this and my other earlier filmmaking-on-film days to show. Below are two before-and-after examples of what “The Meeting” looked like before yesterday if you were screening it on anything but 35mm.

Click on the images to get an eye-full of the full effect.


Click on this image to see the before-and-after at HD resolution.

Click on the picture to see the stark difference at HD resolution.

I even left the original version of “The Meeting” on Vimeo for anyone to see the stark difference.

It’s been interesting revisiting a creative project I marshaled into existence about a third of my life ago. This is a project that feels completely removed from my current experience and simultaneously I still feel like I could reach out and adjust a box of chinese food on the set or the subtle framing of a shot. And although I wouldn’t really want to change everything about a project that really has no bearing on anyone’s life anymore, hopefully it at least reads as a signpost for those of us who worked on it – what kind of project we scraped together when that was the only way we were able to make it happen.

And to those of you out there reading this with unfinished manuscripts, half-painted paintings, or (ulp!) unedited films, this is my formal invitation for you to get off your asses. Because it’s true what they say about films – that they’re never really finished, only abandoned. The trick is abandoning them at the right time.


2 comments on “Restoration Software II: Software Harder!

  1. Very cool, Ben. I’ll post the updated link to my website.

  2. Everytime I watch Tilitng at Skyscrapers I want to scream ‘CUT’ and do it right this time.

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