Technicolor New York’s Leroy Street headquarters. Photo credit: Technicolor
Over the past few months, Technicolor New York and Soho-based Postworks made significant changes to their laboratory businesses—changes that further point up the slow fade to black of film as a capture medium—while joining together as partners on a newly re-designed replacement lab.
Technicolor let go its IATSE union-staff, which had been responsible for a full wet chemistry lab (where technicians work on a regular basis throughout the day mixing and assaying chemical solutions for developing and print runs). Meanwhile Soho-based post facility Postworks closed its East 45th Street lab, which had been in place over a decade.
“We’re 50-percent owners in the new lab with Postworks,” says Bob Hoffman, vice president, Marketing & PR at Technicolor. “It’s housed in our old laboratory, which is still here at 110 Leroy Street. Technicolor is still very involved in the running of this laboratory.”
While the new facility–New York Film Lab—sits one floor above the Technicolor offices, it won’t be selling its services directly. It’s solely for Postworks and Technicolor clients, who will still deliver unprocessed negative or pick-up prints at each company’s offices.
Union wages and rigid work rules might be blamed for some of the financial difficulties the labs have faced, but that’s not the case, according to Hoffman. “This move hasn’t been union driven, it’s market driven.” says Hoffman. ” The harsh reality is that there are many less projects that shoot on film.” Hoffman noted a newer generation of filmmakers who have enthusiastically taken up today’s improved digital camera systems such as Sony’s F35 and the Red One.
In a recent interview, even an acknowledged master film cinematographer, Roger Deakins, now wonders if he will ever shoot with a film camera again after completing a recent feature with Arri’s well-received Alexa.
So it’s not that anyone is surprised by the news, but well after its 100th anniversary, we’re on the cusp of the demise of film. This past August, after 88 years of running what had become an iconic company in both the New York and U.S. Indie film communities, DuArt closed its film labs.
In 2010, Technicolor and archrival Deluxe figured out since neither company could make a case to keep their full operations going in Vancouver, the two would merge their separate labs so that filmmakers still had a local option.
The situation isn’t so simple, however, since not everything “film” is closing down. The Los Angeles Times reported last month that Technicolor is building a new 40,000-square-foot film lab in Glendale. Although the LA Times quotes Technicolor as saying that the “rapid acceleration of digital cinema” was slowing the demand for film processing, the booming popularity of IMAX and other big-screen formats made it worthwhile for the lab to concentrate on developing 70mm film prints.
Film in New York too, it seems, won’t be going away soon. “Technicolor New York is probably the biggest commercial lab (in the city) at the moment, and there are still a lot of commercials that shoot in 35mm,” says Domenic Rom, senior vice president, Technicolor Creative Services. Rom, with 31 years in the lab business in New York, should know, as he has created and run some of the top labs in the city. Most recently, Rom was the COO of lab operations at Moving Images/Postworks from 2002 to 2010.
“We still have a relationship with the commercial producers, directors, and cinematographers,” says Rom. “After (the negative) gets developed upstairs at New York Film Lab, we do all the video dailies, final color correction, and effects at Technicolor.”
While the new lab will be run on pre-mixed “kits” from Kodak, there’s no cutting corners, says Rom. “(Kits are) what Postwork’s lab ran on…that’s how I built it years ago. You still have to keep high quality levels.” One way Technicolor does that is to remotely check the chemistry every half hour.
Rom points to the success of recent Technicolor film clients: HBO’s Boardwalk Empire as well as the cabler’s Haynes-helmed Mildred Pierce, along with Aronofsky’s Black Swan. Boardwalk Empire is shooting in 35mm, but Super 16 just might be more popular than ever.
“Mildred Pierce was shot on Super 16 by Ed Lachman and it looks fabulous,” says Rom. “We worked with him from beginning to end, which is what we also did with Matty Libatique, the cinematographer on Black Swan, also in Super 16.” Black Swan garnered major cinematography award nominations including an Oscar and one from the ASC; Libatique won the Independent Spirit award for cinematography.
Rom says there is more Super 16 shot than most might realize, with national commercial spots for ESPN and Verizon as recent examples. “Ten years ago when Sony came out with their 24P HD everyone said film is dead. But film has gone on to have some record years since then.” Rom also points to the increasing popularity of 2-perf 35mm production.
But complete end-to-end digital productions are gaining ground.
“Don’t get me wrong,” says Rom. “Digital technology enables us to do more than ever. We’re doing a third pilot with HBO using the Alexa. We’re working with the DP to get results he wants, including using (Technicolor’s) 10 gig (10 Gbs) pipe between London and Hollywood to check color correction results on matched monitors. We did that with the post on (the premiere episode of) Boardwalk Empire, since at that point Scorsese was London, the DP was LA and the colorist was in New York. We’ve become agnostic. We have to embrace all of these technologies.”
In many new filmmakers’ hearts, however, Eastman Kodak and wet chemistry still hold a spot.
“Every year we give tours and work with students from NYU, Columbia, Hofstra, and the Brooklyn film Academy,” says Rom. “Of course everyone’s coming in with their Canon 5Ds and 7Ds, and they’ve grown up with computers and other digital technology which has led to the whole “good enough” attitude (of compromised digital tech over professional level gear), which is something that I think is the enemy of us all. But at the end of the day, I still hear them say ‘Well, I’m not a real filmmaker unless I shoot on film.'”