Old Home Movies Transfer to Videotape

<i> Lewis is a free-lance writer who resides in Tarzana. </i>

You’ve recorded it all on film: the day you brought Jennifer home from the hospital, her first exploratory steps and first birthday, that vacation at Yellowstone when Old Faithful performed on cue and a humungous bear ate your provisions. Graduations, weddings, family reunions--your rites of passage are all faithfully stored on your home movies.

But how often do you get a chance to relive those priceless memories, and what is the condition of your films after a number of years? Increasingly, people are transferring their 16-mm, 8-mm or Super-8 films to videocassettes for the convenience and security this medium offers.

Bob Seidler, who owns and operates SuperCine in Burbank, has some suggestions for transferring films to videocassette. In the film-processing business for 18 years, Seidler does commercial work in his fully equipped lab, but, recently, more of his work is with the smaller home-movie formats of Beta and VHS.

The videocassette has a number of advantages over film, Seidler points out. The first is that it’s much easier to insert a cassette into a VCR and play it through a television set, thus avoiding the cumbersome traditional method of showing home movies. Consider the necessary steps: First, you must set up a screen or use a blank wall, then thread the projector and darken the room. Film frequently breaks or sometimes gets caught in the projector, causing a delay that can make your often-captive audience restless.


Another problem with home movies, says Seidler, is that lamps and other projector replacement parts can be difficult to find these days. Film becomes brittle as it loses its moisture and “actually shrinks in size.” Film, incidentally, should be stored in a cool place in metal containers and tightly taped.

Recommended Storage

A basement, closet or the coolest place you can find is recommended. ome people even refrigerate film. Though the longevity of videocassettes hasn’t yet been determined by manufacturers, Seidler thinks they’re going to last a great deal longer than film.

Once you have the videocassette and the film, you have “two formats” and should store them separately against fire and loss. Some people use a wall safe, strong box or even a bank safety deposit box.


Before bringing your movies in, put them in chronological order. If they’re undated and are still in the original film carton, the expiration date might help in deciding the correct sequence. It’s easy then to see, says Seidler, that “Billie’s third birthday comes before Susie’s.”

If you haven’t already done so, Seidler will first splice together the small 50-foot reels with their four-minute running time. These will be mounted on a 400-foot reel. In processing the 50-foot rolls, Seidler deletes the white leader and blank frames, making an uninterrupted picture-to-picture reel, but he does no editing beyond this. Seidler also hand cleans all film with a solution that removes surface dirt, and inspects it for damage (burn holes, for example, caused by the film having been caught in a projector).

There is no additional charge for cleaning the film or the basic inspection, but Seidler charges for splicing and mounting, which is calculated in the film’s running time. The minimum charge is $30 for a 10-minute Beta or VHS transfer, and, of course, your original film is returned.

The Sony Telecine projector Seidler uses has an “automatic density correction” feature that compensates for both underexposed and overexposed scenes, thus enhancing the quality of a movie. “I don’t add sound because it’s a subjective thing,” he said, noting that many current VCRs have audio-dubbing capabilities.


According to Seidler, the main errors home-movie photographers make are shooting in shadow and panning too quickly. To shoot better films in the future, whether with your present camera or the newer video cameras, he suggests reading books on the subjects. Most camera stores sell books on home-movie photography, and Eastman Kodak has a list of publications. Write to Eastern Kodak Consumer Markets, Publications Division, 343 State St., Rochester, N.Y. 14650.

The major bonus in transferring film to videocassette is perpetuating the memories of a family’s history so they can be reviewed and relived whenever desired. People who have seen the changes made by the dear departed, know what a deeply emotional and, in several senses of the word, moving experience this proves to be.