A Film Technician Who Discovers Gems in the Outtakes


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Willem Barneveld, a film technician and curator at Pro-Tek Vaults in Burbank, Calif.

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Elizabeth Weinberg for The New York Times

Willem Barneveld, 58, is a film technician and curator at Pro-Tek Vaults in Burbank, Calif.

Q. What types of films do you work on?

A. A colleague and I are cataloging Warner Bros. films made between the 1930s and the early 1950s that survived a flood in a New Jersey warehouse. Some are copies, and there are also films of outtakes. We started with 18,000 cans of film five years ago and have about 4,000 left to do.

How do you catalog them?

I look at every 15 to 20 feet of a film to see what’s happening in a scene. I document that and add the information to a database for the movie studio’s purposes. I also assign each film keywords to identify the scenes, such as those with a couple dancing, for easy look-up. In a sense, this is also part of preserving and archiving the films, although other people transfer the film to different media and place the original film in storage.

What tools and equipment do you use?

We have what we call a rewind machine to spool the film back and forth. A light box that helps me see the film better is built into the table, and occasionally I use a magnifying glass. When I find something I think the movie studio might find interesting, like a historic building, I research it on the computer and include the information.

What is your work environment like?

I work in a clean or contaminant-controlled room and wear a lab coat and gloves. This is mostly nitrate-based film, which was manufactured until 1952. It’s delicate and highly flammable.

What are some of the more interesting images you’ve seen?

I’ve seen images from the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. I’ve also seen outtakes or footage of movie stars that no one has seen since the films were shot 70 or 80 years ago. There might be footage of a star that never made it to the final production, or a shot of an actress rolling down her stockings or putting on makeup off-set.

What’s a famous movie you worked on?

“Casablanca.” I was shocked to see that at least some of the planes in the airport scene were miniature models. I’d see a plane taking off, and then there’d be film of a plane hanging on strings in the sky as if it were flying.

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