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Film damage can be divided into three main categories: Damage incurred in shipping, inspection, and projection. In ALL cases, film damage is AVOIDABLE. The idea that scratches and splices are normal and part of the "look" of film is false, and a modern polyester print on well maintained projectors should be able to make several hundred runs through a projector without any significant signs of wear. That said, a well worn print deserves just as much love, care, and attention as a pristine one, from both the audience and the projectionist.
Damage to a print in shipping can be caused by ends of reels not being adequately taped down (film will wrap itself around adjacent reels and get the first several feet of each reel scratched and dirty), film not being rewound smoothly so that a few feet of film "spoke" out of the edge of the reel and are crushed, film on cores not being secured in their cans (on cans with textured or ribbed edges and bases, the edge of the reel will get scraped by the can - note that archives discourage the use of newspaper to pack film into cans, it is strongly advisable to use bubble wrap or some other non-acidic material). If a print is damaged in inbound shipping, it is your responsibility to notify the distributor/archive.
Damage to a print in inspection can be caused by careless handling of film on cores (film is loosely wound and film "telescopes" out), careless handling of a film which was loosely wound on cores or reels (tension on rewind table is too high and print is cinched), and poor repair practices.
Damage to a print in Projection can be caused by careless handling (film is dropped on the floor during threading), misthreading (loops are too big or small, or rollers are missed, and the film is scratched), poor maintenance (gate tension is off, pad rollers are not turning or are worn, sprockets are worn, projector is dirty, lamphouse is poorly aligned and/or there no heat shields, leading to heat damage), or negligent or non-existent inspection practices (print is run without being inspected (this should never happen!).
Damage to a print during projection can be eliminated almost entirely by careful and thorough inspection and threading, routine maintenance of projection and inspection equipment, and regular scratch tests.
An incredibly important tenet of working with film projectors is to always use the minimum amount necessary to accomplish the intended purpose. You can apply this rule to everything from lubrication of gears to setting take-up and feed reel tension to adjusting light and sound levels.
The following are types of damage you may encounter when inspecting a print. For each type:
- Recommended treatment
- Scratching (emulsion vs. base, soundtrack scratches)-
- Broken perfs - Perforations are either cracked or "pulled." Cracked perfs can be repaired with splicing tape (most common), perf repair tape (rare), or by "notching" the sprocket (warning! this method is somewhat controversial! In some circles, it is frowned upon and argued that it opens up the film to more damage, other people like this method because it reduces the amount of splicing tape on the print and doesn't cause a jump in the gate). Pulled perfs can be repaired with splicing tape or perf repair tape. If you feel you need to remove damaged frames, you should contact the owner of the print.
- Edge damage
- Warping : This page has some good photos and descriptions of different types of warping
- Dirt, oil, residue (see also "cleaning film")
- Bad splices
- Burned frames and blistering
- Emulsion deterioration
- Color fading
- Vinegar syndrome
- Printed-in damage
- "Fotokem dots" These are not damage, but they look like it! Will appear as a sort of spotted or checkerboard abrasion pattern on the base side of new prints. Will not be noticeable on screen. Cause is unknown, a result of some process in the lab. Investigation pending.