A gift awaiting unwrapping

Most Christmas gifts have been unwrapped by now, but chances are there is box of gifts remaining behind in (hopefully) a bedroom closet, awaiting someone to unwrap them—again.

I’m talking about a box of home movies. The motion picture record of your family’s past: Stories of weddings, birthdays, vacations and other special events that your parents, grandparents or uncles felt important enough to investment money and time into capturing and preserving for future generations.

The 8mm, Super 8mm and 16mm films, as well as the 35mm color slides, that these amateur cinematographers and photographers left behind are wonderful gifts that beg to be “unwrapped” every holiday season. Unfortunately, they are wrapped in antiquated technology. Working film projectors are difficult to find and expensive. By now, most film projectors stored with the films need a belt, lamp, cleaning and lubrication to bring them back to life. Further, attempting to project film on a projector that is dirty or won’t properly thread and transport the film can cause irreparable damage.

In the 1980s and 1990s, many families had their family’s films and slides transferred to VHS cassettes, assuming VHS would be around forever. That’s not been the case, and now families are discovering that VHS was even worse than film as an archival media (something videotape was never intended to be). And, as with the projector situation, finding a reliable VHS machine that won’t eat the tape is becoming difficult. If you had your films transferred to video tape, dig out the films today and have them transferred to digital media. Video transfers look awful due to the low resolution of the format and inability to make corrections to the original material.

To properly unwrap these home movie gifts, specialized equipment that photographs every frame on those long strips of film is required. And once the acquisition, or transfer, is done, those frames must be re-assembled in software to create the movie that can be saved to a DVD or Blu-Ray disc, as well as to a USB drive or hard drive/SSD (recommended for archival, HD use).

That’s what we do at The Feather Cottage. We are a boutique transfer service that offers state-of-the-art transfer services to consumers and businesses. We customize each transfer so it includes music and titles that identify who is in the film, when and where it was shot, and the dates. We physically clean the film before transferring and also perform digital cleaning of noise, scratches and other defects. Colors are restored and dark sections lightened to reveal the details that have been hiding in the shadows for decades. We work one-on-one with the client, and we do our work locally (northeast Ohio).

What we really do is preserve the gifts of the past. We make sure that the sacrifices of money and time  that our ancestors made in preserving memories on film are not lost to our carelessness and the passage of time.

In our day, most every phone and camera is capable of recording a video. YouTube’s millions of videos attest to the ubiquitous nature of video. But back in your grandparents’ day, making a “video,” actually a motion picture, was a costly venture.

A basic 16mm camera/projector kit cost around $400, as much as a car when the medium was offered to home movie makers in the 1920s. Unlike inexpensive video cameras today, the acquisition cost of the equipment was just the beginning. Film had to purchased and processed; a roll of 16mm film, 100 feet long, cost $13.09 for Kodachrome II with processing by Kodak in 1972. That would provide approximately three minutes of movies. Yes, just three minutes (now you know one of the reasons shots are so short on these old films!).

Super 8mm film in 1972 cost about $5 with Kodak processing. The 50-foot cartridge provided three minutes and twenty seconds of filming.

To put that into today’s dollars, that is roughly $65 for a roll of 16mm film and $25 for a cartridge of Super 8mm film and processing. Imagine if cellphones charged that much for recording a video!

The family members who came before you gave you a great gift, an expensive gift, when they went to the trouble and expense to record their story, your story, on film.

All gifts come with responsibilities on the recipient’s part. Most recipients disregard that responsibility, but I and others in my Baby Boomer generation were raised to accept those responsibilities when accepting a gift. You thanked the giver. You took care of the gift. You showed them and their sacrifice appreciation by enjoying it and making it last.

I encourage all recipients of these gifts, whether through inheritance or direct giving, to treat the gifts, and the giver, with the honor due them. Treat your family’s old families as if they were one-of-a-kind diaries, which they are. There is no other copy of your family’s films in the world, so take care of them and get them archived onto digital media while family members are still alive who can identify who is in the films and what is going on in them.

Your family’s films are gifts waiting to be unwrapped—again and again. Did you leave a gift unwrapped this Christmas? If you are ready to unwrap it, visit our Film Transfer Services page.