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Exclusive Interview - Chris Holden from Second Sight Films

Let's Get Physical...

To coincide with my latest course at Broadway Cinema on July 4th, the Founder and Managing Director of Second Sight Films, Chris Holden, took some time out to answer a few questions on what goes into the restoration process and how formats have evolved. As a boutique label, Second Sight are in a league of their own, not only in terms of quality but also in their choice of films which is often a healthy mix of cult classics, extreme cinema and select recent releases. Chris gave me my first break into writing for the boutiques and has been incredibly supportive of my work; he continued generosity providing everyone with the opportunity to win the stunning Limited Edition 4K restoration of Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets.


What is involved in the restoration process; from the search for original negatives to the assets etc.? I love these stories of how some films have been found in basements and barns and not necessarily looked after via studio archives.


Having original elements available to access is the first part of the whole restoration process. For the most part, these are kept securely. The ideal element to use is the original camera negative, which is the first element in the chain. On occasion, if this is missing, other elements can be used such as an interpositive. We do however do all we can to search for the negative.


What is the key difference between ‘restoration’ and ‘remastering’?


Restoration involves re-scanning one of the original elements using restoration tools to remove what can be thousands of instances of dirt and damage. This is then followed by colour grading the film. In the case of 4K scans and UHD releases, this will be a HDR colour grade, which provides a much wider colour gamut than standard Blu-ray and also provides more detail in the light and shadows. ‘Remastered’ is quite a loose term and does not always mean a true restoration.

Second Sight's Limited Edition 4K restoration.


What is your own perspective on the history of physical media?


Having been in the industry for over 30 years I’ve seen all the changes in formats over that time. Our first releases were VHS and we actually began releasing two formats of the tapes: pan and scan and ‘widescreen’. We had to put a message on the widescreen releases that the black bars at the top and bottom of the screen were meant to be there [laughs] and the original film image was being shown in its entirety; the misconception being that the image was being cut off! Ah… those were the days of 4:3 TVs of course.


I remember it well!


The early collectors (quite rightly) wanted to see the complete widescreen image. We then had the birth of DVD, which was a huge jump in quality. The emphasis was then to release in anamorphic widescreen, where the image is squeezed and then 'unsqueezed' to give the best possible resolution. And, of course, the introduction of bonus features!


I’ve discussed this many times, but it was a genuine golden age. We all learned so much about cinema and the intricate details of a production.


For sure! Of course, next up was another jump in quality with the introduction of Blu-ray. Sales soared again as collectors wanted to replace their DVDs with this new format. And to bring us up to date we now have 4K UHD. This format had quite a slow start. For smaller distributors the production costs were so much higher than Blu-ray and, therefore, it was hard to make it work financially. But over the past couple of years, it's really taken off and we're seeing this market continue to grow. Some titles we will still release as a Blu-ray only but 4K is becoming essential on a lot of titles we look at now.

Top and bottom left: 4K restoration of THE HITCHER (1986). Bottom right: 4K restoration of DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978).

What do you feel is the importance of boutique labels; specifically curation?


The boutique distributors are contributing a huge amount to the success of the UHD market. If people are going to invest in a new 4K set up they need to know there is the product available to justify it. It’s similar to how VHS started, the product availability was just as important as the hardware. The boutique labels are going out of their way to look beyond the latest blockbusters to cater to the more eclectic film collector, presenting a real range and giving many cult films some genuine love and attention to detail in their presentation. 


What is the relationship of the boutique labels with cinemas, especially in terms of redistribution of a 4K restoration/rerelease. What determines whether this happens at all the label, original studio, festivals or all three?


Often we only have the physical rights licensed, which means the theatrical rights are still with our Licensor. This is always the case with licensing from the Studios. However, where we do have all rights, we look to promote the physical/digital release with screenings. For example, we screen releases such as the 4K restorations of Dog Soldiers and It Follows at last year’s FrightFest. We are also looking at wider screenings for a couple of our big releases later this year.


Thanks for your time, Chris — hugely appreciated.


You’re welcome, Rich — I hope it was all useful and best of luck with the course.

You can visit Second Sight Films via their official site, as well as follow on Twitter and Instagram. Follow @richpieces or visit Broadway Cinema for more information on upcoming cinema courses. Book now for Let's Get Physical: Film Curation, Restoration and the Shelf Life of Cinema - a one-off cinema course Thursday July 4th.

Duration: 180min

Although the ‘father of film’, Thomas Edison, and Pathé started selling film projectors for home use in 1912, the true ‘ownership’ of film (and its respected shelf life) was still 70 years away when video distributors realised the potential in film fanatics building their own libraries. The nostalgia of this period is unrivalled. Via the golden age of the home video market – during the DVD boom of the noughties – a niche would survive and focus on the restoration of film, lost in the hinterlands and limbo of film rights and distribution. This one-off course explores the history of home cinema and the all-important boutique labels who have helped keep physical media alive.


Tutor: Rich Johnson 

Duration: 1 x 3 hour session + 15 min break

When: Thursday 4 July, 7pm-10.15pm 

Price: £15 full / £12 members & concessions / £10 under 25


Free blu-rays: Once signed up you will be entered into a prize draw with at least three individuals having the opportunity to win a boutique label's release courtesy of 101 FilmsSecond Sight Films, Arrow Films and Eureka Entertainment


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