What are the inner workings of an audiovisual archive? Who are the people that do the actual archiving? Archive Fives is a series that looks at the five Preservation Services teams that are part of Collection Services at Ngā Taonga.
In part four, we check in with the Video team to learn more about them and the great job they do.
The Video Preservation team have the know-how to get the job done. With dozens of years of experience between them, Alex Wright, Todd Barker and Harry Papadopoulos know all about the world of live television, editing, production and video tape. They make sure that New Zealand’s television history – much of which they’ve had a hand in – can be accessed now and in the future.
The Television New Zealand Archive became part of Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision when the latter was established in 2014. Ngā Taonga also cares for the former New Zealand Film Archive, the Sound Archives, the Radio New Zealand Archive, Taonga Māori collections and more.
Here’s more information about caring for videotapes.
Can you give a quick background on how you’ve come to be working here?
Alex Wright, Video Archivist – I used to work ‘over there’ (referring to the Avalon Studios television-broadcasting production tower) for 36 years, since it opened in 1976. Walking through the vault is a trip down memory lane. I’ve worked on hundreds of programmes that are now in the archive. I did editing and post production.
Todd Barker, Video Team Leader – You see Alex’s name on the credits of many, many programmes.
Alex – And some of them are still on air now. Praise Be – it’s a great programme. Country Calendar. I worked on dramas and Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby. We preserved Gormsby not too long ago – it was fantastic to see it again.
Todd – I started in broadcasting when I was 23, working for Trackside. So I did everything for them: I was a camera operator, sound operator, editor, and ended up being the presentation director. I came to the TVNZ Television Archive about 12 or 13 years ago and started as a ‘video archivist’ I think we were called?
Harry Papadopoulos, Video Archivist – I worked as an editor for Sky TV in Auckland for four years before coming back to Wellington. I started here in 2011 at the TVNZ Archives, then it became part of Ngā Taonga. I’m kind of like Alex, though only a fraction, since he was editing when I was born in 1976.
Alex – Not quite, I was just a trainee in 1976. For me, it was an easy transition to Ngā Taonga because I’d used all the machines. They became obsolete and we moved onto newer technology and then in an archive you need to use that old equipment!
Can you describe your job in a few words?
Harry – We identify original materials in a variety of formats. We organise the preservation of these materials in a digital format for long-term, safe storage. We use the obsolete machines that have not been used for a long time as part of the preservation process.
Todd – We’re sort of at the coalface. After people request footage made by TVNZ, we work to provide that material. We make the preserved titles findable and usable: shareable.
Alex – So we’re the coal miners? We preserve it, for the future – protecting it and making it live forever.
Todd – Our jobs mostly revolve around preserving titles.
Do you have any favourite items from the collection?
Alex – A lot of the stuff I’ve worked on (as a former TVNZ employee) is in the archival vault – there are hundreds of tapes. One that I found recently was a documentary called Boys to Men. It was a moving story about young men from underprivileged homes being taken to a boarding school and given a chance. It was all funded and the central part of the story is a young boy whose mother – he’s the only one with a family – had just passed away. I don’t usually get moved by things, but when I saw that it was unfortunate and beautiful that they still had something to go on.
Todd – I quite like the old political stuff. We have all these tapes from the Beehive era of Muldoon and Lange – a really difficult time. Also being a sports nut, I really like some of our old sports recordings. Things like Try Time shows the rugby that I watched when I was younger. The cricket is also pretty awesome – I saw the first game Martin Crowe ever played for New Zealand. That sort of stuff stays with me because it’s my interests.
Harry – For me, any of the 1970s current event shows like Dateline Monday, Close Up and On Camera. They are outstanding shows with a high level of journalism. You can see the discipline – it’s just the story, there was no slant and they were not trying to alter your viewpoints.
Have you had any really memorable events during your work here?
Harry – It was great when the film scanner came to Avalon because we got to see some of the former TVNZ items stored on film, and at high quality.
Alex – Mine was counting the DigiBeta tapes – that took a while!
Todd – Probably when we had the Seddon earthquake – that was a memorable time, wasn’t it? We’ve begun digitisation and preserving analogue material too – not just dubbing tapes. The layout of the Avalon office has changed a lot. We’ve changed the function of almost all of the rooms.
Harry – Getting the oven meant that we could save and restore lots of tapes that were mouldy or the oxide layer was shedding.
Could you describe how your work interacts with the rest of the archive?
Todd – We have a lot to do with our Information Services and Client Access teams. We have requests for information – they’ll want to know what footage is on a given tape or which format should be digitised. This makes the television collection accessible.