Working for the Todd-AO Studios
The 70mm Newsletter
by: Dan Leimeter, Arizona, USA. All pictures October 1994 by
Thomas Hauerslev, except when noted.
15. March 2005
Updated December 2019
Chief himself Dan Leimeter, April 17, 1999. Picture by Paul Rayton
Todd-AO had been in business for over twenty years when I started to work
there in 1977. Michael Todd's original idea had been to excite the
theatrical audience with a huge spectacle: BIG color picture, BIG stereo
sound, all coming out of one machine during presentation. 70mm film
provided the vast image up on the screen, and six tracks of high-fidelity
magnetic sound surrounding the audience made it seem like they were in the
• Go to Walter Siegmund's
• Go to Brian
O'Brien Jr.'s Todd-AO How It All Began
The camera department provided the technology for the visuals, and the
sound department at the studios at 1021 North Seward provided the
• Go to Gallery Visit to Todd-AO Studios,
In the Projection Department at 1021, we kept the big picture up on the
screen so the mixers at the console could match the sound image the
audience would hear to the visual image the audience would see. We had
three mixing stages then:
• Studio A was the big six-track room where the
major features were done,
• Stage B was a mono room where we did television
shows and commercials, and
• Stage C was an Automatic Dialog Replacement
[ADR] room where actors came in to re-do their lines when the production dialog
recorded on the set was not usable.
When C was not being used for ADR we
mixed commercials; dead stage time does not pay the bills.
in 70mm reading:
Honorary membership - Dan
Gallery: Visit to Todd-AO Studios, October 1994
The 70mm Promotion Tour:
Tour report #1
Tour report #2
James Horner at the Todd-AO
Scoring Stage, CBS Radford, Studio City
Jr.'s Todd-AO How It All Began
DP70 / Universal 70-35 / Norelco AAII -
The Todd-AO Projector
The Passing of Joe Kelly
Richard Vetter Passed Away
Main entrance 1021 North Seward Street, Hollywood.
For those few who may be interested, Stage A booth had the two prototype
DP70 projectors (the third prototype DP-70 was in the American Optical
headquarters on the East Coast, but that's another story) with Peerless
Hi-Can revolving positive carbon condenser arc lamps. These machines were
originally used for mixing as well as playback, but in 1968 the industry
developed the "punch-in" record technology which allowed the system to
back up at any point, roll forward and punch into record on the fly,
rather than going back to the head for each pass. The prototypes had
curved gates and could not run in reverse, so to accommodate back-up, a Symplex XL with a Hughes Xenon lamp house was installed next to the two
DP-70s in the A booth.
Stage B booth had one Simplex XL and one Century 35mm projectors, each
with Peerless Magnarc Type F carbon arc lamphouses. Studio C had two
Centurys with Peerless lamphouses. These machines were used for mixing as
well as playback. The mixers at the console on stage had control of the
system: the recorder, the projector, and a bank of sound reproducers. When
they would reverse the system, the projectionist could shut down the lamp,
reach in and retrim the carbons, and restrike the arc before the system
went forward again. Most of the time you made it, but on short turnarounds
sometimes you didn't, and the mixers would fill the intercom with
obscenities (especially if the client was out of the room).
Glamour of Hollywood
dubbers 1021 North Seward Street, Hollywood.
Working in the projection booth and in the Machine Room where the recorder
and reproducers were located was fun, but it was not what one could
associate with the "Glamour of Hollywood". The pay was good, and the
coffee was hot, but the hours were long and once you've seen a particular
ten-minute reel of film over and over for hours on end it gets a bit
One of my well-meaning relatives once said: "Your job must be such fun;
you get to watch movies all day long." I could only smile and shrug, and
say that it beat working for a living. What was difficult was the
eight-hour-turn-arounds; you would start at 8:00 in the morning and work
until midnight. Day after day after bleeding day. These usually happened
near the end of a show, the last couple of weeks when you were fighting a
deadline: "The film goes to the lab next week and they just re-shot the
music for the entire show!" The overtime pay was good, but it was hard on
people with families.
About a year after I started, the company switched over to the High-Speed
Shuttle system. Earlier, everything travelled at sync speed, 24 frames per
second, but with the new system everything -- recorder, reproducer and
projector -- could whizz forward or backward at up to ten times sync speed.
It was great, you could work on a particular piece of dialog or sound
effect and then high-speed back to the head of the section and run it over
Of course, film splices which travelled easily through the projector at
normal speed would buckle or hinge at high speed and, in the twinkling of
a eye, you would be at the splicer on the bench repairing damaged film
while the mixer called out on the intercom "Are we ready yet? What is
taking so long? God Damn It To Hell; We're Losing The Light Down Here!"
Unfortunately, continued stress over time does not really build one's
character, no matter what they say, it merely provides one with grey hair
and a cranky disposition.
Modernizing and Upgrading
A, 1021 North Seward Street, Hollywood.
I became Chief Projectionist at TAO in 1981, and a few years later the
Naify family sold their immense holdings in the United Artists Theatre
Circuit, and redirected the cash into modernizing and expanding Todd-AO.
First we added two more six-track recorders to Stage A, so that we could keep
multi-track dialog, music, and effects separate to facilitate changes
right up to the final print master.
Dolby Stereo-optical technology was making it economical for many more
films to be made in stereo at that time so we gutted Stage B and made it
into a first-class four-track mixing studio and a four-and-six-track
playback room for checking 35mm and 70mm stereo release prints, taking
some of the pressure off of Stage A. I designed a deeply curved screen for
stage B, wrapped around a tubular frame, so that it just floated in space
filling the entire wall of the stage. I made the curve radius 80% of the
projection throw to concentrate the reflected light on the mixers and the
directors seats, where it was most wanted. I designed the double-glazed
projection ports with a 15 degree angle on each piece of coated glass to
redirect the internal reflection (normally seen as a ghost image during
credit crawls) up off the screen and onto the matte-black ceiling.
Joe Kelly the Vice-President of Projection and Sound at United Artists
Theatre Circuit and a truly fine man, had a pair of dual-motor DP-70s in
his warehouse and offered them to me for Studio B. I tore them apart and
rebuilt them with all new bearings, springs, sleeves, and gaskets. I added
a switch inline with the framing lights, and motorized the take-up
spindles so we could wind onto 3" plastic cores and send the prints tails
out to the labs for final assembly onto shipping reels. We checked a lot
of 70mm release prints in that room once we got it built.
We rebuilt Stage C into a four-track mixing facility with provisions for
ADR and Foley as well. Ultimately it, too, got a wall-to-wall deeply
curved screen. We tore out the Century projectors and installed a hi-speed
Magnatech 636 in their place, using the remaining space to slide the ADR
booth back into half of the old projection booth space, which left room to
install a three-mixer console in place of the old single-mixer board. And
a good time was had by all.
prototypes Stage A, 1021 North Seward Street, Hollywood.
When I first came to Todd-AO we were still using the old Bausch & Lomb and
Kollmorgan lenses from the 1950's; compared to the Isco Ultra-Star series,
they were Coke bottles. You could focus in the center and the sides would be
out; you could really see how bad it was if the end credits went out to the
side masking. So, I was very fortunate that the new lens technology was
there at my disposal when I became Chief Projectionist and could spec out
the good stuff.
The prevailing feeling at TAO in the late '70s was that we were a sound
house, the money gets spent on audio gear and screw the picture -- so as long as
we could see lip sync we were in business. Luckily I knew Glenn Berggren,
and he knew Isco lenses, so I was able to convince my bosses (Clay Davis,
head of engineering, and Fred Hynes, head of the studio; two of the finest
gentlemen I have ever had the pleasure to know) that it was in their best
interest to invest in the best lenses money could buy. When your picture
looks good, you look good.
Also, Dick Vetter showed me that it was better to use a longer focal length
lens with a beam spreader than to use the focal length lens one would
usually use to fill the screen. For instance, if you need an effective focal
length lens of 50mm to fill your screen, it's much better to use an 80mm or
an 85mm prime lens with a Magna-com attachment up front because it draws the
first or prime lens element further away from the film plane. Therefore any
movement of the film out of the film plane (such as from buckling or
embossing) will be a much smaller percentage of the distance from the film
plane to the prime element, and your image on the screen will stay in focus
a lot more than if you used a 50mm lens which sat much closer to the film
Expanding the Activities
Scoring stage at
the CBS lot in Studio City.
In 1982, or was it '84, we acquired the Glen Glenn facilities to expand
more into the TV market. That gave us stages in the 900 building on
North Seward Street, as well as stages at the
CBS lot in Studio City. We poured a lot
of money into revamping the stages at 900 [North Seward Street], making them more efficient and
user-friendly, and completely redesigned stages R, S, T, and the Scoring
stage at CBS, adding a video transfer room in the process.
• Go to James Horner at the
Todd-AO Scoring Stage, CBS Radford, Studio City
When the Skywalker South studios in Santa Monica came on the market they
quickly became Todd-AO West, and some of our mixers moved over there to be
closer to their homes on the west side. We completely remodelled the older
stages in the complex on Bundy, and redid Stage 3 in the newer building on
TransAudio Studios in Manhattan soon came on board as Todd-AO East, and
Hollywood Video on Sunset Blvd. was quickly added to the family. An
editorial house in Atlanta and a video house in Santa Monica also were
added. In 1997 or thereabouts Sound One in mid-town
Manhattan joined the Todd-AO family of companies. With that acquisition, TAO
held both of the major motion picture sound mixing facilities in New York.
If there was a big film mixing on the east coast, Todd helped in its
Compact Distribution Print
A, 1021 North Seward Street, Hollywood. Note the pool table.
In addition to our usual studio duties, a small group of us (Clay Davis,
Bob Weitz, and myself) were asked to work directly for Salah Hassanein,
the Chairman and CEO [Chief Executive Officer] of Todd-AO, along with Dick Vetter and Darryl Grey of
Todd-AO Camera and Bob Pinkston of UATC to develop the Compact
Distribution Print. Everyone dedicated themselves to the project, and we
honed the concept and refined the technology and we made it work splendidly.
We were in the final stages of demonstrations to the industry when our major
stockholder passed away.
• Go to Compact Distribution
Print by Todd-AO
In 1999, Marshall Naify died. Marshall was the head of the family that had
owned controlling interest in Todd-AO since the 1950's, and when he passed
away his family was eager to cash in their tremendous assets in the
profitable company that was a leader in it's field.
The project was mothballed and put into UATC vaults, while the Naify
family looked for a buyer.
Killing the Golden Goose
Sound Studios entrance floor, 1021 North Seward Street, Hollywood.
At just that time
, Liberty Media (a much larger fish in the financial food
chain) came along looking to establish a beachhead in what they saw as the
cash cow of the future - interactive television. Todd-AO had sound mixing
facilities for film and television, as well as video imaging and editorial
companies under it's belt, so they up and bought it. Then they purchased
other, smaller, media companies in the Hollywood area in order to control
as much of the market as they could get.
Since their interest was in interactive television, Liberty had little
interest in, or respect for, large screen theatrical productions, so they
picked from among the smaller companies to find television-minded
executives to run the newly collected companies. Soon, Todd-AO was under
the revengeful thumb of former competitors who had full control on it's
Soon, the name was gone, the people were gone, and the facilities were
Interestingly, most of the people responsible for killing the golden goose
were themselves put out of the company. Interactive television was an idea
way ahead of it's time, and the bonehead who championed the concept left
Liberty under a cloud long before I had to retire.
When I retired
about a year and a half ago [August 2003, ed], the Todd-AO name was as dead
as Kelsey's goat. People at the company were told in no uncertain terms that
"It's Ascent Media now, God damn it, not Todd-AO any more; and if you don't
like that, then don't let the front door hit you in the ass as you leave!"
About a year ago [Early 2004, ed] someone in upper-level management realized
that they had a goldmine in the old Todd-AO name, and they resurrected it
and have been using it ever since. All of the sound facilities now carry the
Todd-AO name, and all of the editorial facilities carry the Soundelux name.
The names "Liberty Livewire" and "Ascent Media" have both been swept under
70mm films mixed at Todd-AO
Films mixed at Todd-AO that were released in 70mm, strictly from
memory: well, obviously the originals
"Around the World in
"West Side Story", "Porgy and Bess", "The Alamo",
"The Sound of Music",
"A Star is Born"
(1976 blow-up); then from
Encounters of the Third Kind”,
“E.T. - The
"The Divine Miss M",
“1941”, "Empire of the
Sun", . . . at this point my mind boggles, and films I know
we did mix I can't remember if they were released in 70mm. I'm
pretty sure that "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" was released
• Go to Todd-AO
• Go to Presented in
70mm Dolby Stereo
• Go to Films blown up to
Films I know for sure we made the 70mm prints, I don't remember
whether we did the mix. We worked on so many films that it's
hard to remember them all at one sitting. So many years ago, so
much water under the bridge by now.
Interesting people I met at Todd-AO
70mm film print recording dubbers, 1021 North Seward Street, Hollywood.
You asked which interesting people I had encountered during my
incarceration at Todd-AO; unfortunately, many of the people who
interested me were not household names - they were mostly
engineers, mixers, editors, writers, associate producers (people
who, for screen credit, will associate with a producer) and
other below the line staff. Once in a great while, you see, in
the wonderful world that is the motion picture industry, a
producer will award "associate producer" credit to one or two of
his staff in lieu of proper and adequate monetary remuneration.
But only on special occasions, like weekdays.
But, of course, I did rub elbows with some fine folk whose names
might well be recognizable to your readers. Sydney Pollack was
always a joy to work with, and it was thrilling when Bette
Midler was on Stage A. We were all proud that Barbra Streisand
did a number of her films with us, as did John Landis and Bob
Zemickis. I admit to being a bit slack-jawed when I met these
actor/comedians whose work I particularly loved: Vincent Price,
Sid Caesar, Danny DeVito, Dick Van Dyke, and Jason Alexander.
In 1992, I was very happy to have the opportunity to assist Mai
Zetterling in repairing a damaged print of a film she had
directed, "Amorosa", so she could show it in an
as-perfect-as-possible condition at an industry screening. I had
always enjoyed her acting, and I was thrilled to spend time with
her; she was a wonderful lady. I later received a note from
the Swedish Information Office thanking me on her behalf; I had
it mounted and framed, and it hangs next to my Tech award from
SWEET HOME! Lottsa birds, lottsa squirrels, and the occasional family of
deer strolling through the property. We always smile and wave, and
softly say "Hi, Bambi!". Very woodsy, very quiet, and no noisy
freeways within six miles in any direction. In these days, life don't
get much better than that. As the old adage says, "Living well is the
best revenge." Picture by Dan Leimeter
It was an exciting and fun ride while it lasted, and for me it lasted for
26 years [1977 - 2003]. The hours were long, the pay was good, and I got to meet some
very interesting and entertaining people along the way. So what's not to
• Go to Honorary
membership - Dan Leimeter
December 2019 update:
I went onto Google Earth a while back, just to take a look at the old
neighbourhood in Hollywood. The Glenn Glen Sound Building is still
there, but the old Todd-AO buildings are gone. Clay Davis told me that
Hollywood General Studios (which was located just to the west of us)
bought the property, ripped it all down and built a high-rise office
building complex on the sight. When you get a moment, go on the Google
Earth and do a quick stroll through the old neighbourhood where we all
did so much work in 70mm. It's all gone, no more small town atmosphere;
it reminds me of walking around mid-town Manhattan, with all of the
high-rises. One could get a crick in their next just looking up at the
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