Handling and Projecting 35mm Archive and Studio Prints:
Supporting Document B: Public Access and Educational Use Task Force
(published August 1994)
The continued availability of older American films for public exhibition
depends on proper care of existing 35mm prints. Archive and studio
prints (sometimes known as vault prints), unlike distribution copies,
are produced in small quantities for internal use. Often a title is
represented by a single 35mm print made from preservation materials
or surviving from the original year of release. Additional copies can
be difficult and expensive to make. Thus archives and studios lend
only to exhibitors willing to take special care in handling and projecting
these fragile materials.
The Public Access and Educational Use Task Force, appointed by the
Librarian of Congress to advise on the national film preservation program,
has developed the following voluntary guidelines to assist exhibitors,
archives and studios in framing acceptable practices for handling and
projecting rare 35mm archive and studio prints. These voluntary guidelines
draw upon the experience of archive and studio projectionists. They
are presented as an informal reminder list for the practicing projectionist.
Preparing Projection Equipment for Use
1. Inspect equipment for dirt and dust, particularly at all contact
points along the film path and at any optical or magnetic scanning
2. Check the mechanical alignment to insure that the film runs through
the projector in a straight path and is not skewed.
3. Check film tension. Under normal operating conditions film tension
should be between 6 and 16 ounce-feet (oz-ft). Because film and sprocket
tooth combinations tear when the tension exceeds the uppermost limit
of 15 pound feet (lb-ft), the tension of all film handling equipment
should be far below this level. Tension as low as 6 oz-ft is sufficient
to provide a steady screen image. Tension greater than 16 oz-ft accelerates
To measure film tension in the feed or take-up system, place the
equipment in its normal operating mode. Circle about 3 to 6 feet of
film around the hub of the reel, attaching the other end to a dynamometer.
To measure the tension necessary to move the film through the projector
gate, place a short length of normal print material in the projector
gate and close the gate. Attaching the film to a dynamometer, pull
the film through the gate.
Test and adjust rewind equipment to meet the same tension specifications.
4. Provide an adequate supply of undamaged take-up reels. Take-up
reels should be free from burrs and other defects, properly aligned
and seated on their spindles, and of the largest practical hub diameter.
The hub diameter should always be at least 4 inches.
Storing and Handling Prints
1. To create a spotless projected image, good housekeeping in the
projection area is essential. Clean frequently any equipment or surface
that may come in contact with the film. Select new, perfect reels for
storage. House prints so that they will be free of dust.
2. Take-up reels on reel-to-reel machines should be cleaned at the
start of each day to remove dust and debris, and checked for dirt at
the end of each show.
3. Before screening, inspect the print for physical damage, handling
the film itself as little as possible. When handling is necessary,
hold film by its edges. During thread-up, handle only the leader and
keep finger contact to a minimum. Never allow the film to touch the
4. Whenever possible, film should be handled in a work area provided
with positive pressure and with a filtered, temperature- and humidity-
controlled air supply.
5. Clean film only where necessary. Use a commercially available
film cleaner. Generally cleaning and lubrication should be done at
Film prints should be shipped with an instruction sheet listing the
correct aspect ratio, projection speed for silent films, special handling
requirements, and name of the person to call should questions arise
about the print.
Archive and studio prints should be shown only by a qualified projectionist,
who remains in the booth throughout the screening. Accidents do happen,
even with the most sophisticated equipment. Should film damage occur,
do not mend the film yourself unless repairs are required for the screening.
It is essential to notify the lender of damage when the print is returned.
Lenders should include with the print a form on which projectionists
can note the condition of the print, as received, and report any new
1. Check that the projector is fitted with an aperture plate and
lens appropriate to the film's aspect ratio.
2. Set lamphouse output for proper screen brightness. The brightness
recommended by SMPTE is 16 foot lamberts (FL) in the center and no
less that 12 FL at the sides. If the lamphouse is properly adjusted
and installed, light will not damage the film.
3. Run a black, opaque 35mm film loop through the projector to test
4. Adjust gate pressure to the "minimum setting" to eliminate
jitter and to achieve a steady picture.
5. Adjust take-up and hold-back tension to the least amount necessary
for proper film handling.
6. Before loading the film, check all guide rollers for dirt, flat
spots, and smooth rotation. Check the focus using the SMPTE test film.
7. When threading the film, set the loop sizes according to the specifications
particular to the projector type. Be sure to keep the loops small enough
so that they do not slap against the machine. Also, be sure the loops
are the right size for the synchronization of picture and sound.
8. Clean the gate frequently. At the end of each show, check for
dirt and clean as necessary. Clean the lens as necessary.
9. Unless specifically negotiated with the lender, do not use a platter
projection system. With platter systems, the head and tail leader of
each reel of film must be removed. Platter systems also have more guides
and therefore are more likely to damage film.
Drafted by the Public Access and Educational Use Task Force: John Belton
(Rutgers University), David W. Packard (Stanford Theatre Foundation),
Richard Prelinger (Prelinger Associates/Home Box Office), Eddie Richmond
(UCLA Film and Television Archive), Karan Sheldon (Northeast Historic
Film), James Watters (Universal City Studios), George Stevens, Jr. (independent