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AMIA-L  January 2006

AMIA-L January 2006

Subject:

Re: Reply: Fire Walk With Me

From:

Eric Wenocur <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Sat, 7 Jan 2006 10:54:17 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (101 lines)

Leo,

Thanks for the detailed explanation!  I kind of suspected that 
"destroyed" meant unusable, and your description of possible scenarios 
is enlightening.  The bulk of my exposure to film technology has been 
with telecines and flatbed editing tables, plus a few ancillary devices, 
but not theater projection.  I'm currently doing tech work for the AFI 
Silver theater here in DC, but I'm working with the video and audio 
systems, not the projectors themselves.  It is quite interesting, 
though, to hang around the booth and watch what goes on.  Plus I like to 
look out the little projection windows and see those HUGE people across 
the room!


-- Eric




Leo Enticknap wrote:
> Eric Wenocur writes:
> 
>> That's too bad--if it's true.  But can a film really be DESTROYED by 
>> bad  projection?  I mean, if it's nitrate that's one thing, but 
>> wouldn't any modern film be only damaged in some fashion, possibly 
>> repairable? I'm asking out of honest curiosity as I don't know a whole 
>> lot about this stuff.
> 
> 
> I'm guessing that Liz was using 'destroyed' to indicate that the print 
> was damaged to the point at which the quality of the projected picture 
> was affected beyond the point at which a discerning viewer would regard 
> as acceptable.  For example, there was an accident at a British theatre 
> (which will remain nameless) 3-4 years ago in which a reel of one of the 
> anniversary 70mm prints of /2001/ acquired a deep emulsion tramline 
> right down the middle of the picture over one reel.  In projectionist 
> circles that reel was described as having been destroyed, because no-one 
> who took the trouble to go to a 70mm screening would regard it as being 
> in a showable condition.
> 
> Damage caused by poor film handling and/or equipment faults/misuse/poor 
> maintenance generally takes one of two forms: (i) scratching/dirt, and 
> (ii) physical damage to a print which affects film transport through a 
> mechanism.  You're right in that (i) will not render the print unable to 
> be projected.  However, all theatres except the grimmest of fleapits 
> will regard a print as unshowable if a certain line is crossed.  Where 
> this line lies depends on a number of factors: the nature of the 
> theatre, how concerned with projection standards the staff there are, 
> and the nature of the film in relation to how realistic your chances are 
> of getting a replacement print.  For example, if I got a second run 
> print of a recently released mainstream feature which was significantly 
> dirty around the reel ends, was cinch marked or or was in any way 
> damaged enough for it to be visible, even to a technically aware 
> customer, I'd send it straight back and ask for a replacement.  That's 
> partly because I'd know that the distributor probably has 50 others 
> sitting on his shelf which have come off first runs.  But if it was a 
> severely worn and scratched archive print from the 1950s and no other 
> viewing copy of that title was known to exist in the country apart from 
> videos, I'd probably patch it up and show it.  In that scenario I'd 
> brief the ushers to tell each member of the audience that the print was 
> bad and sorry, or make an announcement at the start of the show, or 
> communicate that information some other way.
> 
> The second category is a different kettle of fish, however.  The most 
> common form of physical damage which prevents projection is perforation 
> damage, which is generally inflicted by worn or hooked sprocket teeth, 
> or because of something (usually the combination of a bad splice and too 
> low gate pressure) which causes the upper or lower loop to be lost, 
> thereby causing the film to be dragged against the side of the perfs.  
> If the film is polyester this causes the perforations to strain at the 
> edges: in the case of nitrate and acetate, they'll split altogether.  
> Either way this can mean that the print simply cannot pass through a 
> projector mechanism without frequent breaks or loop losses, and in that 
> case it really is destroyed.  In some cases an entire reel (or, if a 
> long play system is being used, the whole print) can pass through a 
> mechanism with such damage being inflicted, without the projectionist 
> being aware.  You'd need a pretty incompetent projectionist for this to 
> happen, but such people do exist.  Film being mangled in a platter 
> feeder wrap is also, to all intents and purposes, destroyed; but even a 
> worst case scenario will only take out 20-30 feet.  Another factor to 
> bear in mind with newer prints is that heavy scratching can result in 
> digital optical audio tracks (especially Dolby digital, which has the 
> highest compression ratio) being made unreadable, which I would argue 
> also fits the criterion of 'destroyed'.
> 
> What scares me about Liz's post is that whoever destroyed this print did 
> so at a film festival!  You'd have thought that any half-way festival 
> organiser would realise that (s)he is being entrusted with rare or 
> unique prints, and would therefore have hired projectionists who know 
> what they're doing.  At the two London Film Festivals I worked at in the 
> early '90s, extra safety precautions were taken, e.g. a minimum of two 
> projectionists staffed each booth whenever any film was running, who 
> constantly cross-checked everything the other was doing.  It was made 
> clear to us that if we damaged any prints, we could expect to be 
> escorted up a hill and introduced to the wicker man.  If Liz is certain 
> that this print was delivered to the festival in a good state, but when 
> it came back it was buggered (English projectionists' alternative 
> technical terminology for 'destroyed'), they must have done something 
> pretty serious to it.
> 
> Leo

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