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Visit biografmuseet.dk about Danish cinemas

 

Ole Olsen
Print manager for UIP in Denmark

This article first appeared in
..in 70mm
The 70mm Newsletter

Written by: Thomas Hauerslev Issue 56 - March 1999
Ole as seen 11. February 2003,  through the projection port. Picture by Thomas Hauerslev.

In this interview, done on 18 January 1998, Mr. Ole Olsen (b. 1940) relates the story of his life in the movie business and of MGM's European storage facility in Copenhagen (Denmark), which burned down on July 24, 1972. Mr. Olsen is presently *) print manager for United International Pictures (UIP) in Denmark, a position he has held since 1982. UIP is the European distributor of films for MGM/UA, Paramount and Universal outside the United States. 

I was not destined for the cinema business at first, but circumstances directed me into it. My father ran the cinema at the Danish Film Museum in Frederiksberggade in downtown Copenhagen. It was a childhood full of film. My brothers and I saw films all the time. Probably influenced by all the exotic locations I'd seen in those movies I decided I wanted to go sailing, and set off to see the world. I had just begun as a sailor when I was sent home with appendicitis.

My older brother worked at 20th Century Fox. He told me Mr. Lund, manager of the storage facility at Paramount Pictures in Meldahlsgade needed a man to repair film. My brother taught me how to splice film and then I started in the movie business in early 1955 or 1956 at Paramount in Copenhagen.
 

Further in 70mm reading:

Kinopalæet (in Danish)
Kinopalæet

3 Falke Bio (In Danish)
3 Falke Bio

Internet link:

UIP in Copenhagen

*)

Ole Olsen retired by the end of 2004.

 

MGM and Paramount subsequently joined offices in Copenhagen and one day a large truck came with all their posters, film prints and stills. I stayed with MGM/Paramount for a year and a half until I joined my brother at 20th Century Fox in Buen. Fox had their own cinema, which was great because we could see all the new films there. I was only 15 and could not legally see films in regular cinemas. We occasionally watched movies all night with our friends, and I gave them plenty of stills. Nearby was a milkshake bar where we would find some girls to invite to the screening room. They were very eager to see "Love Me Tender" with Elvis Presley. It was fun. Management must have known what we were doing because of all the projector carbons we used! The manager, Mr. Nesdorf Sørensen was a nice man and we felt like a small family at Fox.

Fox closed their Copenhagen office in 1962, however, and the distribution was taken over by MGM/Paramount in Gyldenløvesgade. Soon afterwards Paramount moved out to the old Fox location in Buen. Fox/MGM stayed for many years in Gyldenløvesgade until MGM and Disney joined forces and Fox moved out to a new location in Kattesundet.

When the Disney material arrived I remember they still had 6 or 7 old nitrate prints of "Snow White". We secretly dumped them into the harbour because we didn't want to have that nitrate stuff around. 

Columbia, located in Hammericsgade, moved in with Fox and became Columbia/Fox, only to be joined by Disney a while later. Meanwhile MGM and Paramount joined offices once more, moving to the present location on Hauchsvej. Meanwhile United Artists moved into the Hammerichsgade location. Soon afterwards Universal knocked on the door of MGM/Paramount and they became Cinema International Corporation (CIC) in the early 1970s.

All this moving around of the film depots finally came to an end in the late 1970s when Mr. Jørgen Nielsen became manager of Columbia/Fox. A united storage facility known as Filmlageret (Filmstorage) was opened by local film producer Panorama Film in the mid- 1970s. Today all distributors have their film stored at the same place at Filmlageret. I worked for a short while at Filmlageret, but that soon came to an end and I was out of a job. For a period I helped Hr. Henriksen at CIC with his storage facility but that also was only temporary.

The failure of "Heavens Gate" caused United Artists to close their offices. At the same time Mr. Henriksen resigned from CIC, which became UIP, and the new manager was Mr. Petersen, ex-manager from United Artists. He brought in his former staff from UA. The UA staff, however, experienced in releasing only fewer than a dozen titles a year, soon found themselves in trouble with the UIP release schedule of 30 to 40 titles a year. Mr. Petersen called me and offered me the job of managing their storage facility. I joined UIP as print manager in 1982.
 
 

MGM´s US Army print Storage in Copenhagen

 
Ole between UIP's shelves of publicity material 11. February 2003. Picture by Thomas Hauerslev.

I am not formally educated as a projectionist. I saw how the old chief ran the screening room and caught on from there. The salary to manage the film storage was always rather low and the old-timers usually ran films professionally at night in Copenhagen cinemas. I remember Mr. Kæhler ran at Bella Bio, and Mr. Jønsson also projected movies to make a living. I tried to get a projectionist job too, but couldn't get in anywhere. Then a far more interesting job showed up in Copenhagen Free Port where MGM kept a giant storeroom for US Army prints and TV prints. After my daily hours I migrated for some hours work at this location doing repair of prints, shipping and storage.

MGM´s facility in Copenhagen Free Port served several different purposes: distribution of new MGM films to US Army bases in Europe, distribution of TV series to European TV companies, distribution of 16mm prints to Greenland and storage of old nitrate dupe negatives and foreign language soundtracks of classic MGM titles.

When a new MGM film opened in the United States, 20 x 35mm prints and 20 x 16mm prints were shipped to the MGM site in Copenhagen. US Army personnel in Europe would see the films at the same time as they opened back in the US. My job was to distribute these prints to US army bases in Europe, mainly in Germany and Italy. After the films had been shown, the prints were returned to Copenhagen after which I selected 2 prints to save and disposed of the rest. I remember asking Mr. Årshøj, manager of MGM, how to do it, because it was too time-consuming to individually check 20 prints in order to find the best. He just said, take each reel, hold it up in front of a lamp and look for splices, and keep the reels with fewest splices! Once a year a sealed goods wagon would be shipped to Italy, full of 35mm prints. I believe a company in Italy reclaimed silver from the film material.

I also managed circulation of series, like "Tom and Jerry", "The Forsythe Saga" and "Captains Kids" to TV stations all over Europe. This was before video, so everything was on 16mm. Often it was quite challenging because each episode had to be shown in the correct sequence for obvious reasons. Sometimes, however, TV stations would call and ask for the next episode which had not arrived, and which they were scheduled to transmit the next day. Panic! If I didn't have it in stock, I had to locate the missing episode somewhere in Europe and have it shipped to them in a hurry.
 
 
Original Danish souvenir program for "Trader Horn". Thomas Hauerslev Collection.

We had a lot of old MGM classics on 16mm, some dating back to the silent era. TV stations aired them frequently. We also distributed 16mm prints to Greenland. I remember we air dropped prints by parachute to the Danish Sirius Patrol on the ice in northern Greenland. We shipped 100 prints each time. One time the ship sank and we lost a considerable amount of film.

On the roof we had two fireproof safety vaults where we kept nitrate stock of dupe negatives of MGM titles, as well as original foreign language sound dubs for MGM classics like "Grand Hotel" with Greta Garbo in Italian, Spanish, German and French. Because of the highly flammable nitrate stock, we took special precautions like wearing special shoes. All film rolls were stored in either metal or wooden cans on steel shelves. The vaults were 10 x 4 meters and were completely stuffed with film. I didn't go in there very much. If new prints were needed in Italy, I sent them the dupe negative and the sound. Once they had finished and returned the film, I returned the material to the vault. Everything was 35mm; I don't remember any 70mm. I do remember the smell of vinegar. Especially during the summer of 1972 as it was a very hot summer. 

On July 24, 1972 a fire broke out at the vaults. Mr. Årshøj asked me to go there and see if our prints were in danger. Sure enough, they were burning. When I arrived the fire department was already there and I went to see our nitrate vault on the roof. The nitrate vault was made of heavy concrete with a massive metal door. The paint on the door was peeling off because of the heat inside. I suspected everything was lost. Several days later we opened the door and what a sight. Nothing remained. Everything had been burned up. The silver covered the floor and the steel shelves. Garbo didn't talk Italian anymore.

After the fire MGM decided to end US Army print distribution, and in 1978 the rest of it was closed as well. TV prints were shipped to Holland to another distribution center.

I stayed there for more than 10 years, working almost every night. At one time I calculated I had worked 3 months extra in one year at this storage site. It was a bit too much, but also exciting and fun. It was just me working there all alone in a large warehouse in the middle of the night. Quite often I worked until midnight, with a rewind table, a splicer and miscellaneous lights in the ceiling. A few times a friend and I borrowed a 16mm projector and took it with us to the vault. It was a wonderful opportunity, sometimes a complete weekend, seeing all the classics projected on the white wall between steel shelves full of film prints. I remember we saw the original silent "Ben Hur" and "Trader Horn" ("Filmed in Africa with real negros!" - as the program said!) among other films. But it was a circus getting the projector in and out of the Freeport.
 
 

70mm Distribution in Copenhagen

 
A lifetime spent on assembling movies. Ole with his 35mm tape splicer 11. February 2003. Picture by Thomas Hauerslev

As I recall we never had any 70mm in the Freeport storage. But I do remember how troublesome it was to distribute 70mm prints in Copenhagen in the 60s. We had a basement storage facility in Koldinggade where we kept MGM's 70mm and Cinerama prints. It was very difficult to get the 70mm reels of film upstairs to the projection room in cinemas like Kinopalaet which had a spiral staircase. You could get the print upstairs, but getting it down was really a problem. We preferred to use the cinemas for later storage of the 70mm prints, instead of getting them back. 3 Falke Bio was no exception. Only a terrazzo staircase led up to the projection room on the 4th floor. The 70mm transportation cases, one in each hand, touched each and every step on the way up. "Bang, bang, bang...". Why didn't they install a lift in those days? I also remember above the cinema of 3 Falke Bio, they had retained a huge collection of 70mm prints and press material from the films they had run.

Finally I remember the pre-opening performance of "South Pacific" for the craftsmen who built the 3 Falke Bio and especially the short preview "The Miracle of Todd-AO". I had never experienced anything like it. The picture was totally fantastic and what a sound!
 
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Updated 22-12-16