This post is going to be different from the majority of posts on this blog – we don’t usually discuss things using personal pronouns or even really identify ourselves. The archives is supposed to be the focus of the blog. However, I (Wendi) plan on telling you all about an amazing conference I went to in Los Angeles called Documenting Cinema: Film Librarians Conference 2019, and to do so, I need to talk like me.
I first heard about the conference from a classmate at Syracuse University, where I am getting my MLIS. My classmate works, in some capacity, for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She encouraged the class to apply for a travel grant to attend this year’s conference, and, having a deep love of cinema (especially the Golden Age of Hollywood), I immediately memorized the website. I ended up winning one of the travel grants, meaning my travel to and from Los Angeles was paid for, as was the attendance fee for the entire conference.
The Film Librarians Conference (FLC) was held over the course of three days at the Academy’s Pickford Center for Motion Picture Studies in Hollywood, CA. The conference itself lasted two days, followed by one day of optional tours. Every session was fascinating and taught me something about archival techniques or practices, film history, and current projects from archivists, museums, libraries, and guilds around the world. Although every session is memorable, there were four that I wanted to highlight. These sessions either helped me identify paths to follow in TML’s archival journey, were just super cool, or both.
Of Pigs and Pixie Dust: Tailoring Descriptive Vocabularies for Disney Animation Artwork
In this session, the presenter explained the process by which the Walt Disney Animation Research Library created a list of terms to use for organizing, cataloging, and identifying items. There were two main categories: work type and keyword. I was fascinated to learn what other practices were out there, as TML doesn’t have any system as comprehensive or refined yet. We’re definitely not there yet, but I’m hoping we’ll be making some headway soon. This presentation gave me ideas on how to approach naming conventions, something I was admittedly stuck on.
Providing Access to Media Related Collections: Dictabelts, Posters, and Paperwork
We got to hear actual dictabelt recordings from Rod Serling in this session! I wrote this in my notes and I’ll repeat it here: SO COOL. The process to digitize these recordings is expensive and, if the items have not been maintained properly, difficult or impossible. We also learned about the digitization of movie posters. I saw what happens when items were not stored properly, were folded or bent, or held together with paperclips. I shudder to think of how many items we have in our archives that are combined with paperclips or identified with post-it notes. The first thing I did when I got back to work was start advocating for the expulsion of paperclips in favor of sheets of interleaving and clamshell boxes, both of which we have, neither of which we use to the fullest.
Archiving, Advocacy, and Collaborations: Preserving Guild Histories
Four different unions described their collections, archival methods, and collaborative efforts to continue preserving their history. It was very cool to see perspectives from different entities, how they differed and how they were the same.
Filmmakers Roundtable Discussion
This was another great opportunity to hear different perspectives from five people who work in different areas of filmmaking: production design, still photography, composing, and costume design. Unfortunately, one of the participants was unable to make it to the conference, but the remaining five did a great job at explaining their processes and systems! It was interesting to hear how each one maintains a personal work archive (and if they’re even allowed to!). We also had showings of library-related movies: I watched The Music Man, sang to every song, and laughed along with the rest of the audience. It was a singular movie-going experience that I want to replicate again and again.
Tour: Margaret Herrick Library and Paramount Pictures Studio
The last day I signed up for a tour of the Margaret Herrick Library, the host of the FLC, and Paramount Pictures. We were given the chance to wander around, look at everything they had out, and asking employees a bunch of archives-related questions. I saw where and how their items were stored, got to ask about their periodicals and archival boxes, and took way too many pictures. I used up all the space on my phone, but it was worth it. Then I had to delete photos to make space for the Paramount Pictures tour. I didn’t really need those pictures from my sister’s wedding, right?
After the library, we went to Paramount Pictures. We got a tour of the lots and their archives. I learned about the types of projects they work on, and got to see some of the items in different stages of cataloging and preservation. We went into one of the film vaults where they keep every version (I repeat, EVERY version) of a movie or show – theatrical cut, director’s cut, shortened-for-tv cuts, foreign language cuts… It’s staggering. After I found Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I was content to go on to the next room. We went through several rooms that housed memorabilia from films (props, costumes, jewelry) as well as photographs, musical scores (including the score for the horse head scene from The Godfather), ads, periodicals, etc., and we learned about what each member of the staff does, their major projects, and their favorite parts of the job.
I am so lucky to have had the chance to see these pieces and hear these stories – Attending the Film Librarians Conference was one of the highlights of my year (maybe of my life) and I am so eager to start putting some of my new knowledge to good use!