Forty Some Odd Years Ago

Chapter 2


Continuing on, we are calling this excerpts from the book, but you probably already figured out that this IS the book. I try to write additional stuff when ever I get the time, and add it to the page. You also probably figured out who that now famous film student from Baltimore isÖ. John Waters of course!

During those early days of film making in Baltimore John made "Mondo Trasho" shot on 16mm B&W reversal as I recall. I donít think we ever made a B&W inter-negative from the original. And John never cut the original into A&B rolls. As I said earlier, everybody was trying to get their movie finished and didnít have a lot of money. Maybe we can get John to refresh our memories on some of this. I have heard from a few people who are following the book and expressed interest in contributing a chapter or two. I think that is a great idea and welcome that input from those who can chronicle some of the events from that time period. However, I do reserve the right to edit.

Going back to those necessary steps required to produce a movie, I will now talk about those steps that involved the lab.


A work print was nothing more than a copy from the original. It was referred to as a one light or a best light work print. This meant the lab would use a standard (normal) printer light setting if it was one light or a higher or lower than normal value light if it called for a best light. I always felt that the standard normal light work print was the best, because it gave the producer the truest indicator of his or her exposures on the various scenes.

I recall the time I was doing best light work prints for a producer each day over a period of maybe a week. The first day the original footage was a bit dark so I increased the light on the work print to make it look like normal lighting for the scene. The next day we processed the footage that he shot after viewing the work print and found it to be even darker than the previous footage. So I upped the printer light even more to compensate for the underexposure and made the work print. Finally, on the third day he brought in more original footage to be processed and work printed and he said "We are having the hardest time trying to get this footage to look like it was shot at night." "Even though we keep underexposing it. The work prints look normal!" OOPS.


Edge Numbers

Step four in the list talks about putting edge numbers in ink on both the original and the work print. Of course the numbers had to read exactly the same and be in exactly the same place on both films. This is done so after the work print has been cut and it is time to match cut the original, the editor looks at the first number appearing on the first scene on the work print.

Then the original is located that has the same number, and the two films are locked into the two or four gang synchronizer with the two identical numbers side by side. The synchronizer is backed up and the head cut point is marked with a china marker and the rewinds are cranked forward pulling both films through the synchronizer until the splice on the work print appears and that is where the original tail cut is marked with the china marker.

Well, putting those numbers on the film was a real pain in the neck and I mean that literally! The edge numbering machine consisted of a supply spindle on which the reel of film was placed. The film was then threaded around a wheel. Below that wheel was another wheel which had a mechanical numbering block mounted in it. Each time that wheel came around one revolution the numbering block would come in contact with the film traveling on the other wheel and the number would be advanced by one digit mechanically by an arm connected to it. This caused a number to be printed every foot on the edge of the film between the sprocket holes. There was an ink well in which the ink was poured and a transfer wheel which carried the ink up, to be deposited on the numbering block as it passed by.

Unfortunately, the ink would build up on the numbering block causing it to skip a number now and then. Of course if this happened, you had to immediately stop the machine set the correct number and restart the machine. That was not so bad, but in order to tell if the machine skipped a number you had to read every number as it came off the block. To do this you had to tilt your head sideways as the film at this point was traveling straight up to a series of rollers which allowed time for the ink to dry. After watching these numbers go by for as much as a couple of hours Öas I said a real pain in the neck! The bottom line was that if you did not put edge numbers on the original and the work print you could not get the processing and work print business.


In the beginning we did not have such a "pain in the neck" machine and I could not get the owner of the business to spend the money to buy one. It was right around that time that I was offered a job as a news cameraman at WBAL TV. I went to the owner and told him I was leaving and he said donít go, I donít have anybody to replace you. He then offered me a substantial raise in pay. I said, I donít want a raise, and when asked what do you want, I said A EDGE NUMBERING MACHINE! I finally got my edge numbering machine. Only a few years after that Kodak started to expose numbers on the edge of all their camera stocks. After processing the original, all you had to do was print those numbers right onto the work print just as you printed the frames. This is still done today and it eliminates the need for ink edge numbers. At first the old timers did not like the print through edge numbers because you had to have a light source behind the film to be able to read these numbers. Eventually everybody came around and inked on edge numbers soon became a thing of the past.

Another thing Kodak changed in the same time period was the emulsion number that was put on the front of each and every roll. They did not change the way the number was created. It was, and still is done by perforated holes. They changed where the punched number was placed on the roll of film.

When you purchased a 100ft. roll of film on a daylight spool from Kodak they actually gave you about 110ft. of film. The extra film was to allow for light striking the front and tail of the film during loading and downloading.

Since the first 5 feet of film would be light struck when loading, Kodak decided to place the number right at that 5ft. mark. After all, that was the start of your 100ft. If you look at the footage counter on a 16mm Bolex camera you will see the first mark is an "A" . I always took that to mean "advance" to the next number which was "0". This also happened to be approximately 5 feet onto the roll. That meant you could shoot a full 100 ft. and still have about 5 more feet to wrap onto the take up spool to protect your good footage.


Well, as I already stated several times, the students did not have any extra money. So, they would load the film into the camera in almost total darkness. This way they would protect the front of the roll from being light struck and they could use this perfectly good film. They did the same when it came to unloading the footage, and got to use the entire 110ft!

The only problem with all of this is right in the middle of the first shot taken on the new roll, all of these little white holes would appear! Many great shots were ruined this way, but the surprising thing was the students would leave the shots in their finished film, holes and all. It got to the point where, if you entered your film into a film festival it had better have some emulsion number holes in it someplace. But, finally Kodak moved the punched in emulsion numbers from the 5 ft. into the roll mark, right up to the very front of the roll!

The "daylight spool" that the film was loaded onto got that name because you could load the camera in daylight. It was always recommended that it be "subdued light" The spool was always black and it had solid metal sides.

When the film was wound onto the spool at the factory a special machine was used to cause the spool to wobble slightly. This was done so the film would come in contact with both sides of the spool, thus any light would be stopped from coming down the inside of the spool and burning into the film stock from the side. They were smart cookies up their in RochesterÖ But then on the other hand some of the things they did were not so smart. Iíll talk about a few of those later.

Thanks again


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