I first met Jennifer Miko at my first Orphan Film Symposium in the spring of 2018. In retrospect this is unsurprising, since it became obvious when I saw her next at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, that she sees EVERY film on the program bill. Her unwavering cinephiliac stamina as a viewer, and spritely enthusiasm for motion picture film works, is both inspiring and refreshing–even more so when one learns she is also the powerhouse behind Movette Film Transfer. Despite Movette’s entrepreneurial success in a market that produces a niche revenue stream, and her previous involvement and major contributions to the Knowing and Preserving Motion Picture Film IPI poster, Jennifer is incredibly down to earth and approachable.
Nestled discreetly between the Edwardian row houses on Valencia Street in San Francisco’s Mission District, the storefront of the boutique transfer company could easily be missed. However, despite Movette’s lack of a flashy sign or much of an internet presence, they have survived and thrived with just three dedicated employees: Jennifer, her husband Buck Bito, and their Film Technician Daniel Kremer. Originally known as Video Transfer Center, the business was sold to Jennifer and Buck in 2003. After renaming the company, they worked to transitioned their services to focus exclusively on film over the next seven years. The following interview was conducted over email with Jennifer after the UCLA AMIA Student Chapter took a tour of Movette while we were in San Francisco for the Silent Film Festival. Many thanks to everyone at Movette, and even more to Jennifer, for taking the time to thoughtfully respond to the questions below.
Jennifer is a 2008 graduate of The L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation. In the summer of 2008, she was awarded a fellowship at the Image Permanence Institute. During her time there, she developed a project that investigated and tracked the evolution of cine-film stocks. Using microscopy, she created a collection of images that documented various film supports and emulsions. The results of her work have been used in the development of the current Image Permanence Institute project, filmcare.org as well as the educational poster entitled Knowing and Preserving Motion Picture Film, a collaborative effort between the Image Permanence Institute and the George Eastman House (renamed in 2015 as the Eastman Museum).*
* Bio taken from Movette’s website: http://www.movettefilm.com/#us
– Brianna Toth
UCLA MLIS MAS ‘19
AMIA Student Chapter Co-President
BT: What made you want to go to school when you already owned a business where you worked with film and had experience?
JM: Our company, Movette Film Transfer, has had a close relationship with the San Francisco Silent Film Festival for fourteen years. In 2006, Patrick Loughney (then Curator of Motion Pictures at George Eastman House) presented at the festival and I learned about the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation for the first time. It occurred to me that our company (then known as Video Transfer Center) was in a prime position to make the leap from being a basic transfer house to offering preservation quality scans and promoting good preservation practices. I went to school armed with years of hands on experience, but needing the professional archivist training to complete our transformation and realize our mission. This new focus was reflected in the renaming of our company to Movette Film Transfer.
BT: You bio says you were “originally a portrait and documentary photographer and darkroom technician.” Can you tell me a little about the transition from still photography to film happened?
JM: I had a good friend who understood my love and obsession with images. She directed me to a company known as Video Transfer Center when I needed work back in the 1990s. Up until that point I had had very limited experience with motion picture film. I soon fell head over heels in love with amateur film and the love affair continues to this day.
BT: Do you think any of your experience/s in the professional field are specific to being a woman?
JM: Mostly, I have had good experiences in the field, but I prefer to work “behind the scenes.” At Movette, Buck, my husband, handles all of the client care – I do my work (scanning and editing) out of sight. I have found that in general, our clients seem to be more comfortable receiving technical information from a tall man wearing a business suit rather than from me, a woman on the shorter side.
BT: Were the projects (FilmCare.org and the IPI poster) you worked on for IPI internship of your choosing or were you assigned to you?
JM: Jean-Louis Bigourdan was my advisor at the Image Permanence Institute, he encouraged me to think creatively about what to focus on for the fellowship. The idea to create the Knowing and Protecting Motion Picture Film poster came to me as a way to make a useful and fun identification aid that might be nice to look at as well. Subsequently, the project FilmCare.org came along a few years later and absorbed much of the research conducted for the poster project.
BT: It seems that your research and work for IPI might have a lot of parallels with Barbara Flueckiger‘s research and database: the “Timeline of Historical Film Colors.” Do you think the projects or similar? How do you think this research could be applied to improving scanning technologies?
JM: As a huge fan of Barbara Flueckiger’s work, I’m humbled to be related to that project and had not previously considered my summer fellowship project to be in the same league, but there are certainly some connections there. I think the biggest impact of both of these projects is in generating interest that may lead new researchers into the field.
They do not attempt to directly propose solutions to scanning challenges, but simply by cataloging the variety of film technologies we can hope they may inspire some involved in scanner development to take into consideration some of the lesser known processes that present different challenges than the typical B&W and color negative and print stocks that comprise the bulk of their customers’ collections. The reality is that these outlier processes which I find fascinating represent such a small market that it is unlikely that scanner manufacturers would spend engineering time on something like optimized Dufaycolor reproduction at the scanner level. That said, there is a better chance that exposure to these little known film technologies may inspire tinkerers to produce post-scan digital processing recipes that can improve the image derived from scanners that were design for more common stocks.
BT: I know you have 3 scanners, but can you refresh my memory on what types they are? I remember here is a Kinetta and a LaserGraphics (for 8/S8/16), but I forget which model of the LaserGraphics you have and what the 3rd scanner was. Can you jog my memory?
JM: Movette Film Transfer utilizes three scanners:
- MWA-Nova FlashscanHD – outputs a 720p HDSDI signal for scans Regular 8 and Super 8 film.
- LaserGraphics Scanstation 5k – outputs files up to UHD target resolution (plus overscan) for 16mm and Super-16 and up to 2k target resolution (plus overscan) for Regular 8, Super 8, film.
- Kinetta Archival Film Scanner – outputs files up to UHD target resolution (plus overscan) for Regular 8, Super 8, 9.5mm, 16mm, Super-16, 17.5mm, 28mm and 35mm film.
BT: With your knowledge of, and experience with film scanners and film stock, is there anything technical aspects that you think scanners could improve upon? Is there anything you feel is not captured?
JM: There is no doubt that current digital imaging sensors that are appropriate for motion picture film scanning cannot capture all of the image information on a frame of film. This is currently illustrated by the adoption of 2-flash and 3-flash “HDR” features on scanners such as our Lasergraphics Scanstation. That so much engineering would be applied to address the inability of the imaging sensor to capture the full dynamic range found on the film in a single exposure is just one example of how far we have to go in sensor technology. While I enjoy challenges, I do not dread a day when I no longer need to make constant compromises about whether to lose some highlight or shadow detail to shoehorn the wide dynamic range of Kodachrome into the much narrower range of my
Left & Middle: Front and back of a Movette Camera and diagram including an illustration of the circular sprocket holes of film used in Movette cameras. http://sparetimelabs.com/animato/animato/filmhist/filmhist.html Right: Movette advertisement in The Literary Digest from 1919.
BT: Are you concerned with access and does it play any role in your business? I am asking since you told us having a store front was important to you for visibility and that incorporating a public viewing station in Movette’s lobby was an intentional choice. The motivation to create approachable and informative resources that can be easily understood also seems to relate to the guides on FilmCare.org––a site that utilizes work you did for IPI. On it, basic information like the instructional AD strip video can be found, along with more technical resources like the “Visual Decay Guide” or “Thermal Equilibrium Charts
JM: Access is fundamental to Movette’s mission in that a customer brings us a reel of film that is about as accessible to them as a floppy disk and we provide digital files that can be played back on any computer. That is one sense of Access, but there are many others. We also strive to be accessible as a company and work hard to educate our customers about their options and the value of the type of high quality files we produce, this is often played out when a customer walks in or calls asking us to convert their film “to CD” where it is our responsibility to explain how transfer to optical disc (DVD or Blu-Ray) is an inadequate solution. In the previous example it could be looked at that we are talking a client out of transfer to a more accessible format, but here we are taking a longer view since most such requests come from older customers whose goal is to pass along their home movie heritage to their children or grandchildren and don’t realize that while for them a DVD is the most accessible option, the younger generations may not have any device that reads DVDs or Blu-Rays. The younger generation that receives their family’s home movies on DVD or Blu-Ray are going to want to edit them and post multiple short clips on youTube or social media and to get there they will take that disc to a friend that still has a disc reader attached to their computer and transcode that MPEG2 (DVD) or h.264 (BluRay) stream into a format suitable for their video editing software before re-encoding to h.264 for posting to the web. That process pushes the content through multiple applications of lossy compression before the new “access copy” is shared.
Another aspect of Access is our drive to provide a level of film handling and scanning technology that is mostly associated with archives and commercial enterprises to the general public and applying it to home movies. We chose to locate our business on a commercial corridor in a busy neighborhood so as to be visible and accessible to the general public. There is another aspect of Access which is very important, but is one in
which we can rarely get directly involved in and that is the type of Access provided by Rick and Megan Prelinger through the Prelinger Archive on archive.org. We see so many films that we wish we could share with the world but our commitment to our clients’ privacy will only allow us to encourage the clients to make the footage accessible themselves. In one case we spent many unbilled hours working to get a 1916 itinerant film that would have broad public interest deposited at the Library of Congress only to learn that our client (the owner) then chose to negotiate a restrictive agreement with LoC that hinders open access to the work. Access is a big word in the archival community. In simple terms, what good is an archival image if it is kept sealed away in a dark climate controlled vault and nobody sees it?