Although spokespeople for Universal Studios have stated that nothing irreplaceable was lost in this past Sunday’s fire on their lot, there seems to be questions remaining as to what was damaged and how quickly, if ever, it may be replaced. Specifically, the vast library of prints of Universal films that are rented out to revival and art houses around the world may have suffered severe damage.
Fishbowl LA received a copy of an email that was reportedly sent to a revival house in Montgomery, Alabama in which Universal flatly cancels any bookings of prints that may have been stored on the lot.
It is with great sadness that I must inform you that yesterdays fire destroyed nearly 100% of the archive prints kept here on the lot. Due to this we will be unable to honor any film bookings of prints that were set to ship from here. Over the next few weeks and months we will be able to try and piece together what material we do have and if any prints exist elsewhere. For the time being please check your rental confirmations and look under shipping instructions. If the print was set to ship from the studio then you date is now canceled. If the shipping instructions say ship from Deluxe then those dates are still good.
Fishbowl LA’s tipster then goes on to question how quickly, if ever, Universal will replace some titles, bemoaning, “that most likely, only the ‘big’ titles will ever be reprinted in 35mm. Many Universal titles will never be seen in 35mm publicly again.”
(It should be noted that while prints have been destroyed, the original negatives from which these prints are made are safe.)
I think that there may be some rather hasty conclusions jumped to by Fishbowl LA’s source. First of all, Universal admits that they do not know the full extent of the damage to their rental prints library. Secondly, while the studio probably won’t immediately strike new prints as replacements for those lost, it seems unfair to assume that Universal will only replace their biggest titles. True, Universal is a business and it might not be in their best financial interests to immediately strike a new print for a older picture that might not get many bookings outside of New York or Los Angeles. But prints of those films were made for a business reason before and it is likely that those reasons will again surface.