Interesting thread, thanks all. Speaking of damaged prints, I went to a classic movie screening last night at my local theatre - they were playing Top Gun, and it was quite amazing how poor the print was. For substantial parts of the movie, it was literally *covered* in scratches running horizontally and vertically. Or a series of marks in the centre that eventually faded. Would this have been a 24 year old print perhaps? Looked like it had spent the last 24 years being dragged across the projection room floor :-)
A film platter is a monstrous looking thing: http://www.flickr.com/photos/37769587@N06/3827414396/
On this photo, the movie pays out from the middle deck and rewinds on the lower deck. The upper deck is for backup or, as in the picture, holding a second movie.
Look at the bottom (rewind) deck. See how the blue film (actually the leader) crosses the platter as it rewinds on the center spool?
If the operator misthreads the film and it drags across that metal platter on its way to be rewound, it will get crosswise or diagonal scratches in it. It looks like a cat clawed the screen with hundreds of little, black scratches.
Vertical scratches usually occur as the film drags across a stationary object, lengthwise. Most often this occurs when the operator misses a roller, causing the film to rub the projector frame as it enters, on its way to being projected.
The biggest problems occur because a lot of scratching and damage occur AFTER the film has been projected and is on its way back to the rewind spool. Any damage that occurs then will not be seen until the next time the film is projected.
The number one way to prevent all of this is to have the operators walking the projection room, visiting each projector at least once every 10-20 minutes. Instead, what they do is haphazardly thread, press the start button then go downstairs and chat up the chicks at the popcorn counter.
When I am on my game, I can build a 6-reel (2 hour) movie onto a platter and have it ready to play in approx. 90 minutes. 45 minutes after the movie is over, it can be back in the can. Myself and one other competent person can reshuffle all the prints from theater to theater in a 20-plex theater in an hour or less.
I am not exceptional. It just takes somebody willing to do the work. The problem is that fewer people, these days, are willing to do it.
I'm honestly impressed...I remember trying to project 16mm and just getting confused, and I scratched up all my prints while editing when I tried shooting 16mm. So I know it takes skill and dedication. From the perspective of a photographer, I totally agree with what you've written, btw. But I like 3D and the possibility of smaller films being distributed faster as the market demands, so I'm ambivalent about digital. There are plusses and minuses. Also, my local projectionists aren't always so great... I had to watch No Country for Old Men completely out of focus.
For what it's worth, I've heard technicolor on nitrate looked much better than what we see today. I just don't think the audience cares that much about image quality. Also, I don't believe Hollywood makes 14 billion in profit per year, but instead generates about that much in sales. Most mid-budget movies remain unprofitable; and the average margins are around 15%, far lower than on software, for instance. Not that greed isn't an issue.
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I salute and commend your great work ethic Randy! There aren't many people around today who care about providing quality. Theatres aren't willing to pay enough money to hire qualified projectionists, and don't care about their customers.
If that 'Top Gun' print was 35mm, then it likely was 24 years old. Those "scratches" could easily be dust. I've experienced this with my Super8. I then covered the outside of the Film Gate in my Super8 Projector with plastic Saran Wrap to prevent dusty air from being drawn in by the cooling fan. This is a big cause of dust on the film. You would think they would be smart enough to design a Projector so that air doesn't go through the Film Gate!
Originally Posted by Chris Nielsen
I was once told by someone at a Hollywood Studio that blurring could be caused by a too-old xenon light past its usable life. Your local theatre probably doesn't have a "projectionist" -- just ushers filling in as projectionists.
Originally Posted by Policar
You know, even with the dust / scratches and 1980's sound, it was still an absolute blast to be able to watch Top Gun on the big screen for the first time! I love that movie, and it was quite impressive how many small details you saw that on DVD on a 29" TV I just don't see. Just the best aerial photography of jets of all time. Fantastic!
I have watched the same film on both a film projector and a digital projector and I know i will sound like im being a stick in the mud not wanting to budge from analog. but I didn't find the digital projection quality as good as the quality of the film projection. is this the general deal or was it perhaps just my situation? or is it all in my mind? I am sure the general public dont care and dont look for the finer details. They just want a story and to escape the drudgery of everyday life. But digital projection didn't seem on par with the qualities the film had.
"Its my profession to hijack time" ~ Stephen Frizza.
I can answer that. You are making a huge contribution to both the knowledge and the civility of the discussion here. You're like the old EF Hutton commercials: when you speak, people listen. That's enough for me.
Originally Posted by Photo Engineer
You can tell by looking at the film whether it's made from polyester base material or from acetate. If it's acetate, it's probably a vintage print. If it's polyester, it's probably a restrike. For popular repertory titles, it's not uncommon to strike a new print if the studio thinks they can make a buck.
Originally Posted by TerryM
There is a liquid film cleaner that can be applied to film which has a similar refractive index to the film base. It's a petroleum and paraffin based substance that doesn't evaporate like the old carbon tet based cleaners did. Applied and used consistently it will hide most of those "cat claw" scratches you see on the film and it will keep the dust and dirt from building up as well. It will make those old, beat up movies look almost like new again. I never run a movie without it.
That is on the limits of my belief. Although an improperly aligned xenon lamp can overheat the film and cause it to buckle in the gate, just like the way your film "pops" when you put it in the enlarger, that effect can be minimized by carefully focusing the projector.
I was once told by someone at a Hollywood Studio that blurring could be caused by a too-old xenon light past its usable life.
My suspicions are that the operator didn't pay attention. It is possible to focus the image at the start of the show and have it drift out of focus as the projector heats up. The wise projectionist will focus the image when the show starts then refocus about 10 minutes later. If you want to be really tricky, you'll find a focus point where the beginning of the show will be every so slightly blurry for the previews but, as the projector runs and heats up the image will slowly drift INTO focus. That way you never really have to focus at all. Just do it once at the beginning of the day and check it a few times throughout the day.
Unfortunately, this is all too true.
Your local theatre probably doesn't have a "projectionist" -- just ushers filling in as projectionists.
"Popper jockey" is a common term for kids who thread the projector then go downstairs to sell popcorn.