Home Theater Forum recently sat down with Ron Smith, Vice President of Preservation and Restoration at Paramount for an exclusive interview to discuss Breakfast at Tiffany's - which was faithfully restored and will be released on Blu-Ray on September 20th.
Ron was responsible for the incredible restoration of The Ten Commandments released on Blu-Ray earlier this year (see the review for that title HERE)
Ron also talks about the restoration process and shares a few titles that he and his team have been working on (some we cannot share....yet).
Ron: Hi, Neil.
HTF: Hi, Ron, how are you?
Ron: Fine, thank you. How are you doing this morning?
HTF: I’m doing pretty darned good. I want to thank you for talking with us today!
HTF: I want to talk about Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but before I go any further, I have to say that I had the privilege of reviewing the Ten Commandments for Home Theater Forum and one of the great pleasures of reviewing for Home Theater Forum was to see a product like that so faithfully restored, and I know that it generated a lot of high praise and great warmth toward you and towards Paramount that a film that a film so revered was treated so kindly, so congratulations for that.
Ron: Thank you very much. It was obviously an important film to me - it’s like one of the first big restorations that I had worked on many years ago, in like ’95, ’96, and at that time you could only do what you could do and it’s just really thrilling that 15 years later you can do the kind of thing that we did. And honestly, I was very proud of it and very pleased and there wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t look up at the screen and just marvel at the kind of images we were getting. So, very gratifying, so thank you for mentioning that.
HTF: So what would you say in the last 15 or so years has changed that really has supported your, or supported the ability for you and others to do the kind of restoration work that you do and you’ve done?
Ron: Oh, that’s a very interesting question. Obviously we get the support of the studio in trying to get as many departments involved, not only home entertainment but television and even theatrical, like repertory, has been very helpful in trying to get these things out to theaters, even if it’s on a limited basis and nowadays it’s actually much easier with the, , I should say advent, but, there’s just so many theaters that have put in digital servers in because of the transition to digital cinema, that this has actually been one of my great hopes that that the sort of things that we do with the catalog titles can actually be shown in the theater. So I know that most studio executives and theater owners really see this as a medium for new films, but I’ve always seen it as the possibility to show these incredible restorations at a really high level and in the theater.
HTF: So did the The Lion King opening at No. 1, albeit it’s a 3D rerelease, but does that give you hope that there’s appetite out there for older films finding new audiences.
Ron: You know what gives me hope is every time I go to a screening at the Academy for instance, or at the TCM Festival that happened here, you know, last year and the year before the lines are literally around the block for these types of events and I just honestly marvel at the appeal that these films have. You know, sometimes you’re so close to it that you just don’t see it. But you know, we have screened Breakfast at Tiffany’s a couple of times, once at TCM, which was just - again lines around the block, and then again at the Academy Theater a couple of weeks ago, and the turnout and the response was just overwhelming and so gratifying. For me it’s like, you spend so much time in a dark room that, to actually see this and with an audience, I must say, I’ve probably seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s 100 times, and probably 20 or 30 in the last year that I’ve been working on it, but I enjoyed it more that night than I ever have before.
HTF: So do these changes and these lines waiting to get into theaters to see these classic films, does that make the conversation to get certain films restored an easier one? Does that help mitigate the risk for a studio to invest the kind of money that some of these need? Does that help?
Ron: It helps me because I know that there’s a real appetite for these types of things out there but, you know what really helps? And I’m not just pandering here. What really helps is sort of online support if you will that your group gives and the feedback. Not all of it is, I would say 100 percent accurate and some people don’t take criticism very well, but it’s the enthusiasm that I see in the Home Theater Forum and in other online groups is really encouraging. I mean, it kind of reminds me I may have, like, the 10 or 20 pictures that I think should be worked on, but you guys always come up with, - reinforce those as well as give me ideas for other things that that the fans really want to see. And that’s kinda what we’re we’re all about. I mean we do this stuff not in a vacuum and not for ourselves, but for the people that love film.
HTF: So have you been able to check out the thread dedicated to you and the wish list for members on Home Theater Forum [that they would like to see Paramount restore]
Ron: I have. I kind of started this, I guess, back when when The Ten Commandments was released, and yeah, I thought it was very interesting and actually made a list from the list and, how many times a film appeared on that[thread], and again it reconfirms some of the ones that really need to be done and it also gives us an idea of what films should be at least preserved or remastered, because of our sort of preservation especially is one giant step toward restoration. For instance, we did, uh, like a preservation scan this year of [a popular title that will greatly please fans], and in doing that, scanning three strips of film, and recombining them and, seeing how they all go together not only gives you an idea of what it’s gonna take to restore, but basically the elements from which to restore it, because these days you can’t put together a three-strip photo chemically. You’ve gotta do it digitally. So that actual work has been done and it takes a lot of the guesswork out of the next step, which is, you know, color correcting and, and the actual cleanup, the restoration work.
HTF: So, before I get to Breakfast at Tiffany’s in particular, is there anything on your short list? Is there anything that you can do to satiate the, the rabid online community as far as requested titles?
Ron: Well, you know, [this popular title] has always been my favorite from the time I was a kid, so I’ve always been tickled to work on it. It was pretty exciting and we’ve reached back into our library where I’m just finishing up [another highly request HTF title] right now.
HTF: Wonderful news.
Ron: And Wings - our department has been working with the Academy and a whole group of people to get that film done. And also Raiders of the Lost Ark. We have done some preservation/restoration work on Raiders just ’cause – And that’s not the actual work we did on it was really, had nothing to do with Blu‑ray, because that’s really up to Lucas Films, Spielberg and Paramount. We did it actually [because] we wanted to make a print. You know, we wanted to be able to make a print of the film and we wanted to also be able to have a digital cinema version. We basically had the desire to show that in a movie theater.
HTF: Oh yeah.
Ron: So, you know, that’s why that work was done. The actual Blu-ray and high definition wasn’t even, wasn’t even budgeted. If that becomes necessary, then we will do that and we’re still working on some of the audio for it, but basically the picture side is done.
HTF: That’s terrific news.
Ron: Mm hmm.
HTF: So, so tell me about Breakfast at Tiffany’s. What were some of the challenges in getting that one to look as pristine and gorgeous as it does?
Ron: Well thank you for that. The challenge with that is basically the challenge of most of the films in our library. It’s a combination of it being very popular so attempting to run the negative over the years has been, kind of chews up the film. And when I say attempting, it’s because the negative’s actually a full aperture, which means the picture goes from one side of the film to the other.
Ron: And covers, like, the track area. Now, you know, bigger is better. Like this division or even a photographic image, you know, the bigger the negative, typically the better the resolution. But the problem is in the photochemical world you have to reduce, to make anything out of it you either have to chop off the left side of the frame, which I’ve seen done in the case of this movie, or optically reduce the image. Like an effect or a dissolve - you create a lot of grain. You’re basically going down degeneration as a first step. We were able to go in this case for the original negative, didn’t have to go the - an optically made element, and we could just size the image to suit our own frame without chopping it off, so that, that was very helpful.
HTF. I would be remiss if I didn’t do some of the members a favor and ask about any further Cecil B. DeMille films like The Buccaneer, either his ’38 or his ’58 version. Do you have that on a short or medium or long list?
Ron: I think all of the DeMille films are kind of on our radar, probably starting first with Greatest Show. But we have a very good relationship with Ceci DeMille, who’s been really supportive and really wonderful in all our efforts. So we’ve really tried to keep her involved in what we’re doing and showing her what we’re doing along the way, particularly with Ten Commandments. So, that’s very encouraging.
HTF: Well it’s wonderful. So congratulations again and thank you for all you do for film and we hope to talk to you again.
Ron: Okay. Thanks very much.