PrintingFilms.com started back in 2011 when Doug Wilson was working on Linotype: The Film and one of the movie’s participants, Dave Seat, gave him a stack of old Linotype 16mm instructional films to digitize. These films had not seen the light of day (or the light of a projector bulb) in 40–50 years and Wilson was excited to have the opportunity to preserve these treasures. He used a few clips from the films in his film and then basically sat on the digital film files, not knowing what to do. “I wanted the films to be seen by a wider audience, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it,” he told me. “These films are so unique and fascinating and are in danger of being lost because they are literally rotting away.” So in 2013, Wilson started working on the idea of putting the films online for preservation and education. It seemed as though he was the only one who cared about them and the visual history of the industry “but I hoped that others may show an interest as well. Thankfully, people have been very excited about the project since it fully launched in early 2015.” I asked Wilson to speak more about the process of being a niche film archivist.
How are you getting these films?
So far, the films have been from private collections and a few films that Adobe purchased many years ago. I have an open call for films as I am continuing to locate original, 16mm films that are in need of digitization and preservation.
After Linotype: The Film came out, another film participant, Carl Schlesinger, was moving out of his home and I arranged with him and his daughter to have his extensive collection of 16mm films, DVDs and VHS tapes donated to the Museum of Printing in Massachusetts. Carl had been collecting and selling copies of these films for years on DVD. I worked with the MOP to organize the collection and prioritize the most relevant films for future digitization.
What are your parameters?
I want to keep the collection focused on “The Printed Word” in whatever form that takes, so the films must be related to printing, typography or journalism.
I am not interested in creating DVDs of these films (although many have asked) but by putting the films online, there can be a bigger reach and audience. It is my hope that people will watch these films and appreciate the skill and craft of printing, typography and journalism.
What have been the biggest surprises?
As I digitize and edit the films, the biggest surprise is how incredibly labor intensive printing used to be. I knew it took a lot of work to print a newspaper or book, but WOW!
There are probably dozens of instructional films out there—are you including these as well as more documentary ones?
Most of the films in the collection are of promotional or instructional nature. Many were created by a company to promote their products or instruct on how to use their products. There are a couple nice films about The New York Times that are more documentary in nature, which is a nice counterbalance to the instructional films.
What is the oldest example of the printing craft that you’ve found?
The oldest films currently in the collection are two silent, black-and-white films that are from the 1940s but I was recently contacted by someone in New Zealand that may have a film from English Monotype from 1925. Hopefully, this lead will turn out to be something very special.
I suspect that there are filmstrips too? Have you found them?
Yes, I have collected a few filmstrips. I love filmstrips but I have not yet figured out a good way to project them together with their sound recordings that doesn’t put everyone to sleep!
How will you fund this?
Obviously, digitization, editing and bandwidth are not free! I am looking for sponsors that want to see this project and resource grow. So far, I have funded the project through a couple small, private donations but my hope is to find a larger sponsor who believes in the value of the project and can help reach the scope that I have in mind.
What’s next for you?
Right now, I am freelancing on design, art direction and video production projects. I’ve recently found that I love archiving and hope to do more work in archiving collections in the future.
PRINT’s Summer 2015 Issue: Out Now!
The New Visual Artists are here! In this issue, meet our 2015 class of 15 brilliant creatives under 30. These carefully selected designers are on the scene making the most cutting-edge work today—and as many of our previous NVAs, they may go on to become tomorrow’s design leaders. Why not get to know them now? Check the full issue out here.