The history of film goes back over 100 years – to the 1890s, in fact. Since that time, it’s estimated that more than half a million movies have been created. It wasn’t until 1925 that John Logie Baird gave his first demonstration of television – and it’s probably conservative to say that over 40 million hours of content have been created in the 90+ years since then.
But movies and TV aren’t the only sources of shows and films that were committed to film. Think of all the commercials, all the documentaries, all the in-house productions, all the public information footage that’s been created – and that’s just scratching the surface.
And here’s the thing – much of that material has been lost. But, huge amounts of it remain, in a wide variety of film archives around the world – both commercial and non-commercial. Those huge amounts of content have significant social and historical value. More than that: that content also has real monetary value.
There are, however, difficulties in working with this archive material. The first challenge is that film degrades over time. It deteriorates if it hasn’t been stored in ideal conditions; it gets scratched through mishandling and sprocket holes start to fray through repeated playing. It’s valuable – but incredibly fragile. For many organizations, that means that capturing it in digital form has become a matter of urgency – before its physical condition means that it becomes inaccessible.
Rising to that first challenge is relatively straightforward. The second challenge is much more difficult: understanding exactly what content is included in the film reel. A documentary producer might be looking for footage of a steam train in the 1930s. How would they locate samples of the appropriate footage?
Vintage Cloud is a company that was created to address these challenges – and the opportunities that solving those challenges presents. It specializes in transferring old film archives into digital files. In itself, that’s a fairly well-understood process – so long as appropriate care is taken of the fragile source material.
What’s much harder than simply converting the content into computer-storable, computer-retrievable files is to make sense of what those files contain – so that their value can be preserved and monetized. What’s needed is ‘metadata’ – information about the content, in as much detail as possible. Unfortunately, with much archive material, that metadata just doesn’t exist. Where it does exist, it’s often in rudimentary, unstructured, written form that requires substantial editing.