PC: At Paramount Pictures, Movies Don't Preserve Themselves

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PC: At Paramount Pictures, Movies Don't Preserve Themselves

Unread post by silentfilm » Thu Feb 15, 2018 12:38 pm

https://www.pcmag.com/news/359197/at-pa ... themselves

Leading the charge for film preservation at Paramount Pictures is Andrea Kalas, VP of Archives, who has restored or preserved more than 2,000 films. We stopped by to see how it's done.

Sophia Stuart Icon
By Sophia Stuart
February 14, 2018 7:00AM EST


Paramount Pictures Lot

Movies play a vital role in recording human history, but many early silent classics have been lost or destroyed, from pre-talkies to directors' cuts. Even digital copies aren't safe; metadata often gets stored separately from the core asset in vast data warehouses, while hardware playback devices change, and software upgrades refuse to play old file formats.

Leading the charge for film preservation at Paramount Pictures is Andrea Kalas, VP of Archives, who also serves as president of the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA). She's restored or preserved more than 2,000 films, and is a technical innovator in systems for digital preservation and archive-based analytics.

Andrea Kalas, ParamountAt Paramount Pictures—which produced geek classics like Star Trek and Indiana Jones—"we're responsible for preserving the films that are made today—an important part of what we do—as well as going back into the catalog to preserve the films from our history," Kalas told PCMag.

"Everything ends up in our digital preservation archive. It took us 100 years to get 1.2 million objects into the archive—including reels, tape and so on—and just 15 years to get 1.2 million digital artifacts. We now have over 40 petabytes of data, and it's growing fast."

A vault on the studio lot stores Paramount's original camera negatives at the optimal temperature—27 degrees Fahrenheit and 35 relative humidity—in order to make sure they endure for as long as possible.

"At that level, everything stops," said Kalas, "including color fade and acetate deterioration, which is known as 'vinegar syndrome.' That's huge for film preservation because, how long do you want The Godfather to last? Forever, right?"

To preserve films, the original negative is scanned at the highest resolution and bit-depth, painstakingly, frame by frame, on a motion picture scanner.

"We then screen it on the lot, inviting the director and/or cinematographer, if they're still around, to collaborate with us, to do color correction and cleanup. That process can take anywhere from six weeks to six months, depending on complexity."

Much can get lost (or enhanced) in translation. For example, a gloriously flattering 35mm film, such as Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch A Thief (1955), shot on Paramount's own VistaVision, with perfectly preserved prints, is ripe for reproducing on digital, keeping the colors of the Riviera truly popping.

An early 80s sci-fi film offered Kalas' team some unique challenges.

"Often we'll see things that aren't meant to be there," she explained. "For example, in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the makeup on the Klingons would have been softened by layers of emulsion on the celluloid, but once we clean it up, digitally, it starts to look very artificial. Same with miniature spacecraft that fly—you can often see the strings when we clean it up."

"We want to honor the original movie, but we don't want to show anyone up either. They just didn't think those things would be seen through the layers of emulsion," she said.

Seventy-five percent of Paramount's films are shot on digital today, but Kalas still put archival principles in place in order to make sure the filmmaker, and the studio, retained the finest versions for the future.

"Digital preservation is still thought of by many as an oxymoron," said Kalas. "But we have a storage policy of making four copies of every film today. Before I put that rule in place, there was often just a single digital copy of a movie, and that's not cool. Since we're international, we needed to make sure we had copies in different languages as well.

"Each year the system checks itself and, if there's a problem with a file, it automatically swaps it out for another exact copy. We also built some custom software in-house to manage the system, storing all the assets and metadata together, creating transparency and security. This took a lot of engineering to transform existing processes. Often big data centers were more focused on just storing the ones and zeros, but we needed to see our archives as containing distinct assets, not just raw data. We reframed what the studio archive should be."

Paramount Studios lot

The dawn of high-speed broadband and video streaming services meant digital archives had to adapt to meet demand. But it also made many more feature films available to cinephiles around the world.

"Our number of titles in regular distribution tripled over the last 10 years," confirmed Kalas. "The efforts of the Paramount archive to preserve older catalog titles by scanning them in high resolution means more and more of Paramount's 3,000-title library are available for distribution in a very high quality."

As part of her role at the AMIA, Kalas is also keen to inspire a new generation of cinema preservationists, particularly those with technical expertise.

"In November 2018, for our annual conference, we'll be in Portland, Oregon, doing our 6th Annual Hack Day. Last year, we were in New Orleans, and over 800 people came to learn and hack solutions, bringing open-source technology concepts into movie archives worldwide. We keep the conversation, and code, going on GitHub, throughout the year."

Wings Restoration at Paramount

A long-lost classic Kalas is especially proud of restoring is Wings, a silent movie made in 1927, starring Clara Bow, Buddy Rogers, and Richard Arlen.

"It's such an important movie because it was the first film, ever, to use aeronautical camerawork," Kalas said. "The actors had cameras fixed on them, to capture footage and close-ups, while actually flying the planes themselves. But the original negative was lost. All that remained was a negative which had been copied from a deteriorating nitrate print. So we had practically nothing. But we did it—we scanned it, did color correction, cleaned it up—and it's beautiful."

Film preservation, although increasingly technical and professional, is still a personal passion for those involved, and help can come from many different quarters.

"The sound effects designer, Ben Burtt, best known for inventing the Star Wars lightsaber audio, loved the movie Wings and collaborated with us during the restoration. Many silent movies had what were called 'roadshow performances'—where a full orchestra would play along with the silent movie and studios would send out an original score with sound cues. We located the original score for Wings, with these sound cues, and Ben Burtt put together the final mix for the restored version. It sounds amazing, I'm so proud of our work on bringing this film back to life."

Due to efforts from studio executives like Andrea Kalas, this means there are no "old movies" anymore, just ones we haven't watched yet. To learn more about Kalas' work, and that of the AMIA, their Digital Asset Symposium is taking place in New York City this month.

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boblipton
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Re: PC: At Paramount Pictures, Movies Don't Preserve Themsel

Unread post by boblipton » Thu Feb 15, 2018 12:44 pm

I refuse to believe that Wings is the first time anyone took a motion picture camera into an airplane and turned a crank with the lens cap off.

And color correction?

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Re: PC: At Paramount Pictures, Movies Don't Preserve Themsel

Unread post by Nick_M » Thu Feb 15, 2018 1:50 pm

In one of the extras on the BD, they brag about giving it a modern DI (so it won't look so old), and it shows a tech brightening only an actor's face instead of adjusting the entire frame.

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Re: PC: At Paramount Pictures, Movies Don't Preserve Themsel

Unread post by boblipton » Thu Feb 15, 2018 2:02 pm

Why don't they just use that program that replaces everyone's face with Nick Cage's.... or even better, a flaming skull, since the Hellrider movies demonstrate that cage's performance can be improved by doing that.

Pardon me while I go do an imitation of Gene Lockhart having apoplexy.

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Re: PC: At Paramount Pictures, Movies Don't Preserve Themsel

Unread post by mwalls » Thu Feb 15, 2018 2:06 pm

I am not sure what all was done with Wings, but I bought the disk and it is gorgeous. Having read in the article that the original negative was lost makes the work done even more astounding.

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Re: PC: At Paramount Pictures, Movies Don't Preserve Themsel

Unread post by Jim Roots » Thu Feb 15, 2018 3:39 pm

boblipton wrote:Why don't they just use that program that replaces everyone's face with Nick Cage's....
I thought that's what they do with Christopher Plummer?

Jim

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Re: PC: At Paramount Pictures, Movies Don't Preserve Themsel

Unread post by Donald Binks » Thu Feb 15, 2018 3:48 pm

I played "Wings" to my son who had previously issued an edict that the only films of mine he would endure would be those made in colour in the 21st Century. I managed somehow to slip this one in and he was quite amazed by it - as was I.

I had first seen "Wings" some thirty or forty years back, in a print that was basically only held together by the silverfish. To see the restoration was a revelation - and the full orchestra playing that score! Memorable! "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" now has a vision in memory to associate it with that tune forever.
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Re: PC: At Paramount Pictures, Movies Don't Preserve Themsel

Unread post by Hamilton's Grandson » Thu Feb 15, 2018 4:09 pm

I agree that the Paramount DVD release of Wings (2017 release) is definitely worth seeing ....all 144 minutes of it with color tinting and sound effects in Dolby stereo which were awesome.

I wonder if Aflame in the Sky 1927 also used a camera mounted to a biplane wing during the filming of aerial shots of that film. Cameraman in this film was Joe Walker, but according to AFI description of the film may be interpreted as all filming was done at ground level peering upward. May have been other films though with aerial camera mounting prior to 1929.

Guess will never know as it is lost.
Mark Hamilton (I) is on imdb.com
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Gertrude Brooke Hamilton is on imdb.com

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Re: PC: At Paramount Pictures, Movies Don't Preserve Themsel

Unread post by missdupont » Thu Feb 15, 2018 6:29 pm

WINGS was definitely not the first film to use "aeronautical camerawork," in fact, it wasn't even Famous Players-Lasky's (paramount's) first. FP-L shot plane to plane 8 years earlier when they shot Houdini's "The Grim Game." Director Irvin Willat was in one plane filming the chase and the accident that occurred that they added into the film. Here's the story I wrote about it 3 years ago.
ttps://ladailymirror.com/2015/03/23/mary-mallory-hollywood-heights-houdinis-the-grim-game-scares-up-thrills/" target="_blank

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Re: PC: At Paramount Pictures, Movies Don't Preserve Themsel

Unread post by Paul Penna » Thu Feb 15, 2018 10:14 pm

boblipton wrote:And color correction?
I've read statements from film restorers and preservationists, for example Robert Harris, use the term in relation to the timing (in other words, matching scene-to-scene brightness and contrast of separate takes) of black and white films.

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