Filmmaker Frank Boring to make documentary about 150th anniversary of CSU

Blake O'Brien

Editor’s Note: In the article “Filmmaker Frank Boring sets out to make documentary about 150th anniversary of CSU” published on Oct. 1 it was stated that the master list was transferred to the CSU division of external relations and was somehow thrown away. The shots were actually transferred to Instructional Services at CSU and it is not known how they were lost. We have changed this to reflect the correct information. 

In the bowels of the Clark Building, scattered throughout three floors, 85 years of Colorado State University’s history was crammed into filing cabinets and overflowing from boxes – more than 8,000 tapes and reels of film dated between 1919 and 2004.

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Lead CSU Documentary Video Producer Frank Boring uncovered these tapes after being hired by University President Tony Frank to create a documentary for CSU’s 150 anniversary, which is approaching in 2020. Boring has produced many films, including “The Story of the Flying Tigers,” an internationally syndicated documentary on the Public Broadcasting Service.

The tapes include clips of Andy Warhol’s visit to CSU, old Ram football games, “College Days” and a Rolling Stones performance at Hughes Stadium— all memories that Boring said could, and likely would, have been lost without the efforts of the documentary team.

Boring said he knew from the beginning that he was the man for this job. 

Portrait of Frank Boring, the lead documentary video producer for CSU, currently producing a documentary on the 150-year history of CSU. (Blake O’Brien | Collegian)

“When I got here, I actually knew that I finally had all the tools that I need to make this happen,” Boring said. “So, when I met with President Frank I assured him that I was the right person to take on this project … It’s pretty much the culmination of what I’ve been doing my whole career.”

He also knew that the first step to telling any story was research. But different from a written article, like this one, Boring said filmmakers can’t just find the facts and tell the story — there has to be something to see.

“I can’t make a documentary film unless I have video,” Boring said.

Boring had to ask himself where that footage was, and the answer to that question surprised him when he discovered it was spread throughout the Clark building.

“This stuff had been neglected and left to rot,” Boring said.

Though the tapes could have sat in darkness for decades to come, they would’ve only been useful until about 2025, Boring said.

When I got here, I actually knew that I finally had all the tools that I need to make this happen. So, when I met with President Frank I assured him that I was the right person to take on this project … It’s pretty much the culmination of what I’ve been doing my whole career.” Frank Boring, lead CSU documentary filmmaker.

According to an Australian study titled “Deadline 2025” published by the National Film and Sound Archive, tape that is not digitized by 2025 will, in most cases, be lost forever. The study states that, by that time, large-scale digitization of magnetic tape will be unsupportable due to quantity and technology changes.

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If Boring wasn’t brought to CSU to create a documentary, the thousands of tapes found in Clark and across campus would’ve likely sat in a storage room until far after 2025, he said. They would’ve become unwatchable. 

There is good news about the tapes, Boring said, since it was all professionally shot and labeled, too. The videographers kept an organized master list with detailed descriptions of everything they shot.

But, Boring said, over years of disorder, once the tapes were transferred to Institutional Services at CSU, the master list was somehow lost. 

All that Boring and his team were left with was a few-word description written on the side of each tape or reel. Some of the labels were helpful, Boring said, like “Football Game, 9/30/64.” Others, not so much. One tape Boring found was simply labeled, “Joe #8.”

So, Boring brought in the people who shot the original videos. The videographers did their best to help organize the tapes, make note of important pieces and throw away anything that wasn’t worthwhile.

Boring then needed to find enough working video equipment to play the ancient tapes. Enter Bryan Rayburn and Kevin Beard, two of many people that Boring met with about the documentary. Boring refers to Rayburn as a “wizard” with video equipment, and Beard is an electronic specialist who worked at CSU for more than 25 years.

“(Beard) is one of the few people walking this earth that actually knows how to open up one of those things and fix them,” Boring said.

Together, Rayburn and Beard found and fixed enough equipment to play and digitize ¾-inch and Beta-SP tapes: two popular video technologies throughout the ’70s and ’80s.

For traditional film, like old-fashioned 1-inch and 16-millimeter tapes, the process was just too risky, Boring said. These pieces had to be sent out to specialists to be digitized for a hefty $150 apiece.

Boring said the team then had to determine which tapes were the most important. With only two and a half years to complete the project and a limited budget, this was a crucial question for Boring and his team. They were still faced with thousands of tapes and little to no information about them.

That’s where CSU students came in. Boring hired four students as paid interns to go through the tapes individually. They watched, categorized and boxed the tapes, and took detailed notes which were entered into a database. 

Filmmaker Frank Boring prepares for an interview for his documentary on the 150th anniversary of CSU. (Blake O’Brien | Collegian)

It’s not as simple as popping a DVD into a laptop and pressing download, according to the team. Rayburn said he has to go through a complicated and sensitive process to convert the video from tape to computer.

Rayburn puts a ¾-inch tape into an old-school videotape player, then, using an analog SDI cable ran through a converter, he plays the tape back and captures the master file on a video software program. Once on the computer, Rayburn can edit and trim the piece as he would with digital video.

“It’s the best way to capture the highest quality you’re ever going to get out of that tape,” Rayburn said.

So far, Rayburn has digitized hundreds of tapes, many of which he said have provided valuable video for the documentary.

Boring said the University had all but given up on the idea that anyone was going to do something with the tapes, though the project comes as a relief to many on campus who were concerned about preserving the University’s history.

“Here’s the bottom line: give me an argument against preserving CSU’s history before 2025 or all of it is gone,” Boring said. “Come on, I dare you. I double dare you. You can’t.”

He’s got us there.