As of April 23, we've raised enough to knock 5% off of our projected film scanning rates! The more we raise, the lower our rates will be, so keep the contributions coming!
See how good 83 year old film can look when scanned properly:
Some footage of the scanner we're getting:
Millions of feet of small gauge film (such as 8mm, Super-8mm and 16mm) are literally turning to vinegar—destroyed due to chemical breakdown. If these films aren’t scanned before this happens, they’re lost forever. Small gauge films were often used to make documentary, ethnographic, educational, industrial, and art films. It is expensive to scan motion picture film, and few of these organizations or filmmakers have the budget for digital preservation. Did you know that even 8mm film can be as good or better than HD if properly scanned? Quality preservation matters!
We want to make it affordable to preserve these films before they disappear, but we need your help.
Image courtesy Joseph Dwyer - jedwyer.tumblr.com
My name is Perry and I run Gamma Ray Digital, a digital film finishing service in Boston, MA. We’ve been restoring films and authoring DVDs and Blu-rays for the past 13 years, and have worked on hundreds of projects—both large and small. We offer high quality and detailed work to markets that normally couldn’t afford these type of services. How? We keep our costs down, and pass the savings on to our customers.
My team and I have been researching film scanners for years. Film scanning technology has improved over this time and now, FINALLY, the cost of a scanner has reached a point where small businesses like mine can fathom offering this service affordably.
We’re asking you to help us purchase one of these high quality film scanners so we can afford to offer sanely-priced scanning services to all those artists, filmmakers, small nonprofits, anthropologists, and educators who have fantastic footage. Just think of all the amazing footage you could watch online if more small gauge film were scanned! Bonus: you’ll be helping a small business like mine to keep doing what we love to do–preserve great film so more people can experience it!
If you want to geek out, down below are all the technical details of how film scanning works, right before the FAQ.
Financial details: How we’ll do it
The reason most scanning services can’t offer lower pricing *and* high quality at the same time is that they’ve got too much overhead. Some scanners from the previous generation (just 5 years ago) cost close to $1,000,000. Because of the high initial expense, these facilities have to charge exorbitant rates just to recoup their investment, let alone make a profit. By crowdfunding the most expensive piece of equipment, we eliminate that problem and can get right to the important work of scanning at reasonable prices.
The film scanner we plan to purchase costs a fraction of the previous generation of scanners, but is still well over $100,000 when you factor in other upgrades we'll need to do. Thanks to Moore’s Law, the image quality of this scanner is better than much more expensive scanners of 5-10 years ago, it works at faster speeds, and with greater flexibility than older units, at lower cost.
What’s in it for you
First and foremost, by backing this project, you’re helping to preserve some of our shared history.
If you are not a filmmaker, you or someone you know probably have old home movies on small gauge formats, that are in danger of being lost. We’ve added several perks that will get you professional-quality scans of your home movies, available in a variety of delivery formats. This is not the kind of transfer you’d get at a drugstore chain, or even your local mom-and-pop film transfer service. This is professional quality using the same equipment as the pros do. You could use this for yourself, or give it as a gift to someone you know.
If you are a filmmaker, even if you only work in digital we’re offering some perks that might interest you: Professional level DVD and Blu-ray authoring at reduced rates. If you have a finished film or are nearing completion on a film, consider purchasing these services through our Indiegogo campaign. There are also some perks for filmmakers for scanning and color correcting 16mm film.
Do you know a film archive that’s desperately in need of film scanning? Check out this mega-perk: for $15,000, we’ll donate up to 15 hours of small gauge film scanning for your favorite non-profit film archive. You support our campaign and we’ll directly help a nonprofit film archive of your choice.
(For those perks that involve scanning, please note that once this campaign is complete it will take about 2-3 months before the scanner is up and running — each scanner is hand-built by the manufacturer and the current time it takes to get a system built and installed is about 2 months. We expect that we’ll be able to start fulfilling scanning perks in July. Any non-scanning perks will be fulfilled as soon as this campaign has ended).
Other ways to help
If you love film, share this page with your friends. Spread the word! Tweet about it! Share it on Facebook and Google+ and LinkedIn and wherever else you hang out online.
Ask your relatives if they have old home movies they’d like to see again, and then send them here.
Follow this campaign (click that little heart under the video) and we’ll keep you updated if new perks are added or how close we come to reaching our goal.
We want to get the word out so as many people as possible can support this. The more people who contribute, the less everyone has to contribute! It’s the grand crowdsourcing experiment for American small business!
Tech details: Scanning vs. Telecine
The first step in digital preservation is to create the highest resolution scan of the film possible, capturing the full dynamic range of the image to a flexible digital format that can serve as a sort of “digital negative” of the film. Once this scan is created, the film itself isn’t touched again and all subsequent work happens digitally. The more the film is handled, the more likely it is to be damaged.
The mantra is: Scan Early, Scan Once! This means the scan needs to be high resolution so that it's usable in the future. For small gauge film, 2k resolution (a higher resolution than HD) is plenty for years to come.
Scanning captures the full dynamic range of the film image, and isn’t constrained by the limitations of video (resolution, color space, etc).
Scanners can tolerate splices better than telecines, and film can be full of splices, especially small gauge films.
Scanners are gentler, which is important as film ages and shrinks and the risk of damaging the film increases.
Scanners that capture the full image in one shot (vs a line scanner) avoid banding and rippling in the scan, and handle warped film better.
Scanner resolutions are so high that you could even make new film prints from a scan, with little loss in quality. Telecine is typically limited to video or HD resolutions, which is lower than the resolution of the film itself.
For more, check out this great comparison (with video) by LaserGraphics.
To transfer just 90 minutes of film to high quality 2k files typically runs more than $5000, and that doesn’t include color correction or restoration. The high cost of scanning coupled with shrinking budgets mean the critical work of capturing these films before they disappear has been put off for years.
Our goal is to bring these costs down to a level that individual filmmakers, artists, and smaller archives can afford. What makes it possible for us to do this? You!
Image courtesy Joseph Dwyer - jedwyer.tumblr.com
Where are you at in the purchase process?
We have already contacted the vendor and spec’d out the unit we want with all of the options we’ll need to handle all of the most common small gauge formats, including magnetic and optical audio. The system is upgradeable to 35mm/4k should we need that in the future. We’ve begun the financing process for obtaining a lease to cover the cost of the purchase as well as other hardware and software upgrades we’ll need once it’s installed. We will be meeting with the vendor at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in early April to finalize the details.
If you’re concentrating on small gauge films, why not get a cheaper scanner?
Good question. Sure, there are quite a few scanners out there that can handle 8mm, S8mm or 16mm, but not many that can do all of them. That’s because they’re usually based on projectors, which aren’t gentle enough to deal with shrunken film. The build quality, picture quality and reliability are suspect. Also, we’re only interested in scanners that use optical image stabilization and have no sprockets, which will allow us to work with damaged and severely shrunken film - something that’s not possible in less expensive units. That narrows the field down to just 3-4 possible models, all of which are pretty costly. Lastly, the scanner we’re purchasing is 2k at formats up to 16mm, and we have the option to upgrade it to 35mm/4k later, with minimal effort or downtime.
Will you scan home movies?
We love old home movies! However, the sad fact is that it’s a slow and time consuming process to scan film at this quality level (even with the lower costs we plan to offer). Ultimately, that means it costs more than the average consumer is willing to pay. So our focus as a business will be on independent films, documentary films, short films, art films and small archives, not so much on home movies. That said... (keep reading)
Why are you offering all the Home Movie perks, then?
For the purpose of this campaign, we’re hoping to appeal to a broader range of backers than just filmmakers and archivists, and that means we’re offering to do professional transfers of home movies, at pretty affordable prices. Since almost everyone has or knows someone who has 8mm, Super-8mm or 16mm home movies, we thought, “What better way to spread out the funding than by transferring home movies at way higher quality than you can normally do?” You get to help preserve neglected and at-risk films and at the same time you get absolutely stunning scans of your own movies that will look a million times better than what you’d get at your local drugstore chain. And as a bonus, it’ll be done by people who know how to properly handle your film. Everybody wins!
If you don’t have your own films, you definitely know someone who does. Think about how much your parents or even grandparents would love to see those movies they haven’t looked at in 30 years. Or, think about how much fun it will be to show your kids what you looked like when you were their age. It’s the perfect gift!
What if you don’t meet your goal?
We have set up this indiegogo campaign as a “flexible funding” project. That means that even if we fall short of our goal, any money committed to this project will go towards the down payment of the scanner. We have already begun the process of securing a lease on the unit, but a substantial down payment would make our monthly payments smaller and that goes a long way towards making these services affordable to the folks who need it. If we don’t meet our goal, there may be a slight delay in fulfilling some of the perks we’ve offered, until financing is secured and the scanner has been delivered. All of the non-scanning perks will be taken care of as soon as the campaign has ended.
Oh, a quick note on our project thumnail image - the one of the boy standing by his father (presumably) while editing film. That comes from an old educational movie called "Facts About Film." It's part of the Prelinger Archive collection of ephemeral films, and is available for viewing in its entirety at archive.org. We totally recommend perusing the Prelinger collection there, to get a sense of the kind of films we're talking about saving. We're not affiliated with Archive.org or the Prelinger Archive, just huge fans!