Alumni build careers in valuable film industry roles

Los Angeles is a destination city for those who aspire to be a part of the film industry. Whether you’re an actor, director or producer, LA is the place to get in the business. It is to film as Nashville is to country music.

Additionally, LA boasts glitz and glamour unmatched by many cities. Each year, the Academy Awards, Golden Globes and many other film industry awards are conducted in Tinseltown.  

While those are the events and positions that are seen on the surface, LA’s film roots run even deeper.

That’s where Fritz Herzog and Jere Guldin fit.

Guldin and Herzog earned their film degrees from Penn State in 1977 and 1978, respectively. Guldin, a native of Green Lane, Pennsylvania, and Herzog, from State College, each embarked on the cross-country adventure to Los Angeles following graduation because they were focused on getting into “the business.”

After bouncing around as extras or assisting with productions on a job-by-job basis, the two realized they needed “real” jobs with steady paychecks.

“That’s when I thought, ‘Hey, let’s give this archive a try,’” said Guldin. “It certainly sounded appealing to me. If you told me when I was back at Penn State, frankly, that there was such a thing as film archive and you could get into that, I think I might have leaped at the chance. But, I had no idea about that.”

Building a career path
In 1985, Guldin saw a general position opening with the UCLA Film & Television Archive and knew another Penn State film grad who worked there. He applied and got the job. Guldin notes it was not his film handling or prep experience that got him the job. It was mostly his carpentry skills.

“That’s why they hired me,” said Guldin. “Literally, they needed someone to build shelves.”

In addition to building shelves, he was also doing prep work of films, inventory and shipping. A year later, he became the vault manager and began supervising his successor in his original position.

Cut to Herzog. He had been working as an extra in films and was looking for a steady job. In the summer of 1987, a part-time position opened at the UCLA Film & Television Archive for people to inspect and repair films to be shown at a film festival.

As the vault manager, Guldin hired his fellow Penn Stater. Oddly enough, the two never met until they were in LA, despite graduating from the program at Penn State just one year apart.

After three months of working there, there was a full-time opening on staff and Herzog took the job.

“I thought, 'hey, this was pretty cool working with old movies, watching them on the big screen and getting paid for it, regular pay,'” said Herzog.

Since then, things have changed, but only slightly.

Archiving, preserving — an effort to 'save' films
Guldin spent 13 years as the vault manager before switching over to the preservation department in 1998, recently becoming a film preservationist at the Packard Humanities Institute, which is a nonprofit foundation that funds projects to conserve films. Herzog became the film archivist at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in 1992, later moving into the role of collections curator, a position he has held ever since.

While both focus on the preservation of films, they deal with different aspects.

Guldin’s job consists of working with the physical preservation and restoration of films. He did more actual restoration in the past. Now, he mostly supervises prints and makes sure they look good after they are restored. If there is a film that needs repaired, it goes through him. Depending on the length of the film and how damaged it is, it can take anywhere from a day to months to restore.

Herzog’s position supervises the actual archiving of those films, taking in new films to the archive vault to store them and supervising the eight archivists on staff. He also helps coordinate the Academy Film Archive’s budget. As Herzog says, archives aren’t out to make money.

What makes their positions so important? Simply put, they “save” films and movies.

“I’ve talked to people who say, ‘Why do you do this? If it’s on DVD, it’s good, right?’ Well, no. Just because somebody owns a copy of the movie doesn’t mean the movie is preserved,” said Guldin.

Dizzying digital challenges
Which touches on the big hot-button issue faced by the archives and preservationists with the advance of digital formats. With all of the new digital formats, archives are having a hard time keeping up. Every five to eight years, there is a new digital format that allows film storage, making it difficult for archives and film production companies to keep up. In addition, consistently upgrading digital backup methods becomes costly.

According to Guldin and Herzog, film is still the best method, because an item can be preserved for more than 100 years in good conditions, and it’ll be fine. Digital is ever-changing — that's why their archives are still backing things up to film elements.

“Nobody has really settled on a digital archival medium,” said Herzog.

“The big question for all the archives is: How do we best store digital, especially born-digital content? If it was made on film, we want to still preserve the film. There will always be a way to scan; film is basically plastic with images printed on it. We don’t know any digital technology that maybe is going to be around or available for that long and even for 20 or so years. That’s the big question. The key for digital storage right now for archives is the idea of migration. You just have to keep migrating your 1s and 0s to whatever the next digital storage medium is. You want it to be backed up in several locations geographically.”

The job is especially important to Guldin and Herzog, not only because it pays the bills but also because movies have been an important part of their lives since as far back as they can remember.

The two movie buffs figure that a Disney film was the first they ever saw, and both consider movies a hobby.

“We just want the stuff to be preserved and made available for future generations,” said Herzog. “There’s a lot of great stuff out there that is in danger of being lost.”

Last Updated February 23, 2016