Ken Loach is an old man. He's so old that he's still shooting his movies on film. And he's so old that he's still cutting his movies on a Steenbeck, a fairly outdated physical editing system - so outdated that nobody makes the basic film numbering tape required to sync up sound and picture in this analog system.
Loach is working on finishing up what could be his last narrative feature (like I said, the guy's old) and he ran out of that numbering tape, so he called up Screen Daily to see if anybody had any laying around. Sure, Loach and his editor Jonathan Morris could have gone digital with this one, but it isn't how they work.
“An advantage of Steenbeck’s is that they aren’t as instant as digital," Morris told Screen Daily. "On a Steenbeck, when you put up a roll of film 10 minutes long, you have to rewind it when you finished looking at it. That takes two or three minutes which is sometimes quite nice. It’s thinking time, a little pause. When I’m working on the computer, I feel driven by the machine as opposed to the other way round.”
And so they put out the call and waited, hoping they would be able to finish this film, Jimmy's Hall, in their prefered way. And one morning they came to the editing room and found themselves gifted by an unexpected benefactor: Pixar. Yes, the company that makes CGI cartoons happened to have a bunch of film numbering tape lying around.
Steve Bloom, a Pixar editor, is a fan of Loach and he sent over a total of 21 boxes of tape, along with an illustration of Monsters, Inc character Sully and MIke hard at work editing physical film. Nine Pixar editors signed the enclosed note, which read: “To Ken Loach and crew. Good luck from the editors at Pixar!”
Between that donation and one other, Loach has enough numbering tape to finish his film, which is about real life Irish communist leader James Gralton, the only Irishman ever deported from Ireland. It seems like a fitting final film for Loach, if it ends up being his last.
So that's the story of how cinema's premiere CGI artists lent a helping hand to one of cinema's last analog holdouts. Says Loach: “We were delighted to know that Pixar is still in love with the same technology as us. We hope to get to meet them along the way. We’ve had a tinful of tape from a few other friends as well and we’re very grateful.”