Technical Notes on the Films

By Eric Solstein

All of the films in this collection were produced by James Gunn in the early 1970’s as a Professor of English at, what is now, the J. Wayne and Elsie M Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction, of the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

These works represent the first serious effort to capture Science Fiction writers on film. With few exceptions, these men and women have been very poorly documented. Even the legendary Robert A. Heinlein has been filmed on less than a half dozen occasions, and no recordings do him justice. When Professor Gunn managed to find the funding for this project, VHS was not yet invented, and film production was pretty much limited to the well heeled and stout hearted.

But beyond any cost and effort, Jim Gunn’s films are precious. They may not have the sheen of Hollywood productions, but they are very rare primary historical documents of very intelligent people making very strong presentations under the guidance of a supremely knowledgeable and caring peer. If you want the eye-witness account of how Science Fiction’s “founding fathers” perceived the birth and maturation of a Twentieth Century art form, there is nowhere else to go.

Once created, these films were circulated (primarily to colleges) as 16 mm projection prints. Once videotape became available and economical, many old film reels got lost in the shuffle as the entire educational film industry was transformed. By the time VHS versions of these films were finally made, the originals were getting misplaced, project funding had long disappeared and interest was waning.

When I began to document Science Fiction writers for my own project, the University of Kansas was one of my principal destinations. Jim Gunn had already made copies of his films for me from the somewhat beaten-up VHS copy he considered the “master,” and what a copy it was. This tape was painful to watch, a copy of a copy of a copy. It exhibited nearly every kind of noise, distortion and artifact that bad video can, a tragedy I was hoping to set right. It turned out that most of the original materials from which the films had been composed, had been tossed in a dumpster and salvaged by a concerned student in the nick of time; they were now resident in the basement of Spencer Library. While many of these materials were intact, they were badly faded (from poor storage) and essential components were gone.

In order to make the new video versions presented here, we had to take the second best route. With the assistance of the Spencer staff, all existing (and long uncirculated) projection prints were assembled for my inspection. Over a weekend, I carefully went through each of the many prints to find which was in the best condition for each film.

A full set of prints was brought to DMZ in New York to be cleaned and transferred to video. The copies varied in quality: all were scratched to different degrees, some had “dirt” printed into them from the original internegatives, some had bad splices that needed to be repaired, most had faded somewhat and some had aged to a perfect pink. Unfortunately, the Forrest Ackerman piece (Science Fiction Films) has some bad splices and is missing bits of the picture and sound at its head.

We transferred the worst of them on a Phillips Spirit Dataciné with a Pogle color corrector at The Tape House, and the balance at our own facility. All of the films required additional color correction before cloning them to their final versions on Digital Betacam. They were all transferred in 16:9 aspect ratio, a decision we had to make, and one that served some films better than others. While the end results are far from perfect, please be assured that the versions before you are far superior to all other extant versions, and the best we could do without a significant additional expenditure.

To create these DVDs, we carefully tested and finessed our MPEG encodes, to achieve the best possible results for the compression required. These films now have another hundred years or so of life (if the DVD standards are to be believed) and we are proud to have made them available again, if only to a small but knowledgeable audience. We trust you will find them valuable.

Eric Solstein

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