Lessons Learnt from the English, August Restoration or “Welcome to the Club.”

I’ve learnt a whole lot of lessons in the restoration of the ‘English, August’ negative. It all began when Upamanyu Chatterjee asked for a DVD of the film.

Readers of this weblog will know that the 35mm negative of English, August was damaged by Prasad Laboratories in Madras (now Chennai) because of poor storage. Ironic given that I chose to work with them because they were the best processing and printing laboratory in India.

I was later told by several established filmakers, cinematographers and producers, “welcome to the club.” The club is a group of people who have lost the Original Negatives of their films due to poor storage conditions in India.

So for aspiring filmmakers here are the five things to look out for.
And when I use the word Laboratory you could replace that with a Digital Post Production Facility too.

Choose Your Laboratory Carefully

  • Ask to see their previous work.
  • Something they have done in the last six months.
  • Speak to the producers, directors, cinematographers and editors and get a sense of their personal experience.
  • What is the extra mile the facility will go for you?
  • Will they treat you with respect or will you be given short shrift.
  • Remember, they need you more than you need them.

Proper Storage- Make your Laboratory Accountable

  • Ask to see where they store your original masters.
  • Is it temperature controlled?
  • Is the temperature maintained 24×7?
  • Do they have dust filters?
  • How often are these cleaned?
  • What backup system do they have for all this?

Pay your Laboratory for Storage

  • Don’t take this for granted. (I did as did so many others)
  • Let’s not forget the Lab also has to survive.
  • Offer to pay for storage.
  • This will be music to their ears and in all likelihood they will go the extra mile.

Check your Negative / Master from time to time

  • Drop in from time to time.
  • Buy your Lab Supervisor lunch.
  • Make friends with them.
  • You’ll learn a lot about cinema as well.
  • If it’s tape then run it through a machine.
  • If it’s film negative open it and have it wound gently so the layers do not pack too tightly.

Backup-Backup-Backup

Budget for a backup.

  • If you are shooting on Tape then make sure you have an onsite and an offsite backup.
  • Have three levels of backup.

Do the same for all your sound.

  • Your Location Sound Tracks.
  • Your ADR.
  • Your Sound Design Tracks.
  • Your Final Mix and Stems.
  • Your Dolby M.O. Disk.

I know this sounds ridiculous but think of this:

  • We never made a Internegative of English, August.
  • We were penny wise-pound foolish.
  • When we found the Original Negative was in a poor condition we telecined it to tape.
  • The tape was captured to an expensive high quality tested drive.
  • I thought we were safe.
  • When I began the process to master the DVD I found the drive was dead.
  • We had never thought of making a clone of that drive.
  • We felt that the “tried and tested drive” was fail safe.

If you are originating on 35mm Film Negative make a budget for:

  • A timed Internegative.
  • Store that carefully.
  • If you are going the DI route even then make a timed Internegative.
  • Or if you can afford it strike a second safety negative which you store carefully.
  • If you have a huge budget then I’d urge you to make a YCM master on 35mm too.

But that is another story.