Slides Ain’t What They Used to Be…

And Neither Am I. Good on Both Counts.

“Electronic” slide show meeting opener from the early 90s kicking off the new TVL Electronic Presentation “multimedia” system. It makes fun of slides and features decades old ads touting so called “portable” slide-sound systems.

When I got into the slide business, “slide-sound shows” were considered an inexpensive replacement for the comparatively massive undertaking of producing a 16mm film. It was the golden age of business, educational and “sponsored” films, from sales messages, to social issues, to “how to use a knife and fork”. If you didn’t have the money for film, you could produce a filmstrip, the sound of which was provided by an LP record, and the timing of the next image was controlled by you any time you heard a “bong” on the soundtrack.

Once tape recorders could be reliably synchronized with slide projectors, the writing was on the wall for filmstrips, and the landscape became much more competitive. Did we need the planning, crews and expense of a 16mm project, or could we get along with a two projector (for fades between slides) slide-sound show for a quarter of the price?

Former Business Customer: “What Am I supposed to do with this spaghetti?”

From the. first day we began our slide company, we knew that the ganglia of two projectors, a dissolve box, a tape recorder, and a sync button box and a bunch of cables were going to freak out some potential clients.

People in the arts, fundraising, or other functions where speaker’s bureau activity was involved didn’t mind. They expected to have prep and setup time for their presentations. But businesses were another matter. They didn’t have luxuries like set-up time or the expectation of a large meeting room and screen. They wanted it simple. Power on, power off.

As time passed and the microprocessor began its reign, the slide show market centered around bigger and more spectacular “multi-image” shows. You could use a dozen projectors, with impeccable fades, cuts, and visual effects, and the results could be stunning. Of course it took professionals just to set them up to run properly. But no matter– the budgets were there for special events, kickoffs, conferences, new product introductions, sales meetings, awards banquets—anywhere you wanted to blow away an audience of hundreds or thousands.

Enter the Multi-Image Show Transfer

To help maintain the marketing of smaller multi-projector slides shows to businesses for training or smaller one on one sales calls, clever businesspeople like Ed McTighe in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey developed a method of transferring multi-projector slide shows to 16mm film. 16mm projectors were ubiquitous in business, and the contents of a transfer could also be used in self-contained rear screen carry-around units.

Although big meeting slide shows were often wide screen, business to business sale presentations were mostly restricted to one screen, using 3 to 9 projectors, depending on how much animation of faux-film effects were specified. Ed was a co-founder of AVL, the dominant provider of dissolve units and computer control devices for slide shows, so he knew what was really required to make a successful slide to film transfer—clarity of image and rock solid slide-to-slice registration (or alignment) to make sure the effects looked good.

Our company had developed a good reputation nationally, and we had produced a corporate image piece for AVL, the first time AVL had seen fit to tell their ow story, as opposed to commissioning artistic demos from leading producers.

Although Ed had left AVL year earlier, he saw our “AVL Commitment” show at a convention and asked us to produce a similar corporate statement / product piece for his company, Slide Transfer Service.

That is the piece you can see below. As far as I can tell, THIS transfer was not done by STS, but instead was done by videotaping the slide show “off the wall” with a video camera. It is a terrible transfer and is reproduced here for historical context. Registration is messy, the resolution is soft. And the audio is from the film’s optical track, which means it’s relatively tinny. I wish I had one of Ed’s transfers of his own show. So much of our old company stuff was discarded by new owners in subsequent years.

The Slide Transfer Service Demo, show here in glorious lo-res. The “Neat Video Demo” stamp is because I used a trial version of the software to try to improve the legibility of this 40 year old transfer.

The urge to reduce the 4000-line clarity and mag-tape stereo sound of multi-image slide shows to the low resolution of 16mm and the tinniness of optical film sound was a harbinger of things to come. As the demand for audio-visual content grew in the eighties, smart producers were moving into the world of video. And they were equipped for it. The secret to many great slideshows was found in the complexity and drama of the soundtrack. It gave the original two-projector shows their life and make them seem even better than they were—people always told us they loved “our movies”.

Businesspeople had VCR’s at home and weren’t afraid to pop a cassette into a client’s VHS or Betamax. Having sold my part of the slide company, I regrouped into a re-imagined company centered around video. Video and computers would soon merge into a new world of creative possibilities. We produced the video below to introduce other producers and business clients to the potential of “electronic” slide shows. The audio-visual sands had shifted again.

The below video was produced on a computer-based video production machine called TVL developed by one of the founders of AVL. It was created to show the built-in capabilities of the product in the early 1990’s. At that time computers and Powerpoint were nowhere near as powerful as they would later be. Ironically, to show its place in history, it recalls vintage television pop culture of the 50’s, 60’s, and early 70’s. Most importantly, this played off of the supercharged TVL device in real time, not as a movie, but as a series of slides. Incredible music by Maurice Wininski with audio and video samples provided by me.

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