"Manos" Digest #13
A quick reminder: the SIFF Seattle screening is coming up on the 7th of August, with the PhilaMOCA Philadelphia screening on the 22nd. Backers who want tickets to these events should contact me through Kickstarter immediately, so that I can verify your identity and add your names to the guest list.
First things first: we are now able to announce our involvement with Don May, Jr. and Jerry Chandler's Synapse Films. Synapse has been either releasing or consulting on high-quality versions of neglected films for decades. With their experience, their love of the genre, and their eye for quality, we can trust them to deliver a disc that does justice to the work we've accomplished here.
Synapse Films maintains some of the highest quality control standards in the industry. Kickstarter Backers will be getting a disc that is far more than just the restored movie on a simple disc (the original plan before our goal was exceeded) as a reward for financing the restoration.
The discs that Kickstarter backers receive will contain everything, from packaging on down to the disc content, that goes into the retail release. Not only that, but we are working hard to ensure that you receive the disc before it reaches store shelves.
The road to this announcement has been a long one, and while I'm not able to share certain details, I would like to outline a few of the delaying factors we encountered below. Some of this will be well known to those that have been following us through social media, while some could not be commented on until now, but in combination I think it will paint a better picture of the past year.
Going With The Grain
There are automated methods of restoration which, while faster and cheaper than others, are known to mistake film grain for print damage. Digitally sanding away grain and damage indiscriminately, you sacrifice both the resolution and the distinct look of “film”. It’s not a budgetary issue either: for complicated reasons, major studio releases on Blu-ray have often suffered from this problem in spite of having resources and film elements to work with that we do not.
If that weren’t enough, Manos: The Hands Of Fate is shot on a narrow gauge and possesses a coarsely detailed grain structure, which if lost would defeat the purpose of restoring the film as it was originally assembled. We didn’t want to waste time and resources on a method that would turn Manos into a smeary, grainless mess that does not represent the way the film looks. Instead of cutting corners, we went with a far more accurate, slower and less automated process of restoration. As a result, the difference between this and previous video releases became even more dramatic, and the effect becomes very close to watching the film itself projected.
Defending Public Domain
The other factor in our delay, one that I could not talk about in the middle of, was an outside party making claims that Manos: The Hands Of Fate was not in the public domain. This is, of course, incorrect- Manos: The Hands Of Fate is in the public domain due to failure to include a copyright notice in the credits, a requirement in that era. That oversight, among others, placed the film irrevocably in the public domain upon its release in 1966.
However, this outside party was very adamant in trying to extract “licensing fees” that they had no right to demand (and not just from this project, but any others based on the film as well) along with engaging in erratic and, at times, unethical behavior. All this was clearly done with the goal of disrupting, profiting from, and even taking control of other people’s work through legal intimidation.
As an example, one venue screening the restoration was contacted less than 24 hours beforehand with threats of legal action if a sum of money was not handed over, if I was not barred from attending the screening by security staff, and if our special guest was not forced to promote this outside party’s work during the Q&A. Cooler heads prevailed, the screening went as we had planned with no compromises, and the threats, such as they were, turned out to be completely empty.
Following the harassment of ourselves and others by this outside party, our legal counsel decided to see if they would soon exhaust their resources and, with no one recognizing their false claims, drop them. If this were the case, a deal could be negotiated for home video release and theatrical screenings without any concerns. Preliminary negotiations, which had begun around that time, had to be put on hold- reaching a distribution deal prematurely, and having to contend with the actions of this other party throughout the preparation of the disc, could have resulted in far greater delays and even compromises in the quality of the final product.
After successful screenings of the work-in-progress, it was decided that we could use the unexpected delay to our advantage: more restoration work could be done and greater results achieved. This was not a do-over, but an additional pass built entirely on the foundation of the previous work.
In the meantime, we had bolstered our evidence that the film was in the public domain and kept in communication with the other threatened parties, ensuring that anyone enduring these attempts at intimidation felt secure in ignoring them. With none of the targets taking the bait and paying out, the legal threats soon evaporated. In the first quarter of 2013, it became apparent that the other party no longer had the resources (legal services or financing) to continue their harassment.
At this time, negotiations with several different Blu-ray/DVD Labels resumed in earnest. This process is by itself time-consuming as key points have to be discussed, negotiated, and contracts looked over by legal counsel. At the same time, this work must be balanced with the everyday schedules of the people involved (I have been working my normal job throughout this project, but through careful planning and coordination with our technicians and our counsel my outside work has never had to impede the restoration’s progress).
One thing that I have been adamant about during negotiations is that Kickstarter Backers, without whom we would never have been able to restore Manos: The Hands of Fate, would receive the same edition as retail consumers and not simply a compromised, bare bones copy of the movie. Synapse Films responded enthusiastically to this notion and made guarantees in our contract accordingly.
Producing a good home video release is an incredibly involved art in itself. Synapse has a well-deserved reputation of high quality, and will ensure that Manos: The Hands of Fate finally receives the respectfully assembled release its fans deserve. Our partnership with Synapse Films brings with it passionate and committed producers who can be trusted to create a disc to exceed expectations, and without any excessive delays.
Now that negotiations and legalities have given way to commitments and progress, we will now initiate monthly updates so that Kickstarter Backers, as well as anyone who enjoys Manos, can follow the assembly of the disc and our theatrical screenings in more detail.
Thank you all for your time, patience, and support. It has made the restoration of Hal Warren’s Manos: The Hands Of Fate, something few could ever have imagined possible, a reality.