My Star Wars Film Find

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Hello. I'm hoping you guys can help me out with this. I’ve found an old artifact related to Star Wars: Episode V and I have no idea what it’s value is, so I’m relying on the “Wisdom of Crowds”. It’s b/w 35mm test footage – about 2,500 feet of it!

How I obtained it, then lost it, then found it again, is a long story. But here’s the cliffsnotes version: A long, long time ago, I delivered the San Francisco Chronicle way, way too early in the morning (1980 and 3:00 am respectively). I picked up and folded my papers in a small room in the back of a building on Tunstead Ave. in San Anselmo, CA (where I was born and raised). In the back there were two garbage cans which, one fateful night, were literally overflowing with 35mm file strips, which I obtained legally by waiting until the “garbage man” (that’s what they were called back in 1980) took it to his truck.

Here are a few images of what I found (sorry, can't find a way to reduce the size w/o making them smaller at the source):













I’m about to list a few strips on eBay but really have no idea even where to start the bidding. I noticed there were strips of 4-5 color frames from one of the first three actual Star Wars movies which had sold for anywhere from $0.50 to $4.00 per frame (unmounted). Considering the number of theaters Episode’s IV, V, and VI played in at their widest release, there would still have to be several hundred other copies of these same frames out there somewhere. So whatever they’re worth, shouldn’t something as rare as this, with each frame likely being the only one in existence, be worth far more?

I’ve searched everywhere and there’s just nothing similar out there to compare this too, so what value do you guys think this has? Am I sitting on a goldmine, or a land mine?

Thanks for your feedback.

Len
 
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wow! um please don't split this up. This has to be carefully examined and probably digitized. The black and white and temp special effects for the walkers to me implies a rough cut of the film. Even the scenes you recognize might be an alternate take (s).

let me see if others can chime in
 
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WOW PLEASE DONT SPLIT

This is an amazing find and looks like a rough cut with temp special effects. I wonder if they preserved ANY of those old "animatics" that they used in place of what would eventually be a finished special effects shot. You basically have a very rare piece here that should be archived and scanned first. I mean, there is a small group of people who could have been responsible for creating those temp animatics and each one is a legend of ILM. Have you considered trying to contact Pablo Hidalgo or anybody at the Lucasfilm Archives first before selling? They will probably want to at least scan these maybe buy them back from you... who knows but its worth it to scan the cells in entirety first
 
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I've passed this information along to other collectors who don't frequent around here as much anymore. I expect you'll get lots of responses and PMs soon.

Joe, AKA finestcomics, did a little bit of research on it within the past hour and this is what he found:
The only comps I could find were for 10 rolls (listing description) of test footage from the same moive ESB. First listing was in July 2013 and sold for $338. Description was scant on details. A similar listing reappeared in Feb 2014 with the same amount (10 rolls) with a better description, better photography, and an actual letter stating what they were, sold for $1,195. Assuming these were created and used at ILM during pre-preproduction of ESB, and were composites and test footage to create special effects used for the movie, it would be best for this guy to detail and label what's in each roll/scenes (i.e. battle scenes on Hoth, Cloud City, etc.); and one better, to maybe have someone confirm these are in Vistavision-Dykstraflex format (which I would think would enhance the value). The listings I mentioned above had about 650 frames in those 10 rolls, so that's a difference of about 50¢ per frame from the first time it was listed, to over $2 per frame when it was relisted with more info. And that's 5 years ago price.
 
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I don't pop up often on these forums, but for many years I ran one of the earlier Star Wars websites dedicated to deleted and alternate scenes from the various Star Wars films...and I have to agree with the above: please don't split these up. The greatest value lies in their togetherness and the context they are still in. If you were to cut them up, or even divide the group up into chunks and sell them away to who knows where, you would lose the context and effectively be destroying history. It needs to all be kept together and digitally transferred so the history can be shared first...or possibly sold to an archivist(s) all together in one batch so it can be preserved properly. This is too important to toss away for some short term gain; I hope you can understand.

--SKot
 
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This is an absolutely incredible find. Don't split it up please. Its worth more together and to the Star Wars community as a whole it tells a story because it's all together. You may have a missing link in there that could shake up the entire Star Wars nest. You need to seek out the level of a Steve Sansweet over at Rancho Obi Wan who can put you in touch with someone that can help you comb through and see what you have there. I can't wait to see what comes of this as this is some of the most exciting news I've heard in long time. I'm sure you're in box is blowing up right now, but please share this with some of the more knowledgeable sources in the business.
 
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I’ve been meaning to reply to this thread for some time but it’s taken a bit longer than I’d hoped, but wow...what an interesting find!

Curious about what exactly this film material is as well as the timeline and location it was recovered from, I reached out to some fellow film archive colleagues and did a bit of research on the editing of Empire to seek out some concrete context. The following may be much more information that anyone would ever want or need, but hopefully it’s of some use or interest. :)

J.W. Rinzler’s “Making Of” book had quite a bit of pertinent background information on the editing and visual effects processes, as well as the sites in San Anselmo that the cutting of the film took place. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to summarize some of that here as a start.

In May of 1979, Irvin Kershner had shown George Lucas about 50 minutes of roughly cut footage in England, and Lucas soon returned stateside to San Anselmo with the Hoth battle sequences that had been shot and roughly assembled by Paul Hirsch and Kershner. Over the summer months, Lucas continued to cut the footage in California with the use of the animatics of the walkers etc., which gave precise frame counts and helped “determine the timing and the cutting, and whether or not a shot was actually going to work from the original storyboard creation.” Here's a great video where Lucas demonstrates all of this. There definitely seems to be remnants of those animatics in the footage here. Very cool!

Due to time constraints, the film’s production and postproduction shoots were happening simultaneously. The first and second passes on the cutting of the film were also concurrent, with Hirsch continuing to cut the first pass at scenes while Lucas would take a second pass at cutting earlier sections of the film. Lucas appears to have been quite heavily involved in the editing process given his natural strength on that front, and as Kershner said, “An ordinary producer can’t do that.”

A good deal of Empire’s postproduction work was initially taking place at “Park House,” the San Anselmo residence-turned-film facility at 52 Park Way that Lucas had established after American Graffiti and where Star Wars was conceived.

Jim Kessler, who was head of Sprocket Systems stated that it was his job to “set up editing and sound editing rooms for the people that were working on postproduction…I was told to set up all the benches and everything in the big basement of Park House, the company’s main facility.”


(An image from Rinzler's book that has a similar vibe)

At some point between September and December 1979, Lucasfilm was facing complaints from residents and the city apparently had the company moved all of its business activities (including the editorial and sound departments) from Park House to downtown at 321 San Anselmo Ave. where Lucas also had an office -- two blocks south of the Tunstead Ave. mentioned by the original post.



According to Rinzler, a reporter who visited the new set-up described “the two-story converted apartment in downtown San Anselmo as being ‘decorated in white and buff with a dark green carpet. Upstairs are small editing rooms, dominated by a clock the size of a coffee table, a fireplace with a blazing log, a TV set above it, a Betamax in the corner, and several houseplants. In the bathroom were white towels imprinted with Artoo-Detoo.’”



By October 17th, 1979 the first cut was completed with some effects shots already in place, but most of the material that would involve multiple elements was yet to be finished. The rough cut was screened 3 times in mid to late October, with Lucas providing a variety of notes asking for the “shortening and lengthening the heads and tails of many shots,” “creating new shots for ILM,” and “deleting whole scenes.”

A new optical printer, the Quad, had been designed by Richard Edlund, who stated that it took “two pairs of VistaVision projectors, each pair with a relay lens that is distortion-free between it and an anamorph that then takes the VistaVision image and reduces it to a 2-to-1 anamorphic ratio suitable to intercut with the film, which we shot in Panavision.” Intermediate elements for complex shots with multiple components were able to be processed in-house with a Treise Processor, with Kodak 5302 (black-and-white release print stock) and 5235 (separation stock) being used for most of the matte work (more can be read on that here: https://theasc.com/magazine/starwars/articles/empire/comop/index.htm).

With 415 shots needing compositing, an Apple II computer was utilized to help streamline the lineup process. Optical photography supervisor Bruce Nicholson noted that all the lineup person would need to do is “take his sync counts from his work prints [which could be some of what comprises this find] and original negative, noting any crossover information, feed it into the computer, and his count sheet would be printed out.” Gary Kurtz stated that it was in late October that the first composite elements were yielded from the new printer, and that the optical printing work should “be done by the end of February...allowing some slop-over into March” of 1980. The film was essentially locked by November 1979 with ILM going full throttle to complete their effects shots from there on.

Animation and rotoscope supervisor Peter Kuran described the “basic flow” of special effects postproduction footage as having it go “from the stage to the editorial department, which gives it to us, animation/rotoscope; we give it back to editorial and they in turn give it to the optical department.” Joe Johnston commented that the editing staff were “actually taking the selected takes and doing trial runs on them to make sure that everything is in sync and then handing them to the optical department, where they put them on the optical printer.”

January 1980 saw John Williams recording the score, as well as continued work at ILM where the matte department had reached its halfway point (and would continue into March). One of the sample film strips pictured above appears to have a date of 1-15, which also happened to be the day that Edlund photographed the shot of the AT-AT’s head exploding, along with other high-speed explosion footage at the San Francisco armory. Sounds like that was a fun day!

Editing room notes from Lucas dated February 6th were calling for additional FX shot improvements, and at some point later that month assistant editor Steve Starkey was sent by fellow editor Duwayne Dunham to Los Angeles to supervise the completion of effects shots that were done out-of-house. For example, the lightsaber effects were done by “outside animation people,” one of which was Chris Casady who had also done animation and rotoscope work on the original Star Wars.



(Another image from Rinzler's book, featuring a sample of Chris Casady's lightsaber effects)

In terms of early screenings, the film was first shown to Fox on March 22nd, with some last minute effects shots cut in and the new mix delivered by Ben Burtt mere hours before. Two days later more editing notes from Lucas recorded ongoing refinements. Shots were being finalized as late as April 11th, with additional preview screenings occuring April 17th-19th. The finished 70mm prints were being QC’d 24 hours a day, 7 days a week leading up to the May 21st release. It’s really incredible how down to the wire it was to get Empire finished!

As for the film that constitutes this find, it’s difficult to say exactly what it is and how it fits into the bigger picture above without a more extensive description and visuals of the content, dates, formats, and physical state (short strips of frames vs. longer spliced rolls, etc.).

A colleague that happens to be friends with Chris Casady (mentioned above) had discussed the find with him. Based on the sample images of black-and-white, squeezed scope format, high contrast workprint, Casady surmised that this essentially represents early editing debris. He mentioned that the rough cut was constructed in black-and-white with slugs and storyboard stills as placeholders, with each shot slowly being replaced as final color versions arrived. He guessed that this material may likely be the placeholders that were discarded.

I spoke with another colleague who worked as a visual effects editor in the early 1980s and he’d also presumed that these were simply trims and outs from effects editing. With the films he’d worked on, they would often make “dirty dupe” black-and-white copies of the primary color workprint for the sound department to cut to, so as not to damage the color workprint. In his experience, the sound department had to begin working long before picture was locked. As the cut would change weekly (and sometimes daily), new sections of black-and-white “dirty dupe” footage would be printed to supplement or replace sections for the sound department to work with.

In terms of “value,” that’s also challenging to estimate. Monetarily, collectors have spent considerable amounts on severely faded and cut up VistaVision frames auctioned in the past -- much to the shock of those I’ve mentioned it to in the archival sphere, as well as to those who’d worked in postproduction in that era. It’s funny how to this day, the latter will often express how much of a pain the effects process was using the film technology of the time. None of them seem to miss it one bit, so their lack of enthusiasm for this type of material is understandable!

Along those same lines, with piecemeal footage like this being incredibly laborious to reassemble in a meaningful fashion and digitize, it’s also hard for moving image archives to take such tasks and expenses on, especially when the intellectual property isn’t under their control.

All of that said, this isn’t the refuse of some ordinary run-of-the-mill 1980s movie. Collectively, the film certainly has artifactual value as a relic of an iconic production and it doesn’t deserve to be cut to pieces and scattered, nor displayed in acrylic on a shelf to fade away. I’d hope that whomever it ends up with has the ability to store it properly, and perhaps even the ambition to catalog and scan the most salvageable and interesting portions of it for the Star Wars community to enjoy as a glimpse into a long-gone production process.

Thanks for sharing, and please let me know if I can be of any other help.

Best wishes,
Steve
 
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Hi Steve,

As you can imagine, my in boxes (I posted the same thing in several Star Wars forums) have blown up, which seems to be geometrically increasing as each tell two friends, who tell two friends, and so on, and so on... So tomorrow (this weekend at the latest) I hope to sit down and start responding to all the great feedback I've gotten. But I had to jump in tonight to thank you for this information and especially that video link with George Lucas. That was just freaky to see him back in late 1979 displaying images from a strip of film that may very well be sitting on a table to my right at this very moment. I'd estimate that about 8-10% of this footage is various animations of walkers, including that exact scene on George's screen. Roughly 30-40% of the strips begin with a series of cells with what appears to be the same info that's on a clapperboard. They are dated from late January to mid-February 1980. There is a few feet of color sound film but with images that appear to have nothing to do with Star Wars. Everything that is has no sound and is entirely in B/W. Many strips are variations of the same scene with the majority related to the battle on Hoth, some scenes on Dagobah and the Cloud City, and a lot of Han, Chewy, Leia, and C3P0 in the Millennium Falcon (most scenes from behind them looking out have no star field) and front or side head shots of Luke in the cockpit of his X-Wing. However, I confess I still have not viewed all of this film, and still have about a third of it to identify. And yes, most of this are strips of only a few feet, but there's also several rolls that extend well over 25 feet, some over 50, and even a few over 100 feet.

Unfortunately, roughly 150-200 feet (a small percentage of it) was damaged from what looks like heat, most likely from when it was stored in my parent's attic back in the '80s after they moved from San Anselmo to Clearlake, CA.

I was also very familiar with the "Park House". I threw a San Francisco Chronicle over a tall white fence at the rear of it every morning at around 4:00 am. Unfortunately, I couldn't get to those garbage cans :)

Len
 
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Yes, agree with all. Please do not cut.

Leave "as is" Best way is to digitize the each roll individually.

As to value, it has value, but it depends on your point of view.

Perhaps a doc on the preservation. Who knows what else is on the film.
Thank you.
 
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I sent you a message a few weeks ago about a group possibly getting these scanned before they go up for sale. Would you have any interest in that?
 
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Hey guys,

So many of you, from this forum and others, have been reaching out to me lately to get an update on what the heck's going on with my film project. I do still intend to respond privately to those of you who have offered your service to clean, restore, sort, edit, and convert to digital, my entire collection, for free (which is amazing and so appreciated). But so many of you in this forum – in fact, literally all of you – have been so enthusiastic, supportive and helpful, you all deserve to be kept in the loop. I know it's not fair to announce a find like this and then just disappear. In fact, I wanted to post this last night but instead had to spend most of it reassuring my 82 year old mother that a 7.1 earthquake in California doesn't mean the "Big One" is coming here in Las Vegas.

So now that I'm starting to get a handle on exactly what I have here, specifically it's value (financially and otherwise), I want to assure you that it would take something extremely important to take my attention completely away from it for any amount of time, let alone almost four weeks. And it did, and it was. In fact, it was a pretty powerful one-two punch that knocked me out of about every other activity that didn't involve me, and my mother, staying in the fight. I don't want to get too personal, but just know that for as long as I'm able I will continue to give this project priority attention. So if I should ever go off-grid again I promise I'll be back (assuming my biopsies keep coming back negative – unfortunately, my mother's didn't).

I'm also in the process of trying to pack up for a move across the country (to a tiny town in Indiana – long story), so my updates will probably be very sporadic for the next couple of months. Having said that, I'm struggling with the logistics of how I'm going to safely and securely get this film to where it needs to be and, most importantly, get it back. It seems that what I would be doing is tantamount to packing up and shipping a package full of newly discovered da Vinci drawings to someone I don't know who has promised to restore and appraise them, then ship back to me (while the whole time remembering the aerial shot of the FedEx truck completely engulfed in flames during the I-5 fire in 2015). Obviously this is nothing personal, but as I'm sure you all can appreciate, this project is going to take some nebula size trust. Otherwise, it's either going to involve me personally overseeing the project, or some kind of escrow arrangement (involving the catch-22 of not knowing the real value of the film until the project is completed). So it may be to my advantage to complete this project before I move to the "boonies" (as my grandfather used to call Kirklin).

If anyone has any potential solutions please let me know. I'm open to any out-of-the-box ideas, no matter how long it would take for the light from the idea to reach the box.

Thanks for your consideration and understanding.

Len Clements
Las Vegas, NV
 
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There are several well known and trusted collectors who live near Vegas and can probably help logistically. I understand your fears but this is a very tight-knit community and I'm sure something can be worked out to assuage your concerns.

Good luck and sorry to hear about your real life problems.
 
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As some of you here may recall, a few months ago I posted some images of a trove of old b/w test footage I obtained back in 1980 from the garbage cans used by the building on Tunstead Ave. in San Anselmo during the editing of Empire Strike Back (acquired legally by waiting for the cans to be dumped into the back of a garbage truck). At the time I was inquiring about the potential value, and to give everyone a heads up that I was offering a few of the film cells on eBay. I received a lot of positive feedback, and requests to not chop up the footage but rather to have it all professionally restored, spliced together, and converted to digital for viewing. I also got a lot of offers to help me do this, which I still intend to do after I complete my move from Nevada to Indiana after the New Year. I've attached a couple images of the collection.

Many of the strips are too short to produce anything meaningful, or are too damaged and only have a few clean cells left (although about 80% is still good). These are the strips I have taken four cells from to offer on eBay, which I am about to do again, so don't worry. I'm not chopping up the footage.

Several of you on this and other Star Wars forums asked for advance notice if I were to ever offer cells from this film on eBay, so if you're still interested the listings go live beginning at 3:00 pm PST today, Dec. 15th. Search for the title "Star Wars Episode V Empire Strikes Back • Film Cells from Found b/w Test Footage".

I'll also let you know when the restoration process begins and when the compiled footage is available for viewing.

Thanks.

Len
 

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