Access & Preservation
Most essentially, it is crucial that you protect your “Original materials,” conserving them by storing them securely in a favorable environment. From these original materials, you can make duplicate copies for day-to-day viewing, called “Access Copies,” as well as copies for safe back-up storage, called “Preservation Masters.” Should you lose or damage those Access copies, you can go to the Masters to generate replacements. And if you should lose your Masters — or if a new, superior movie format emerges — you can go back to your Originals for fresh transfers so long as they are viable.
If you consider that VHS tapes, which are not yet fifty years old, are already becoming difficult to view, you will see that making copies of your films on the day’s most popular format does not ensure their long-term Preservation – and that advertisements proclaiming “Preserve your films on DVD!” may offer a false sense of security. Your first strategy for long-term preservation of your films is to care for your original film elements. In this sense, making Access copies on a format you find easy to use now, so that you do not damage your originals through repeated projection on old equipment, contributes to long-term preservation. Access copies let you share the footage with your family and friends while keeping your originals safe at home, too. All transfer services promote access by copying films to new formats, but those listed on the Home Movie Day web site also promote the preservation of original materials, by returning them to the customer after transfer, and by recommending their safe storage in a cool, dry environment.
Eventually, however, all film (along with any other medium) will decay to a state where it is no longer projectable or capable of being transferred. The clearest symptoms of film decay are a vinegar odor and warping. If your aim is to extend the life of your images beyond that of the original film, you will need to create Preservation copies – ones that capture as much of the original image information as possible, and also have the best chance of surviving long into the future. Given the rapid evolution of media formats and the often unknown durability of tapes, disks, and computer hard-drives themselves, it is difficult to foretell which media will prove most enduring. The best we can do is determine which new formats we find most promising now, but remember that they too will probably become outdated sooner than we would like.