An archival print is a print of any film gauge that comes from a film archive or is considered to be archival by the lender of the print, where it be a studio, collector, or an independent distributor. Archival prints usually come with a set of rules of how they must be handled and exhibited and are only lent to venues or organizations that adhere to these rules.
Policies vary from institution to institution, but these are the most common requirements:
- Prints must be screened on dual projector changeover systems
- Prints cannot be built up onto platter systems or onto reels larger than 2000’.
- Heads and tails cannot be removed.
- Repairs cannot be made without contacting the archive first
- Any cue marks added must be grease pencil, removed after screening (no automation cues)
- Borrowers assume full responsibility for replacement or repair of lost or damaged prints
- Use a dual projector changeover system with reels no longer than 2k feet
- Projectionists should be trained to handle archival prints and operate a changeover projection system
- Keep booth clean and organized
- Booth should be kept cool and dry
- Be present! Your focus should be on the screening, and nowhere else
- Inspect prints properly, make detailed reports
- Present films correctly, with proper aspect ratio and sound format, as originally intended
- Keep your equipment well-maintained and clean
- Hire a reputable and experienced service technician, know how to communicate issues to them.
- Be very careful about making changes to equipment if you have no experience/it’s not in your job description. It’s easy to make things worse!
- All staff (including non-projection staff) at a venue should understand the importance of proper film handling.
- Communicate with your co-workers! If you’re running a print more than once leave clear notes regarding anything that will help the next projectionist have a good show.
- Make time! Make time for proper inspection and test reels (if the archive allows for this). It should be built into the schedule at your venue
When handling archival prints and dealing with archives always:
- Learn about the lending policies of the institutions you’re working with.
- Let them know about any damage incurred while print was in your possession, even minor things.
- Let them know about any damage noticed on inspection that might cause projection issues. Do not do any repair without checking with them first. Most archives won’t send you prints with unrepaired damage, but you may encounter this with private collector prints or non-archival prints.
- It’s helpful to include a clean well-detailed copy of your inspection report with the print when you return it. Some archives ask for it (Universal, Warner Brothers) but most find it helpful regardless. And it may help the next venue who receives the print.
Handling Non-Archival Prints
Some film prints are not considered archival by the lender. Some examples are studio prints (that are not part of the studio archive), some prints from private collectors or distributors, certain modern 70mm struck for first-run release. Because film prints are increasingly rare and no longer being produced by film laboratories in the large quantities they were before digital projection became the standard for exhibition it is generally considered best practice to treat them the same way you would an archival print. However the lender may still allow the borrower to do things like platter, make permanent cue marks, or remove the heads and tails of a non-archival print. Check with your lender before determining whether or not a print is considered to be archival.
One of the roles of the projectionist in the 21st century is to protect the print and ensure its longevity regardless of whether it is archival or not. Remember, it’s not your property, it’s merely in your care temporarily.