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. Once "plattered," they can be clamped and left intact, though they are bulky and difficult to handle, or made up on a Goldberg "Show Shipper" reel, which is a safer and more convenient.

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 screen16mm 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.

It is wise to 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. Thereafter, films should be stored heads out, so rewind after every showing. While this is relatively important with 2,000’ reels, it is especially important with 6,000’ reels.

Those thirsting for authoritative information of proper storage for film should visit and search for the Image Permanence Institute. Click on IPI Publications and download the IPI Storage Guide for Acetate Film. It is in PDF format so you can print a copy for your reference. My recommendations are based on the IPI Guide.

The best storage is in sealed containers with recommended number of Kodak molecular sieve packets placed in the container. Kodak molecular sieve packets may be purchased from Kodak ( in bulk (see phone number below) or from Larry Urbanski in smaller lots. They are applied as follows:

Film Type 35mm 35mm 16mm 16mm
Size 2,000’ roll 1,000’ roll 2,000’ roll 1,000’ roll
Number of Packets 6 3 3 2
In general, three packets, each containing 12.5 grams, per 1,000 lineal feet of 35mm film. They should be placed evenly around the outside circumference of the film roll. The packets can be folded lengthwise for 16mm applications

The sieve packets 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." Molecular sieve packets should also be used when storing polyester film, as they will help maintain low humidity (remember, they are desiccants) for optimum life of the gelatin and dyes.

What constitutes a "sealed container?" A metal film can sealed with moisture-proof tape would do nicely. I use polyethylene bags, enclosing each reel in a bag with the recommended number of molecular sieves, and then close the flap of the bag (which makes it relatively airtight), and store the bagged reels in cans or shipping cases.

Every time I take a film out of storage to view (I often keep a film our of storage for several months), I use new molecular sieve packets when re-packaging it for storage.

The molecular sieve packets come from Kodak in a moisture-proof metal "paint can" and are enclosed within a polyethylene bag within the can. If you are careful to close up the interior bag and to close the "paint can" well after removing some packets for use, the packets’ shelf life should not be degraded.

To order molecular sieve packets, phone FPC/Kodak at (323) 468-5774. Caution - be sure to read the instructions, as the material within the packets can react violently with water, liberating extreme heat. Do not use damaged or torn packets. Also, if you cut the packets, do not release the contents. Observe the Material Safety Data Sheet provided.

The storage temperature for film should be low and relatively constant, with a constant relative humidity, say 60 degrees F at 25% RH. Now, temperature is fairly easily controlled by the use of a through-the-wall packaged air conditioner. However, air conditioners tend to wring moisture from the air, which accounts for the water that drains from the condenser coil. Thus, moisture must be added by the use of a humidifier with a "humidistat" controller. A large humidifier might be connected to a permanent water supply, but for our purposes, a small manually-filled humidifier will serve nicely. I bought mine at Sears.

Alternatively, you can arrange for controlled storage at a commercial film vault. For an idea of what is available and the cost, visit More recently, Kodak has announced the opening of its new Pro-Tek Media Preservation Center in Burbank, CA, where it offers secure controlled storage and inspection services. The vaults will maintain 45 degree F and 25% relative humidity, ideal storage conditions for film. While utilization of facilities such as these may not be appealing to the modest collector, it says a lot about the need for proper storage conditions.

The last word – do the best you can with what you have.


Acetate film (recall the earlier discussion about acetate and polyester under A GUIDE TO BUYING FILMS) is susceptible to a hydrolysis reaction commonly called Vinegar Syndrome.

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 CPI. 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. This caveat does not apply to FilmGuard.

For splicing reels together for platter use, use a good "zebra" marked clear tape (one that provides a yellow frame line and a bar covering the sound track), again preferably CPI. 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. It is unrealistic to expect a splice taped on one side only to survive a trip through the projector.


I would be remiss in this discussion if I failed to mention ultrasonic splicers designed for use with polyester film. These splicers actually fuse the film ends together and are arguably the best splicers for permanent splices made. I make that emphasis because when films are made up for platter use, splices made with removable splicing tape will ensure that no further loss of frames occurs. When I describe these splicers as "expensive," I mean $3,000+. Oh, to win the Lottery!


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


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