Film Collecting Basics(I. HIS

Chapter Three

Handling, Storing & Preserving Films





I’m not kidding. Film must be handled with the greatest of care, and cotton gloves will protect film from both dirty and oily hands. The projection booth, editing room, etc., must be maintained immaculately clean. We’ve all noticed the lines and specks that appear inexorably at the beginning and end of every reel of films. These are the result of poor film handling techniques, dirty booths and unprofessional projectionists.

"Projectionist!" In the heyday of the movies this guy was king. He worked his changeover magic, skillfully handling curtains, foot lights, house lights, non-synch (intermission) music, and his very art ensured his anonymity. We’ve talked about this already.

Today the term "film handler" perhaps better describes the megaplex "projectionist," since handling the films is what he/she does. Films arrive on 2,000-foot cores or reels, and each reel is spliced to the next and loaded on the platter. Trailers (policy, preview and advertising) are appended to the front of the feature, and electronic cue tapes are added to interface with the theater automation that controls everything. Once on the platter, the film stays on the platter for the week’s run after which it is broken down to its original 2,000-foot increments (hopefully with the correct heads and tails spliced on so the next booth to receive it won’t have to solve any problems). The only attention the film receives during the run is re-threading for each show. Indeed, film handler is an accurate description.

When you buy a 35mm film, it will likely be on 2,000-foot reels or cores. For the safe handling of cores, you will need a 35mm split reel. Some collectors will store their 35mm films on reels, some will store on cores and transfer to 2,000-foot or 6,000-foot reels for screening, and the very wealthy may even have lots of those expensive split reels and use them for screening their films on cores. If you use a platter, you may want to make up your features on 6,000-foot reels, and then load them to the platter, as this requires but a single splice when loading the platter.

When you buy a 16mm film, it will likely be on reels ranging from 400-foot to 2,000-foot capacity. The most common size is 1,600-foot, which holds about 44-minutes worth of film. Some screen their 16mm features on a single portable projector, re-threading and starting over with each reel. A few use 16mm projectors fitted with electric dowsers and arranged for changeover use. And a very few use professional projectors with 6,000-foot reel capacity. An entire program and shorts, trailers and a feature can thus be accommodated on a single reel. Unlike platters, however, the reel requires re-winding between showings. Such projectors are popular with porno and art houses that screen 16mm films.

There follow some helpful hints for proper film handling.



For 16mm, multiply 0.02766 x total feet = running time in minutes

For 35mm, multiply 0.01111 x total feet = running time in minutes




For 16mm, place end-of-reel cues 4'9" apart

For 35mm, place end-of-reel cues 11’ apart (90 feet/minute = 1.5 feet/second x 8 seconds = 12 feet) and 22 frames before the last frame




Please reread the caveats about nitrate film stock.

Always store 35mm acetate, and especially polyester film, on reels or cores with the emulsion (dull) side "out," never in. While this is in contradiction to SMPTE and Kodak recommendations, it is founded on the experiences of several respected authorities. 16mm film does not appear to be as sensitive and may be stored with the emulsion side in or out.

If a 35mm film has been stored emulsion in, it should be rewound emulsion out and left for several months prior to showing lest it drift in and out of focus. This suggests that films be stored heads up, rather than tails up, so rewind after every showing. While this is relatively important with 2,000’ reels, it is especially important with 6,000’ reels.

The best storage is in sealed containers with recommended number of Kodak molecular sieves placed in the container. The sieves act as "selective desiccants" that absorb the acetic acid emitted by cellulose triacetate film as it ages, thereby delaying the onset of the inevitable dreaded "vinegar syndrome." The storage temperature should be low and relatively constant, with a low relative humidity, say 60 degrees F at 20% RH.


Vinegar syndrome, once begun, is self-catalyzing and the decay cannot be stopped or reversed. The film stock will begin to shrink, causing separation from the (non-shrinking) emulsion, and it will become "un-projectable." Once a print begins to exhibit "vinegar syndrome" (emitting the aroma of vinegar), the storage temperature must be lowered to preserve the film stock, and irreplaceable prints should be copied.

Some collectors recommend freezing as a means of slowing decay. However, special steps must be taken to dry and package the film, and to "thaw" it for screening. Remember, however, that once "thawed," the decay continues at its normal rate until the film is again frozen.



The earliest splices were "wet" splices using a solvent to "’weld" overlapping ends of film together, the same technology as used to join plastic pipe today. The trick here is to remove the emulsion from the emulsion (dull) side of the film stock (the other side is more shiny). The emulsion may be scraped away with a razor blade. If the emulsion is not completely removed, the cement will not penetrate the film base and a weak splice will result. Some folks still prefer cement splices to tape splices. Use relatively fresh cement, however, as the shelf life of film cement is not eternal.


An interesting variant is the hot splice. Most of today’s hot splicers use a conventional cemented overlap joint but add heat to speed and strengthen the joint. Expensive hot splicing machines were sometimes used by editors but are seldom seen in the collectors’ market.


Perhaps the most common splice is the "tape" splice. Pre-perforated tapes can be found but the best tape splices are made with a professional splicer having sprocket hole alignment pins and a hole punches and blades to trim and finish the splice. Don’t be a cheapskate when looking for a splicer. A good Neumade professional splicer will cost you $500 or so new, maybe $300 used if you can find one. A good splicer will make good splices with a little help from you. A cheap splicer will…..well you get the idea.

For repair and editing splices use a good plain clear tape, preferably Neumade. Apply the tape to both sides of the film and make sure there are no air bubbles. If your film has been treated or cleaned with a non-evaporating medium, be sure the ends to be spliced are clean or the tape adhesive will fail to adhere.

For splicing reels together for platter use, use a good marked clear tape (one that provides a yellow frame line and a bar covering the sound track), again preferably Neumade. Apply tape to both sides. This tape offers several advantages. First, you can spot the splices easily, and second it is fairly easily removed.

When removing splicing tape, remove the tape on the film stock side first (NOT the emulsion side), then bend the splice to facilitate removal without scratching the emulsion.

NEVER cut frames when breaking down a plattered film! Always remove the tape. If you store your films on reels or cores, you can tape the heads and tails on one side only to save time, assuming, of course, that the next showing will be on a platter.



Cleaning during rewinding is recommended for newly acquired prints. There are several excellent available cleaning solvents:


Hand clean all newly acquired prints with Renovex. Use Filmrenew on older prints that are dry, brittle or curled. Use FilmGuard on all prints thereafter.



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