Aug. 10, 2022

REBEL SCANNERS: Preserving Star Wars (with Rob of TEAM NEGATIVE 1)

REBEL SCANNERS: Preserving Star Wars (with Rob of TEAM NEGATIVE 1)

How fans are preserving original film prints of the Star Wars films for posterity

"If you've only seen them this way, then you've never seen them at all!"

In 1997 George Lucas released a special edition of the original Star Wars trilogy with new digital effects and changes both subtle and drastic. Since then, the original unaltered versions of the films have not been made officially available.

But where there's a will, there's a way, and fan efforts to restore and preserve the original films have filled the void. One of the most impressive of these fan restoration projects is 4K77 – a 4K scan of a 70mm Technicolor print – undertaken by a group which goes by the name TEAM NEGATIVE 1.

I am absolutely chuffed to chat with the co-founder of Team Negative 1, Rob, about their efforts to preserve Star Wars.







[00:00:00] JOSH: Welcome to Trash Compactor. I am Josh. And today we're talking about Star Wars, film preservation. 1977's Star Wars was one of the most culturally significant and technically innovative films of all time, so much so that it was among the first 25 films to be inducted into the National Film Registry in the United States Library of Congress, which was founded to preserve quote culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films. Famously in 1997,

[00:00:28] George Lucas released a special edition version of his masterpiece with new digital effects and changes both subtle and drastic. At the time, at least for me, these special editions were something of a revelation.

[00:00:37] It was the first time I'd seen these films on the big screen and to see them be quote fixed and up to date with all the latest technology was nothing short of incredible. But since then, both mine and many others opinions have shifted mainly because George Lucas has refused to make the original version of the films available and Disney, which now owns Lucasfilm and Star Wars has thus far respected his wishes to do so.

[00:01:04] In George Lucas's mind, the originals were, as he says, unfinished films and these special editions represent his total visions, but many fans understandably want the version of the movies they fell in love with. Nevermind their status as significant cultural artifacts in their original unaltered. So aside from holding on to worn out VHS tapes and laser discs, some intrepid fans have decided to undertake professional level film preservation projects to restore and preserve the original versions of the Star Wars films. And to my mind, the most impressive of these efforts was by a group called Team Negative 1 whose Project 4K77 was a 4k scan of the original Star Wars film sourced from original film prints. And they have made the original versions of the Star Wars films available in the highest quality ever. Subsequently, they've released 4K83 for Return of the Jedi and at the time of this recording are closing in on 4K80 for The Empire Strikes Back. They're also working on 4K99 through 4K05 of the prequel films.

[00:02:09] And to talk about those efforts, I am absolutely chuffed to welcome the co-founder of Team Negative 1. Rob, Rob, welcome to Trash Compactor.

[00:02:19] ROB: Hi, thank you for having me.

[00:02:21] JOSH: Did I use chuff correctly? I know you're of British extraction so,

[00:02:26] ROB: Yes. That was a good use of chuffed.

[00:02:28] JOSH: Okay. I took a chance, first off, did I mischaracterize the work that you do?

[00:02:32] Is it a pretty good, uh, description of the story of Team Negative 1, of what you guys did?

[00:02:36] ROB: Uh, yeah, I think you got it exactly right.

[00:02:38] JOSH: first off. I wanna mention to you, , I told a friend of mine, who's actually a frequent guest on, , this podcast. His name is Russ. I told him that I was interviewing you. And he said, and I'm quoting, I'm reading from the text.

[00:02:49] I think they're doing the greatest work on the planet fundamentally to me personally. so,

[00:02:55] ROB: nice to hear.

[00:02:56] JOSH: So tell me how this effort started. Where did Team Negative 1 come from and how did the idea come about? And I guess, how did you get involved?

[00:03:03] ROB: Um, well, somebody posted something on original Um, I forget exactly who it was, but somebody just posed the question. Would it be possible to get hold of some theatrical film prints and use those as a basis for, a nice high definition version of Star Wars or probably at the time, it would've been just standard definition, DVD quality, but, you know, the, the whole thing came about when.

[00:03:29] You know, DVDs became really popular. And I was looking for Star Wars on DVD and it wasn't available, you know, 2000 came along 2001, 2002. It still wasn't available on DVD when so many other films were. And, I still have my VHS tapes and I knew about laser discs because my father had them when I was a kid.

[00:03:48] So I went looking for laser discs and got a laser disc player, which by that point, you know, they were coming down in price significantly, cuz they were all technology and nobody wanted them. so I made my first effort at creating a DVD by simply recording from the laser disc player, onto my computer and then authoring a DVD. I naively thought that by doing that, it would be DVD quality, but of course.

[00:04:12] It really wasn't, it was still later dis quality and it wasn't the best player that I had or the best set of discs. So it wasn't nearly good enough. I started looking around and I found original way back in 2002 or three, or whenever it was that they started. And they seemed to have the same goal as me.

[00:04:28] Um, well, like I say, somebody had posted on there. , why can't we just get a film print? And then another member of that forum Negative 1 said, well, let's stop talking about it. Let's actually do it. And he went out and found some, he found just a couple of odd reels of The Empire Strikes Back. They were vinegared and re and he was looking for a way to transfer them onto the computer. and somebody else, his handled was cinch. He contacted Negative One and said, well, I have some ideas about that, cuz he'd read about it on the forum too. And he said he could do something. So what they did is they got together with these film reels and he built a little machine that used, just one of those little Canon digital cameras that could point and shoot camera.

[00:05:11] One of the, you know, it's his early 2000s. So it was only about 3.5 megapixels. but they found a way to control it. Uh, there was a computer program you could do, you plug it in and control it through USB, I think to make it do the shutter. Uh, they built a, a rig using an old VCR to be the film transport, and it went one frame, click, one frame, click, one frame click.

[00:05:35] It was really slow. The quality wasn't great. But as a proof of concept, it was still the best we'd ever seen. and digitally you could bring back the color using programs like DaVinci Resolve and Premiere or After Effects. So, the concept was born at that point and Negative One went on to find more prints.

[00:05:54] He found a complete print of Empire or managed to find enough reels to make a complete print. And then he found a Spanish print of Star Wars, and we found other ways to, to scan these things. Um, you know, the, the easiest way to do it is to get a projector. And then you run the film at full speed and you just point a camera with a, a zoom lens into the projector, right into the film gate.

[00:06:17] And obviously the image is flipped, but it's really easy to flip it back digitally. and so that the first one of those was HD. One of the problems with that method though, was the camera could only only record at 23.976 frames a second. And the projector was spitting it out at 24 frames a second.

[00:06:36] So. Cinch had to rig up this, basically a handle that he could move back and forth, which would increase or decrease the tension on the film. Basically slowing it down, speeding it up. and he'd, you'd have to watch you know, the screen on the camera and he could see when the frame was going up and down and he, he just moved his handle subtly just to keep it within the frame of the, the video.

[00:06:57] yeah, many couldn't leave. He had to stand there for the full 20 minutes moving this lever until

[00:07:02] it was done.

[00:07:03] JOSH: I know my listeners, , can't see me, but I'm gritting from ear to ear because just listening to the ingenuity and dedication involved is just, it really is, is so amazing and, and it, uh, is so wonderful to hear. And just to be clear, what you're talking about is Sort of an ad hoc method of the real way you would scan a film print. I mean, whenever you see a movie on your TV or on bluray or DVD that was originally shot on film, there was some . Scanning process involved where the physical film was scanned into a digital format. And then, converted into a viewable format.

[00:07:41] Um, I know I mentioned, in the intro, there are a couple of other preservation projects, fan preservation projects. Uh there's of course, I think most famously Harmy's Despecialized Editions. And, I know, um, Mike Verta, I believe his name is had a project Star Wars Legacy. I don't know if you've heard of that one, but, could you explain, In kind of simplest layman's terms, the difference between what Team Negative 1 produces versus the Despecialized Editions or what the Legacy Edition is supposed to be.

[00:08:15] ROB: okay. Well, the de specialized edition as the name implies is he's removing all the special edition changes from the bluray. Um, the advantage to doing that is you get bluray quality output, right from the beginning, except where you had to put in different scenes. , for example, it's easy to cut out most of the Mos Eisley sequence that was added, you know, with the CGI dinosaurs and the Jawas fooling around, um, that can just be cut out.

[00:08:44] But then the scene, where the speeder goes across the screen, and there's a dinosaur walking in front of the camera, that's much more difficult to do. You either have to go to a different source, um, which at the time the original despecialized was the laser disc was the best source you had. and that would have to be upscaled and cleaned up and, you know, it never quite matched the bluray quality.

[00:09:06] But anyway, it's the approach really, that's different. He's taking things away from the bluray, While our project and the Legacy Edition is starting with something that doesn't have any special edition changes. We're starting with original 1977 film prints. And the only inserts we have to make are where there are frames missing on that print.

[00:09:25] And over the years, we've actually scanned at this point, eight or nine, complete 35 millimeter prints of Star Wars. Um, we still don't have a complete set of frames because of the way films are shown, in the eighties. Most of 'em were plattered, which means all six reels were joined together into one huge reel and then they would run.

[00:09:46] And when they were done, they would have to cut it up and put it back six reels. And every time they did that and they removed the splices, frames would get damaged and they'd remove a frame here and remove a frame there, and before you know it, there are 15, 20 frames missing at the, the end of each reel in the beginning of the next one.

[00:10:02] JOSH: Right.

[00:10:03] ROB: So much of the frames we have, but not quite all of them.

[00:10:07] JOSH: And then I believe, Mike Verta's approach, at least the way he describes it on some of his, video tutorials is he has some, technique where he with computer software using multiple prints from different sources, compare the differences and would somehow, so he says land on a quality of the image.

[00:10:32] that's even more pristine than any print that ever existed, which, um, I don't quite know how that's possible, but, regardless the samples he's posted online in the past are very impressive. but, to my mind, as someone who has really come to appreciate film and seeing film exhibited on film, the Team Negative 1 releases are really my ideal, dream of the way I wanna see Star Wars presented.

[00:10:58] I wanna see the film grain. I wanna see the quality of it, that it was shot on film on a tactile medium. I like seeing what I think a lot of contemporary audiences may see as the imperfections in the image or why is it so, so noisy and why isn't it

[00:11:14] pristine, um, but what, what you guys are putting out are very close representations of the way the films would've looked when they were distributed and exhibited theatrically, , during their original runs. Isn't that correct? To say?

[00:11:31] ROB: Yes, that's very correct to say, yes, we do our best to represent the film, uh, as it is, we do digitally clean a lot of the dirt and dust.

[00:11:39] Uh, at least we did with the, the first versions. Um, but we didn't, we deliberately didn't remove the grain. you know, when you look at Star Wars, there are scenes like, uh, you know, the droids in the desert, that's really, really grainy stuff compared to some of the stuff that was done in the studio.

[00:11:54] and that's, that's how it looks when you screen it. We've screened some of our prints before, uh, on the big screen. And you can truly see all that grain that we show now, the scanning process does enhance that grain and make it stand out more than when you see it reflected off of a movie screen, because,

[00:12:13] you know, we are capturing it straight from the projector into the camera. or if we're using more modern scanner, it's a similar process. It's still a, a photograph of the film frame with the light shining through the back of it. So there is a lot more grain visible than when you bounce it off of a movie screen,

[00:12:29] JOSH: Right. So, but you do also offer, what's called the DNR or digital noise. versions that will sort of compensate for that, which is a standard practice. When, when you release a, film on a home format, like a bluray or a for a streaming service. But I love that.

[00:12:48] what you guys do, you don't scrub it completely clean, , so it looks like it was shot on video. you find that nice sweet spot where you can still see some of the grain, you can still tell that it was shot on film, but it just, it's not overpowering.

[00:13:02] ROB: Exactly. That's what we, we were going for. Um, obviously when you're watching it on your, 4k television, it's a different experience. If you're watching it, projected, you know, digital projection, bouncing it off a screen, it is less grainy than if you're watching it on your television. Uh, so that's really why we created two versions.

[00:13:18] The original, no DNR version is for people who like to project it and see the film grain. And then the other one is more for people who watch it on television, uh, where it actually, I think it plays better, more like a, a modern bluray, , and that's the effect that Harmy's going for. He wants Star Wars to look like a very modern bluray.

[00:13:36] We are trying to make one that looks more like you're watching it in the cinema in in a.

[00:13:40] JOSH: Yeah. Which I suppose is just an aesthetic taste thing.

[00:13:44] ROB: Yeah, and I have to give Mike Verta a lot of credit because, uh, he really inspired me. cuz I know he can't release his. He was, he says he was specifically told, by the studios and warned that if he released his version, you know, he'd be going straight to jail without passing go. So, you know, we can understand why he's not putting these things out, but we really appreciated the videos that he put out the tutorials, uh, that inspired us, greatly.

[00:14:11] And, and I really tried to, recreate as many of the techniques as we could with, the technology that we had at the time. I, you know, you talked about the, the layering, he does averaging of frames. We've , experimented with that and. we may go further into that. Now we have access to, to better scanners, cuz at the time what we found was, the one scan we had of that Technicolor print was really clean and sharp compared to all the other scans.

[00:14:39] I think actually that that scan was sharpened quite a lot. at the time it was made because none of the other prints, we scanned it anywhere near as sharp, even the Eastman ones, which are usually sharper than Technicolor so what we found was when we averaged these things together, it did reduce the dirt and dust.

[00:14:56] It did reduce the grain,

[00:14:58] But it also reduced how sharp the image was because our other sources just were not as sharp as that original one. But now we have access to better scanners. We're gonna try it again and see what we can come up with.

[00:15:11] JOSH: So that's actually something else that I don't think a lot of people realize. And I wonder if you could explain, the way that, you know, when somebody talks about the original Star Wars, the way that they saw it in the theater in 1977 or. Uh, you know, whenever there's there, wasn't just one definitive version of Star Wars.

[00:15:29] There were, many prints made on, different film stocks some with, literal, different soundtracks and, the 70 millimeter, Technicolor prints have a very different quality to the color reproduction than the Eastman, prints. And there are, Fuji prints So , not all of these, prints look the same, they each have their own sort of quality inherent to the quality of, the film is my understanding correct?

[00:15:56] ROB: Yes, absolutely. The, uh, the Technicolor prints, they use a, a three strip process. Uh, basically it's three black and white images. Um, I believe when they, you know, they shot it on regular color, negative film, but when they created these separation masters, they used some kind of prism to separate the red light and the green light and the blue light, and each went onto its own black and white film strip.

[00:16:20] And then they would layer those on top of each other with dyes color dye to bring back the color. And that is why you sometimes get a little bit of fringing here and there. You could see a bit of green or a bit of red showing on the side of edges. Because those three layers that are essentially just glued together,

[00:16:35] aren't perfectly lined up sometimes most of the times they are, but we've looked at at least two color, technical prints of Star Wars. And they were clearly made from different, either from different masters or different run or different day because, they're lined up differently. You know, you can't say,

[00:16:52] okay, in this scene, it's always fringing because it's not.

[00:16:55] And some have fringing there and some don't, , then the Eastman prints, they're further away from the negative in terms of what generation they are. They would generally be, you know, the original negative. Then there'd be, an inter positive made from. which would be color timed and there'd be a new inter negative made and then a theatrical print made from that.

[00:17:14] And the reason they did that was, you know, they were gonna strike hundreds of prints and you can wear out the original negative. Whereas if you make the inter positive and you create several negatives from that, sure you have more generations of grain because at that point you've got four film, four generations of film, but you don't wear out the negative

[00:17:31] when it wears out, you can just make a new one.

[00:17:34] so yeah, people didn't see the same version of film. like you say, there were different audio mixes, there's a stereo mix and a mono mix. And the mono mix, I think came later, uh, and that was the, the most refined audio track there was. And the 70 millimeter prints were blowups. but I believe they came straight from the negative.

[00:17:55] So although they were blown up, they were much closer to the negative. So they were less grainy and obviously much bigger film stock. So, so that would've been a different experience again, with the six channel audio and.

[00:18:07] JOSH: I do recall an anecdote shortly after, the original release on May 25th, like literally the following weekend, Mark Hamill stopped by the studio where George Lucas was working on the mix for, I believe the mono mix. And he called, uh, mark in to re dub some lines. And Mark Hamill didn't understand why George was still working on the movie.

[00:18:30] It was out the lines are around the block. It's it's, it's matching box office records. And you're asking me to come in and loop lines. So, but it just goes to show that that, uh, you know, uh, you know, George paraphrased, a famous quote that I think is now, attributed to him that, films are never released.

[00:18:46] They're only abandoned, or, I think he's said at one point, films aren't released the escape.

[00:18:53] ROB: Yeah. And I can really sympathize with that now because you know, I'm already on, I don't know how many versions of Star Wars I've done now because we did the Silver Screen Edition using that LPP Spanish print and then 4K77 with the Technicolor and every few years we either upgrade our scanning equipment or we find some new technology or new software and, you know, we give a little test.

[00:19:18] Well, we can make it better. Uh,

[00:19:20] we can keep improving it, but of course, we're trying to get back to the original version. and every time we do now, we have more prints. We get more film frames, uh, fewer bluray frames that need to be put in there to replace the missing ones. Uh, but still it's, uh, we're constantly revising it over and over again and never just letting it go and saying, yeah, there we're done.

[00:19:39] JOSH: right. I'm glad you brought up the Silver Screen Edition because, um, that's sort of a more kind of like a Grindhouse messier version that, that, still retains some of the dirt and the scratches. Is that correct? Or am I misremembering?

[00:19:54] ROB: Um, we did our best to clean it up. Um, I spent, uh, a whole year or two

[00:19:59] JOSH: Oh, okay. Well, I apologize. I might be thinking of the Grindhouse release of the empire strikes back that's out there. But, the point of what I wanted to say is I actually sometimes enjoy watching the, Grindhouse versions to kind of recreate that, that feeling of, going to a second run movie theater and just, you know, seeing a movie up on the big screen that had been run through that projector zillion times.

[00:20:23] Like there's something about that. I don't know. Maybe I'm just a, weird Ciliac,

[00:20:28] ROB: Not at all. I, I feel exactly the same actually. And I didn't initially when we started this, I did, you know, like I say, I worked really really hard on that third reel to get every piece of dirt and dust and scratch that I could removed. Um, but since then, I I've kind of mellowed to that. Uh, I've seen a lot more film scans that we've made where we haven't cleaned it up at all, and that every bit is enjoyable

[00:20:54] and somehow more authentic too, just seeing those little flashes on the screen.

[00:20:59] Uh, I really enjoy that now.

[00:21:01] JOSH: This is something I actually want to get your take on. , because I remember the time of the Phantom Menace, , which was shot on 35 millimeter film stock. It wasn't until, the second prequel Attack of the Clones that, uh, they started shooting completely digitally. Where there was no film involved at any phase of the process, but, uh, but I do remember the Phantom Meance, they made a big deal out of the, digital screenings of it that were made in a few select theaters.

[00:21:29] I remember I went out of my way. I drove to another state to see a digital screening of the Phantom Menace because, you know, this was the hype, this was the future. And I was so shocked and amazed at how pristine and how, how clear it was. And, You know, now of course that's, the norm, I mean, that's the standard that's how, how everything is projected.

[00:21:49] there are very few films projected on actual celluloid film anymore. And, it wasn't until actually not that long ago, like five or six years ago, I went to a repertory theater and, and I saw a screening of a film that I'd seen a million times. I think it was like even The Godfather or something.

[00:22:07] It was a movie that I'd seen, you know, many, many times over the years. But, this was the first time that, I had actually seen a projected film print exhibited theatrically. And I can't tell you, I can't really put it into words, but just, it was like I was seeing it for the first time. There was just some quality to the image and it crystallized in that moment. that I forgot what seeing movies was like, like all of those movies that I grew up seeing in the movie theater, they all looked like this. they all had these scratches, they all had this, strange, kind of, chemical, grain, pattern quality. Like they didn't, look clean and, and crisp and, and perfect.

[00:22:48] and ever since then, I've really come to appreciate the, that, quality. Again, I, I don't even really have a word for it. I'm tempted to say that that magic. Uh but there's some quality film has that. you know, I'm so glad that, Star Wars, and I know that you preserve, uh, you do, preservations of lots of other films.

[00:23:10] I'm glad that, somebody is out there trying to preserve the experience of watching these films that way, because I mean, these films are, first off they're deteriorating.

[00:23:21] ROB: Yep.

[00:23:21] JOSH: you know, these things have a shelf life, like, we haven't even talked about the issues, surrounding the restoration and the fading of the color and, you know, the dreaded vinegar syndrome and all of that stuff.

[00:23:31] So, I mean, there are, of course those issues, but also how many, theaters are, showing film prints in general of all movies? The only way to see them are these, digitally scrubbed versions on streaming services. And, I forget the point I was making, but I, I'm just really happy that you guys are doing the work that you're doing

[00:23:50] ROB: Yeah. Um, well, I think one of the reasons that it's important to preserve the films is that, not only are blurays, you know, scrubbed clean, but they're also these days they're made directly from the original camera negatives.

[00:24:03] And when they make these, the original camera negatives show, what the camera saw, they don't show what we saw in cinemas, because those were all chemically color timed to look a certain way.

[00:24:15] And I often feel like they don't even watch an original film print to see what it looked like. They just decide how to make the colors. So. You know, there are certain things like when I watched, uh, the bluray of, of Dr. No, as beautiful as that bluray is. And I mean, they really did a good job and I, I do believe they watched, uh, some Technicolor prints to get that right.

[00:24:34] there were still a couple of scenes. I noticed that, were done originally as day for night, you know, they shot it in the day, so it was supposed to look like nighttime. and when I compared the two, you know, just looking back at the old laser disc, uh, it was obvious that they missed a couple, because on the camera negative, it was daytime and they didn't even think to look, oh, maybe they meant that to be nighttime.

[00:24:54] And these things just slip through.

[00:24:57] JOSH: I really also appreciate your James Bond, film restoration efforts. I know that, , you're also a big James Bond fan. I loved, the, from Russia with love. restoration that you did. during the early days of the pandemic, when everyone thought it was like, radioactive outside and no one was even leaving their house, I decided to, do a full, rewatch of all of, the bond films.

[00:25:16] And, , that was the version of, from Russia with love that I watched. And again, it was like I'd never seen it, before, like it was like, I was seeing it for the first time. so thank you for that experience as well.

[00:25:27] ROB: You're welcome. I actually got to see that print projected on 120 foot screen that the drive in, uh, just a

[00:25:32] few weeks ago,

[00:25:33] JOSH: oh

[00:25:34] ROB: it was amazing. I saw that and, gold finger and Thunderball.

[00:25:38] JOSH: Oh, don't tell me these things. That's I have to ask this question because I wonder it all the time. what are your thoughts or concerns about any legal issues, surrounding the work that you do, obviously?

[00:25:51] you don't have the rights to, , disseminate this material. my impression is that these communities are niche enough then, and kind of go under the radar enough that there's sort of a gentleman's agreement that, the big boys will sort of look the other way.

[00:26:06] So I'd be curious, , just to hear why you think Disney and other studios, have left you alone, at least thus.

[00:26:14] ROB: well, first of all, You know, I totally understand that. Legally speaking, what we're doing, is definitely a violation of copyright law. There's, you know, it's not a gray area at all. Uh, it says specifically, you know, you may not make any copies and distribute, uh, this material without prior written consent or whatever from the copyright holder.

[00:26:34] , however, Star Wars, at least, , I feel there's a little leeway there because you know, George Lucas is, has denied that the original exists, the original version even exists these days. Um, you know, he's, he says it doesn't exist anymore. It only exists on VHS and laser disk and they won't last,

[00:26:53] JOSH: Do we actually know that to be, true? Hasn't it been confirmed that the original negative still exists? Is that, is that true or am I mistaken?

[00:27:02] ROB: , well, when they restored the negative for the special editions, they did. Chop it up and the pieces were removed. Uh, we assume they were saved somewhere, the pieces they chopped out, but the

[00:27:12] original negative now has the special edition stuff in it.

[00:27:15] JOSH: Right. so, but theoretically, if they wanted to reconstruct the original negative, it's, it's not outside the realm of possibility, assuming they saved the trims that they could, if they wanted to.

[00:27:25] ROB: Yeah. Uh, in fact, when they restored the original negative before they put any special edition stuff in, you know, they had it all pristine and ready to go and somebody asked them, should we just make a backup of this? Because this is the original version. And George said, no, start Cho it up.

[00:27:39] So they didn't make a preservation. Yeah, that's that was in, uh, one of the books I read by one of the people who worked at ILM, uh, at the time they were making special editions. , he said, no, don't bother with that. so they didn't make a preservation of the original negative. At that point, they did go straight to chopping it up. And, you know, they did the digital film outs and spliced them in.

[00:27:59] And that is the version that was scanned, for the 2019. bluray

[00:28:04] JOSH: so you think though, so what you're saying, if I'm understanding correctly is you think in this case there's a bit of a gray area because, the product that you guys are making available literally doesn't exist in any other way,

[00:28:16] ROB: exactly. It's been out of print since 2006, if you count that bluray but really since 1993, it hasn't been redone.

[00:28:23] I suppose the Fae game though, I think , you know, Disney's been been very generous and very nice to us, and I hope that that continues obviously,

[00:28:31] JOSH: Do you think that is because they understand or they value the enthusiasm and the passion that you bring and that to basically honk you guys off is just like, at the end of the day, counterproductive.

[00:28:45] ROB: I would hope so. Yeah. I think that there are probably a lot of people there who really appreciated, you know, I can imagine a lot of them grew up watching the original films and, you know, they're glad that somebody's making the effort, even if they're not actually allowed to do it, uh, they may even wanna do it, but they're not allowed to, for whatever reason

[00:29:00] I don't know. But, uh, either way we're very careful not to profit from any of this work.

[00:29:05] JOSH: Right. Of course. that's probably the line that if you crossed it would, would, uh,

[00:29:09] ROB: yeah,

[00:29:10] I imagine if we started, you know, stamping these out on blurays and selling them, uh, they would probably crack down, but yeah, we're very careful that we don't make any money on this at all. It's purely to preserve the original films that we grew up with and enjoyed. and also, you know, we we scanned a copy of Highlander, the original us cut, which is no longer available anywhere beyond VHS, as far as I know.

[00:29:32] And the studio or at least somebody at, I dunno if it's, studio Panza Davis was the, the copyright holders. somebody from there actually contacted us, not to tell us to cease and desist, but to ask if we could help them with, like the 40th anniversary edition.

[00:29:47] JOSH: that's amazing.

[00:29:49] ROB: and you know, they

[00:29:50] said, we understand if we understand, you're not trying to do this for profit or, you know, for any other reason, other than you love this film.

[00:29:55] And we'd like you to find more copies of this film, maybe make a preservation that we can put out on that 40th anniversary disc. Uh, now unfortunately, I think it pans or Davis, one of them had died a while ago and the other one recently died. So we're not

[00:30:11] sure what's happening with that at this point, um,

[00:30:13] JOSH: still the fact that that happened, the fact that that's possible that, that does happen. That's, that's actually very encouraging and very wonderful to hear. Um, thank you for sharing that. I hope, more, rights holders do the same because, most of the, discussion that, takes place on the Star Wars, forums, a lot of it is not just about the preservation of Star Wars films. It's about preservation projects of, of all sorts of films, of, dozens and dozens of films. there's really a lot of great work being done.

[00:30:41] And I think your site has really become the hub For a lot of that activity. I know that there are a few other, notable communities, fan preservation sites. but, um, yeah, I mean, that's really amazing to hear that the rights holders of a high profile film, a notable film, like Highlander would actually go to you guys, see your scan and be like, Hey, could we, would you help us out to actually put this out for the official release?

[00:31:03] I mean, that's, wow.

[00:31:05] ROB: Well, I think one of the things is that, uh, you know, fans of a film are going to put a lot more time and effort and money into something than the studio is really willing to do. So if we can do most of the legwork for them and give them something that then they can Polish up to their standards, that's great because you know, the fans being involved in, in putting out releases, I think is, you know, perhaps that's the future.

[00:31:28] JOSH: No, that's absolutely true. I think, Mike Verta, he made that same point on his Vimeo channel, you know, the amount of man hours that he was, putting into his painstaking restoration, no studio would be able to, justify the expense for what that would actually cost for, for any film, no matter how important.

[00:31:49] Um, so I think you are onto something. The idea that, you know, fans do it for the love and, you know, maybe there's a way to frame that as, as corporate exploitation, but I mean, Hey, we love these movies and if that's what it takes,

[00:32:01] ROB: Right. And it's really incredible that the technology exists and has come down in price enough that, you know, somebody like me can do this sort of thing. You know, that the software is out there. you could just buy DaVinci resolve for $300 and that includes all the tools you need to restore a film.

[00:32:19] You can do restore the color, you can clean up the dirt and dust. Uh, you can stabilize it. I mean, you can do everything in that program for $300 and it's just amazing. And then, you know, they offer the, the Sintel scanner as well, which we have now. Uh, we were able to crowd fund that through the site so we can make, you know, real high quality 4k scans with sound, from a film print and restore it using resolve, 20 years ago that just wouldn't have been impossible.

[00:32:48] I mean, they spent,

[00:32:49] I dunno, how many millions of dollars, a hundred and or something like that restoring the special edition of Star Wars.

[00:32:56] we did it a lot cheaper than that, but it's, uh, it's just incredible.

[00:33:00] JOSH: Is there a specific shot or a specific cleanup that, you didn't know if you were gonna be able to pull off that you really surprised yourself and you were really, pleased with the results.

[00:33:11] ROB: not really, I'm quite proud of the whole thing to be honest, but, uh,

[00:33:14] JOSH: That's fair.

[00:33:16] ROB: uh, no. Yeah, no, no particular shot stands out. There was some that I really struggled with and, you know, took many, many, attempts at, but, you know, there's always a way to do it. If you just keep plugging. you know, whether you end up cloning pixels from other frames or you end up cloning pixels from nearby, or just completely painting it with, the right colors, , you know, you can usually find a way to make it work.

[00:33:41] JOSH: do you have like a white whale, like a print like either of a particular movie or a particular, film stock that, you're ever on the search for Star Wars or not you know, if you could wish for one, print to show up on your doorstep.

[00:33:55] ROB: we'd like to get, the 70 millimeter versions of Star Wars and Empire. if for no other reason then to capture the sound from those,

[00:34:02] because I, I, believe those are unique, particularly Empire, I think was slightly different slightly different cut of the film on 70, and the sound.

[00:34:10] Obviously it would be nice to have. so we're still looking for those. If anyone has one, please contact us.

[00:34:16] JOSH: So, you've released 4K77, 4K78, yes?

[00:34:22] ROB: Kind of, we have a, we have a 78 print. Yeah. Which was on Eastman stock that hadn't faded much. surprisingly it had been well stored, well, looked after, kept in cold storage, I believe. that was 4K78. We looked into doing that. but ultimately we decided it wasn't gonna be better than 4K77, but it would make

[00:34:40] a great resource for version two, to fill in the holes, you know?

[00:34:44] JOSH: A version two of, of 4K77?

[00:34:47] ROB: Right.

[00:34:47] not, as a basis for it, we're still gonna use the, the main

[00:34:50] Technico;lor print. But,

[00:34:51] the Eastman version has a lot more shadow detail. so we were thinking we could layer it like a, I could do with HDR.

[00:34:58] if we line one on

[00:34:59] top of the other, we could bring out the shadow detail using the Eastman version, uh, and also, you know, frames that are missing there.

[00:35:05] You know, our Technicolor print had, lots of missing frames in the middle of shots and things, and we can put those back using that instead of bluray and other stuff.

[00:35:14] JOSH: So, and then you release 4K83 of Return to the Jedi, which I think confused some people, but it's because You guys happened upon a pristine, low fade print of Return of the Jedi that was already in fantastic condition and required minimal cleanup. And it is gorgeous. I can test and, uh, what's the status on 4K80 of The Empire Strikes Back?

[00:35:37] ROB: We kept delaying that because there was always another print you know, there's this German print we have, okay, we'll wait for that to come along. So we waited for that and we scanned it and that's, it's gorgeous. Obviously it's faded, but the color comes back really nicely, DaVinci resolve.

[00:35:50] And then, we had the Fuji print, which also had really good color, but has this blue stuff all over it, uh, which took a really long time to clean. so anyway, we kept delaying it and delaying it and delaying it. We did Jedi first because it was ready to go. We already had it. We weren't gonna find a better print of that anywhere ever, probably, so we got that one out and then, poita in Australia, he, bought another print of Empire, , and then a British print.

[00:36:15] And so there were all these other ones that were coming up and we just kept putting it off. And eventually I decided, well, let's just go with what we have. so I made a start on it and ended up cleaning three reels. And uh, another guy called Al or, uh, 1, 1 38, I believe he cleaned the other three. So we did half each.

[00:36:31] and a guy called Nate is now doing, uh, a nice color correction on it because that, you know, it was a little bit faded in, in a lot of places. so the status is, we're just waiting for this final color correction and then I have to get the sound because you know, we obviously other prints of it now.

[00:36:47] that's another thing for 4K77 2 is we actually have 35 million of sound this time, uh, for

[00:36:52] 1.0, we didn't, we only had laser disc sound and. You know, the other mixes that have been released with harmy's.

[00:36:58] JOSH: Oh, I didn't realize that,

[00:37:00] ROB: So we've, now we scan all these other prints. You know, we've also scanned 16 millimeter prints and eight millimeter prints you know, CEDs and VHDs and

[00:37:08] JOSH: No, I know, I know I'm something of a digital hoarder myself. I have all those versions. just because, I want to have the option if I'm in the mood for the C E D one day I'll know that I have it somewhere I think some people will be surprised to learn that you you're also working on a 4K99, a 4K02 and a 4K05 of the Star Wars, prequel films.

[00:37:32] ROB: That is correct. Yeah. Uh, I'm not personally working on those. I did arrange to get The Phantom Menace scanned.

[00:37:37] JOSH: The check print, right?

[00:37:38] ROB: yes, the check is a

[00:37:39] vacuum print. and I, I think fans may be more surprised to learn that we also scanned the special edition prints of the whole trilogy.

[00:37:47] JOSH: Oh, that's true. Yes, you did do that. is that just out of, a completionist.

[00:37:51] I mean, I suppose if you're going to preserve the C E D you might as well, , preserve the theatrical special edition because as some people may or may not, be aware, there were changes further changes made from the 1977 special edition and the 2004 DVD release and even further changes made, , between the 2004 and, uh, , 2019, Disney plus release that I believe were made in 2012 for the 3d, conversion for streaming.

[00:38:18] I believe that's where the famous, "maclunky" line, was introduced into the film in 2012, but, the world never saw until, 2019.

[00:38:28] ROB: Exactly the

[00:38:29] 1997 Jabba scene is quite different to the 2004 version. You know, it's completely different. CGI it's much worse. I'll be honest, but, it's something that only exists on laser disc at this point. And on early HDTV transfers.

[00:38:43] JOSH: so that is a good point. because I think one of the, main complaints about the special edition is that, you know, it's not so much fixing what was wrong or broken in the original version. Now it just looks like a movie from 1977 with some, 1990s CG slapped in in weird spots.

[00:39:04] it's just as dated if not more so, because of the contrast.

[00:39:08] ROB: Indeed.

[00:39:09] JOSH: so yeah, so I do see a value in preserving that version of it. for the historical record,

[00:39:15] ROB: and in fact, you know, we decided to put it out as a preservation because, you know, that's how it existed in 97 and like the original it's not available in that format anymore.

[00:39:24] but our, the main reason we scanned it was because so much of the film is the same as the 77 version.

[00:39:31] Uh,

[00:39:31] but the color hasn't faded and it was, you know, chemically restored. Uh, we could use those shots, or frames to fix. Things that were missing from our main print. Uh, so that was our, our main reasoning, but also, you know, the colors in, in the empire strikes back special edition, for example, they're beautiful.

[00:39:50] Um, I think,

[00:39:51] a lot of complaints about the colors for Star Wars, the original, you know, as least on bluray, but in theaters Star Wars, I believe was time to a technical print. Uh, it was time to match that and, Empire and Jedi, , were also color time to match their original prints.

[00:40:07] so as a color reference, they're really good too.

[00:40:10] So that's

[00:40:11] why we scanned them.

[00:40:11] JOSH: No, that's certainly true. But, the reason why I brought up , the prequel prints was because as I mentioned, The Phantom Menace was primarily, still exhibited, on film. And then, , by the time of Attack of the Clones, I believe it, was still. Mainly on film, but, there were a lot of digital screenings available. And then by 2005, Revenge of the Sith, you know, digital screening was becoming more and more common, but with those second two films that were shot on digital video, those film prints are really the only time that the medium of film, the, the medium of physical film has ever, been introduced into the, uh,

[00:40:52] the process of, creation to exhibition of those movies.

[00:40:56] And to my eye now, watching the scans of say, Attack of the Clones, or Revenge of the Sith, seeing the film scans with. The film grain and with the scratches, actually makes me enjoy the movie more. To me, it sort of helps a little with, aesthetic differences that sort of separate, the prequel films from the original films, like the introduction of just that, film grain and the dirt and those scratches, I think, for me really, , makes them much more enjoyable films to watch.

[00:41:28] ROB: I agree.

[00:41:29] JOSH: so on that note and at the risk of opening, a huge can of worms, I'm just curious what your general feelings are on the Disney output of Star Wars, both the films they've made and, the Disney plus series.

[00:41:42] have you enjoyed any of them or is that not

[00:41:45] ROB: Uh, I've enjoyed all of them, to be honest. Um, you know, the, I thoroughly enjoyed the honestly. Um, they're very, very entertaining, which I think is what the prequels lacked. I think the

[00:41:56] prequels had a much better story. you know, it was a well thought out story, but it was not very entertaining to me at least.

[00:42:06] whereas I think the Disney output, the stories are kind of basic and they're rehashing some of the original films, at least in the first one, The Force Awakens, but it's so entertaining. I can forgive that, you know, I'm I watched it, I saw that one twice in the theater and I saw the last one twice in theater as well.

[00:42:23] And I mean, I was grinning from ear to ear the whole time. It was just so much fun. and it's

[00:42:27] the fun factor that I enjoyed. So the stories aren't that great, but I enjoyed 'em and also the, the series, you know, The Mandalorian and I, I watched that and I watched Obi-Wan and, you know, I enjoyed those two, not quite as much perhaps, but thinking back to when I was a kid.

[00:42:44] this is what I would have wanted to have. you know, between Star Wars film is to have all these series that continued it and expanded it. Uh, it's exactly what I would've had and, and what I would tried to recreate with my little action figures, you know, back in the eighties, uh, these continuing stories, you know, um, I think that's really what George Lucas wanted at the time too.

[00:43:07] Uh, obviously the technology didn't really exist. It took three years to make each film. There was no way he could be outputting something like The Mandalorian in just a few months.

[00:43:17] JOSH: Right. Absolutely. Absolutely. Which, you know, I don't know if you've seen any of the, Disney Gallery, , behind the scenes shows that they've been putting on, Which I'm very thankful that they, realized that for Star Wars fans, a lot of it is also getting that window behind the scenes.

[00:43:33] Like, like we enjoy that just as much. And, I'm very excited to see the upcoming, Light magic, uh, documentary. I don't know if you've heard of

[00:43:40] ROB: Oh, yeah. Yes. I'm. I'm looking forward to that too.

[00:43:43] JOSH: the reviews that I've read have been absolutely phenomenal saying that it's, it's everything you ever wanted to see , and you ever dreamed it would be, and I'm really, really excited to see that.

[00:43:53] But, interestingly enough, if you look in the promotional materials that they've, put out for that they have used some of the original non-special edition shots, which of course makes sense because they are talking about the work that was done then.

[00:44:07] But I thought that that, was very interesting. And I think they've also, I think Disney has also done that in a few other, places where it's a documentary situation and they have used an original non-special edition shot So they either have it in there vault, readily accessible or they're using harmy's Despecialized off of BitTorrent or something and slapping it on Disney plus I dunno. Um, why do you think George Lucas refuses to. Acknowledge that the original versions of these films exist.

[00:44:38] And now I assume it's, a result of Kathleen Kennedy respecting his wishes that it continues to not, be made available. Why do you think he's so he's so adamant that these original versions never be made available.

[00:44:53] ROB: I don't know. it really doesn't make any sense. You know, blade runner came out with a, a five version set.

[00:44:59] So whichever version you wanted to see, even if it was the leaked work print version or the director's cut or the original one theatrical cut or the final cut or whatever the other one is. Um, and then, you know, alien that they came out with director's cut and theatrical cut. Each one of those, uh, terminated the two judgment day had three versions on one disc with seamless branching.

[00:45:24] There's no reason why these things can't coexist in my mind at least. And in fact, you know, there, we wouldn't be here having this conversation if they did.

[00:45:36] JOSH: right. right. I personally happen to think, you know, George Lucas has always been very controlling when it comes to his work and his property.

[00:45:47] So, so I really just think

[00:45:50] ROB: he,

[00:45:50] just doesn't want anyone to see that one anymore. He's not

[00:45:52] proud of it perhaps.

[00:45:54] JOSH: I mean, like he always, he, he famously said in interviews at the time, it was like, 30% of what he saw in his head. And as someone who does creative work, I, I understand, you know, it's interesting, George Lucas is the only one who never got to see Star Wars. He's he's the only one who never saw the movie we all saw.

[00:46:14] ROB: Yeah,

[00:46:15] JOSH: So with that perspective, when he sees the movie, all he sees are the difference between, the intention and the result. So, so I think, I think for him, I think it's just a control thing. I think it just, it just really drives him. It just drives him up the wall that, that, that, that, those movies, weren't what he wanted them to be.

[00:46:41] And I feel like he felt like he got a shot to make them the way he wanted to make them. And, and, and, you know, that's, that, that's what it is. And, and sorry guys, but I mean, it's my movie. Um, and, um, which. You know, I don't necessarily agree with, but, um, it's certainly his right. Certainly his, legal, right.

[00:47:05] ROB: Right. But it's interesting when you look at his testimony with the library of, you know, with, with the Congress that time, when, uh,

[00:47:11] JOSH: yes.

[00:47:12] ROB: you know, when he was talking about Ted Turner's colorization of films and how much, you know, there was, destroying the culture, cultural, forget what, how we

[00:47:21] JOSH: heritage of well, though, his important distinction, what I imagine he would say to you is that Ted Turner did not make those films. George Lucas made this film and therefore he's the artist. he can do whatever he wants to it.

[00:47:35] ROB: oh, exactly. Yeah. I know That

[00:47:36] That was the argument he was making, but at the same time,

[00:47:39] JOSH: no, but at the same time you hear what he said, in front of Congress. And it's like, George. I mean,

[00:47:44] ROB: yeah.

[00:47:44] JOSH: I mean, listen to yourself. No I'm with you, but that said, because of my love of Star Wars and how it's enriched, my life and, allowed for a lot of friendships and interactions and experiences that I, I wouldn't have had otherwise I'm always very, um, uh, hesitant to, criticize the man. Not because I think he's above criticism, but just, because I don't my, my admiration and my appreciation of him, really outweighs the critiques I may have. So I'm always just a little wary of, coming off as sort of ungrateful or like a hater.

[00:48:19] Like that's not, that's

[00:48:20] ROB: Oh, yeah, no.

[00:48:21] JOSH: I'm.

[00:48:22] ROB: I agree completely. Um, you know, I've never been one of those people who said, oh, he ruined my childhood by putting out these special editions. No, not all. I, uh, you know, I enjoyed the special editions when I saw them in theaters in


[00:48:31] it's just, I also wanted to see the original one that I'd seen a hundred times by that point. and that's what he denied me, but, uh, you know, it it's his film and he could do whatever he wants with it.

[00:48:43] JOSH: you, you are fixing that for the rest of us, you and your fellow, team members. So I wanna, thank you for that. Um, and the question I'm sure many of our listeners want me to ask you right now. how would one go about seeing one of Team Negative 1s? Restorations.

[00:48:59] ROB: Well I believe both the Silver Screen Edition. And 4K77 are now on I don't know what the quality is, but,

[00:49:07] uh, anyone could go there and just download it without jumping any through any hoops, like, you know, Torrance and things like that. but if you wanted to keep up with the projects, you know, the latest and greatest versions, just join the forums at

[00:49:20] JOSH: Star Wars,

[00:49:23] ROB: yep. forums dot the star wars trilogy dot com.

[00:49:26] JOSH: and, what's the best way people can support Team Negative 1s work. I know you guys have a Patreon and you accept, donations.

[00:49:33] ROB: Uh, we do. Yeah. and this is all very expensive in terms of, you know, how many hard drives we have. I've not counted how many I have, but I have terabytes and terabytes and terabytes,

[00:49:43] uh, mostly of stock.

[00:49:45] JOSH: just a personal question, outta curiosity, as someone who works with a lot of large, video files, what's your go-to brand Of hard drive.

[00:49:52] ROB: Uh, lately it's been Western digital. Um,

[00:49:55] JOSH: I'm a Western digital guy. Yeah.

[00:49:57] ROB: I have a lot of Seagate drives, because they were the cheapest and probably still are. Um, I try not to keep anything on them that I wouldn't want to lose though, because, uh, seem to have a lot more of those fail than other brands. but then I have others, you know, I've got one here.

[00:50:13] That's, uh, five terabyte drive Seagate. it's been plugged in and running nonstop for about seven years now and still, still,

[00:50:22] fine touch wood.

[00:50:23] but others that bought at the same time at the same store right next to it, , they all died after two or three years. So that's, you know, the exception to the rule right there.

[00:50:31] JOSH: You know, which, brings up an interesting point, in terms of film preservation, digital media is not forever as well, like that also expires. So the only way, at least with current technology to ensure its longevity or make it last, as long as it does is ironically to share it online as much as possible.

[00:50:51] So there are as many copies of it as possible. So, so you

[00:50:54] can always reconstitute an original version.

[00:50:59] ROB: That's true. the other thing we do is we back it up to LTO tape, which I think is, you know, what the studios do as well. I'm using LTO six, which holds about 2.5 terabytes, typically of compressed film, which, are supposed to last up to 30 years.

[00:51:15] JOSH: Yes, I actually read a very interesting thread. I think it was your thread on, the original About the LTO backups. because I'm thinking of dipping my toe into that because I do a lot of video work and I really need a long term solution. Like there are only so many, 12 terabyte, Western digital hard drives that I can have sitting on my shelf.

[00:51:37] And it's like, how often do I have to spool these up and make sure that, data's intact and should I, how often should I be replacing them? So I think, the tape backup is really the way to go.

[00:51:48] ROB: Yeah, so far it's proved very effective. I'm very pleased with that. Uh, the other thing we do plan to do one day is to output 4K77 back to film because if it's stored properly, that could last up to a hundred years or more.

[00:52:01] JOSH: Oh, that would be wonderful. That would be cool. I actually heard, and I was very surprised to hear this. And I was actually a little mad that I missed it. But, um, in Los Angeles, the academy, of motion, picture arts and sciences museum, they recently finally opened. And I believe in June they had a 70 millimeter screening of the original Star Wars.

[00:52:21] I have no idea how they got that print, but it was apparently quite glorious to see in their, theater. And I didn't know about it, so I was mad that I missed it. uh, when I, I read about it the following day,

[00:52:34] ROB: Yeah, I didn't know that was happening again. I remember it happened, I think in 2019 they showed it the first time. and people were very skeptical that it would be the original and Nu spread edition, but it was the original. And, uh, yeah, sadly I didn't get to see it either time,

[00:52:47] but, uh, you know, we actually have a closet full of 35 milli princess Star Wars so I can watch them. we

[00:52:57] have a, a friendly neighborhood theater that will show them for us. So.

[00:53:01] JOSH: oh, you do. Oh, that's lovely. I should make friends with my friendly neighborhood theater that will show that will show film prints. Um, for the rest of us, we have 4K77 to enjoy, thanks to you and the rest of Team Negative 1's efforts. And, Rob, again, I'm so appreciative of you taking the time and being so open and gracious, , and answering all of my questions.

[00:53:23] I really enjoyed this conversation. I don't know if you could tell all of this nerdy Star Wars film geekery is, right up my alley. And is there anything else you wanna plug? I think we got the Star Wars, Is that your site?

[00:53:36] ROB: that's my site. Yes.

[00:53:37] Also the double do oh seven

[00:53:40] JOSH: So Star Wars, the oh seven That's the number 0 0 7, which is your James Bond restoration site.

[00:53:53] ROB: Yeah, I haven't posted much on there lately, but, uh, I certainly have a lot of stuff to post when I get time to do so.

[00:54:00] JOSH: And then also there's, , the Team Negative 1, , Patreon, which is, Negative 1. The number one, is that correct?

[00:54:09] ROB: I believe so.

[00:54:10] JOSH: Okay. And that turns out not to be correct, I'll just edit that out, but otherwise I'll put everything in the show notes. If you like, what you heard, please rate and review the show at, pod com pod.

[00:54:22] And we are trash com pod across all social media and transcripts are available at trash com. Thanks again to Rob and we will see you on the next one.

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Sometimes I make things.