Ron Smith is the Executive Director, Mastering & Restoration, for Roundabout Entertainment Inc. (www.roundabout.com) in Burbank, CA. Here, he looks at the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats facing the restoration and re-mastering businesses.
Recent software developments have greatly improved image processing. Color bumps, film tears and registration anomalies that used to take hours to repair can now be fixed in minutes. The technicians who do much of the developments, along with the people who oversee restoration projects, have extensive backgrounds in catalogue or feature mastering. These colorists, picture and sound supervisors, laboratory technicians and studio project managers have developed a tremendous working knowledge of how to translate film into each emerging digital format.
At some point, the term restoration was over-used and the process was prohibitively expensive. But most of what that we call restoration is really just re-mastering, which is essential for presenting classic films in each new platform. A master that was good enough for standard or high definition broadcast is not necessarily acceptable for Blu-ray or UHD. A restoration project that was done five or ten years ago does not always translate. But the whole premise behind restoration was that the show would be future-proofed for the next 75 to 100 years. Explaining to content owners the need to re-master a show that has been recently “restored” is never easy.
New technology often leads to renewed interest in restoration and preservation because it creates opportunities for studios and content owners to monetize assets. The advent of DVD and Blu-ray and digital distribution gave studios a reason to take their films and soundtracks out of storage. The same holds true today with high dynamic range, wide color gamut and the seeming endless varieties of digital distribution platforms. Although interest in classic films has apparently waned, no one really knows what will be popular in the future. Who foresaw the resurgence of interest in classic albums on vinyl or the dawn of Yacht Rock?
Without even addressing the issue of digital asset management, the fact that there are only a handful of film labs left in the world should be reason enough to feel threatened. Most of our silent movie history has vanished, nitrate film deteriorates and decomposes, acetate film develops vinegar syndrome and color films fade unless properly stored. And those picture elements are robust in comparison with older magnetic soundtracks, which often have to be “baked” before they can be played back. Although there are many large collections that are optimally stored, there are probably just as many smaller collections stored in garages and public storage units.