The Restoration of HERO FOR A DAY
Updated: Aug 28, 2020
In advance of the 20th anniversary of my short film, HERO FOR A DAY (coming up in 2022), I have spent the past year restoring the movie and tightening it up for a final, archival edit.
Because I have a fascination with art restoration, I wanted to write about the process of reconstructing my old movie, and how I made the decisions I made, and my thoughts on the final result.
First, I embraced some basic rules on restoration, which I learned from working alongside archival and restoration professionals over the past fifteen years.
These rules are:
1. Embrace the original format the work was created on.
In the case of HERO FOR A DAY, standard definition digital and analog video mixed up into one motion picture narrative. I openly embraced all of the footage, regardless of its quality, and lack of high definition, and did not discard any ideas just because it wasn’t technically or aesthetically appealing by today’s expectations. The movie was largely shot on a SONY TRV-900 before the proliferation of HD technology and this would dictate the workflow for my restoration.
2. Make efforts to minimize flaws without impacting the overall purpose of the restoration.
If this meant I had to embrace certain ”flaws” in the format, I did so proudly.
With celluloid film, it’s leaving grain and scratches, and sometimes damage, if it is more dangerous to try for a repair. These “flaws” aren’t looked at as flaws by restorers so much as, it’s just part of the medium. With painting, the cracks that occur in paint overtime, become a part of the art and are not covered up when they are restored by museums. You see, many filmmakers are perfectionists, and do not want anything less than the professional standard of the day. As a restorer, it’s important to accept that art is not a medium of perfection, but one of beautiful imperfection.
With HERO FOR A DAY, the most obvious “flaw” in the miniDV format isn’t even the SD resolution, but the interlace lines that appear on object edges, during certain types of movement. While I managed to minimize much of the interlacing, I ultimately decided that leaving them in was better than the alternative: a blurrier image. This is because all of the options for removing flicker/interlacing lines essentially pulls the images out of focus - which I ultimately decided was not a solution at all. I did however find a medium ground, with an experimental layered process (which I’ll write about in another post), and this not only allowed me to minimize the interlace lines, but also provide me with a mechanism to bring out more color, and really show the best of what the miniDV format was capable of achieving.
Suggestion: Create a guide and stick with it.
This is part technical and part mental. The guide I used for working on the image was psychological: back in 2002, whenever we would look at the footage on the camera’s LCD screen, it always looked its absolute best. It looked like the movie we were trying to make. It was only when we watched the footage on a television, that it looked less. impressive, muted, and less cinematic. This became my reference for the restoration: I aimed to make the movie look the way the footage looked on that tiny LCD screen all those years ago.
3. Let the purpose dictate any changes you make.
Q. What is the purpose and intent of the work, and what is the purpose of the restoration?
The latter is two fold: I wanted a final version of the film that checked off all the boxes I initially was unable to check off. Many filmmakers understand this desire.
Secondly, I wanted a mechanism for archiving the footage in as high quality as possible, because in its raw form the value of the footage is in its depiction of a generation of people when we were younger, energetic, and highly creative. The footage showed my hometown of Long Island, Maine how it was in the era of the early 2000’s, and by restoring the film, I could also archive all the best “historic” moments and ensure they survive for the next 20 years.
So here’s where some of the creative decision-making came into play. In 2002 I set out to make a “Hollywood-like” short film which was nothing like a Hollywood movie. In 2009 my collaborator Branden and I did a re-edit to try and improve it. Though there were pros and cons to each version, ultimately neither version worked in their entirety. This was because I did not embrace the projects for what they could be, but only what I desperately wanted them to be.
For the restoration, I only made changes where I knew I could make a positive difference
without impacting the decisions I had already made. I undid some of my 2009 decisions, like the green-toned color grade, which was totally unnecessary. I decided that I LOVE the raw DV look of the 2002 cut, and decided to go back to that. I think it made everyone look their absolute best.
There were extra scenes included in the 2009 version that were not in the 2002 version. These scenes were actually shot for an unfinished project titled MORAL AUTHORITY, shot some time in late 2002 and early 2003. I decided to retain these scenes because they furthered my mission to archive the best moments and images from my hometown.
The 2002 and 2009 versions have completely different musical scores, from different musicians: Jeff Cusack and Roxy Haji. For the 20th anniversary version, I decided to use both musical scores, some of Roxy here and there, some of Jeff in other places.
I found ALL of our original sound design/recordings from the spring/summer of 2002 and reintegrated them into the restored sound design, while also building on them with new sound design recordings, both made by me, my mixer, and from the library. Not only did my
process honor our original efforts, it ensures that those efforts weren’t all for naught.
4. Perfection is a fiction.
Restore the work to the best that the original materials allow and let that be that.
This includes the technical, yes, but also the takes, performances, set-pieces... there’s only so much that can be switched out, changed, added to. At a certain point, it’s as done as the raw materials will allow.
As the 20th anniversary approaches, and the film becomes available online, I will post a trivia list regarding the restoration. This will include things to watch and listen for. In the meantime, please enjoy this clip of my character shooting up a deputy police cruiser. More clips available on my YouTube Channel.