The NovaSCOPE Story

(As told to Martyn Stevens by the legendary Patrick Moules)

“When I moved to London in 1967 to attend college, I was already a 9.5er of several years’ standing, and I was soon rubbing shoulders with many of the personalities of the then amateur cine world many, alas, no longer with us. I should perhaps set the “scene” a little here of late 60’s/early 70’s London, at least as it applied to the world of cine! By 1970, Pathescope had been gone for a decade, and prognostications about the doom of 9.5 were commonplace. In a couple of years it will be a half-century since Pathescope’s demise; many of you who ticked the “very old indeed” box on the Flickers Questionnaire would have been young, vigorous and active in 1970, and there was a thriving market in second-hand 9.5 films and equipment. If only I had known then what I know now (and had the money!), I could have stockpiled untold treasures.

Video had yet to make any serious inroads into the home cine market and we often had to make do with moving blobs on black and white Standard 8, with ghastly dupes taken from horrid originals. Nowadays, DVD’s of even recent films are given away with newspapers; then the Kinematograph Renters’ Society (KRS) terrorised innocent film enthusiasts with their completely over-the-top defence of film copyright. They hated people owning films only slightly less than they hated the tiny minority who actually wanted to copy them illicitly. The KRS mob saw potentially huge losses of income from evil amateurs, maybe as much as 19/6d every single year!

This was all part of the background to a plan hatched in about 1970 by Paul van Someren and myself. Paul’s life was sadly cut short in 1984, but he was a stalwart of the 9.5 scene and edited the Group 9.5 magazine for a while. We believed 9.5 could show its superiority by demonstrating just how good new 9.5 films could be in contrast to Standard 8. A lot of equipment used by either Pathescope or other distributors was still around, salvaged by Larry Pearce and others when Pathescope folded, and some triple negatives had survived. We thought there could be a market for releases completely new to 9.5 and maybe some old favourites, too. The name was easy – Pathe-scope had gone so we were Nova(new)-Scope.

We managed to get our hands on a good range of equipment. First, a perforator that took 35mm unperforated film stock and made five rows of holes - three 9.5mm strips and two outer rows for the “pilot” perforations. This was installed in the basement of my flat in Fulham, which was nice and dark. We planned to perforate first and then print; most Pathescope releases were done the other way round. With B&W, a red light could used to give us some illumination. This process was by no means straightforward. First, unperforated 35mm stock was rare, and suppliers often insisted on very big minimum order quantities, leaving us with large amounts of film to finance and store until use. There was also a problem of adjustment – some of our early prints came out on stock where the 9.5mm pitch was just a bit too long, and led to an unsteady picture. There was then the problem of processing, of which more later.

The second item was a step-printer, which used a 16mm negative, the image from which was split into three by a beam-splitter, focussed onto the triple-perforated raw stock and printed frame by frame. This was set up in a large built-in wardrobe in Paul’s flat in Parsons Green. This too had to operate in dim red light.  Martyn Stevens helped me install it; we managed to blow some fuses by hammering a nail thru a cable. Happy days.

As a sort of item 2a, we had a continuous printer, which took triple negatives and ran them thru a gate in contact with raw stock. This would enable some old Pathescope negatives to be re-used.

The final link in the chain was a slitter, which separated three 9.5 prints from the two strips of pilot perforations.

Ah! If only it was that simple! The problems were legion – where to start? I mentioned above the infamous KRS. Rights were a real problem, as we would be publicly selling films. We had to make sure we had covered this issue. In those days, before Disney allowed sound (Sound!) extracts on 8mm, it was next to impossible to persuade anyone who owned film rights to allow their use. Big collectors such as Rohauer and Monkhouse jealously guarded their rights and made money from sale thereof to TV etc. No argument that they could not lose out from a handful of sales on an obscure gauge would sway them. From the start, therefore, our choice of releases was severely circumscribed. We had to rely on films where, for some unusual reason rights had expired or where other distributors had secured rights and were willing to share. Breakspear films and others were very helpful here, but it did mean that modern films were simply not possible.

Then there was the finding of a negative, or a good print from which a negative could be made. A specially-graded “soft” negative was needed for the printing process to offset the increase in contrast associated with reduction printing. Once the negative was sorted, careful tests had to be run for each film to determine the correct exposure. Pathescope had used a system of notches to change light levels for different scenes; we could not aspire to such sophistication and had to rely on a good negative prepared for us by a specialist laboratory, but we still had to run some test footage and have it processed to check. As you can see, the costs are beginning to mount up.

And at the end of the day, that was the root of the problem. Film stock was expensive, and having to buy it in large quantities meant a very large financial outlay that would only be recouped gradually as films were sold. Processing, too was costly, especially when test footages were taken into the reckoning. Few Labs were willing to take on our small quantities and the extra problems of processing triple-perforated stock, where special care was needed to avoid problems around the sprocket holes. We ended up using labs who specialised in microfiche/microfilm work, as hardly anyone else did B&W. And at the other end of the process, collectors were not willing to pay economic prices for old silent films on 9.5. The second-hand market was there to depress prices and, of course, disposable incomes were so much lower in those days. So we had to shut up shop.”



Here are reproduced the three issues of NovaSCOPE and the two issues of Novascope Review.

novascope0001     novascope0002a     novascope0002b     novascope0003

novascope0004     novascope0005a    novascope0005b     novascope0006a

novascope0007     novascope0008a     novascope0008b     novascope0009

novascope0010     novascope0011a     novascope0011b    novascope0012a    novascope0012b     novascope0013a     novascope0013b     novascope0014

novascope0015     novascope0016a     novascope0016b     novascope0017