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Traditional telecine is big business at Electric Pictures

February 7, 2014
Traditional telecine is big business at Electric Pictures
LAKE FOREST, CA — Electric Pictures, which specializes in telecine services that convert film imagery to high-resolution video, is helping film libraries preserve their assets. While Hollywood film and television studios rarely employ telecine today, as most of their content is shot on a digital format, the demand for traditional telecine services is steady from large film libraries, including universities, stock footage houses, government entities and historic archives. 

For these institutions, telecine remains the best and most affordable alternative for preserving media and making assets available for commercial use. Electric Pictures (www.electricpictures.tv) has built up a national clientele that includes the University of California, Santa Cruz, the Pacific Film Archive, the Prelinger Archives and the Cotton Bowl. Company founder Grace McKay spotted a business opportunity forming in the wake of so many studios transitioning to digital workflows.

“The migration to digital affected all of the major post production houses in LA and worldwide,” explains McKay. “Many of them began divesting themselves of their telecine equipment — and we began to buy it. While large post production facilities focus on feature films and television, we serve a niche that includes archival, stock and documentary filmmakers. Very few companies do what we do.”

And while most new films and television shows are produced with digital technology, there remains a backlog of more than 100 years of film-originated media. All those film assets need to be transferred to an alternate form before they can be shown on television or other media outlets, as well as for the purposes of restoration and preservation. 

Studio-produced films and television shows are often converted to digital format through the use of film scanners. The film scanning process, however, is slow and costly, putting it beyond the reach of organizations whose film assets lack the commercial value of a Hollywood blockbuster. Faster and less expensive, telecine processing provides an ideal alternative.

The potential market for the services that Electric Pictures provides is virtually endless. “There are millions, perhaps billions of feet of film in the world,” McKay points out. “Some of it has been transferred to standard definition video, but those assets should be re-transferred at a higher resolution. Film and television are migrating to 2K, 4K and higher resolutions. A high definition transfer holds up well in that world; standard definition transfers do not.”

Electric Pictures operates Thomson/DFT Shadow telecines. Augmented by a variety of film handling and processing technologies, the company’s telecines are capable of transferring film to SD, HD an 2K digital and video formats, making it suitable for television, DVD, Blu-ray and other high-end applications. The company services virtually all film formats (positive and negative) including 35mm, 16mm, Super8 and Regular8.

“We have a lot of unusual tools,” McKay notes. “We have wet-gate telecines, we have Cinnafilm Dark Energy restoration software, we have Teranex Image Restore hardware and Da Vinci Resolve for color correction. From film cleaning to film transfers with all these special tools, we produce imagery that looks much better than it did on film. We provide our clients with footage that can be accessed and used more readily.”

Electric Pictures is currently preparing a series of films directed by the late Burt Balaban (Murder Inc.) for release to the home video market. “They include 12 feature films that were rescued by Paul Allen from an estate in New York,” McKay explains. “They were produced in the early ‘50s for the European market.” 

Other recent projects include archival film and video transfers for the up-coming documentary The John Penton Story from Pipeline Digital, after a successful Kickstarter campaign. Penton is the motocross pioneer who founded and raced Penton Motorcycles.