Case Study of Production
Introduction to Moving Image Archiving and Preservation H72.1800
Jim Hubbard studied at the San Francisco Art Institute and began making
films in 1975. As he began processing his own film in 1977, Hubbard became
more aware of the materiality of film itself. Since coming to the belief
that experimental film can more honestly communicate the lesbian/gay experience,
he co-founded MIX, the New York Lesbian and Gay Experimental Film Festival
in 1987. From 1991 through 1996, Hubbard worked at Anthology Film
Archives, working in conjunction with the National Moving Image Database
project of the American Film Institute, to create the first computer catalog
of Anthology's film and video collection encompassing over 5,000 titles.
His own films chart the overlap of the personal and the social. He is currently
working on the oral history project for the AIDS activist group, ACT UP.
One of the most prolific filmmakers, George Stoney has written, directed,
and produced over 50 documentaries and television series, including All
My Babies (1953), How the Myth Was Made (1978), Southern Voices (1985),
Images of the Great Depression (1990), and The Uprising of ’34 (1995).
Stoney began his career as a journalist and began working in film after
serving as a photo intelligence officer in World War II. In 1950, he
formed his own company, George Stoney Associates, and from 1968-70, produced
the Challenge for Change program at the invitation of the National Film Board
of Canada. Stoney is one of the most influential and vocal advocate
of using video as means of social change. He has taught film at the
University of Southern California, City College of New York, Columbia University,
Stanford University, and New York University, where he received the NYU Great
Teacher Award in 1988 and continues to teach film and video.
The Projects: background and context
Jim Hubbard’s project is to create an oral history of the AIDS activist
group ACT UP, a confederation of national groups that advocated change in
governmental policy towards AIDS in the 1980s (more from website if need be).
The goal of the project is to compile a comprehensive collection of unedited
video interviews with participants and members of the organization. Hubbard
will also be using the material to create a separate work of his own. At
this time he is thinking it will be a documentary that incorporates both
the interview material and actuality footage from the various video pieces
of period protests and actions shot by ACT UP members. The fact that ACT
UP were very media savvy is an important point to consider. As there were
several groups that made up the overall organization, oftentimes each would
record and edit their own video footage to their views of how the event occurred.
Sometimes there was disagreement within the group on how ACT UP should be
perceived by the different public sectors as the group sought to influence
these with different strategies. (See Hubbard’s various articles on AIDS
activist video making at www.actupny.org.)
In 1962-3, George Stoney was approached by Paul Kaufman, an executive producer
at WNET, to work on a series entitled METROPOLIS: CREATOR OR DESTROYER?,
which would look at a number of urban centers such as New York City, Philadelphia,
and Washington, DC to determine the effects of urbanization and city planning.
The series was originally conceived by an organization called Adult Education
Association an affiliate of the University Council on Education for Public
Responsibility, which had a correspondence program in urbanism and city
planning from 1962-64. The films were meant to be used as visual aids
illustrating segments of lessons. WNET then took over the project
and Stoney was asked to make a series of eight 30-minute episodes.
Stoney sites Jane Jacobs, a renowned urban theorist and scholar, as a major
influence on how he approached the series. Jacobs’s book, THE DEATH
AND LIFE OF GREAT AMERICAN CITIES (1961) advocates cities as great places
for habitation and further encourages preservation of existing buildings
as part of a more careful urban planning process that would embrace humanity.
Time period and brief description
of the mode of production, the people involved and their roles, the final
product, the steps to
production and its intended use or
The idea for the oral history project occurred in 2001 on the 20th anniversary
of ACT UP. It was coordinated by Jim Hubbard and Sarah Schulman, and took
two years of pre-production planning which consisted of writing grants to
secure funds and contacting members of ACT UP who wanted to participate.
Once funding was secured from the Ford Foundation, a preliminary timeline
for production was created, and members were scheduled for interviews, the
production process began. Funding goes largely towards paying production
costs. Sarah made initial contacts, coordinated appointments with the interviewees
and also conducts the interviews.
The camera work is done by James Wentzy in New York and S. Leo Chiang on
the West Coast, and is backed up by a second camera to use for cutaways
or “b-roll” material for Hubbard’s own film. They also do the studio and
storage work of physically maintaining the tapes as well as cataloging them
in a FilemakerPro database.
The project consists of three basic elements: the interviews themselves,
the web component (www.actuporalhistory.org), and the final archival component.
It was Hubbard’s intent to structure the project from the beginning such
that preservation is built in as a support component throughout all stages
of production and distribution. As of 2004, the project has not yet been
completed and is ongoing.
Balance between breadth of scope and access is very important, and was
a consideration throughout the formation of this large scale project. Access,
as well as future availability affected the choice of its medium, as it
is intended to be an archival research record to be consulted for generations
to come. The final product will be a series of interviews available to be
viewed in their entirety at two locations: the New York Public Library and
the San Francisco Public Library. These repositories were chosen on the
basis of their open access policies, their unique concern for and recognition
of the content, and their ability to handle original moving image material.
In addition, as the interviews are completed, excerpts are reformatted
and encoded for the web and exist on the project’s website www.actuporalhistory.org,
as well as the full transcripts. As of Sept. 2004 they have completed 54
interviews, each between 1 and 4 hours long (an average of 3 tapes), and
there is a waiting list of 98 others who wish to participate as well. The
project has since reached its expense limits and has had to re-petition for
further funds in order to bring the project to its completion stage.
In 1964 Stoney, who had 6 months to complete the series by the time contracts
were signed, ended up directing four of the eight episodes: “How To Look
At A City,” “How To Live In A City,” “Run From the Race,” and “Fur-Lined
Foxhole.” For the other four episodes – “Private Dream, Public Nightmare,”
“Three Cures For A Sick City,” “What Do You Tear Down Next?” Stoney
sought assistance from colleagues such as Bert Saltzman , Manny Kirscheim,
John Cordy, and Bill Betts, the husband of Sylvia Betts the editor of the
entire series. Stoney describes his shooting style as a mix of traditional
removed styles, and incorporating the newer trend of verité and he
appropriately opted for lighter, more versatile 16mm cameras than 35mm.
In addition to its portability, the 16mm cameras were much more economical
to use. All episodes were shot on b/w Tri-X stock. There is question
as to whether at that time or after initial local broadcast, the series was
made available to other networks or sold into distribution. Stoney does not
recall the film series going into commercial distribution.
Some episodes of the series are textbook examples of unbiased documentary,
consisting of a balanced presentation of facts. Others, such as “How
To Look At A City” and “How To Live In A City,” are woven together by a
loosely structured narrative that Stoney created in order to personalize
the issues. Stoney and Eugene Raskin, a former professor of Architecture
at Columbia University, who appeared in at least two of the eight episodes,
regarded the series a way of seeing the city as a place of fame, fortune,
love, and adventure. The four elements, then, were personified by a
group of actors who appeared in between factual shots and narratives.
As mentioned above, the originally intended audience of the series were
those who participated in the correspondence program in urbanism and city
planning through the University Council on Education for Public Responsibility.
When WNET took over the project, the audience pool – although limited to
the tri-state area viewers – was increased.
Contemporary vs. Historical Values of the Project:
The relative value of the film, media
and documentation, and to whom it may have value. Typical disposition of
the materials at the end of production
Given the nature of oral histories Hubbard determined this project to have
longevity as a historical document for future generations, for those who
would use the interviews as primary research documents or as video material
to be incorporated, if even re-purposed, in new video/moving image works.
The material, it can be imagined, will have value as an historic document
to students, historians, and authors from a variety of backgrounds studying
the gay and lesbian experience, health and public policy, and national and
regional politics of the 1980s and 90s. The inherent value of the project
is obvious as the aim of the project is to collect material for its historical
relevance. Because the material will be held in its primary unedited state
by public libraries, it differs from a mass produced commercial product in
circulation. The Libraries will own the material and will be the sole licenser
in any use of the material.
As an independent, creative work, Hubbard’s own film project may have a
similar audience as those who saw the oral history, to note its stylistic
and creative differences. However, Hubbard’s film may reach a wider audience
in its distribution and draw viewers who may not know the existence of the
unedited collection of interviews.
When Stoney worked on the METROPOLIS series, he had no notion of how wide
the distribution would be at the time, or how long the films would survive
to serve its purpose. For WNET, it was not different than any other
educational programming they did year round; for Stoney, it was a way to
“pay the rent” for the time being and since he was already swamped with multiple
projects, Stoney promptly moved on to his other films after completing post-production
of METROPOLIS. Therefore, the value of the series was determined by
a relatively small constituents of the WNET viewers and a short-term thinking
from both the filmmaker and WNET. Stoney has since learned that the
series has made its way to many public libraries and some private institutions
as a tool of education and now historical document. He cites an example
of one particular Jewish private institution in upstate New York, which
still screens parts of the series for the appearance of Eugene Raskin, the
former professor of architecture at Columbia University, because Raskin
sings in “How To Look At A City” a song that is derived from a Jewish folk
song. Interests as such were never anticipated by Stoney or WNET at
the time of production. Since then, Stoney has envisioned the values
of his films on more long-term prospects, and has made conscious efforts
to build conservation and preservation of the film itself and other artifacts
into the entire production process. In regards to this particular
series, the New York Public Library, too, has realized its long-term value
and has been preserving the surviving 16mm prints of METROPOLIS at the Donnell
Library Media Center.
Film and/or recorded media, documentation
or ancillary materials, that are produced at each stage, their format and
purpose. Labeling and identification clues or special tips when sorting,
The interviews are recorded on DV cam tapes for the high quality and portable
digital possibilities. The originals are held by Hubbard and duplicates
are made by a lab. Digi Beta copies are made as archive masters and VHS
copies are made for viewing. Two complete sets are made as they will go
to two different repositories. The viewing copies are currently VHS because
that is the end source player at the two public libraries. If this changes
in the future DVD versions will become the viewing copy.
The overall project being an oral history already takes as it impetus the
need for documentation. By its very nature an oral history, regardless of
its format (audio, film, video, or text transcripts) is a procedure of documenting
a group or sub group within a unique, possibly no longer extant, social
structure with the intent of allowing this group to tell its own unmediated
history. Hubbard and Schulman were well aware of this. Considering the amount
of participants, there is the immediate need for an ordering system of the
multiple tapes and basic data about running time, original interview date,
name of interviewee, and inventory number. An inventory is kept in a FilemakerPro
database. The inventory and numbering system was meant to be very simple,
as Hubbard has encountered before internal numbering systems at various
institutions that were counterproductive and not intuitive. The numbering
system for these tapes are as follows: 005-001, where the first number is
the sequential order of each person interviewed, and, because some interviews
were longer than others, the second number represents which tape out of the
sequence of one interview.
The website also functions as a current storehouse of a sampling of the
material gathered thus far. There are transcripts of interviews there and
clips of the interviews.
In many of the episodes of the series, especially in “How Things Get Done,”
physical artifacts appear in the film and none of them are in Stoney’s possession:
newspaper clippings, still photographs of cityscapes, architectural illustrations,
blueprints, and architectural models. Unfortunately, no ancillary materials
or artifacts from the production of METROPOLIS survive. Suggestions for
pursuing preservation of these extra-filmic, informational artifacts are
discussed below. Stoney recalls that there were numerous reels
of outtakes at the time but since storage cost about $100/month, he could
not afford to keep any of them and therefore discarded all. Stoney
recalls that categorically, directors were not as “interested” in preservation
as they are now. That’s not to say that they were not aware of the issues
involved, but the idea of maintaining work for the future ran contrary to
the point and fiscal ramifications of the productions, which were to finish
the film and get onto another. In some respects, at the commercial level
this attitude has not changed. As many of Stoney’s works were made in the
documentary environment, they were contracted or sponsored by institutions
or organizations who were contributing funds and had deadlines and bottom
lines of their own. Stoney says that even though some great work was being
produced, filmmakers did not have the time or money to properly preserve
the work. And preservation was not as prevalent in the filmmaking culture
as it is today where, relatively speaking, more money is available, and preservation
is considered a “worthy” enterprise in itself.
Recommendations for materials
to be archived and the rationale for why they should be considered for long-term
As Hubbard has been involved in the preservation of various forms of moving
image material in the past (his own and others), he feels it imperative
to build into the production of creative or documentary material preservation
standards, to make them another element of consideration in the production.
Thus, the rationale for long-term preservation is already an accepted motivating
factor which influences the entire project.
However, shooting material (the DV cam tapes, the transferred VHS viewing
copies, and the DigiBeta reference copies) is currently stored in Hubbard’s
office, on the 19th floor of a pre-war building in Lower Manhattan. The
material is kept there until they are moved to the Libraries in bulk shipments.
The conditions in the office, Hubbard agrees, are not as ideal as they could
be. The temperature fluctuates, and as the windows face east-southeast they
allow in a good deal of daylight, which, in the summer, even with air-conditioning,
effects the overall room temperature and humidity. The issue of hard
drive storage was also considered as a permanent location for the video
footage. But because of the sheer volume of hours of interviews it was decided
it might be too costly to try to maintain the hard drives and then make two
sets of interviews for the two institutions.
That said, we feel that this project is doing its best to preserve all
aspects of the production, with focus on the video elements themselves,
given the current state of analog to digital technological options, and
transfer and storage mediums.
In 2000, the Donnell Media Center of the New York Public Library was involved
in a large film restoration and preservation project that focused on films
made in or about New York City. Stoney’s series was already held by Donnell,
it was believed to be purchased from WNET (whether this was done as a favor
to Donnell by WNET or whether WNET was acting as a distributor is not known.)
In their attempt to find original elements they could not find any. Another
copy of the series was found at Indiana University. Between the two series
(Donnnell’s and IU’s) a dup negative was made from which to strike new prints.
A viewing print and a preservation master exist at Donnell with the resultant
inter process materials. In this case a third party institution has taken
it upon themselves to pursue preservation, based on its historical content
and lack of reincarnations in video or digital formats. This was not something
that the filmmaker petitioned or requested, but he very willingly lent his
consultation and resources.
Since there are no physical artifacts that survive from the production
– other than the film prints, we must look at the preservation of this series
from a different angle than Hubbard’s project. The scope of “preservation”
could be widened from concern with the original film elements, to the remaining
informational artifacts. Areas to be investigated and further leads could
include or involve the following suggestions:
- Locate some of the people mentioned or featured in
“How Things Get Done” and research the METROPOLIS production or see if they
have any artifacts from the film itself. Some surviving members of
the episode are Victor Gruen the architect, Charlotte Schwab the activist,
Paul Kaufman the Exec Prod at WNET. Chester Rapkin, a former Upenn
professor who conducted the research that came to a negative finding of
the MiCove project, passed away in 2001, as well as Eugene Raskin (see http://1010wins.com/topstories/winstopstories_story_164103931.html),
who appeared in other episodes and consulted on the series itself.
There are other figures from the local government, etc. This would
follow the tradition of HOW THE MYTH WAS MADE (1978), in which Stoney interviews
people who were involved with the production of Robert Flaherty’s MAN OF
- Some of the public documents may be tracked down through
libraries, or newspaper clippings, or government archives.
- Stoney was interested to know how much review the series
received at the time, Search WNET archives for production and distribution
records. A brief inquiry indicates that there has been no published
reviews or advertisement of the series.
- To our knowledge, there’s one publication that addresses
the METROPOLIS series directly and the only copy we know of exists at the
University of Maryland Library:
Patterns of Educational Use of a Televised Public Affairs Program:
A Study of METROPOLIS: CREATOR OR DESTROYER?
New York, 1966. LB 1044.7 .P34.
The status of the two projects in comparison helps us to identify the inherent
issues involved with preservation on various levels and how those issues
have changed over time. Both projects are similar in intent, in that
they attempt a comprehensive assessment of a pertinent social issue. In the
case of Stoney, he was addressing an immediate situation, and Hubbard is
reporting on an ongoing event but one that for the most part has already
happened. The differences in how they approached their material is notable.
Stoney was contracted and created the content as the result of his research.
He was concerned with fulfilling the contract and this work was not considered
on a preservation level at the time; though in content it was concerned
with assessing the historical, ironically in delivery and execution preservation
of physical materials was beyond the means of the project and filmmaker.
As its subject matter it took into consideration change and impermanence
but did not go so far as to incorporate this consideration in a similar way
into its production. Hubbard, with the benefit of time, looks back in his
subject matter and overlays the concern for maintaining the content into
the future. As the funding dynamic was different for the two projects this
could be said to play a part in how and why work is maintained. In Stoney’s
situation there was not enough time or money to do proper preservation. Hubbard,
who is just as historically aware as Stoney, benefits from the lessons learned
over time. One could hope that the trend for creative and documentary works
which take as their content historical assessment would be to build permanence
into their productions. Is Hubbard an exception or are we seeing an evolutionary
step between the 1960s and 2004 in preservation consciousness as it is recognized
in producers of small to mid-level independent work?