Inspection is one of the most important steps in the process of screening a film print. 1.It's a process of gathering information about the film print itself so you can project it properly. 2. It's a way for you to access print condition so you can avoid further damage 3. It's a way for the distributor or archive know what condition their print is in.
Print Inspection Supplies (for reel to reel projection)
- split reel (2000 ft)
- goldberg reels (2000 ft, at least 12) DO NOT PROJECT ONTO SHIPPING REELS
- Light box. If your rewind table doesn’t have one built in we find these light pads work well: Logan Portable Light Pad
- razor blades
- small flashlight
- white archival tape ( often called artist’s tape) PH neutral/acid free
- small scissors
- frame counter or frame ruler
- china marker/grease pencil (black or white only!)
- sharpie (acid free)
- lint free cotton gloves (for when you are handling anything other than the edges of the print)
- leader/replacement countdowns
- lint free cloths
- Kodak date code chart
- inspection report: There are many different looking types of reports, find out what works best for your venue. Single page ones are best, but you can also keep more detailed notes elsewhere and transfer them to the single page later. Some examples here: Inspection form
What we look for when inspecting a print:
- For how to make an inspection form for your venue and examples of various inspection forms see: Inspection form
- Orientation: (for 35mm prints) 35mm A wind (emulsion out (facing upward to the sky). B Wind (emulsion in towards the center of the reel). Keep an eye out for prints that come reverse wind, i.e NOT correct for projection. When heads out a correctly wound 35mm print (coming off the reel counterclockwise) will be soundtrack towards you, picture upside down and emulsion facing out. When threaded in the projector the emulsion side will be facing in towards the lamphouse, base side will be facing towards the screen. Some prints will arrive tails out, emulsion out, which is NOT CORRECT for projection. You’ll have to wind over/over or under/under to correct the wind.
- Some 16mm prints can be projected with the base side facing towards the screen, some with the emulsion facing towards the screen. The Eastman series projector requires you to make an adjustment to the optical reader depending on what the orientation of the print is.
- Base or Emulsion side?: Know the difference so you can identify where the damage is, how it will look on screen. Emulsion scratches tend to be more visible to the audience. The base side will look shinier, the emulsion side more matte and you can often see the raised edges within the frame where the emulsion is thickest. Use your flashlight, move the film back and forth and observe how the light reflects off the surface. Some prints will be easier than others to tell which side is which.
- Film base: Knowing what type of film base you’re dealing with is important - It can help you date the print, and the two types have different qualities. They have different thicknesses which can affect your focus if you go from an acetate to poly print or vice versa.
- Acetate: Older acetate prints tend to be more brittle and prone to warping as they lose moisture. Acetate is thicker and tends to break when stressed, and it can suffer from vinegar syndrome if not stored properly.
- Polyester: is slightly thinner and tends to stretch rather than just snapping. Polyester stock began being used for 35mm prints in the early 90s (it was used for 16mm much earlier). Post mid 90s basically everything is polyester (often referred to as Estar base which is the Kodak trade name). They say when acetate snaps it’ll break the print, when poly snaps (or stretches) it’ll break your projector!
- Film stocks/dates: If you want to know the date of the print use the Kodak Edge Code Chart. There are some film stocks (like Agfa) that don’t have date codes. Remember that the date print was made is NOT always the date that the film was released but it’s helpful to know if you have a vintage print on your hands.
- Film damage: Check for existing damage so you can prevent further damage, so you know how the print will look on screen, and so you can notify the lender of what condition the print was in when you received it. Get to know your audience, do they need to be warned when a print is severely scratched or faded? Is the damage going to affect their viewing experience? See the section on film damage for specific terms.
- Aspect ratios and Sound formats
- Changeover Cues