Editor's note: the following is a tongue-in-cheek, often irreverent, question and answer column published in the ASMP News solely for the entertainment of our readers. It does not necessarily reflect the views of ASMP, the local chapter or other ASMP members. All opinions and answers are solely those of the author, and he is welcome to them.

Readers' questions about any aspect of photography, or life in general, are welcome and Dr. Photography will answer them in future columns, if he happens to feel like it. Send mail to:
Dear Dr. Photography


Dear Dr. Photography,

I've just finished editing a film shot by a cameraman whose seeing eye dog wears glasses. Apart from hiring you, is there any way we can improve the rushes?

Moaner from Bristol, England

 

DP: While hiring me is something I would hope every high-paying client would do, when considered after the fact on a project which is already in the can, I'm afraid I would be of little service other than consuming vast libations while patiently empathizing with your tale of woe.

My best advice, however, would be to spend some quality time with your blind cameraman and his nearsighted dog to inform them that the footage they shot will be used as an art film, rather than the informative documentary it should have been. You can then edit a completely terrible soft-focus piece entitled "Cinema in the Mist," which will be met with rave reviews and guaranteed gold at Cannes.

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Dear Dr. Photography,

What is your feeling about colorization of black & white films, particularly the old classics?

Not Yet a Big Cheese in Atlanta

 

DP: Don't you guys ever give up? I thought ethics were things you stayed up late at night discussing as a sophomore in college. Usually, by the time you've been working in the real world for a few years, you've figured them out. Since you asked, however, here are my two bits.

Colorizing black & white films is not a crime. Rather, it is the modification of a product, or "work of art" if you prefer, so that it has a greater commercial value. It is well within the rights of the film(s) owner to add color, or even to take it away. Perhaps what is more interesting however, is why that it so.

For years, the motion picture industry has been one of the main reasons-for-being of work-for-hire. When you have several hundred artists and crew members working on a single project such as a feature film, it would be highly impractical for each of them to own a piece of the copyright of the finished piece. When a studio or production company pays a few million dollars to create a motion picture, they don't want to have to deal with every actor, director, cinematographer, grip, lighting assistant, designer, carpenter, caterer and go-fer telling them what they can or cannot do with the result. Therefore, everyone involved has traditionally been employed either as an employee or under a work-for-hire contract. They are generally well-compensated (the motion picture industry is one of the most highly unionized businesses in America) but give up all ownership of their work.

Even big-name directors and actors fall into work-for-hire categories. For years, many of them believed that they alone controlled "their" art. But when an extremely wealthy Ted Turner purchased the entire MGM film library and "desecrated" classic black & white films by colorizing them, they too discovered the perils of work-for-hire. Directors and actors flocked in vain before Congress trying to wrest control of their work. But Ted Turner now owns everything they did for MGM and can do anything he wants with their films -- from colorizing and re- editing to selling merchandising rights or even destroying them, if he so desires.

Turner is not a criminal because he decided to add color to some old movies. Rather, he is a shrewd and very successful businessman who has acquired a vast library of films and is altering them so they will sell more successfully in today's market. If you don't like these new products, don't buy them.

Think about that the next time you agree to work-for-hire.

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©1993 Scott Highton
All rights reserved