Archive Researchers

Featuring: Kenn Rabin, San Anselmo

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We’ve seen you’re credited on The Beatles film. What was your role in the project?

I designed the footage database systems that were sent into the field with the researchers all over the world to collect the information about the various collections and individuals they found. So I was part of the early research efforts, which were through one of the film’s co-producers, One Voice One World, and specifically with Matthew White. 

Interesting! Have you ever designed other footage database systems for a movie?

Yes, I started designing the database system back in the mid-1980s, after being the Archivist for the landmark PBS series, VIETNAM: A TELEVISION HISTORY at WGBH in Boston.

At that time, I did not have a PC and I would send keypunch forms to Austin, Texas and then get a printout of all the archival items in our editing room, sorted in different ways, such as chronologically (which the editing room used) and by archive (which I used). Ultimately, by the time I got to EYES ON THE PRIZE, and we had computer support, I was able to design a much more sophisticated version that gave me more information quicker and better. I still have a version of that database, which I refer to from time to time. Most recently, it was incredibly helpful when I was Archive Producer on the feature film SELMA. As FileMaker Pro (the underlying platform) has gotten more and more sophisticated, so has the database.

I market it (passively!) to projects doing shows and features that have large amounts of archival that need to be kept track of. When I originally created it for EYES, I named it SHOWLOG, and that’s the name it’s still got today, over 30 years later! But during that time, it has gone from servicing film-based projects (keeping track of negative edge codes and workprint and sound edge codes, A-wind and B-wind etc, to now something suitable for a digital production (keeping track of frame rate, raster size, resolution, HD vs. 4K, etc.) It’s been an interesting and fun evolution.

Is your footage database system part of your work as an archive producer / researcher?

If I’m hired as Archive Producer for a project, the system “comes with me.” But often people don’t need to hire me, but license the system anyway. Some producers can’t live without it; for other projects it would be overkill. I always think of a great New Yorker cartoon in relation to this. It shows a man in his undershirt on his couch watching football, and he yells back to his wife, who is in the kitchen, “Honey, would you check the database and see if we have any beer in the fridge?” Sometimes technology is superfluous.

How was your database system used by the archive researchers involved in The Beatles Doc project? Was it designed especially for the movie and for no other external use?

It’s a good question, because in this case, yes, it was designed specifically for this movie, and was only very partly based on SHOWLOG.

I worked closely with Matt White, of One Voice One World, one of the co-producers of the film, to develop a system specifically that could be used by him at the “home office” for certain purposes, and could be used by the field researchers, who were in various countries around the world, for the main purpose, which was, of course to record information about collections, collectors, and individual items they found in the territories they were covering.

It had such items as check-boxes for the four Beatles, to indicate who was at what concert, and lists of the songs they played in that particular appearance. We had generated a master list of all the songs they were playing in that era, and the researcher could go to a pull-down menu and just choose the particular songs in the set they did on that particular day in that particular arena. Of course it was also linked to the date of the performance and the venue.

Matt White and his assistant at the time, Julie Day, coordinated the design of the database as I gave them different iterations to look at or field test. These records would be ported back to Matt’s computer in Chicago. This was well before Imagine Entertainment and Ron Howard were involved. But that information became the basis of the project, and the reason why so much personal footage, much of it shot originally on 8mm or Super-8mm home movie film was used in the project.

Have you already had a chance to see the full movie? How was it?

I saw the finished product, as you did, on September 15, when it opened. It was a packed house, and it was so great seeing it with an audience. I recommend that to anyone who’s really interested in the Beatles, and the 1960s, even though it will actually start streaming in the next couple of days! I believe there’s nothing that can replace the communal experience, especially for a film like this.

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