The Film Tech Logs
This is page one of the “Film Tech Logs,” as we called them, for the masters for Miklós Rózsa’s score to the 1954 Grace Kelly film, Green Fire, which we released on a CD along with a strange, atypical Rózsa score (it’s mostly source music), Bhowani Junction.
In the mid-1990s, Turner Entertainment, which owned the M-G-M film library up through 1986, transferred most of the available music scoring masters from their original three-track 35mm magnetic film recordings (and, sometimes, 17.5mm monaural mag) to digital.
“Film Tech” is short for “Film Technology Company,” the audio house (long gone) that did the transfers. I never met anybody from there, the work had already been completed by the time I started on the CD projects.
They used the then-brand new “DA-88” format, which was an eight-track digital tape format—like a DAT, but with eight channels—in order to preserve the masters digitally. Here’s a YouTube video I found demonstrating the machine:
As far as I am aware, this format was invented and manufactured by Satan. I hated it!
DA-88s were finicky—they had to be recorded and played (into and out of ProTools) in real-time—and they were prone to drop-outs and digital glitches.
I’m sort of getting flashbacks just thinking of the time we spent with these masters—which was, for M-G-M, pretty much everything from the early 1950s through the mid-1960s. You were always terrified the machine would eat the tape...I don’t think that happened, but we must have had a close call or two.
The big symphonic scores—for big budget movies at the time, think most of Rózsa’s and Kaper’s output—was recorded in three channels, Left–Center–Right, which folded down pretty nicely to a two-channel, L–R CD master.
Some of the lower-budgeted films, and source music only requiring a single channel, was recorded on monaural 17.5mm mag, and that usually didn’t sound as good.
If you look at the log, above, you’ll see they printed the music twice—on channels 1–2–3 and again at 4–5–6. It was great to have redundant prints because channel 1, in particular (at the edge of the tape) was prone to drop-outs.
I hope they’ve migrated these masters onto hard drives in the years since we did all those CDs of M-G-M scores. Even 15–20 years ago, they were starting to have drop-outs.
That’s one of the terrifying realities of modern-day digital preservation: you don’t really have your data until you have it two or even three or four times...and if you don’t migrate it every year or two, you risk losing it.
One of the good things that happened when giant multinational studios acquired the various film libraries is that they realized they were worth something—and the elements had to be preserved.
I really liked the guys at Warner Bros. who were in charge of this stuff, and they diligently worked to identify the assets closest to being “on the brink,” and financed expensive programs to transfer and protect it. At Paramount, too...all of the archive departments are real pros, and they were usually accommodating to this weird guy nosing around for odds and ends for a film score CD that would make the studio almost no money at all.
By the way, if you look at the slate numbers, like 2515 take #3, that again refers to the M-G-M nomenclature of starting the film score recordings with a 2501 number. I’ve explained that for some of the other documentation I’ve run on my blog.
I figured, we must be making progress!