As Vice President of Entertainment Media Archives, for Warner Bros. Technical Operations, Steven Anastasi has a really cool job. Literally. It’s 35 degrees in the film vaults he oversees for Warner Bros. Steven is responsible for the whereabouts, preservation and protection of more than 6,000 feature films, millions of film reels,10 million stills, 20,000 comic books and thousands of television episodes.
Warner Bros. owns the world’s largest entertainment library and is dedicated to its film preservation. Each year, more feature films, TV episodes and stills pile in. On top of this are occasional buried-treasure historic finds. “A couple of months ago, a lot of titles were found in Russia,” Steven says. “They were on nitrate and in good condition. These are titles that the film industry thought were lost. Same thing happened in New Zealand a couple of months ago, too.”
How do priceless film treasures suddenly pop up across the globe? “In the old days when the films used to circulate, the last stop kept them. They never came back. There was no aftermarket; no home video or anything like that. So once the theatrical run was done, the studios didn’t really care what happened with the inventory. That all changed with television and home video. They needed content for these markets and began to save everything for future use. But that’s why a lot of the original negatives don’t exist. They were destroyed or they were sent out to facilities in Europe.”
Rounding up assets represents a fraction of what Steven and his dedicated staff deal with. “What is it? Where is it? Is it protected?” is their mantra, as they painstakingly inspect, preserve, migrate, catalog, transport and secure the assets. “When we talk about preservation, there is the actual lab work and the dedicated people who work tirelessly on jobs that can be quite tedious (even dirty). And just as important is separating the elements across the country so we have full risk management. If we keep an original in Los Angeles, we back it up somewhere else, like the East Coast.” The storage details sound like something from a blockbuster thriller, complete with guards, key-card authorization, storage 650 feet below ground in the salt mines of Kansas, and multiple vaults in limestone mountains.
Keeping track of the inventory reflects the ultimate mastery of minutiae. “We have a global database. We know where everything is; everything is scanned in real time. The database has shipping, receiving, and vault management as well as a full metadata title search. If I pull up Casablanca, I see everything that I have for Casablanca throughout the world.” Right now, the biggest challenge facing Steven, his teams – and the entire industry – is “born digital” productions. “Digital productions are probably the biggest single change in this industry since the introduction of sound. Both from the way it’s captured and the way we have to archive it. There’s really no method to preserve it for an extensive period of time. If I make a new film and put it in cold storage, I don’t have to worry about it for 100 years. With digital, it’s every 10 years.”
Exacerbating the challenge is the inability to see anything. “It’s all data. With film, I can hold it up and do a frame-by-frame comparison. But this is all data. So you have to run computer programming to make sure you get all the information. In order to see the images I have to restore the whole thing, and convert it to a file type that I can view on a monitor. So the biggest challenge is the migrations.” The other challenge is volume; filmmakers often shoot more or leave the camera running. “We’re getting a lot more data to deal with.” And while the digital world is young, preservation is already in a race against time. “We’ve had digital features since 1999, so we’re already past the 10-year window.”
As an expert on keeping assets safe, Steven opts to stash cash at First Entertainment Credit Union. With the support of his wife and family, they made the move to California from New York in 1993. At the time, Steven worked for Turner Broadcasting (prior to Time-Warner purchasing the company, which is when his tenure at Warner Bros. began). “My bosses at Turner said, ‘Join First Entertainment.’ So I did, and have been a member ever since.” Steven takes advantage of multiple products and services. “I bought my first new car using the loan program that offers special deals just for First Entertainment members at certain dealerships. I’ve had term saving certificates, money markets, savings accounts, checking accounts even both of my kids have accounts at the credit union.”
“I like that it represents the industry, and that there are plenty of locations.
We even have one on the Warner Bros. lot, which is great. So the locations are really a plus. And the people are always nice.”
Thank you, Steven, for choosing us as your vault away from vault. We promise to protect your assets with the same level of preservation dedication!
Visit the Warner Archive website at warnerarchive.com, which is a site to purchase films that might not be available otherwise.