People have been capturing their family’s memorable moments on film for decades. Yet just as important as actually recording family vacations, birthdays, weddings, and other important milestones is archiving home movies by making digital copies and then storing the originals correctly. The right archival practices and storage materials can ensure that you and your family and friends will be able to revisit the past whenever you want at the touch of a computer key or the swipe of a tablet.
Depending on the format of the movies you want to archive—whether old 8mm films, video tapes, or digital recordings—the way you go about it will vary a bit. One point remains the same, though: the best way to preserve these old memories is to make digital copies and then back them up. This way old movies can be viewed anytime, copied onto DVDs or thumb drives and sent to relatives and friends, and migrated to new digital platforms as they become available.
Check out these helpful tips for archiving home movies, and start saving (and sharing!) those memorable and irreplaceable moments today.
Archiving Home Movies: Keeping Yesterday Alive for Today and Tomorrow
Before the days of digital video, and pre-dating analog home video cameras by decades, home movies captured important family moments on film—more often than not “in glorious color,” as the advertisements proclaimed. Hand-held amateur 8mm and Super8 home movie cameras were everywhere back in the postwar boom years of the 1950s and 1960s, and the jittery (as usually shot without a tripod) but wonderful moments captured back then were brought to life with mom and dad’s (or grandma and grandpa’s) old home movie projector. These days you probably won’t have this old projector sitting around someplace, and even if you did it probably wouldn’t be working all that well—and that’s assuming that ANY of us still know how to spool it with our 8mm home movies. So unless you’re planning on buying an old projector on eBay or from some antique store—and you’ll need a screen too, unless you do what many families did back in the day and just hang up an old white bed sheet—your only (and actually your best) option is to convert your movie films to a digital format.
When archiving home movies you can often date your old 8mm films by information written on the boxes they were stored in, or by the processing dates sometimes printed on the film’s leader strip. (Please see RED rectangles, above.)
If you do have a projector, and you can actually get it to work, you can set up your films, show them on a screen or a white wall, and record them with a digital video recorder. Microsoft recommends using a tripod and framing the image carefully to get the best results. Since there might be some significant image-quality issues involved with this process, and because its just not all that easy to get it right, perhaps it makes better sense to send your films to an outside service that has the professional equipment necessary to make the conversion from 8mm film to digital. There are many such companies out there, and with just a bit of searching online you’ll be all set.
While 8mm home movie film is actually a relatively hardy artifact, they are still a bit fragile when it comes to actually showing them. Breaks in the film, inadvertent mishandling, and jammed projectors can threaten your films’ survivability. Yet even if you are wisely avoiding all these potential dangers by having your films digitized, its always recommended that you keep and archivally preserve your original films. It is easy to store your films in individual archival polyethylene bags, then place them in an acid-free storage box, separated by special index cards that allow you to write important information such as events, dates, locations, the people in the films and such. Even with all these layers of archival protection you’ll still need to take certain precautions such as making sure your films are not stored in your attic or basement, as temperature and humidity fluctuations can damage sensitive film emulsions. Instead, store your archivally protected films in a closet or shelf (out of direct sunlight) in your “living space” on your first or second floor, as temperature and humidity levels are more regulated and safe.
Experts will tell you that standard VHS and Video8 / Hi8 video tape cassettes may not be the best media on which to store your family’s memories. The National Archives have stated that the life expectancy of magnetic tape (and thus the irreplaceable memories recorded on it) is not terribly long. In addition to all the purely mechanical things that can go wrong with a video tape (see image above), old magnetic tapes can delaminate over time, a process in which the magnetic coating that records images and sounds actually begins to flake off. Just pull out one of your old commercial movie videos and see how they sometimes skip / jump / jam up altogether. With so many potential problems on the horizon—if not already affecting your tapes as you read this—you may want to consider backing up your old video tapes as digital copies. VHS to DVD converters are relatively common, and you may be able to find an affordable machine to convert your movies at home. If not, consider sending your videos of family memories out to have them digitally copied.
For digital movies shot with phones, GoPros, or any other form of digital motion-capture cameras, well, you’re already half-way there! These movies are the easiest to address as they are already in a “digitally-native” format, unlike the 8mm films or home movie videos described above, and they can be easily saved as files on your computer. The other half of the equation lies in backing these files up – the right way!
Archiving Home Movies
Once you have converted your original 8mm film or VHS / Video8 / Hi8 home movies to a digital format—and can enjoy them anytime without endangering fragile original films—it is also critically important to back them up. It is always advised that you make copies of your irreplaceable films and movies on archival-quality DVD-Rs to ensure they will last a lifetime. Standard “office supply store” recordable DVDs are cheaply made and might, over time, suffer from the same delamination issues as those faced by old video tapes (see above). It would be a shame to go through all the steps to back up your cherished home movies only to find out that the copies themselves have problems.
Rather than relying on potentially short-lived DVDs, the experts at Archival Methods recommend backing up your movies by burning copies onto high-quality DVD-Rs that can preserve your memories for as long as 30 years! Once backed up on these long-life DVDs it is easy to take the final step and store your disks in archival sleeves, pages, albums and boxes.
Archiving home movies the correct way allows you the satisfaction and peace-of-mind of knowing that these treasures are safely and archivally stored in easy-to-use acid-free enclosures and boxes, and will therefore always be available for future generations. That’s not the only reason to do it, though, as now you can easily copy your new digital files onto additional DVDs and send them to relatives for the perfect birthday / anniversary / holiday presents. It will be the gift that everyone ALWAYS remembers!
If you have any additional questions or would like more information on the archival storage and presentation materials that are right for you, please contact us here at Archival Methods. We’re always there to help with any archiving, storage, or presentation questions you may have.