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Will Montgomery

New Legal 16mm Prints

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I've been enjoying my 16mm print collection recently and I was wondering what it would take to get studios to release new 16mm prints to the public. Consider this a thought experiment.


Technically it would not be difficult to create a high-quality negative from a Blu-Ray or 4k source. Expensive, but not difficult. If the print was only authorized for home use, just like home video...would a studio consider licensing such copies for a reasonable sum?


(I do realize that many collectors may not feel a "film out" is the same as a copy from the original production negatives which may kill the idea altogether)


For it to make financial sense you'd undoubtedly have to make quite a few copies for sale, but if it was all licensed properly from a studio and they received all sorts of free publicity from the release, I wonder if they'd be interested?


Of course the price of each print would be in the $600 range just to cover print stock costs (not including the new negative output or the lab!)...but we've seen some print titles like Star Wars, ect. go for $5000 in good shape. It would be a very small market but for the right titles it seems like it could work.


Not sure what a studio makes on a DVD or Blu-Ray...30% maybe after manufacturing, marketing, ect.?


Of course all the rights holders would have to agree and negotiate their cut so that's why it's probably dead in the water but it sure would be nice to have new, clean prints that won't fade like the Eastman print stock did.


If you could create say 30 B&W prints of the restored 1933 King Kong and sell them to collectors for $1200 each...seems like it might cover costs even with the studio's cut.

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Well, there are many things to think about...


First and most expensive problem is lasering the image to 16mm print stock. The only way I can think of doing this, is to laser out a 16mm sized image onto 35mm stock 1:1 with optical sound track and somehow doing a contact print from 35mm to 16mm. Or simply laser out a 35mm IP and make a reduction 16mm IN. All of this is very expensive, several thousand dollars worth of labor and stock/processing.


Second, 16mm prints have horrible optical audio. Yes, there are some solutions, but all of them are custom and won't work for general audience. You could figure out a mass-produced timecode decoder box with CD playback like DTS, which reads the pulses off the optical sound track. That's totally doable but the cost would be exorbitant and I doubt highly, the studio's would allow 1:1 DTS soundtracks to be released to the public without paying some kind of royalty. Sound now a days is as important as picture and without a solution, it's a non-starter in my book.


Third, Anamorphic... remember, 16mm is 1.33:1 aspect ratio, so pretty much every movie will need to be squeezed onto the frame using some sort of anamorphic process. Since the frame is so small, putting black bars at the top and bottom would simply loose a large amount of image quality. SO now you're talking about anamorphic lens adaptors which are again, expensive and don't work on all projectors. So you're restricting the amount of projectors that can run these special "new" high quality prints.


Fourth, 35mm in the long-term around the same price as 16mm because it's more widely used. The average 35mm print costs $1500 to make, which isn't bad. There are several european manufacturers of table top 35mm projectors, it's just a question of importing them for collectors. 35mm has all the digital sound track stuff standard and it would be very easy to develop a dolby digital decoder bracket for the portable projectors. All you'd need is an anamorphic lens adaptor and you're good to go. You can buy any old projection print you want and throw it up. The best thing is that with 35mm, you can get real technicolor prints that never fade, you can get polyester theatrical prints that will last for decades and look WAY better then any 16mm reduction print and you can get modern digital audio. Plus, you can rent your prints to theaters who want to screen movies! So it's an investment that over the long term, could pay you back some dividends.


Fifth, A standard 16mm print is around 1k worth of information, so it's a lot less quality then a standard BluRay disk. I've struck dozens of prints off my 16mm camera originals and the 4k Digital scans really show the lack of information in the print and that's directly off the negative. When you deal with the process required to strike 16mm prints from 35mm, there are tremendous losses through the optical path alone, let alone all the different print stocks used to make them. With UHD HDR laser lit home theater projectors, slowly working their way into the market place, the point of projecting a low-resolution, low quality audio 16mm print, becomes not as interesting.


I too have a few 16mm prints and honestly, it's awesome to thread them up and project them. It's not about the quality, it's about the "film" experience. At the same time, I don't see that much of a market for "new" 16mm prints of modern movies. I think collectors probably don't care that much about modern movies, so it's not a priority. Personally, I'd much rather have a 35mm setup anyway, I care about audio just as much as picture and for ME the optical sound track is a deal killer. No matter what though, you aren't going to get better quality at home then a UHD HDR laser lit home theater projector, with UHD source. So it's not about quality at that point, it's about the experience. If I had the room, I'd have a Century JJ with 35mm/70mm gate and platter system. I'm sure my roommate is glad I don't have the room. LOL :P

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Any title that has been bulk printed must have an Interpositive somewhere. From that 35mm Interpositive, we could make a reduction 16mm duplicate negative. With a new (mono) soundtrack this can then be contact printed to 16mm printstock. The image quality is very good for 16mm but the sound is limited.

Would anyone who is now paying a dozen €/$ for a Bluray with 5.1 digital sound be willing to pay maybe 700-900 €/$ for a 16mm collectors print?

In the late 1980s Rune Ericson of Sweden developed a system where smaller remote theatres would receive Super 16mm reduction prints with sync DAT sound. The savings on shipping prints were enormous but it never got off the ground.

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There are 16mm film recorders. Jack at Metropolis in NY has a Lasergraphics recorder that can do 16 or 35mm. It's not a cheap process though.

Ohh cool, do you know what resolution it is?

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