Electric Pictures Taps Rising Interest in Archiving

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Mon, 02/10/2014 - 16:14 -- Nick Dager

Thomson Shadow telecineWhile most Hollywood movies and television shows are now produced on digital media, Orange County, California post house Electric Pictures has built a thriving business using video systems that the newer digital technology was meant to replace.

As studios, production companies and post-production houses rushed to embrace the digital revolution, Electric Pictures founder Grace McKay spotted a business opportunity forming in its wake. “The migration to digital affected all of the major post-production houses in L.A. and worldwide,” said McKay. “Many of them began divesting themselves of their telecine equipment—and we began to buy it. While large post-production facilities focus on feature films and television, we serve a niche that includes archival, stock and documentary filmmakers. Very few companies do what we do.”

Electric Pictures specializes in telecine services, a process of converting film imagery to high-resolution video. Although Hollywood film and television studios rarely employ telecine processing anymore, demand for the now hard-to-find service remains greater than ever among organizations with large film libraries, including universities, stock footage houses, government entities and historic archives.

For them, telecine remains the best and most affordable alternative for preserving and making commercial use of their valuable film assets. In catering to this ongoing need, Electric Pictures has built up a national clientele that includes such groups as the University of California, Santa Cruz, the Pacific Film Archive, the Prelinger Archives and the Cotton Bowl.

Telecine was a standard service in the days when video ruled television. Major studios and post production companies maintained million dollar telecine systems for use in preparing motion pictures, television shows, commercials and other media, originally shot on film, for airing on television or release on home video. That changed over the past decade with the advent of digital cinematography and digital systems for post-production processing, all of which store and manipulate imagery in the form of digital files.

Grace McKayWhile most new films and television shows are produced with digital technology, there remains a backlog of more than 100 years of film-original media. All those film assets need to be transferred to an alternate form before they can be shown on television or other media outlets, as well as for the purposes of restoration and preservation. Studio-produced films and television shows are often converted to digital format through the use of film scanners. The film scanning process, however, is slow and costly putting it beyond the reach of organizations whose film assets lack the commercial value of a Hollywood blockbuster. Faster and less expensive, telecine processing provides an ideal alternative.

The potential market for the services that Electric Pictures provides is virtually endless. “There are millions, perhaps billions of feet of film in the world,” McKay said. “Some of it has been transferred to standard definition video, but those assets should be re-transferred at a higher resolution. Film and television are migrating to 2K, 4K and higher resolutions. A high definition transfer holds up well in that world; standard definition transfers do not.”

Electric Pictures operates Thomson/DFT Shadow telecines. Augmented by a variety of film handling and processing technologies, the company’s telecines are capable of transferring film to SD, HD an 2K digital and video formats, making it suitable for television, DVD, Blu-ray and other high-end applications. The company services virtually all film formats (positive and negative) including 35mm, 16mm, Super8 and Regular8.

“We have a lot of unusual tools,” McKay said. “We have wet-gate telecines, we have Cinnafilm Dark Energy restoration software, we have Teranex Image Restore hardware and Da Vinci Resolve for color correction. From film cleaning to film transfers with all these special tools, we produce imagery that looks much better than it did on film. We provide our clients with footage that can be accessed and used more readily.”

A shot from a Burt Balaban film being restored at Electric Pictures.Electric Pictures is currently preparing a series of films directed by the late Burt Balaban (Murder Inc.) for release to the home video market. “They include 12 feature films that were rescued by Paul Allen from an estate in New York,” McKay said. “They were produced in the early 50s for the European market.”

Other recent projects include archival film and video transfers for the up-coming documentary The John Penton Story from Pipeline Digital, after a successful Kickstarter campaign. Penton is the motocross pioneer who founded and raced Penton Motorcycles.

“There’s a lot of life in these old films,” said McKay noting that she is currently eying the purchase of additional telecine systems to keep pace with demand. “We’re growing and we want to continue to grow, but without sacrificing quality. We don’t want to be overwhelmed with work.  We want to continue to satisfy our clients and do great work.”

Electric Pictures www.electricpictures.tv