Alan Masson (AM)
Former Kodak Director of Engineering, Hollywood
Interviews: Carolyn Rickards (CR) and Paul Frith (PF)
Transcript edited by Alan Masson 23/08/2019 with comments in [parenthesis]
CR: How did your interest in film technology begin? What sparked that interest and how did it develop?
AM: Yes. At the age of about 10 I was given a classic Kodak Box Brownie camera by my Aunt Nellie for Christmas and I started taking black and white photographs on that. And it wasn’t very long before I decided that I was interested in processing the film and printing it at home, so I did that in my bedroom, first of all doing contact printing with the little frame thing and then I got an enlarger and I set up developing in tanks and dishes for prints and so on in my bedroom. My poor mother despaired at the developer stains on the carpet! And then I joined the photographic club at school where we had rather better facilities. Then my father gave me an 8mm cine camera, ‘standard’ or ‘regular eight’ in those days. And my job was to film the family holidays, that sort of thing. And then my hobby of amateur radio, “ham radio”, [callsign GM3PSP], was developing as well, including portable expeditions and things like that. So I shot quite a lot of 8mm film of those sorts of events. One of things I did which proved to be quite beneficial actually was, I was also shooting slides and I decided wouldn’t it be interesting to try and develop a colour film at home. And you could get a kit of chemicals for developing Ferraniacolor slide film. So I did that. I was in the bathroom; I used a bath full of water to stabilise the temperature of the developer tank and so on. And it came out quite well. All the colours were right. And that included photographs of scout camp and that sort of thing. Well, I sort of bragged about that whole project of having developed a colour film at home in my interview when I went for a job with Kodak. And the rest as they say is history.
CR: So that’s where the early interest in the chemical side of film processing came from?
AM: Yes. And I was heading for a chemistry degree at [Edinburgh] university. So I liked chemicals from an early age [laughs]
CR: And thinking about when you completed your PhD and moved to your first job at Kodak can you talk a bit more about your duties and your experience working there?
AM: Yes. There were two sorts of streams of activity we had in the research lab, in the Processing Technology Group. The one I mentioned already was service to the motion picture sales department in helping to solve problems in the labs but also we did things like trying to improve existing products not necessarily to do with motion picture film. The very first one was to do with photocopying using a wet chemical process believe it or not, where you had to peel apart two pieces of paper as part of the thing. And we looked at various other manufacturers’ products as well. I can’t remember the names. All sorts of miscellaneous projects like that. Basically, we didn’t really develop in the technical sense new products in the UK research lab. Most of that was done in the much larger research labs in Rochester, New York. But for example, they introduced a new project, a new process, for 16mm reversal film with a soundtrack and it wasn’t working very well. It was an awkward process where you had to apply a re-developer down the edge of the film in the process and it didn’t, shouldn’t spread into the picture area, but it did and we worked on trying to solve that little problem.
CR: I was going to ask more about that. Is there something particularly difficult about applying film soundtracks to colour film? Is there a difference compared to black and white?
AM: Yes. The thing is that in standard processing, until we changed it years later, you have a colour picture image and beside it is a black and white silver image. And that is quite tricky from a processing point of view. How do you process colour down part of the film and black and white down the other part of the film and the answer is you actually have to apply a chemical very carefully and precisely just down the soundtrack area of the film and not let it spread into the picture area. And so there were a number of projects around that that I was involved with. And, with my amateur radio background, I wasn’t afraid of anything to do with electronics, and sound, I kind of took to that quite naturally.
CR: That’s really quite interesting. And sounds like a difficult job. One of things that we’re interested in for our project, are the key technical developments in colour film, covering that period when you were working in the early 70s at Kodak. Do you have insights into these major developments?
AM: I think I really need to go back a bit earlier than that because I came into sort of the Eastmancolor era. Until about 1950, colour motion picture films were produced in Technicolor, which was a fairly complex process. They had to expose three different strips of film [simultaneously in the camera]. And then they had to make [intermediate films] and transfer dyes, three different dyes, on to print film. And that was expensive and awkward. And it was the introduction of the Eastmancolor system in 1951 which simplified that a lot because previously it was really a process which was only operated by Technicolor. Now, the Eastmancolor process could be operated by any lab and it [used a three-colour negative film, which was printed in a single printing] operation on to print film. And the process was standard. Not all the manufacturers followed Kodak exactly. Fuji did use the Eastmancolor negative, [or ECN process], and Eastmancolor print [or ECP process] but Agfa, the other principal manufacturer of colour motion picture film stocks, had their own processes which were incompatible. So, the Eastmancolor system was introduced in 1951 and it consisted of the camera film, Eastmancolor negative and - we love these four-digit codes in Kodak [laughs] – 5247 was the original one. And then in order to make multiple release prints from that, you had to make a duplicate negative because you don’t want to risk damaging the original negative. And that was done in rather a complex way, in two stages of intermediate films through a master positive and a duplicate negative, and the hundreds and later even thousands of release prints, are made from the dupe neg or several dupe negs. After the system was introduced, in 1951, a number of improvements in quality were made. Emulsion technology developed and the emulsions were made finer grain, sharper, colour reproduction was improved and so on. And so every few years, [as the result of product development work in the research labs, we released] an improved version, principally of the camera films and also emulsion speeds were increasing. The first ones were quite slow and gradually they increased in speed.
CR: So, did that have any effect on your work? Did it make your job easier as a result?
AM: It didn’t make any difference really. We were introducing improved stocks from time to time. I came into the story in 1969 so the Eastmancolor system had been running for quite a while. And the first processes were basically a sort of room temperature process. And then in the early 1970s, while I was in the research labs, new emulsion technology had been developed in Rochester with much higher temperature processes which were shorter and simpler [and] introduced the ECN 2, the Eastmancolor Negative 2 process for example and also the Eastmancolor Print 2 process. So this contributed to the improved productivity, basically faster processing by the labs of these films. Every time a change was made, the new film stocks were introduced with technical papers at technical conferences run by the BKSTS (British Kinematograph Sound and Television Society) and also in the US the SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers). I was involved with some of those presentations of papers in the UK and then a lot when I later moved to the USA.
CR: Thanks for that interesting overview. One of the areas we’re interested in understanding more about is the branding of Eastmancolor and how this changed between different studios and laboratories. Do you have any insights into how this branding process worked?
AM: I’m working on assumptions really, but basically it was the Eastmancolor process, developed by Eastman Kodak Company which was operated by all the labs. Some of the labs and the studios chose to put their own names upon it - there was Warnercolor and so on. But the process was the same [Eastmancolor]. I don’t think they changed anything. Probably, I’m just guessing, that they were wanting to distinguish themselves from Technicolor which was the best-known name up to that point.
CR: And had been so dominant.
AM: Yes, in terms of colour and motion pictures.
CR: Because even by the late 1960s, early 1970s, films are still being listed on film credits as Technicolor when actually it was the Eastmancolor stock that was being used?
AM: Yes. When the Eastmancolor system was introduced and in particular, Eastmancolor Negative, that could be adapted for use in the Technicolor system. It could provide the camera film, you know, a single strip colour negative film, from which the yellow, cyan and magenta separations could be made for the so-called ‘IB’ [imbibition] or dye transfer process used by Technicolor. So, they would still be releasing Technicolor prints but they had been originated on Eastmancolor Negative film rather than [three rolls of black and white film]. And also, be aware that the film used by Technicolor, the three-strip black and white and print receiving stock, and the intermediate [and so on] were all actually manufactured for them by Kodak.
CR: Yes. An important point.
AM: They didn’t have any film manufacturing of their own.
CR: Of course. So, could we move on to the mid-1970s. When did you move to Hemel Hempstead?
AM: Yes, it would be around 1975.
CR: Could you talk about your experience in training when you worked there?
AM: Yes. I’ll gloss over the two or three years in photo-finishing training as it’s not very relevant to this. But, in the motion picture training group we ran a variety of different courses from a little one-day course, especially for lab people, on film handling. Can you imagine a whole day just on film handling? But you could do that and learn a lot of good stuff. Right up to two-week courses that we ran for lab people and also Kodak staff from around the world on basically all the technical aspects of motion picture lab work, and then for another two weeks a course just on the chemistry, mostly the analysis of the developers and so on. And how variations in the process would affect the quality of the image and how that could be corrected. So, we had groups of, I don’t know how many there would be, probably twenty or more people with us for two weeks at a time on these courses. And they would come from all over Europe, in some cases we would hold specific courses for European regions or international photographic divisions, so they would be coming from even the Far East, South America and so on. They all had to be able to speak English of course and understand it. So, they were obviously the better people they would send over for these courses. And they were very highly valued, these courses, because there really wasn’t anything else available in the industry and naturally this would help to cement the relationships between the Kodak companies in those countries and their lab customers.
CR: Were there stark differences between different countries and their working backgrounds compared to here in the UK?
AM: It was difficult to tell really, you know, there were lab people from wherever. Oh, we had some interesting things. There was a German gentleman who was getting a bit bolshy and I didn’t want to put him down myself but somehow the rest of the class managed to shut him up! We had a large course with groups of people from two of the UK labs and there was a bit of a disagreement between them but not between one lab and the other - it was between the two different groups from one lab! So that was quite amusing. Mostly, no, they just, hopefully enjoyed the lectures; we gave them lots of practical exercises on colour reproduction, chemical analysis, process control plotting and stuff like that. And it set them up for their careers in the labs.
CR: Did you enjoy that aspect of the work?
AM: Oh, absolutely. [And later, I did] quite a lot of technical lecturing towards the end of my career, [in the L.Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation at George Eastman House when I moved back to Rochester after retiring from Kodak in Hollywood. I don’t think I would like to teach children] in schools but training adults, I really enjoyed that very much.
CR: So, another question about when you were based there at the education centre. Was there a standard which was being set or replicated around the world? Or were there occasions when Kodak recommendations weren’t always necessarily adhered to? Was there a standard practice?
AM: [Certainly there were rock-solid worldwide technical standards for the Eastmancolor processes, documented in thick 3-ring binders. But if you are asking about the training presentations we] developed our own quality standards for these courses. And naturally if there were any comments or feedback from the participants, we would heed them. But that didn’t happen very often. I suppose probably the group leader on each training group would, you know, set the standards and try and make sure they were adhered to, as I did myself when I became the group leader of the motion picture group. But we were actually somewhat unique in the UK. There was another one in [Rochester] but we had very little contact except they would probably send us their slides, as they were in those days, send us their slideshows for presentation which we might modify. But there wasn’t a quality control exercise if you like. We were good [laughs].
CR: So how did the opportunity come up to go and work in Nigeria, West Africa? Can you talk a bit about that?
AM: Yes. While I was at the [Kodak Marketing Education Centre in Hemel Hempstead] the need arose for training of film processing technicians operating the VNF-1, or Video News Film Process in the stations of the NTA, Nigerian Television Authority. At that time there was still a lot of 16mm camera film being used to shoot news stories. Digital was starting to come in and eventually it would wipe out that market for us. At that time it was still reversal film. So I was asked to run a two week training course in Nigeria for the technicians. It was located at the NTA station in Jos in Plateau State toward the north of Nigeria [pause]. So we did a recce trip to Nigeria if you like and got organised for the course and then a few months later we went out again to run the course and oh, about twenty people from all over Nigeria came to it. They didn’t all arrive at the same time. There were one or two of them that came one or two days late. But we got the show on the road eventually. And it was basically a course which we had run in Hemel Hempstead a number of times but also we did the practical work and mixing the chemicals, loading up the processing machine. We shot a film of the students and then we processed it which was a little bit of a problem because the power supply is not very reliable in Nigeria and the power failed briefly twice during the processing run. Somehow the film came out reasonably well. And it worked out well. We had a photograph taken at the end and that was nice to have a photo posed of all the students and myself in front of a big outside broadcast truck that said Nigerian Television Authority. I sent in the photograph to [Kodak News, the company house-newspaper] in Hemel Hempstead when we got back so there’s myself surrounded by all my Nigerian students and the Kodak Nigeria people [and back came the politically-correct response from the editor:] ‘which one is Alan Masson?’ [laughs]. So that photograph was actually published in Kodak [News and] it served its purpose because I [shortly] got a job offer from the export department for whom I’d been working for that training course. So I transferred to the Export Trade Sales department.
CR: Right. Was that still in the same area or was that the move to Rochester at that point?
AM: No, this was still based back at Kodak House in Hemel Hempstead. And the Export Trade Sales department was responsible for dealing with sales of Kodak products to countries where there wasn’t actually a Kodak company per se, but a distributor. So, I was responsible for motion picture, graphic arts, industrial and medical x-ray technical services in Nigeria, Iceland, Malta, Gambia, and one or two others. And I also provided service to the other group which was the Eastern European group and I made quite a number of trips to Prague and East Germany - East Berlin. I was so lucky with the different aspects I had within my career. I enjoyed all of those trips. I hate travelling now by the way [laughs] but the company was paying of course!
CR: Absolutely [laughs] So, just thinking about that work in the different countries and different areas that you dealt with, were customers demanding variations in terms of technical requirements or film stocks? Was there a noticeable difference between these countries and the UK?
AM: The film stocks, no, I don’t think so. But particularly the Eastern Europeans who were very serious professional people and they wanted a lot of information and we had them over to Hemel Hempstead; groups of senior managers from the labs in Czechoslovakia, East Germany and so on. Typically, they did not speak English so one of them who had good English would translate so I had to say one sentence at a time [and wait while it was translated]. But it was all good, stimulating stuff and we were introducing our new products and helping them with any difficulties they might have with their processors and so on.
CR: I have a question about the variation in climates that you encountered while you were working in Africa and how this effected the processes you worked with?
AM: Well, obviously there are very different climates from Nigeria to Iceland of course, and the different places I went to. But you have to understand the chemical processes, Eastmancolor negative and print processes, are very precisely defined in the Eastmancolor process manual with developer temperatures specified to a fraction of a degree Celsius. and wash water temperature - all the process steps. So, the labs, in order to get consistent high-quality results needed to stick to the bible, the Eastmancolor Process Manual!
CR: Was that challenging given the heat and the conditions you could be working in?
AM: I don’t think so. I think inside the buildings, inside the lab building in Nigeria it would be [air-conditioned] and the processing machine would be adjusted to give all the right temperatures. Where climate can be more of a problem is in the preservation of film which we’re maybe not talking about here, but there are also standards of mainly temperature and relative humidity which are essential for the storage of film to prevent dye fading and deterioration of the film base and so on.
CR: I think we will be moving on to talk more about preservation later.
AM: Yes, the process, it is assumed that they follow the process manual precisely.
CR: Right. Could you talk a little bit more about the manual or ‘bible’ and what it involved, and how long it had been part of Kodak’s operating procedures?
AM: Well, presumably it must have first been written in 1951 when the Eastmancolor negative and positive processes were introduced and updated gradually. And there were different generations of processing as I mentioned, there was the ECN-1 process, just called ECN in those days, approximately room temperature and then in the 1970s Process ECN-2 with much higher temperatures, shorter times in the baths and so on. Very precise temperature control was required. So, the basis, the core part of the manual would be the table which shows all the steps in the process and the times and temperatures, and any other things like squeegees being required and so on. And then there would be a lot of descriptive stuff, expanding on all the other technical aspects of the process.
CR: And you had to adhere strictly to those guidelines?
AM: Oh, yes. Sure. That’s what we were teaching in the courses for example.
CR: Okay, thank you. I did want to ask a question about the types of films that were being produced in the 1960s and 1970s. Are there any notable films from this period that you think led the way in terms of colour developments, particularly in relation to the UK?
AM: Disappointingly, I can say almost nothing about that because I had surprisingly little to do with the studios and the production companies, I’m afraid. I came into the story in post-production. As soon as the negative film arrives in the lab then I’m interested and it gets developed and printed. But I really don’t know very much about the actual titles, I’m awfully sorry. That just wasn’t my experience and that was the way it worked.
CR: Right. That’s fine. It was just a general question. Thinking about the next steps in your career, you moved to Rochester in 1989?
AM: Yes. Just after the Berlin Wall came down and Europe was all changing and that happened to be the time I moved over to Rochester, New York, which is the home of Eastman Kodak Company. And it consists basically of the headquarters building called Kodak Office on State Street, Rochester plus quite a significant proportion of the land area of Rochester is covered by Kodak Park where you don’t go to play but go to manufacture film and [consists of] chemical departments, film coating, film finishing, all sorts of base manufacture and so on. My first job there was in Kodak Office where I became the Director of Product Planning for motion pictures, taking input from the Kodak companies throughout the world on what their customers wanted in terms of new or improved film stocks. And we were very good actually about listening to customers which I think was why we were so successful in the motion picture industry. We really got to know the customers very well especially, for example, the cinematographers, the people who operate the cameras, and listening to what quality improvements they wanted from the films, and we would build that into the next generation of films. Ditto the lab people who would be processing the Eastmancolor [negative and] the intermediate films used to make the duplicate negatives and Eastmancolor print film which makes the release prints that go out to the cinemas. We would know the technical managers in the labs on first name terms, that sort of thing. And we schmoosed with them very deliberately!
CR: Do you recall any big names that you worked with?
AM: I personally knew the cinematographers indirectly because their primary contacts in Kodak would be their [production] technical sales representatives [or TSRs] and similarly in the labs although I tended to know the lab people rather better through, in the UK the British Kinematograph, Sound and Television Society and in the USA through the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers. I am not a great golf player myself but a lot of golf was played between the Kodak technical sales reps and their customers. So those relationships were crucial in bonding with the customers and in maintaining our extremely high market share of motion picture products with those customers.
CR: Which was crucial, obviously.
CR: When you were working in Rochester you became associated with moving image archivist organisations that came about in the early 1990s. What was your relationship with AMIA?
AM: They held one of their very first conferences [in Rochester] in 1990 which was called ‘Fast Rewind’, actually at George Eastman House. And we supported that very closely. Again, basically they would be customers for film preservation products and technology from Kodak. We developed various ways of improving the longevity of processed film in film vaults and gave technical papers on those subjects at their conferences. We would visit their preservation vaults and get to know them very well.
CR: What were the perceived difficulties or issues when attempting to restore faded colour film?
AM: Basically, there are two problems. One is the fading of dyes and the other is deterioration of the film base. And starting with the film base, the original film base was called cellulose nitrate [or “celluloid”] and is somewhat infamous for bursting into flames or just deteriorating chemically [to a powder if] it’s not stored properly. And then that was replaced by cellulose triacetate base which although it wouldn’t burst into flames would also deteriorate chemically if it were not stored properly at a significantly low temperature and low relative humidity. So, it was mainly encouraging the vaults, the film preservation organisations, to apply the correct [SMPTE] standards for preservation: temperature and humidity. In terms of dye stability, there were different degrees of stability in different types of film and unfortunately in developing new film stocks, dye stability wasn’t necessarily one of the highest priorities. We had one or two relatively poor products for dye fading. Others were very good. My job in dealing with the film vaults was to feedback their concerns to product development to make sure that the next generation of particular stock had good dye stability.
CR: For long term preservation.
AM: Yes. In terms of restoring fading films, it was more difficult obviously in the purely photochemical days as you had to use masking techniques and printing techniques to reprint faded films to try to restore them. But where the fading included a loss in contrast as well as the overall colour balance that meant that the characteristic curve was changing. That was significantly more difficult to deal with and obviously when digital came along [restoration] was made very much easier. I’ve just come back from a film festival [the Widescreen Weekend in Bradford] at which a number of restored films were shown and they were absolutely beautiful even though some of the elements they were derived from had faded.
CR: What kind of films were they showing?
AM: To be honest I can’t remember. I would need to look at the list. There were quite a lot actually. But it was difficult in those early days as you wanted to have preservation of film stocks that had good dye stability and they wouldn’t necessarily be the print film which you would might think would be the obvious one. Better if you could preserve a duplicate negative from which additional prints could be made, but a dupe neg with good dye stability. In that field there was a very nice product which was introduced just about the time I joined Kodak called Eastman Colour Reversal Intermediate film or “CRI” which was a reversal film that went direct from the camera negative to a dupe neg in a single stage. But it had to be optically printed [which was slower than the usual contact printing] to get the orientation right and unfortunately it had fairly poor dye stability. Ultimately, they reverted to the two stage interpositive / dupe neg process with very high dye stability in Eastmancolor Intermediate Film 5244 [for both stages].
CR: Can you remember any of the film titles you would have been working on restoring during this time?
AM: Again, no. The lab did its own thing with whatever production they were working with at the time. It was the technology, the film products and the processes and so on that I was involved with. I was once asked if my name ever appeared in the credits for a film and I said I don’t think so!
CR: That’s a shame! So, just thinking more broadly, what were the wider industry attitudes to film preservation at this time?
AM: Well, the film archives weren’t, in general, independent organisations. There was Rank film archives in the UK, so it was very much the distributors who owned all this property which had future value that they wanted to preserve. So they would have the labs make preservation copies on high dye stability stock like Eastmancolor Intermediate Film and then they would store it very carefully at low temperatures and low relative humidity according to the international SMPTE standards. And interestingly, in the USA, where Hollywood is located a few miles from the San Andreas fault, an earthquake risk, for very obvious reasons they practised a technique called “geographical separation” where they would store duplicates of everything safely on the east coast in New Jersey. So if by any chance they lost their vault in Hollywood they would still have all that value of movies preserved in New Jersey. In fact, I went out to Hollywood a few months after the North Ridge earthquake…
CR: Was that the big San Francisco earthquake?
AM: No, it was in the San Fernando Valley near Hollywood. I actually went out to replace [an American colleague whose] house had been badly damaged and whose wife refused to stay there another moment! She was English by chance. And I have seen photographs of [the interior of] the Kodak office in Hollywood with computers lying smashed on the floor and this was just a few miles from the preservation vaults and the studios. It wasn’t so severe that anything was lost in the industry, I don’t think, but it could have been.
CR: And I guess that continues to be a risk to this day. So, while you were working at Burbank in California…?
AM: The Kodak office was in Hollywood itself. On Santa Monica Boulevard also known as Route 66.
CR: Indeed. Could you talk a bit more about your experience working as a sales and engineering representative?
AM: For about a year when I first went out, I was a sales and engineering representative with responsibilities for one large lab, Fotokem, and for quite a number of smaller labs especially film preservation labs, special effects labs, sound houses and that sort of thing. So I would spend quite a lot of time with Fotokem as a big customer. For example, at least one day a week I would get up quite early, and get into the lab at seven o’clock in the morning to view what are called “dailies” or “rush prints” [in the UK. They review all the footage that] was shot the previous day in the studios to see if they were shot correctly, in focus, framed correctly [and decide whether they have] to be re-shot immediately while the [studio] set is still up.
CR: What was that experience like?
AM: Lovely. You see live stuff that was shot the previous day. Sometimes the cinematographer would come in to view them as well.
CR: So were you advising on the colour quality with the production teams?
AM: I had to be very diplomatic about saying anything critical about the work of the cinematographer! And in general I didn’t. It was more that I went there to get the atmosphere of what was going on, to see if there were any technical issues that Kodak needed to take note of but someone with ASC (American Society of Cinematographers) after his name does not like criticism. I had a very difficult occasion once, I think I had to go to one of the big labs which will be nameless, and view some dailies which had very obviously been underexposed by about two stops. The cinematographer wasn’t present but I did say something in confidence to the lab people and even they didn’t like it. The blame wasn’t theirs. The film had been developed perfectly well but somehow [their client] Mr ASC had made a mistake in setting his [lens aperture].
CR: But not to be discussed at the time.
CR: That’s a fascinating insight.
AM: Bearing in mind of course that the cinematographers are the people who make the decisions on which stock to buy. Is it going to Kodak or Fuji or Agfa? So be nice to them [laughs]
CR: Yes. I guess that relationship had be maintained.
AM: It was crucial because the camera negative stock is the most expensive and with the highest profit margin compared with the lab films. So that’s the core of the motion picture business.
CR: Yes. I don’t know if you can talk a little about the move back to Rochester?
AM: Well, I physically moved back to Rochester after I retired from Kodak [in Hollywood].
CR: Right, okay.
AM: I did almost ten years in Hollywood and then retired at the age of sixty. We worked out that I wasn’t going to make an awful lot more on my pension if I worked another five years.
We moved back to Rochester where we had a lot of friends. And I had some great times lecturing at George Eastman House.
CR: Was it during this time you also worked on digital telecine?
AM: Yes. While I was in Rochester the first time as director of product planning, a very good decision was made by my boss there, Richard Schafer, to embody digital technology which was just coming in at that time to enhance the film experience, the film process and continue its use. And so this involved particularly two electronic projects. One was to develop a high definition telecine machine. Telecine is a machine which basically scans the film into video so it can be used in television. That’s true for both feature films and commercials, and also for news film in 16mm. And high definition television was approaching at that time. It hadn’t been launched but we wanted to be ready for that to make sure that film could be shown at its ultimate quality because 35mm film has incredible quality built into the image. It was much better than video at that time. And then the other thing was to develop equipment for the digital intermediate process where special effects editing could be done digitally where the scenes would be shot conventionally on colour negative film, on Eastmancolor negative, and then scanned in a high definition scanner frame by frame. Then the post-production would be done, the combining of images for special effects, modification of the look of the image, to get a particular look and so on. That would all be done on computer terminals and the editing done, and then when all that was complete the content would be transferred back on to Eastmancolor intermediate film to make a duplicate negative which could then be release printed in the conventional way. And that was a very wise project for Kodak to get into because for quite a number of years the special effects work was done that way [pause] I’m desperately trying to remember the name of the first film that was done that way. Maybe it will come back to me in a moment. But it suddenly made special effects much more flexible, much more creative. Many different objects or elements could be combined for special effects and the attraction of the films especially sci-fi films could be greatly enhanced and it would draw more people into the cinema.
CR: What kind of period was this?
AM: This would be, let me see, that would be starting just in the early nineties.
CR: Obviously, with advances in digital processes that would later become a vital part of later film restoration techniques but were there discussions about this at this early stage?
AM: I would imagine that started immediately but I can’t remember any details on that. I think it’s very likely. Certainly, a little bit later on when I was in Hollywood, I got to know a guy very well who had a company that did digital restoration. Just imagine going into a room twenty feet long with shelves right along one side covered in computers. Desktop computers all networked together. That complete thing being used to restore every frame at very high resolution taking out all the dirt, correcting any fading and so on. That is what it came to eventually. And I don’t know exactly when it all started but it must have started as soon as higher quality digital intermediate materials were available.
CR: Yes. So thinking about that, have you got any insights or thoughts about how digital restoration processes work today?
AM: Well, as I mentioned, I went to this film festival recently where a number of digitally restored movies were shown. I would say that they have achieved perfection. Absolute perfection. They have taken out every piece of dirt, every piece of white sparkle. They’ve taken out unsteadiness. They’ve corrected any dye fading and so on. And then from that well typically they’ll present the restored movie digitally of course these days but they probably look better than they did originally when they were projected as a fresh, brand new film print. Gorgeous. And we’re talking, you know, about not just 35mm but 70mm Cinerama. Huge film areas scanned and just beautiful.
PF: So, to go back to the 1940s and 50s when the Technicolor process was still around. How did Eastmancolor become involved in that process because they began by printing dailies for Technicolor before going on to create the…
AM: I imagine so. Technicolor had its own laboratory of course so actually Kodak probably didn’t. Kodak supplied the stock but Technicolor had a good-sized lab right beside Heathrow airport and I think they did all the processing internally there.
PF: What other work did Kodak do for Technicolor. Thinking in terms of the matrices? The IB process?
AM: Well, I don’t really know but I’m guessing Kodak would work closely with Technicolor in formulating these products, in manufacturing them according to whatever specifications Technicolor provided and what they wanted done. I’m guessing that originally in all the basic work that would have been done between Rochester and Hollywood, Technicolor’s home base over there, maybe most of the specifications would be imported to the UK. I imagine probably the stocks would be manufactured in the Kodak factory in Harrow and supplied direct from there to Technicolor.
PF: Okay, so it is the fact that any print that was deemed to be a print by Technicolor would have used the Kodak stock throughout the process?
AM: I believe so. Yes. I don’t know if they used other manufacturers stock as well. It’s not impossible but I don’t honestly know.
PF: Thank you. So, now if we can go back to your early days at the Kodak research centre and you were involved with troubleshooting at various labs in London. Have you got any stories about experiences you had there, particularly with reference to the Eastmancolor process?
AM: Well, I’m not going to mention any lab names but I can tell you one or two amusing incidents. Typically, the problems were not with the negative film and the ECN and ECN-2 processes because they were so tightly controlled in terms of quality because it was original shooting and very expensive. That had to be perfect. But particularly the labs sometimes had problems with the print process and you could almost just throw away a bad print and make another one. So there are two or three things I remember [laughs] One was we had a report from one of the labs that the Eastmancolor release prints were fine when they came off the process machine but about a week later the magenta dye had faded quite severely and had quite a strong green cast. And what did we think was the problem. Well it sounded very much as though the stabiliser bath which was the last bath in the process was not operating correctly in the processing machine at the lab. So, we went in and we, I don’t know if we analysed the bath itself but basically it was just a solution of formalin, formaldehyde. Anyway, that was where the problem was, it was becoming diluted because they had filled up the bath put in the formalin at the start but they hadn’t completely turned off the tap that was supplying the water so it was gradually diluting the bath and it was overflowing and so on. So that was relatively easy to fix but they had printed and processed rather a lot of Eastmancolor print film in the meantime and that was no good. So they had to do that again. The other one, I think was in the same lab, and all of a sudden, one day, the Eastmancolor print film [came out bright magenta]. Just instantly one day it happened. We went and investigated and the analysis of the developer was perfectly okay of the intended components but actually it was my boss who had the idea: ‘you know, I wonder if by accident or otherwise, the fogging agent from the Ektachrome process has got into the ECP process’. The fogging agent is used in the second part of the reversal process to [expose all the unexposed and undeveloped] silver halide grains. The chemical is supplied as little tablets and those would be added normally in the mix for the fogging bath or the second developer in the Ektachrome process. And so we carried out a test in our own lab. We made some ECP developer, we added part of a tablet and bingo that was it – [bright magenta!] Well, there’s no way that can happen accidently, so it was assumed that it was sabotage. Not only that, a week later, exactly the same thing happened in another major lab in London. And a week after that, guess what, it happened in yet another lab. So the technicians from these different labs must have been getting together somewhere and sharing this information we think. It was extraordinary. And I haven’t mentioned any names.
PF: No, you haven’t. That’s good [laughs] So, obviously there were a few complications and the work you did was trying to remedy issues that were happening.
PF: Doing research into Eastmancolor fading there is mentioned the fact that sometimes the labs weren’t adhering to the measures implemented by Kodak in terms of processing. Do you have any experience of cases where perhaps there is a run of prints going through which weren’t adhering to those measures and prints were made that were of a lower standard which might then increase the chances of film fading?
AM: With the exception of the case I mentioned where the stabiliser chemical formalin [was getting diluted], dye fading is so slow that you wouldn’t see a problem for months or more likely years. I can’t think of any incidents along the lines you mentioned [pause] I don’t think so.
PF: Could you foresee that being an issue though? Perhaps there was a print run where the baths weren’t up to standard and something went wrong?
AM: Well, it’s certainly possible. It’s mainly the stabiliser you need to worry about. And it just affects one dye, the magenta dye that was the top layer dye in the ECP [film emulsion]. One could imagine that if the stabiliser bath were allowed to become diluted then long term dye fading of the image would occur. I’m not aware of any incidents but there may well have been.
PF: Okay. So if we stick with fading of film stocks. At what point were you made aware of this actually happening? Because there is mention of the fact that right back to the 1950s, Kodak were aware this was happening, that there were no guarantees film prints would last forever.
AM: Never have. There is a disclaimer to that effect on the label of all colour materials: ‘dyes may in time fade’. And there is no guarantee they will last forever. It’s a natural chemical reaction that takes place. You can never eliminate it completely and it took a number of years before the right colour couplers were invented which are the dye precursors in the film. So, there are now some very, very long-lived dyes but not all. Dye stability isn’t the only criterion in forming a dye in the film. Colour reproduction, grain, sharpness and all that stuff comes in as well. And you have to hope that good dye stability is going to be maintained as well. And it’s all very carefully measured of course. There are accelerated dye fading tests you can do. Basically you incubate control strips at elevated temperatures and humidity, and then measure the dye [densities] periodically over time.
PF: Yes. Martin Scorsese spearheaded a campaign in the 1970s stating that all Eastman Kodak stocks from earlier periods were fading even though, as you mentioned, they were aware that they wouldn’t last forever. What was the impact from that period? Obviously, new stocks were developed which were made to last longer. What were the main developments you remember from that time?
AM: Well, I know there was one particular stock. I can’t remember its code number. It’s probably the one Martin Scorsese was referring to. It had relatively poor dye stability, to my [memory], and at least one of the dyes would fade significantly within about a year. There was a philosophy that release prints didn’t require good dye stability. By definition, release prints went out into the cinemas, were shown for two or three months and then scrapped. And virtually all release prints are actually scrapped once they have served their purpose. So, it was decided all the other characteristics are good, the dye stability is good enough for the intended defined use. But it was spotted and complained about by people like Martin Scorsese and therefore dye stability at that point became a much higher priority. An essential characteristic shall we say of stocks that might be kept for a long time.
PF: So, if we could talk a little bit more about film preservation. When you were involved with AMIA and you were talking earlier about the masking process. Could you talk a little more about that? And about pre-digital restoration - what was involved?
AM: I’m not sure what you mean by masking?
PF: You talked about masking of a film print to restore the contrast and restore the original look?
AM: Oh yes, well, I’m not an expert on this but in re-printing a faded film I think it’s possible to make an additional element which just provides a boost to one colour and that would be printed in addition to the original negative or the original intermediate. And that would be called a ‘mask’. I don’t know a lot of detail about that. I think the labs and the restoration houses developed their own [proprietary] technologies to do that. Masking actually is a technique used in the graphic arts industry as well to achieve good dye saturation because in photography it’s a three colour process - red, green, blue - but the dyes themselves overlap spectrally and none of them is perfect so you have to take certain corrective measures even in a normal corrective system to achieve a good dye saturation. And something analogous to that happens when you’re restoring a faded motion picture film. Same sort of technique.
PF: Yes. So, I want to talk a little about panchromatic separation. You were involved with developing that, was it in the 2000s, the early 2000 period?
AM: Well. I would be involved from the Hollywood end of things in launching it. It would be formulated and produced in Rochester and then we would launch it. Well, actually, first of all we would test it – “trade test” it with labs. And I think I did that project [laughs] It’s a long time ago. This was a very typical thing that I would do. I would be responsible for organising the trade testing of new film stocks whether they’d be camera films or lab films with the appropriate customers. Feed the information back to Rochester. Maybe they might make some little bits of fine tuning as a result of that. And then we would have the final product which would be launched, and we would do technical presentations [at SMPTE conferences] and so on. And get the stock into the labs.
PF: And earlier you were talking a little about the Rank film archive. How much do you think the interest in film restoration or remastering was spearheaded by a monetary interest from these film archives which wanted to re-release their material perhaps on DVD or later Blu-ray more than from a perspective of preservation?
AM: The simple answer is almost entirely for monetary interest - as a future revenue stream.
PF: So, perhaps you could say that when DVD introduced digital formats, that played an important part in preserving a lot of our film history?
AM: Well, DVDs are made by scanning existing film elements so I suppose there would be such an interest in preserving at least release prints after that, so long as a good intermediate were available. And bearing in mind that DVDs are just one thing. There were various generations of videotape before then and movies were probably released on VHS, U-Matic, and various other videotape formats which were changing all the time. So, the owners of the copyright of these films would always be thinking in terms of preserving film elements so they were prepared to make transfers to future formats whatever they may be when they’re invented. I mean, DVDs are probably not the last format [pause]. And I should say, you can’t make, successfully make a high-resolution future medium such as a DVD from a low resolution one such as VHS. It just doesn’t contain the sharpness of information. You’ve always got to go back to the original film element and rescan it to achieve that.
PF: So, would you say now that we’re at 4K, you mentioned earlier films that you’ve seen recently that have been re-mastered and screened perhaps at 4K...
AM: I don’t know the formats but they would be professional projection formats.
PF: Okay. I just wanted to ask about your time at Rochester, I believe you met Wesley Hanson, “Bunny Hanson”, and Daan Zwick? Did you get any sense of, did they fill you in on any stories they had from back in the day when Eastmancolor was in its early stages and how they were involved, what it meant to them, and what they were trying to achieve?
AM: I only had passing acquaintances with them and no detail I’m afraid. I’m not sure actually if I met Hanson [but I likely heard him speak.] I did meet Daan Zwick. It’s funny actually, he used to come over to Europe to the annual BKSTS technical conference in London and give technical presentations there usually on 16mm systems and he always used to get up on the podium, go to the microphone, take out his camera and go ‘ching’ - take a picture of his audience. Years and years later, when I worked in Rochester, I met him in the theatre at George Eastman House and I reminded him of that. He barely remembered it actually [laughs] but it was nice to meet him again. But, no, I didn’t have any in-depth technical discussions with him at all I’m afraid.
PF: Okay, that’s fine. We were talking earlier about your involvement in developing soundtracks and you were involved in creating the dye-only soundtrack. Could you tell us a little about what led to that point, obviously it was in the interests of the industry to have cyan dye soundtrack to move away from the silver base. So, if you could tell us a little bit about that and how long it took because obviously, it was quite a recent development really.
AM: Relatively. Well, first of all I can’t take any credit for actually developing the system. That was done by research people in Rochester. My job was basically to work in the Dye Track Committee in Hollywood and to some extent coordinate the trade testing, and the relatively complicated conversion of the industry worldwide to the new format. And it involved, you know, the distributors, the labs, the theatre owners and so on. And not only that but it had to be done in two stages. All the projectors had to have new soundheads put in and all that sort of thing. So, there was a sizeable committee actually run by an English gentleman, [Ioan Allen] from Dolby labs based in San Francisco and the committee was about a dozen of us from Dolby, Kodak, I think Fuji, Technicolor and Deluxe and so on. And NATO - the National Association of Theatre Owners, not the military guys - and basically we sort of hassled all the details of this, we worked with the distributors who knew them best, worked with the labs, they were involved directly, worked with the theatres, made technical presentations at SMPTE conferences and so on. And a lot of schmoozing! Eventually we convinced the industry that that was the way to go. The reason was, the conventional system for producing a silver soundtrack on a colour print is quite involved. It does involve at least two additional chemical stages in the process. It involves this precise application of thickened black and white soundtrack re-developer to the film and clean washing of it. And it involves a lot of extra water in the process. So, basically it was an environmental project to eliminate those extra chemical stages and the use of a lot of water. That’s what was achieved. And that resulted in an Academy Scientific and Technical Award, not actually technically an Oscar, but slightly lower grade awards from the Academy. So, I’m the holder of a one twelfth share of that Sci-Tech Award. [laughs]
PF: Still a share though isn’t it?
AM: Oh yes! I have pictures to prove it too [laughs]
PF: I was also going ask about your time training video news film. At that point, obviously, there was a lot of on location filming happening for video and film was broadcast on TV. And that developed all the way through the seventies and eighties. There was a lot of 16mm film being used for broadcast television.
AM: Yes. News film was all 16mm reversal. For example, the BBC largely used 16mm, and ultimately negative film for film location sequences in dramas and so on.
PF: Yes. Obviously, that gave it a more natural look on location filming and with low light levels. Do you think that had any impact on what the studios and the industry were after in terms of feature film because the general public would’ve been getting used to more natural ways of location filming? Do you think that had an impact on developments in Eastmancolor? Or other film stocks?
AM: Well. I think maybe go back a little bit. One time those sorts of film inserts were probably shot on reversal film on various earlier types of Ektachrome film because reversal film is inherently finer grain than negative film. I won’t go into the technicalities of it but as emulsion technologies improved and finer grain emulsions were produced, we got to the stage with the ECN-2 process and the film that went with it that negative film with its much better exposure latitude for example would be used for that application rather than reversal film. What else? And so, until film went out, they were using 16mm Eastmancolor negative film. A colleague of mine, a senior technical sales representative, almost lived at BBC Ealing studios, which was a major user of 16mm ECN in BBC broadcasting. Not because there were a lot of problems but he bonded with them just to make sure everything was going well.
PF: I imagine there was a lot of work for him there at the time.
PF: So was it really with the ECN2 process [that 16mm negative film was used] for TV? Is that when that happened? Around 1980 or thereabouts?
AM: Maybe a little bit earlier. I don’t know much about sales figures unfortunately. I’m a technical guy. But an awful lot of film material, probably all of it, was being shot on 16mm Kodak negative film at the BBC. In fact, I also knew the chief technical guy at Thames TV, and they were doing it as well.
PF: Okay. Thanks. I think that pretty much covers all our questions. Is there anything that you can think of, any key moments in that history of the Eastmancolor process that we haven’t already mentioned that you would like to share?
AM: Well, looking at it from a purely product point of view, the way I experienced it was every three to five years a new generation of improved Eastmancolor negative film would be introduced as a result of input of product needs from cinematographers. The guys in Rochester in the research labs would be making the film finer-grained, sharper. Colour reproduction became almost perfect ultimately but each generation of improved film enabled us to charge a little bit more. That’s a sort of standard product development philosophy. But we did it to satisfy the needs of the customers. I think that was it until digital started coming in and I retired in 2005 [pause] And when I retired from Hollywood, we had reached the peak of Eastmancolor print sales. I think it was something like several billion feet of 35mm a year. It was just turning and since then it has gone down and down. Almost no film release prints. I saw the golden years, you know, when the largest amounts of motion picture films were being sold both in terms of camera films and lab films - intermediate and print films.
PF: It’s amazing how quickly that’s changed since 2005.
AM: Yes. Well, Kodak didn’t make the transition to digital very well. Admittedly, as I mentioned, Richard Schafer introduced the digital intermediate film concept and that did wonders for prolonging the life of film. But ultimately, I think Kodak management had been just trying to keep film going for ever and ever or whatever, but hadn’t really planned the transition to digital even though they were doing a lot of digital imaging research. They didn’t capitalise on it adequately.
PF: Yes. Thank you, Alan. I think we’re there. Thank you very much.