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STATEMENT OF ROB WORD Mr. WORD. My name is Rob Word. I am senior vice president for creative affairs and corporate officer for Hal Roach Studios, Inc.
I happen to love movies. As a child, I collected silent films and put music to them in the hope of someday going to Hollywood and making a name for myself and joining the film industry.
I began as a cinematographer/editor for ABC, and eventually joined Filmways which became Orion. I was director of marketing and I worked on over 100 movies, everything from "Cotton Club" to "Boxcar Bertha," adapting them to television and airline standards. Most often, I worked with the directors and producers so that their artistry and their meaning on the film came across on television.
Senator LEAHY. You are the guy I should bring my complaints to.
Mr. WORD. It is not me because I work with the producers and the directors, and I think we are trying to help them adapt their theatrical films to television. It is a different medium, as you said.
Many of the films I worked on would never have had a chance to air on television because of the profanity and the violence. By deleting those, we have made them acceptable to television standards.
Being in syndication, I have learned a lot about the problem films that we are talking about today, and I say black-and-white films are problem films simply because television station broadcasters today will not purchase black-and-white films except for a very small few, a handful of classics.
I am not just talking about the theatrical features, but about the great television series of the past. Television stations refuse to buy them unless they are converted to color. Stations will buy the films and place them, in periods in prime time where audiences and people who haven't discovered these great films will have the chance to experience the stories, the cast and the films that were so popular many, many decades ago.
As a film buff, I am happy that people are going to know who the comedians, Olson and Johnson, and others are; that they will discover Gary Cooper, who won two Oscars for two black-and-white films. The films themselves are powerful stories. They are good movies. But if nobody sees them, if they sit on a shelf, they don't do X anybody any good at all. By putting them in color, we are exposing them to an entirely new audience, a new generation, plus fans of the old films who originally saw them in theaters who are finding them less and less available on television.
“Broadway Danny Rose” is a good example of a current film that was in black and white. While I was at Orion, we packaged a group of 20 movies for syndication. That is generally how it is done. The salesmen go to the television stations to sell the films as a group. The salesmen at Orion said we cannot put “Broadway Danny Rose" in this package because it is in black and white. It will bring the entire price down. It will be a negative. The stations will refuse to buy this because that movie is in that package as black and white.
We replaced it with an inferior film that happened to be in color that starred Cheech and Chong, so "Broadway Danny Rose" sat on the shelf for a couple of years until it was put in a package when
Orion had stronger features. So the audiences were the ones who suffered because they didn't have an opportunity to enjoy that film.
Senator LEAHY. I bet they had fun cutting up Cheech and Chong.
Mr. WORD. Probably they did, but very few people watched Cheech and Chong, but at least it sold. These films
Senator LEAHY. You obviously do not have teenagers who drag you to movies.
Mr. WORD. Wouldn't you rather have them see a classic film? That is why we are here, because we want those films to be seen.
Television is a different medium. It is entirely different. Blackand-white feature films were designed with a different audience in mind. They were shown on a 50- or 70-foot screen with the clarity where all the nuances of the black-and-white photography, all of the artistry that went into perfecting black and white, was available to see. All of that artistry, all of those efforts, all of the time spent to make those black-and-white films acceptable on the large screen, all those is lost on a small screen.
Senator LEAHY. Let me ask you about that. Do you really think that a black-and-white picture, shown on television, has lost clarity? Mr. WORD. That a color film has lost clarity?
Senator LEAHY. No. Did I understand you to say that some of the black-and-white films, once they are shown on television, have lost clarity?
Mr. WORD. Yes.
Senator LEAHY. Do you think they gained clarity by being colored?
Mr. WORD. I think color is easier to read on a color monitor than black and white.
Senator LEAHY. Do you think that Ansel Adams' photographs showed more clarity, more detail, more crispness when it was made in color than in the black-and-white version, or do you think that was an accurate reproduction?
Mr. WORD. I thought the black and white was stunning in black and white, but the color actually was someone else's interpretation of those same rocks, and who is to say other people wouldn't enjoy that in color? I happen to prefer both.
Senator LEAHY. Do you think the picture had more clarity in black and white than in color?
Mr. WORD. It wasn't on television. I am talking about television with the scan lines that are inherent in broadcast TV. It is different from looking at a blowup.
Senator LEAHY. Do you think the opening scene of “Citizen Kane” with the glass rolling down the steps would show more clarity in color? Mr. WORD. On a large screen? Senator LEAHY. On a small screen. Mr. WORD. Small screen in color, it might. Senator LEAHY. Go ahead.
Mr. WORD. If you cannot see the movie because it is on a shelf, you are going to miss it totally.
Through the colorization conversion, these films are becoming available in black and white and in color. I think that is one of the points that people are missing. The magical stories, the wonderful acting that was part of these old films are coming to life again in this new medium, this different art form, which is coloring the films for videotape distribution.
There has been a lot of talk about destroying the film. Really, nothing could be further from the truth than that, because to create a color film we must transfer the film to videotape, and if a videotape print has flaws in it, scratches, cue dots, scenes are missing which is happening in many of these films because the films we are showing are on nitrate stock which is very combustible, and it is deteriorating, so these films have to be restored first, or all of those flaws, all of the scratches will also be in the color version. And it is such an expensive process to do that, to make these films adaptable for color television, that those things must be repaired first. So the audience really is the beneficiary because now they have a restored black-and-white film, plus the chance to discover something on color television which is diminishing, which is the availability of classic movies in black and white.
Senator LEAHY. I notice in your ads that you have videotapes both in the color and the black-and-white versions. Is the blackand-white version the restored version?
Mr. WORD. Yes, it is. In fact, that becomes available first because the restoration process begins and ends before the actual colorization can begin. So the black-and-white film buffs have a chance to grab up that black and white at reduced costs, lower than the color version.
Senator LEAHY. Are you tracking the sales and rentals of the two?
Mr. WORD. Yes, we are. We are very pleased with the success "It's A Wonderful Life” has had, not just on television but in home video as well.
Senator LEAHY. On the home video, is the movie more popular in color or in black and white?
Mr. WORD. We have sold over Christmas about, I think, 11,000 in black and white and over 60,000 of "It's A Wonderful Life” in color. So the audience really has a choice.
Senator LEAHY. So 512 to 1 choose the color version?
Mr. WORD. Every film is different. That just happens to be one that at Christmas time sells very well.
As Rex Reed on "At The Movies" said, “This is a movie that should have always been in color. Any movie with a Christmas tree should be in color."
And it works much better in color on TV than it ever did in black and white. I see we have a lot of Rex Reed fans here.
Senator LEAHY. Have you tracked other titles in color and black and white?
Mr. WORD. We have on some. I believe the figures are in the kit we have handed out. It is the ratings on television that have been such a surprise to us.
As you know, in syndication, stations run films at different times all over the place; and when "Night of the Living Dead," which was newly colorized, ran opposite a superior film, "Casablanca," the ratings on “Night of the Living Dead” in color were twice as high as “Casablanca,” and that is just typical of what is happening.
I don't want to see that happen. I want these films to be in front of the public to give them a chance to see them. Not only are we making them available on videotape and on television, but with the restoration process we have done on the Laurel and Hardy films, where we have actually found lost and missing scenes, we have restored those and they are being released theatrically, which is where they should be seen. I agree with Mr. Pollack. These films should be seen as they were originally intended, which is on the theater screen with an audience. They were never intended to be seen on television, and as a result of the color television monster, I guess, which has kind of, since 1966, become the standard for home viewing, many of these films that I grew up loving, watching on TV in black and white, are not available to me any more. And this is going to give me a chance and all of the film buffs and people who love good movies a chance to see and enjoy these films.
Senator LEAHY. What about issues brought up in Mr. Stewart's letter to the subcommittee? He said in the colored version of "It's A Wonderful Life," the character named Violet is dressed in the color violet throughout the film. Mr. Stewart's opinion is that director Frank Capra would never have considered that type of
Is that appropriate, to use Mr. Capra's name in the title if you added touches to the work he would not have considered?
Mr. WORD. I just saw that with Gloria Grahame, and it looked like she had a blue dress on, not a violet one. I think the reason Mr. Stewart turned his set off is it needed adjusting.
We did not get complaints from people who saw it. In fact, the ratings were stupendous.
Senator LEAHY. Let me ask you this.
Putting aside whether Mr. Štewart adjusted his set or not-and I have not watched the color version so I can't say one way or another on the color-but just as a general principle, let us assume it was decided in coloring the film to make the clothing violet, but the director would not have done so.
Would you feel that because you owned the film you could do that? Could you make that change?
Mr. WORD. Well, we are preserving it in black and white so it as Mr. Capra had intended. But an art director, several different art directors might approach is different ways so that one might give her a pink dress, another might give her a purple dress, and it is that new artist's interpretation.
Senator LEAHY. They would have the right to do that?
Senator LEAHY. And in the Laurel and Hardy films, I understand either Mr. Laurel or Mr. Hardy had red hair. Is that correct?
Mr. WORD. Yes, sir. Mr. Stan Laurel had red hair, and his daughter, when she saw that for the first time, she said, “That is my daddy.” And it is thrilling not just for the heirs of these people
Senator LEAHY. Suppose you decided you didn't want Mr. Laurel's hair red, and you wanted to make his hair blond. I assume technically you could do that if you wanted to. If you owned the film, would you have the right to do that in your estimation?
Mr. WORD. Certainly. In fact, there is a film, “Babes in Toyland,” where Stan had much lighter hair and probably blond would have been a nice touch for that film, which was originally designed to be in color but, because of budgetary reasons and probably a stranglehold that Technicolor had on the industry, that film was unable to be shot in color, and it is certainly a prime example to be adapted for color television today.
While I am talking about Laurel and Hardy, I guess I did say they are running theatrically and they are really appreciated there. Mr. Capra brought us his 35 millimeter print of “It's A Wonderful Life.” That is a film in public domain. I guess a lot of film buffs know when that was made, in 1946, it got terrible reviews. The critics trashed it. The film was a financial disaster because the company was dissolved that Mr. Stewart and Mr. Capra had put together. It eventually lapsed into public domain in the early eighties. There were probably 20 to 25 different distributors syndicating bad prints of that movie with scratches and the murkiness we talked about before. I am sure Mr. Capra didn't like to see his film like that, and he brought his print to Hal Roach Studios, prior to my coming there, and as I understand, was actually going to be a color consultant on that film and other films as well, abut peer pressure made him step out.
We are very proud of what we did with that film and the ratings show that the public responded extremely well too. We were able to clear a hundred stations with 10 days by just sending a telex because the demand for these films in color was so great.
One of the first films we ever did was “Topper” with Cary Grant. And I know we mentioned Mr. Stewart and how he was dissatisfied with it. Cary Grant wrote a letter, which is also in the press kit, saying how much he enjoyed it and how he was glad this was going to enable this film, that was his first breakthrough as a star, to be able to be appreciated by future generations. He knew that the film had not been doing well on television in black and white. We have given it a new life. The magic of “Topper” will live on through colorization.
Our source for films always has to be 35 millimeters prints, and sometimes that causes us to go through a lot of detective work to piece through elements. The Jimmy Cagney movie, "Something to Sing About," was in public domain, and it is a lead-in, sort of warm-up he made for "Yankee Doodle Dandy." We located a 35 millimeter print. We noticed some footage was missing, so that was no good. We kept looking. Eventually we had to locate five different prints to restore that print to its original version in which it was released in 1936.
We are extremely proud. That film is available in black and white in the restored version, looking better than it has in 50 years, and we also have a color version that will be coming out soon. We are proud of that, and we wouldn't be doing it if we felt we were going to be losing money.
There never has been a reason for the studios to spend money to preserve films. But now because of colorization, people now have a reason to restore their films. I know Roger at MGM has spent 30 million to restore that great library, and we are glad he did, but he wasn't able to do anything with it until color happened. Now, he is going to be able to expose it to a new generation and older generations who have enjoyed it.