The Southeast Media Preservation Lab (SMPL) grows out of the efforts of documentary videomaker Blaine Dunlap, who has ties to independent media communities from Kentucky south to the Gulf coast, and from Texas to South Carolina and Georgia. Dunlap began shooting video in 1974 with the Appalachian community video group Broadside TV, and produced in communities throughout the South. He saw many media formats come and go, making him acutely aware of losses caused by disappearing analog video equipment and deteriorating tape stock. He then experienced firsthand the loss of his nearly all of his own master tapes to Hurricane Katrina, and in the ensuing months began to hear his story repeated among his fellow videomakers and with cultural organizations in greater New Orleans.
These losses drove Dunlap to contemplate how quickly cultural heritage can disappear through catastrophe or neglect. He begged, borrowed and stole enough video equipment to set up a basic studio to begin digitizing analog tapes. He researched best practices for video preservation, began networking in the larger field of moving image preservation, and and started making preservation-quality files of the fragile works of fellow videomakers.