March 10, 2016 posted by

A Thunderbean Rambling

A message to all my film collector friends (from MSome thoughts at the end of a day (that will end up being posted at the beginning of another). This is related to animation, preservation, creative endeavors and the small windows that are often the difference between something happening or not. As you folks know, on occasion I’m off on these ramblings…

As I write this, I’m sitting on a bed with my ‘big’ computer (a 27” iMac) squashed into a corner,on an undersized side table, with a group of road-wary dogs that refuse to let me type much of anything. Mary and I have been on the road most of the day, and we’ve finally arrived near midnight in Fredricksberg, VA. We’re here visiting Mary’s sister and family, and an excellent perk is that it’s only about 25 minutes from the Library of Congress Packard campus (where all the film is!) so I’ll be visiting there tomorrow, if these dogs will allow me to sleep. As usual, a few more nitrate prints from my own collection will be finding a new home there, and I hope to take a look at a few things I’ve been wanting to check out for a while.

It’s spring break at the school where I teach, so it’s an excellent time to take a quick step away from everything, although so many projects are calling for attention. Some small, some bigger. I’m managing to get many of the ‘promised’ favor projects out of the way. One of them involved steadying a 1927 silent film, and I needed the big full resolution screen to accomplish that. That’s the reason the ‘big’ computer is here, traveling 10 hours with us today. The 17 minute film has something like four minutes of footage left to steady, but it has *hundreds* of shots, many very short, so it’s been a bear to get through. Such is the nature of this particular kind of work. Funny enough, this film has all of it’s title cards shortened to a few frames, so when they are expanded to a readable length I’ll bet the film will run longer. This is just one of many, and it’s getting done at the very end of the time window it needs to get finished in.

Charlie_dog-plattI’ve found the dogs have a whole other sets of rules than I do, and their own society governed by rules that we usually misinterpret by comparing them to our own human ones. I’d really like to learn how their brains work better, but even with many years into learning, it’s somewhat elusive. They’re a different piece of cloth.

Now that I’m in my late 40s and reading glasses are required, joints are a little more sore and I get tired much quicker, I find I’m often much more aware of the hows and whys than I was before. There are different windows opened now that in previous times; in looking back though these years of doing these things, I realize that I usually could see the windows and doors I wanted open, but often other circumstances prevented that from happening. Perhaps we all get more pragmatic as we age, or perhaps experience just brings us to make a faster assessment, or perhaps because the clock is going we see that the windows will close fast, often when we’ve only started to notice they were open. Translation: movement now on classic film materials is imperative while those windows are at the angle they are and the sun is where it’s at.

There are of course all sorts of reasons that something happens or doesn’t, and of course any specialty has it’s own set of persnickety details and situations. In the business of dealing with the klnds of materials Thunderbean has been gathering and releasing, the movement forward requires an understanding of the various grounds that must be crossed and what boots to wear, and sometimes knowing what tongue to not bite (or biting your own!). Early on, I thought the technical details were the biggest hurdles- and in many ways they truly were in that I didn’t have the knowledge to carry out entire projects on my own.

As many of the more technical issues became old hat and less problematic, the next big issues were all about human nature- and, funny enough, they remain human nature. Pursuing a new accomplishment always means dealing with people that all have different agendas, and dealing with the actual market for the product is also about human nature.


In working with classic film and animation material, many of us are the ‘true believers’. We love the films and are interested in the history behind them. I’ve found that so many of the people I work with on these projects are cut from a part of that same cloth. When working with these people, almost every aspect of the projects are easier because I understand where they are coming from- and they like the projects and are willing to help bring them to fruition.

Your Movie ShowOne very generous collector taught me an important lesson on fairness and relationship building by subtly hinting that it’s always a good idea to give back when someone is very generous to you. Success is directly related to how you handle each situation, and being generous never hurts as long as you don’t give every shirt off your back (and as Mary says ‘as long as you don’t leave too much cat food out you’ll be fine’) .This particular aspect has built the most valuable relationships I have in both life and business.

In dealing with archives and companies, you have a mix of both people that love the material and people that are involved in just the business of the material. When you’re lucky, they also care about the material- but sometimes it’s just the numbers and the money involved that matters. Maybe that is how it should be.

We’re in a period where the nature of the business of filmed entertainment is in flux- and a whole series of small windows are open as companies figure out how to use the materials they own. Since the DVD and Blu-ray market has changed rapidly, the industry is responding by figuring out how best to make money with both their past libraries as well as new productions. This ‘flux’ has gone on for quite a few years now, with many models being tried on for size, and it comes back to human nature, studied though trial and market research, that guides the bigger decisions. How we will consume entertainment will continue to evolve based on both the technology and companies trying various platforms. My hope is that some of these windows stay open long enough to allow the smaller and less profitable materials to at the very least come to light, or that the newer models make much more rare material easier to see.

donald-film-messWith Thunderbean, a large part of the drive isn’t about what will sell best, but rather what I’d like to see released- as it is for so many of us. The trick I think is to have a balance between what we’d collectively like to see released, what is feasible and what can be ‘horse-traded’- that is, one project supporting others. As Thunderbean moves into expanded distribution (and beyond just animation), I have to wonder what the next venues will be beyond the more traditional brick and mortar model and Amazon. There’s an article I saved from 1984 where Michael Eisner was talking about the first release of Pinocchio on home video. In defending the home video release of the film and reducing it’s future value, he is quoted as saying “20 years from now, the products will be on thimbles or something, and a whole new market will exist’. I thought this was an idiotic statement for many years, but he was basically right.

Something that became very clear to me this week was that often people can start out as a ’True Believer’ and evolve away from that due to various circumstances related to what they need to do- and perhaps sometimes forget what they loved about it in the first place. Getting to work with what you really like can lead down that path fairly easily I think. I’m attempting to not have that happen to myself. Somehow, animation is one of those things that seems to go this way more often than not.

Several big things have started to move forward with this small company this week, and more are following. One involved making a few big decisions, giving up on some assumptions and adopting other methods to move forward. One involved smoothing over a situation that shouldn’t have needed any smoothing- but that’s human nature!

For each of us, the endeavors vary greatly and the paths are chosen differently- but it always helps to have good travel partners- so here’s a wish for good travel partners for your endeavors!

Have a good week everyone!


  • “You’re just like my uncle,” a fellow said in 1968, adding that his uncle, who ran a drugstore, always gave people a little bit more.

    “Do you know why?” I said, “It is because when they go elsewhere they get exactly what they paid for which will always be less than they got from your uncle.

    Lillian Gish defined star quality as that little bit extra we give of ourselves.

    Clearly, Steve, you have star quality.

  • I don’t remember a time like this. Film went to tape, the film market collapsed and tape flourished. Then we went to DVD and VHS/BETA collapsed and DVD flourished. The difference is that DVD collapsed before whatever is next took over. Downloading is good for some things, but not cartoon collections. At least not yet. And as far as I know you can download a film, but can you download the bonus features that accompanied it? Not as far as I know.

    I think this strange stasis is what makes something like Thunderbean possible. You can’t sell a couple hundred thousand Fleischer Popeye DVD sets, but there’s still the demand out there from animation fans. Olive Films had such an opportunity with their Betty Boop DVD releases, and in the end they blew it. Little if any restoration, and inconsistent packaging. And let’s not get into their absolute refusal to communicate with the people interested in their product. I know Thunderbean must find a way to make a nice profit, if for no other reason than to allow the work to continue. I hope you.

  • I’ve accumulated a lot of Thunderbean titles. Some because it’s stuff I’d wanted to see in optimal condition for a long time. Much because it’s stuff I didn’t know existed, but on the strength of the Thunderbean name knew it would be worthwhile.

  • Well, whatever it means to you, I remain a “true believer”.

    I’m only sorry that bigger deals like Cartoon Network did *NOT* remain true believers. I don’t know what changed their minds, but I continue to want the incredible treats that are out there, and I keep stressing their availability before the ultimate source materials are history in those dusty vaults where they continue to be “held hostage”. I’m sorry for those who turn out to be in it for the money alone, because I don’t always think that big money can be made because some folks believe that changing times means that certain projects are not worth doing or that some projects always get done with numerous exceptions to the rule (certain titles being left out or the material being sold to what I consider the wrong market).

    Hey, someday, you should seriously write a book about the subject of restoration and be honest about who are the obstacles to getting those goals accomplished and, Steve, you know that all I want is the full and complete restoration of cherished films in animation history. We’ve seen some remarkable things since the beginning of the eras of collectables being made widely available on video shelves, and I know that I’ve collected certain titles over and over again hoping that *THIS* or *THAT* will indeed be the definitive. I don’t really know at all what folks like you go through to get the interesting collectables out there, but we’re all too often made to feel as if we’re dealing narcotics or something worse by continuing to collect. That is one aspect of all this that I hope goes through serious change for the better, and I look forward to your future columns here, telling us that our dreams have finally come true!

  • Steve, we all love and cherish your work and the stresses it must cause to bring these things to light. I get a big smile on my face when I can show a newcomer those color willie whoppers and blow their minds. Keep doing this! Maybe you should do a kick starter for a project or a streaming site with perks etc.

  • The frame grabs from the Warner and Donald Duck cartoons included here are perfect evidence of the benefits of film restoration and preservation. The color, sharpness and lack of scratches on them are the results of going back to the best possible film sources and transferring them to modern equipment for further enhancement. That’s from the persistence of film preservationists. Oh, you kids today have it soft! Back in my day, we had to rely on Leonard Maltin’s descriptions of Willie Whopper in OF MICE AND MAGIC. Now we’ve got Willie himself! On disk! And Jimmy Carter was still president! And cocaine was everywhere! Uh oh, gotta go. Here comes the nurse. Nice work, Steve.

  • “It used to be about the MUSIC!”

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