Restoring Breakfast at Tiffany’s on Blu-ray with Ron Smith

7 years ago by Reg Seeton

When it comes to classic films, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is one of the best of the 20th Century. Starring Audrey Hepburn as the wild but charming Holly Golightly, Breakfast at Tiffany’s has never gone out of style given its timeless romantic qualities.

Making its debut on Blu-ray for the first time on September 20, Breakfast at Tiffany’s has never looked or sounded better now that Paramount has given the Blake Edwards directed classic a new 50th Anniversary treatment. Featuring the Oscar winning song “Moon River” by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer, Breakfast at Tiffany’s boasts an impressive 5.1 DTS-HD audio track that brings the sounds of 1960s New York City to life like never before.

Ahead of the Blu-ray release of Breakfast at Tiffany’s 50th Anniversary Edition, TheDeadbolt went one-on-one with Ron Smith, Vice President of Preservation and Restoration at Paramount, to learn more about how Breakfast at Tiffany’s was restored, the process of restoration, how Smith and his team handled the famous party, and the approach to bringing Audrey Hepburn to life on 50th Anniversary Blu-ray.

THE DEADBOLT: What was the overall direction that you established for the restoration?

RON SMITH: Well, we wanted to use the original negative as the source. We wanted to use the latest scanning technology, which includes an add-on device that reads the dirt on the negative, if you will, and allows you to eliminate the spots and dirt automatically and manually.

An infrared device reads the negative and creates a channel that shows you where all of the dirt is and you get rid of 90 percent of it on the first pass. So basically, we tried to limit the amount of time that we spent picking at dirt by doing it automatically and spent more time on the actual finessing of the film and color correction.

THE DEADBOLT: What was the condition of the original source?

SMITH: It’s had dupes cut into it over the years, unfortunately, which is not unusual. It’s very difficult to smooth those images out, especially when you’re going from the negative, because it’s very obvious where it’s cut in. If you went down a couple of generations, everything tends to even out but it’s a little bit harder to tell. But when you cut into the negative and look at it, these sections, the dupe sections cut in, they stick out like a sore thumb.

So getting those things to match the rest of the film was very difficult. Actually, the hardest part was the first two minutes of the film, the main titles of the film.

THE DEADBOLT: How did you get the main titles to stand out so much?

SMITH: Well, in the past we actually used a textless background and then recomposited the titles on a separate pass. But as we were figuring out how to do that, our colorist, a guy named Tim Peeler, would continue to play with the opening credits.

The biggest problem was color breathing and density breathing. Every time a title comes on, the density just shifts to such a great degree that it’s disconcerting to say the least. What he did was built in about 150 to 160 color changes, literally each little event in that minute and a half or two minutes.

The more he kept working on it, and every time I would see it, I was like, “You know what? This looks pretty good!” So we ended up not taking it apart and putting it back together. Basically, based on what he had done, the main titles are the original just with a lot of color correction in it.

THE DEADBOLT: How did you approach the the party sequence? Was that a big challenge for you?

SMITH: It’s an interesting scene – and also one of my favorites – because it starts with a shot of Martin Balsam looking through the birdcage, talking to a stuffed parrot. The shot continues on for about two or three minutes without a cut. It’s just masterful not only in the way it’s blocked by Blake Edwards but just in the way the lines are delivered by Martin Balsam. It’s just genius.

So trying to keep all of that even, because he goes from the birdcage to the wall to the door to the kitchen, back across the room to the door to the kitchen, and just kind of evening it out and making it flow was the hardest part with that one shot.

THE DEADBOLT: How did you approach Audrey Hepburn as compared to the other characters?

SMITH: Audrey, when you have a character like this, you stick with her. In other words, everything else could suffer if it has to. Basically, we made every attempt to make her look stunning and just get all of her lighting and coloring as good as it could be. And then we kind of worried about George Peppard. [laughs] No offense.

It’s just that I didn’t want to use any windows or any fancy tricks. I tried to do this as straight as possible. These days you can make anything any color, you can separate half of the screen, and we really tried to avoid that. I don’t think we did much of any of that. But on the first two or three passes, I’m like, “No windows, no fancy stuff. We’re just going to do this straight up!” Audrey, she can pull it off because she’s just stunning.

THE DEADBOLT: How do you deal with colors of the 1960s to make them more contemporary for today’s audiences?

SMITH: Well, you actually try to make them appear as they were when the film came out. What happens to film is that it fades, the prints fade, and it just doesn’t look as snappy as when it was originally photographed. We were lucky enough to have a print that we acquired many years ago, a Technicolor dye transfer print, so we used that as a color reference.

THE DEADBOLT: What are some of the other titles that you’re working on?

SMITH: My department has put together an incredible presentation of Wings from 1927. We’re also working on Raiders of the Lost Ark, not for Blu-ray but for theatrical presentation preparatory.

What do you think?

Reg Seeton

Reg Seeton created The Deadbolt in 2005 after working for the pioneering movie news website, Coming Attractions. Reg has over 15 years experience as a top online entertainment journalist and interviewer, has worked with several award winning actors, musicians and writers, and has managed entertainment networks in New York and Los Angeles. And he's done it all with one eye!