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With the launch of major streaming services and fewer new movies released during the pandemic, there’s been an insatiable appetite for content, prompting viewers to rediscover old favorites. That has fueled an explosion in the demand for library titles — and the restoration work to reintroduce those films and shows.
Take ViacomCBS, which acquired a 49 percent stake in the 700-film Miramax library in April. “For the period of April 2020 through March 2021, our home entertainment library sales were up 45 percent globally compared to the year prior,” Paramount president of worldwide home entertainment Bob Buchi tells The Hollywood Reporter. “That’s digital growth at almost 70 percent and even physical disk growth of 10 percent.”
Library titles helped fuel Amazon’s acquisition of MGM, which includes roughly 4,000 titles (among them, the James Bond and Rocky franchises and classics such as 1980’s Raging Bull). Meanwhile, AT&T’s planned spinoff of WarnerMedia to Discovery represents a deep library of nearly 200,000 hours of programming, including 1939’s The Wizard of Oz and 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain.
The demand has contributed to an uptick in remastering and restoration work, with many film titles getting 4K and high dynamic range (HDR) treatment to take advantage of the latest consumer displays. “Because of the pandemic, it just took off like crazy. We’ve been busy this entire year. And it looks like, for the rest of this year as well, it’s not slowing down,” says Grover Crisp, executive vp asset management, restoration and preservation at Sony Pictures. “On the feature film side, we are looking at at least a couple dozen for the remainder of the year.” Buchi notes that “our team has restored or remastered more than 50 titles” — including 1986’s Top Gun, whose sequel hits theaters Nov. 19 — “in just the past couple years, and there’s so many more on the docket.”
Restoration pros emphasize the importance of involving the film’s original director when possible in order to maintain the filmmaker’s creative intent. Steven Spielberg, for instance, was involved in work that can be seen in the new Indiana Jones 4-Movie Collection, a 4K Blu-ray Disc set from Lucasfilm and Paramount Home Entertainment. In recent years, Disney too has been preparing its library — including Marvel, Lucasfilm and Pixar titles — for Disney+, which debuted in November 2019. With that target, Pixar, for instance, remastered all of its early features, such as 1995’s Toy Story and 1998’s A Bug’s Life, to now include HDR and Dolby Atmos.
It’s not just about features. Crisp reports that TV work “this past year has become really active. We finished the complete remastering of Seinfeld [as it transitions to Netflix from Hulu], but we also finished Party of Five and we are just now finishing Dawson’s Creek. These are all 4K and HDR, and these are things the broadcasters and streamers seem to be really interested in right now.”
Restoration costs vary, depending on whether a given movie is in fairly good condition — sources say that might be about $100,000 on the low end. In the case of an aging, damaged film, an extensive restoration could run upward of $1 million, depending on the condition of the negative. “Some will need more help than others, but preservation of their assets is key and scanning is relatively easy and, for lack of a better word, cheap, compared to restoration and reconstruction,” says Theo Gluck, director of library restoration and preservation at Visual Data Media Services (he held that same title at the Walt Disney Studios).
Gluck reminds stakeholders to keep all elements, remembering once being asked if he had tossed the original film negative of Disney’s 1940 Pinocchio after he had restored it. Absolutely not, Gluck responded: “I want neither his blood nor his sawdust on my hands.
This story appeared in the June 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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