Friday, October 28, 2016

Interview with Philip Hopkins of The Film Detective

Philip Hopkins of The Film Detective (Photo source)
I had the pleasure of interviewing Philip Hopkins, the founder of The Film Detective. What is The Film Detective? It is a classic film distribution company based in my home state of Massachusetts that digitally restores classic film, mostly public domain titles, and releases them on Blu-Ray, DVD and for online streaming. In the last three years they've developed an impressive library of classics from all different genres and they keep expanding with much more to come.

Raquel: You are a long-time film industry veteran, could you tell me more about how you go into the industry?
 Philip: It goes back nearly 50 years to when I inherited my family’s 16mm library. At one point, I had exhausted the enthusiasm to screen the films and I started looking for commercial films to entice family members so I could sneak in home movies. These go back to the days when you could buy prints from collectors including Blackhawk Films of old vintage one or two reelers, catalogs, and such publications as The Big Reel. In 1999, I met a budding film director in Dallas, TX and we started Marengo Films releasing public domain films on DVD. I came into the industry via my enthusiasm for old film and also my experience co-owning and operating a record company.

R: What is the history of The Film Detective?
 P: The Film Detective started in December of 2013. It’s an extension of the years I’ve been working in classic film and film restoration and distribution. We’ve grown into a solid operation with a great team and we’re going to be launching our own digital network screening our films on such platforms as Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV and we’ll continue to release Blu-rays and DVDs, as well as supply broadcasters such as Turner Classic Movies. We also work with private collectors and archives to scour the earth looking for vintage film.



R: What is the restoration process like?
 P: It can be endless and we have to make judgement calls every day. Typically, we’re working from old release prints, some are in better condition than others. Recently, we’ve been fortunate to work with a couple of film negatives. The process begins with cleaning the film, transferring it mostly into high-def, and then post-digital restoration with dust-busting, scratch removal and audio restoration. We have an in-house QC manager and editor and we work on both coasts with final restoration. When we’re done, we make a new Linear Tape Open (LTO) digital master that goes into our archive. The film then goes back into our storage facility or is returned to whoever we obtained the print or negative from.

R: Why do you think public domain movies should be restored?
P: They’re typically the last ones to be restored as the studios don’t see much return with orphaned or public domain films. Fortunately, with the change in technology, we’ve been able to justify the cost of restoring more films and serve a specific niche for that market. They’re still great films and just because they fell into the public domain, they deserve to be restored just as much as non-public domain films.

R: You partner with The Cabot Theater in Beverly, MA to premiere restorations. Could you tell me more about this partnership?
P: I grew up going to see films at The Cabot when I was a kid, back in the 1970s. The Cabot was recently rescued by local business owners and has gone through a wonderful transformation. We were thrilled to be able to continue to promote film exhibition. It’s local and we’re able to attend each screening, introduce the films, talk about what we do and bring our restorations to the big screen, which is very satisfying. They’re a great group of people and classic film lovers as well.

R: Could you tell me more about your online streaming initiative?
P: We’re launching onto several platforms. Currently we’re already live on Amazon Fire TV and Roku. Later this year we’ll be on Apple TV as well as our own website, thefilmdetective.tv. We’re hoping to build an audience and promote our restorations as well as deep library releases. We’ve also licensed a number of titles so there will be a mix of genres and content.

R: Where else can restorations from The Film Detective be seen?
P: Our films can be seen on Turner Classic Movies, Sony’s GetTV, on Blu-ray and DVD, and a number of other platforms including PlutoTV and Hoopla.

R: As a Massachusetts native I love that The Film Detective is based here. Why did you decide on Rockport, MA?
P: My wife and I have lived in Rockport since 1993. We’re both natives of MA. My wife, Susan, is from Quincy and I grew up in Danvers, which is just north of Boston. I moved to Rockport in the early 90s to work for a business that was based in Gloucester. When the business moved to New York, I stayed in Rockport and have had a hard time leaving ever since. It’s a beautiful, scenic, historic town and every summer I’m able to screen classic movies in my neighborhood for all the neighbors. Very satisfying!

R: What releases from The Film Detective can we look forward to?
P: Currently we’re working on several restorations. They range from classic noir to Blaxploitation. We’re very excited about several new releases including The Vampire Bat (1933), which we’re going to be working on in conjunction with UCLA Film & TV Archive, a lost Ed Wood TV pilot and a very rare Blaxploitation film, Joe Bullet, which was banned shortly after its release in South Africa. We were inspired to pursue The Vampire Bat because we’re friends with Melvyn Douglas’s son, Gregory Hesselberg.

R: What are some of your favorite classic films?
P: Far too many to list, but the first film my wife and I went to on our first date was Night of the Hunter (1955). That will always be my favorite as it set the tone for a wonderful partnership and friendship and affection for classic movies that we both have.

Thank you to Philip Hopkins of The Film Detective for taking the time out to answer my questions. You can find out more about The Film Detective and Philip's work on their website. Check out my review of their latest Blu-Ray release of Suddenly (1954).

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