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Making our own 35mm preservation--my crazy proposal

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Okay, this is something that has been eating my brain for a while now. Lucasfilm obviously is not interested in making any sort of new transfer of the OOT. Maybe this will change after September but i think probably not--it'll likely be another half decade or more before we get a new, high-resolution, anamorphic transfer of Star Wars in SD, let alone HD.

And we are all trying our best to wring the most out of what we have to work with. But the fact is, even massive undertaking that utilize the best possible technology, methods and efforts--i.e. the XO project--the fact remains that the best the OOT will ever look is a Laserdisk.

And we all know that there are many people out there with actual 35mm prints of Star Wars. In fact, if i understand it correctly, a member of the XO team himself even owns one. Now, the issue is "are these any good?"--are they scratchy and faded? Well, probably a lot of them are. But there are many that are not--in fact, i have seen some that are looking pretty damn good. Some people still have those rarer Technicolor prints made by dye-transfer that look almost immaculate in terms of colour and resolution.

So, what i am getting at is: how crazy is it for us to attempt to do our own high-resolution 2K scan of a 35mm print? This would literally preserve the film, more or less, forever. It would be so high-resolution that you could even make new 35mm prints from the data. Forget SD and HD, this is better than anything even available to consumers yet. This would place the future of the film in our hands, safe, secure, and for future releases, no longer bound to the Lucasfilm cash machine. The data could be used to make SD releases, HD releases and more and better 35mm prints. In short, we would never need Lucasfilm for the film ever again, ever. In time, people--for instance the same people that slaved over preserving the XO project--could frame-by-frame restore all the scratches and grain that would inevitably be resultant in a theatrical print. Star Wars would literally be ours for the ages.

Now, here is the problem: cost. Yes, you knew this would be coming. What is the price of scanning a 2 hour + 35mm at 2K resolution? Roughly $50,000 USD. I'm sure you could get a deal to scan it for a little less than this. Another problem: storage. I think this would literally take up a few terabytes of information, so basically it required a dedicated "Star Wars server." This is less of an issue however, as is the software to handle it--many people here and elsewhere are post-production professionals who not only would be willing to share and be caretakers of this data but also have the physical capability to do so. So that leaves the staggering cost of scanning the print.
At first this seems totally unrealistic...but really...is it?

How crazy is it to get a fundraiser going to make Star Wars truely--and physically--ours? If everyone here contributed a hundred bucks we'd have a good start, and many people including myself would be willing to donate many more times that amount. Take this over to Home Theater Forum, The Digital Bits, any place where collectors and professionals have been fighting the good fight--I'm betting that it would be surprising how fast the donation box would climb. And with people like Robert Harris ready to jump into the mix this could all be done properly and professionally.

Am I crazy? I think something like this would have a good chance at success, in time.

The Secret History of Star Wars -- now available on Amazon.com!

"When George went back and put new creatures into the original Star Wars, I find that disturbing. It’s a revision of history. That bothers me."

--James Cameron, Entertainment Weekly, April 2010

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You haven't addressed the main problem with this idea: Star Wars is copyrighted material and it's illegal to copy and/or distribute it. For this reason, there is no film scanning facility that would officially accept the job, even if you had $50,000 in cash in small, unmarked bills.
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Originally posted by: THX
You haven't addressed the main problem with this idea: Star Wars is copyrighted material and it's illegal to copy and/or distribute it. For this reason, there is no film scanning facility that would officially accept the job, even if you had $50,000 in cash in small, unmarked bills.


How much would be the cost of buying the scanner on its own and the necessary equipment to store the scan? In addition, I'm sure some film scanning facilities would accept the job if they are run by someone who feels similarly to the folks here. *

* This is all hypothetical since it is in regards to copyrighted material that has never been released for general public consumption, unlike the Laserdiscs.
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However, it might be within this site's rules:

"A preservation effort is an attempt to procure the best sources available for films not yet on DVD and convert them into viable, non-official releases to tide the public over until an official release is made. Preservation efforts should always be considered a temporary measure to be replaced with an official release when the studio catches up with demand; they are not a permanent part of your media library."

However again:

"6. Before obtaining any fan edits, you must be in ownership of the official retail release."

I don't know for sure.
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Super Mario Bros. - The Wicked Star Story
"Ah, the proverbial sad sack with a wasted wish."
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They certainly would. If you own a 35mm print of Star Wars it is well within your right to scan it digitally, just as it is to digitally capture a Laserdisk.

The Secret History of Star Wars -- now available on Amazon.com!

"When George went back and put new creatures into the original Star Wars, I find that disturbing. It’s a revision of history. That bothers me."

--James Cameron, Entertainment Weekly, April 2010

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Zombie, I've been reading and admiring your voice of sanity over at the forcenet, but to do what one of the richest people in the US won't do just seems wrong. Especially when the elements and the equipment are RIGHT THERE where the guy lives! Up on that precious Xanadu mountain! This is why the forcenet drones and their ilk are so frustrating. If they wern't such fucking doormats and made a little noise on the "big" Star Wars websites, the movies would be treated right. It's a cool idea though.
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Originally posted by: zombie84
They certainly would. If you own a 35mm print of Star Wars it is well within your right to scan it digitally, just as it is to digitally capture a Laserdisk.


You've got to quote something, so that we know who you mean by "they," and what they "certainly would" do. Because if you are talking about places with a film scanner scanning your 35mm print, then no, they certainly will not.

If you owned a 35mm print of Star Wars, it's not at all clear you'd have the right to scan it digitally -- it's not even clear you really have the right to own a 35mm print of Star Wars.

Now, if you were to buy your own digital telecine, I guess you could pretty much do whatever you like. If you could find the half mil required to buy one, and knew enough about how to use it to get good results, then I could find you some film.

I'll continue to check out all film scanning threads as they're started, but I haven't seen much of anything novel or feasible in any of the many posted here so far.


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Owning a 35mm print is legal.

Scanning a private print is legal.

Just as owning a laserdisk is legal and digitizing a laserdisk is legal. There is nothing at all unique about this situation at all other than it is on a different format. VHS, laserdisk, DVD...35mm film.

The Secret History of Star Wars -- now available on Amazon.com!

"When George went back and put new creatures into the original Star Wars, I find that disturbing. It’s a revision of history. That bothers me."

--James Cameron, Entertainment Weekly, April 2010

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what about using a PrimeFilm Scanner 3650Pro I don't know if this would work the way your thinking though. I was actaully thinking about this smae idea yesterday. If we could get our hands on film prints for the OOT. We could basically control it =]. I hope this can work.
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Originally posted by: Darth Richard
what about using a PrimeFilm Scanner 3650Pro I don't know if this would work the way your thinking though. I was actaully thinking about this smae idea yesterday. If we could get our hands on film prints for the OOT. We could basically control it =]. I hope this can work.


That would only cover the visual aspect. The audio would have to be captured seperately. And do you intend to scan in each frame individually? That would take months.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish memes.

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Originally posted by: zombie84
Owning a 35mm print is legal.


I actually think that owning a 35mm print is illegal. Unless the laws have been changed here in the US, I think consumers are only allowed to own 8mm and 16mm prints. I remember hearing a story about how the actor Roddy McDowell had his home raided, and his collection of 35mm films confiscated. Aside from trailers, I think they're banned from eBay, as well.

EDIT: I've since learned that owning a 35mm print is not automatically illegal. It depends upon the circumstances.

This post has been edited.


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Individually scanning the frames on a home consumer film scanner is pretty much impossible, or at least so much work that it wouldn't be a realistic goal.
35mm=24FPSx121minutes=174,240 frames. And you then have to store them all, stitch them together and make sure that every single frame lines up upsolutely perfectly. Not going to happen. Forget months, this would take years.

Soundtrack wouldn't be a concern, this would be purely for picture information (although syncing would also be a time-consuming matter).

The Secret History of Star Wars -- now available on Amazon.com!

"When George went back and put new creatures into the original Star Wars, I find that disturbing. It’s a revision of history. That bothers me."

--James Cameron, Entertainment Weekly, April 2010

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Let's say you saved each frame in PNG format. At 2K resolution, that would be around 6MB per frame. Thats over a terrabyte in storage space for the whole film. Don't forget that any OOT film you can find is probably going to look like this when scanned. If it takes years to scan and assemble the film digitally, it'll take at least that long to clean up frame by frame.

My Projects:
[Holiday Special Hybrid DVD]
[X0 Project]
[Backstroke of the West DVD]
[ROTS Theatrical DVD]

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Originally posted by: Mielr
I actually think that owning a 35mm print is illegal. Unless the laws have been changed here in the US, I think consumers are only allowed to own 8mm and 16mm prints. I remember hearing a story about how the actor Roddy McDowell had his home raided, and his collection of 35mm films confiscated.
Both of those things you just mentioned intrigued me greatly. Now I understand why so few 35mm films turn up for sale anywhere, and why nobody outside the industry seems to make transfers from them. And the story about Roddy McDowall is apparently true; I just looked it up and read about it with great interest. I suddenly feel a cameraderie for the late great Roddy that I never did before: he was one of us! Apparently he was very passionate about preserving lost films, or films in danger of being lost.

It's hard to imagine now that there was a time when Joe Citizen just could not own a film collection, no matter how much money he had. The only place you got to see a film was in the theater. Now, we all have our own film collections (on videotape, laserdisc and DVD) and it's no big thing.

A bunch of the actual documents involved in Roddy's story can be found here.

--SKot

Projects:
Return Of The Ewok and Other Short Films (with OCPmovie) [COMPLETED]
Preserving the…cringe…Star Wars Holiday Special [ONGOING]
The Star Wars TV Commercials Project [DORMANT]
Felix the Cat 1919-1930 early film shorts preservation [ONGOING]

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The wealthy and famous have often been priviledge with owning private 35mm print collections--Francis Coppola and Martin Scorsese being prime examples. Funny that Roddy McDowel was railroaded like that.

As for the legality--it is true that owning copyrighted, and most importantly popular, 35mm films is something of a grey zone. If I'm not mistaken the actual ownership of said reels is not illegal per se, but it usually implies that less-than-legal means were used to obtain them as 35mm prints are not commerically sold. It does not always mean that they are stolen or illegally obtain however, and collectors enjoy a relatively uneventful if somewhat underground trading market. Ebay was pressured by studios to stop listing prints because they felt it encourgaed theft. With the advent of home video in the 1980's the once-controversial issue of "owning films" has sort of been mooted.
And oftentimes private collectors have been the source for film restorations for material previously thought to be lost or damaged.

The Secret History of Star Wars -- now available on Amazon.com!

"When George went back and put new creatures into the original Star Wars, I find that disturbing. It’s a revision of history. That bothers me."

--James Cameron, Entertainment Weekly, April 2010

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I don't think all the studios have the same attitude towards film collectors though. I read a newspaper article in the 90's about how many a treasure trove was saved from the dumpster when the studios threw stuff out, but fear of prosecution keeps the collector's silent and film preservation suffers as a result. On the other hand, the BBC has recovered a lot of lost tv shows by making friendly overtures to collectors.
And Zion, is that a 35mm frame?

Where were you in '77?

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Originally posted by: zombie84
Owning a 35mm print is legal.
I suspect it might be about as legal to own a copy of Star Wars on 35mm film as it is to own a copy of the timecoded workprint of RotS (as most of us probably do).

Scanning a private print is legal.
You scanning your own private print might be legal (might not be, too), but getting anyone else to scan it for you is definitely not.

Just as owning a laserdisk is legal and digitizing a laserdisk is legal. There is nothing at all unique about this situation at all other than it is on a different format. VHS, laserdisk, DVD...35mm film.


Not true. VHS, laserdisc, DVD -- all made available for sale to the public. 35mm film -- never available for sale.

I agree that if you happened to have a legal print of some film and wanted to scan it yourself, I'm pretty sure most copyright regimes would allow you to do so under fair use/fair dealing provisions. However, I'm not at all convinced the same holds true for copyrighted material you've... obtained... and want to have someone else scan for you.
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Originally posted by: zombie84
And oftentimes private collectors have been the source for film restorations for material previously thought to be lost or damaged.

The censored scenes that were cut from the 1933 version of King Kong only exist today because a film collector "stole" a complete print that would otherwise would have been trashed by the studios. Film studios have a terrible history with preserving their own films. Many silent films are lost forever because the studios felt no need to house them after their theater runs had ended, and actually burned them to retrieve the silver from the silver nitrate film stock.

Originally posted by: SKot

A bunch of the actual documents involved in Roddy's story can be found here.

--SKot

That's really interesting- thanks! I had no idea that those documents were up on the Smoking Gun. That's kind of shitty that he ratted out on his friends, though. I mean, I have no idea what I would have done in that situation, maybe he was facing jail time- I don't know. I would have told them who sold me the films, sure, but I don't think I could have fingered other collectors.

Originally posted by: Zion
Don't forget that any OOT film you can find is probably going to look like this when scanned.

.....or like the 70mm cel in my signature:



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Very interesting Roddy McDowell story. Interestingly, I just watched Giant (one of the films he pirated) eariler today.
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Originally posted by: Mielr
The censored scenes that were cut from the 1933 version of King Kong only exist today because a film collector "stole" a complete print that would otherwise would have been trashed by the studios. Film studios have a terrible history with preserving their own films. Many silent films are lost forever because the studios felt no need to house them after their theater runs had ended, and actually burned them to retrieve the silver from the silver nitrate film stock. Rebel "smugglers" being the only hope for saving something good when the powers that be decide they know what's best for the masses. Sounds a bit familiar on a couple of different levels...

Thank goodness some people saw the writing on the wall and took matters into their own hands, despite the possible legal ramifications! Although I'm sure a lot of them did it with selfish reasons in mind, in the end saving the films became more important. When it comes to saving important historic films from being destroyed, I think even Lucas himself would have to be grateful to these collectors/"thieves". I just wish he could apply that thinking to his own work.

That's really interesting- thanks! I had no idea that those documents were up on the Smoking Gun. That's kind of shitty that he ratted out on his friends, though. I mean, I have no idea what I would have done in that situation, maybe he was facing jail time- I don't know. I would have told them who sold me the films, sure, but I don't think I could have fingered other collectors.
It sounds like he just decided to be as open and honest as possible about everything, and not hold anything back or hide anything. It probably saved his bacon. Perhaps he really did believe what he was doing was legal. Certainly he never expected the FBI to come knocking on his door. The big question is, who ratted out Roddy, and why?

What do you suppose ended up happening to his collection after it was confiscated? I'd be incredibly angry if I found out it ended up being lost, destroyed, or damaged in the end. But chances are, that's what happened.

--SKot

Projects:
Return Of The Ewok and Other Short Films (with OCPmovie) [COMPLETED]
Preserving the…cringe…Star Wars Holiday Special [ONGOING]
The Star Wars TV Commercials Project [DORMANT]
Felix the Cat 1919-1930 early film shorts preservation [ONGOING]

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Zombie84, I'm not trying to be discouraging. You're right in principal (about it being the only way to really take control, not the legal side). It's just practical details that pose the problem. We've discussed this idea at some length here before, as some of the others implied. There have been some 16mm prints sold on ebay that some of us have bid on (IIRC, a complete 'scope trilogy went for around $6000). But you are facing really big problems to beat the quality that's out there:

1) print quality - getting a print is possible, but in what condition? There will almost certainly be some segments that are worthless (splices). So you'll have to get two or more prints of each film to get a viable whole. Even then, they will be faded and scratched. Okay, you can recover some of that with digital image manipulation - but how much?

2) scanning - no professional facility will scan a print of a copyrighted movie for you (if you find one who will, please let me know). So, you would have to get a couple of employees who had the technical skills, the ability to access the facility outside its work hours and the willingness to sacrifice their job (at the very least) if caught on board with your project. Not impossible, but do you know anyone who fits the bill (again, if you do, let me know).

3) digital post - okay let's say you've got your scans at home in your new 5TB drive. As Zion said, you are now facing years of restoration work. Most importantly, the chances are good that what you ultimately produce will not be of acceptably high quality to justify the time, money and energy you will have expended.

With all that said, if you decide to go ahead, knowing what you are facing, I applaud you, genuinely wish you the best of luck and will gladly make a contribution.
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Yes I am aware this is kind of a crazy idea. I guess i am just desperate to save this damn thing before it is too late. But if it is possible to do it properly it may just be the most important event in the film's release history. Of course, yes, it is still just a crazy idea.
As for 16mm, i doubt that would really give us much, aside from the fact that these would have been severely used and scratched to hell the resolution is not much more than what a DVD offers.

As for the physical act of scanning a 35mm print--i work as a motion picture camera assistant and as such i frequently deal with and meet people in film labs and transfer houses. Lets just say i know more than a few people that would be willing to give this a shot.

The Secret History of Star Wars -- now available on Amazon.com!

"When George went back and put new creatures into the original Star Wars, I find that disturbing. It’s a revision of history. That bothers me."

--James Cameron, Entertainment Weekly, April 2010

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Okay, so scratch #2 from my list - great! Next step - track down the best condition print source you can. IIRC, Lucas' copy was not the only dye-transfer print made by Technicolor UK (although there may only have been two). If you can get your hands on the other one, you're in business.

(BTW, 16mm is a lot higher resolution than DVD but you'd have a very hard time finding a genuinely good condition 16mm print)
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Originally posted by: THX
Okay, so scratch #2 from my list - great! Next step - track down the best condition print source you can. IIRC, Lucas' copy was not the only dye-transfer print made by Technicolor UK (although there may only have been two). If you can get your hands on the other one, you're in business.


There were a lot more than two. It's likely that all of the original theatrical prints in England were dye-transfer. Film maker Richard W. Haines recently posted in a DVD forum that he once had the opportunity to buy a 35mm dye-transfer print of SW, but passed on it because the opening scroll was replaced with the newer "a new hope" version, using a piece of Kodak film, which had faded. He said it was one of his biggest regrets, as the piece of film could now easily be replaced with a newer piece of low-fade Kodak film from one of the SE prints:

HERE


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