At the same time, the studio was attempting to complete its transition to digital filmmaking, and stop the expensive practice of shipping 35mm prints around the world for festival screenings. This would encourage the transition to digital, and we could ultimately create digital versions of any Plympton films that hadn’t yet been digitally transferred, once the Academy had restored the negatives. For years I’d been shipping out boxes of films to festivals around the world, and it was my nightmare. It turns out film is very heavy and expensive to ship - PLUS there’s always the chance that boxes can be lost in transit, or damaged, or some film could get broken in a festival’s projector and a projectionist could just ship it back to us and not mention the damage. In the coming digital age, everything would be easier, and lighter. After a year or so, we finally got all of the negatives shipped to the Academy and we got to enjoy a little extra elbow room at the studio. Now we just needed to get good quality digital copies of each film made, and we could be part of the revolution. (Umm, yeah, this process is sort of still ongoing…)
Like Bill, Signe was also a client of Technicolor for years, and she was also contacted by Technicolor in 2011, and was similarly told that she had to clear her negatives out of their vaults before the deadline, or bad things would happen. Only when she called back to inquire about picking up her films, she was told that there was no material of hers being stored there. What? Where did her films go? Were they lost, destroyed or just misplaced? When I started working for her in 2015, she asked me to try and track them down, when I had some time between other projects. (“My Love Affair With Marriage” was still being written then.)
I made some inquiries, but kept hitting one dead end after another. Finally after two years of trying, I had to abandon the search, and Signe had to reconcile the fact that she might never see some of her negatives again. She was also interested in making good digital copies of her films, but she needed those original negatives in order to make the best digital copies. Scanning anything else would produce an inferior digital copy, it’s always best to go back to your master recordings, the negatives in this case, to get the best quality.
Fast-forward to 2019, when a distributor became interested in Bill Plympton’s 2004 feature, “Hair High” - a film which Signe and I both worked on, I was an associate producer and Signe was an art director. We found out, to our astonishment, that it had not been included in the shipments to the AMPAS archive. I’ll admit here that I messed up, I never thought to cross-reference the inventory from Technicolor with Bill’s filmography, to see if there were any films missing. Mea culpa. But if “Hair High” wasn’t at the Academy, and it wasn’t in the studio, and it wasn’t at Technicolor, then where WAS it?
I made one last desperation call to Technicolor’s NYC office to ask about it, since I knew for a fact that it had once been stored there. I was given the number of Technicolor’s Los Angeles branch, and someone told me that there was a vault somewhere in California where all the unclaimed films had been sent. AHA! We still didn’t know WHY it wasn’t included in the material picked up from Technicolor’s NYC office, but at least we knew where the negative might have been sent! After we successfully tracked down the original negative and sound reels from “Hair High”, I mentioned to the staff at the vault that I also worked for another animator, and she was also missing some negative reels that had been stored at Technicolor NY. Would they be willing to do a search on those film titles, to see if anything popped up?
Now, there’s so much material in this vault that a search for anything takes several weeks. But right now there are people in Technicolor’s employ who are tasked with figuring out who all these lost reels belong to, and over the next few years, they hope to get as many films as possible back to their original owners, or at this point, perhaps those filmmakers’ estates. There are probably treasures galore within that vault, but it’s an incredibly time-consuming process to check each single reel, out of THOUSANDS, and look for clues to establish ownership, and then do some kind of web search to find that person’s contact info.
Now, if it were me, I’d consider that there must be paperwork somewhere on all of Technicolor’s transactions over the years - I have no idea to what extent their systems were computerized, maybe all the client information is on outdated MS-Dos computers or stored on floppy disks or something.
To make a long story short, after a few weeks, the vault staff got back to me and told me that they HAD located material from several of Signe Baumane’s films. They had them under the name “Simone Baumane”, so that may be the reason why the initial search in 2011 didn’t turn up any materials stored in her name. Some version of auto-correct may be to blame, or perhaps it was just bad handwriting. But they had tracked down the negatives for Signe’s short films “Love Story”, “Natasha”, “The Dentist”, “Five F*cking Fables” and “The Threatened One”.
We had to go through a short process of proving Signe’s rightful ownership of these films, but that was easy enough. (Thankfully, Simone Baumane didn’t also try to prove ownership…) And Signe had to sign some paperwork to authorize the removal of these films from their vaults, and arrange shipping to her Brooklyn studio. So there were a few hoops to jump through, but the good news is that the films have been found and are leaving California this week to be shipped home.
It’s still a little galling that mistakes were made back in 2011, but at least we’ve solved the mystery and after four years, I’ll finally get to cross this off my “to do” list. As I write this, the films are in a box and are being shipped across the country by UPS, with luck Signe will have them by the end of this week. Now the saga isn’t over, because we’re back to the initial storage problem: WHERE are we going to store them? She doesn’t have any air conditioning in her Brooklyn studio, and her refrigerator can only hold so many reels and still have room for food. Luckily, SIgne’s Latvian co-producer of “My Love Affair with Marriage” has connections with Latvian film archives, and is now also in the business of restoring old 35mm films. So there’s a place for Signe’s negatives in Latvia, we just have to figure out how to get them there - but compared to not knowing where these negatives are, it’s a nice problem to have.
If you were also a client of Technicolor NY before 2011, and you’re also missing some of your original film negatives that were stored there, you can contact me using the form on this web-site or through Signe’s Brooklyn studio, and I’ll let you know how to get in touch with the vault staff in California. Let’s help get as many of these lost films as possible back to their rightful owners!