The Lady in the Library
by Wendy Carter
Little did I know when I accepted a job as a babysitter in Malibu one summer that it would lead to a job in the mail room at Quinn Martin Productions on the old Samuel Goldwyn Studios lot, right next door to the legendary Formosa Cafe. Yes, the cliché is true. I started out in the mailroom in 1975 and have been in the film industry ever since. The great thing about the mailroom was that I got to know a lot of people who have helped me along the way.
My chance to join the Editors Guild came when I got my first position as an apprentice on a Stephen J. Cannel series, Tenspeed and Brown Shoe. The availability roster was open and I ran through the door as fast as I could, check in hand. In a tiny windowless room, as so many editorial rooms are, I first did battle with a four-plate Kem. Wendy 0, Kem 1. Once I mastered threading the Kem, I had to figure out what the switches did. Wendy 0, Kem 2.
As an apprentice I learned how to splice 35mm film, picture and track, as well as sync dailies, run a Moviola, code film and everything in between. I also learned where the Band Aids were kept. Splicer 1, Wendy 0.
My first job as a librarian took me back to my roots at QM Productions when Dick Brockway, Vice President of Post-Production, offered me the librarian job. I jumped at the chance to be back on the Goldwyn lot with my old friends. I learned more and more about the technical side of film: negatives, interpositives, internegatives, CRIs and YCMs. I also learned that a key number never lies.
I found my way to Aaron Spelling Productions as its film librarian, again on the Goldwyn lot, which was becoming my home away from home. Shows like Dynasty, Hotel, Matt Houston, Love Boat, Hollywood Wives and others kept me on my toes. It was during this time that I realized: This was where I wanted to be. It was steady work and gave me the chance to interact with all facets of production and post-production. Eventually, Goldwyn Studios became Warner Hollywood.
Next, I went to work for MGM Television on the Sony lot and called Washington Row home. With each new adventure, I was getting further and further away from key numbers and closer and closer to time codes. The transition from film to digital was an expensive and time-consuming process, beginning with updating all catalogue information, transferring millions of feet of negative to high definition, then uploading the images to a server for an expedited digital download as a low-resolution file or HD file for digital editing.
In January 1994, on the day Los Angeles was shaken to its bones by the Northridge earthquake, I was supposed to start working at 20th Century Fox. Needless to say, I started the next day. And I have been there ever since.
I am often asked the question, “What does a film librarian do?” People seem to have the impression that I sit in a big office with millions of films which I loan out to interested borrowers––sort of the Marion the Librarian from The Music Man, only with movies. My actual job involves locating stock shots or establishing shots to include in various television shows and feature productions. For example, I might be asked to find a daytime shot of Central Park with snow on the ground. If I don’t have it in the Fox library, I then call a library that I know can send me several different shots from which the producers can choose. Using stock footage is more cost-effective than sending a crew to New York on a snowy day. A stock shot is anything that doesn’t include talent or dialogue.
One of the things I enjoy most is knowing which libraries have what kinds of footage. Calling around to get just the right shot is one of the best parts of the job. I have learned whom to contact for specific footage––the best sports collection, the best footage for TV playback, the best beauty shots in hi-def. If a new supplier becomes available, librarians usually hear about it first.
Technology has made searching for stock footage available at your fingertips. However, one of my jobs is to make sure that the shot you have found will meet all of your requirements, creatively and technically. It is relationships forged over the years with other librarians and stock houses that make all the difference.
There was certainly some luck in being in the right place at the right time, but it was the encouragement and support of a lot of wonderful people that set me on my way.