Colin Flight (CF)
Laboratories (Kodak and Rank/Deluxe)
Interviewers: Paul Frith (PF) & Carolyn Rickards (CR)
Total Length: 02:02:49
CR: Thank you Colin for inviting us to your home to do this interview today. We’re very, very pleased to be here. I’m just going to run through some of the early questions that we’ve got to ask today. So, I wonder if you could just begin by giving an overview – if I can take you back slightly – in how your early interest in film and colour photography started. Where did that spark on interest come from?
CF: I started out… my first work as such was for Kodak, and there was nothing glamorous about the fact that it was the local business, at school, it was the biggest employer in the area, and they were offering opportunities and apprenticeships to come into the business to learn everything that they were doing, at the plant in Harrow this was. They were part of an international group, quite clearly with a big name. And each of the operations, the manufacturing operations was like a small city, like a small town, and they’d even have street names and you’d find your way around the premises. So it was an opportunity to not only get employment, which was important at sixteen years old, but also to understand that you were going to go on to learn about various things. So, prior to going into Kodak, I have to say I had very little idea about what the whole thing was going to mean. I didn’t have these visions that I was a photography person at 12 years old and I’m going to do that, it was really going into it and stumbling through those early days of employment with Kodak. And as an apprenticeship, we had the opportunity, and I always hark back to the fact that Kodak’s training schemes at that time, which from my experience, were second to none. Very strong. They would get the staff ready for involvement in all aspects of the operations at Harrow, in film, as a complex base of a number of types of roles within that - from the raw materials coming in, to the actual projects going out. Kodak, I believe were responsible for certain product lines, because there were many, many product lines there, and I was there at the time, in 1974 this was, I was there at the time of the Tracks 4 and Tracks 5 which were huge processing tracks, where they created their film stocks and coated them and all aspects of that. And the chemistry, because obviously a roll of film, a piece of film, might have seven layers of it, eight layers of emulsion, ten layers of emulsion, you know, depends on the product itself and how it’s made and all made in different ways, and they had to manage a number of these products in the context of 24 hour, seven days a week operation. So I was involved in all aspects of that. My primary role…each of the trainee apprentices, there was nine of us, and we were split into three groups. Three went off to film finishing, which was the end of the product line. Three went off to film research, they were the ones with lots of qualifications, and for people like myself who had few qualifications, at the time, I was out into film sensitising group which was part of the film coating, that area, responsible for creations of emulsions, and to understand the coating aspects of it. Many of the guys from where I would be as an apprentice, would end up on the production lines as supervisory roles, that kind of thing, because your levels of expertise would be above the general guys coming in. So it was a training school for management at that time. I worked a lot at that time, working in the dark, doing shift work and various other things that were important to me. I learnt about, with me through my working life, was the ability to go out and see the suppliers and to understand that the supplier network, was very much a part of what we were doing so the people at [Crodagel?] in Wooburn Green or something with these animal carcasses in pits of lime, that were being created for the pure gelatine required for the film bases, was very much taught as part of what we were doing, to understand, that it’s not all the glamorous end of it, it was all this production end of it and each of these suppliers. Now, that followed me through, but it was such an important part of the way we started to run the lab businesses, to involve suppliers in what we were doing, and that was taught to me by Kodak, because if their product was good quality, then your product is going to follow the same route. You have these quality standards. Quality standards was a very important aspect for Kodak and it was something that was drummed into us. Aspects of what we did, the method by which we completed tasks, whether it was creating and washing emulsions, the silver salts route, the light sensitivities, even down to addition of chemical adjustments, very, very slight chemical adjustments, there was a way to put the test tube over and there was a time period by which they were allowed to drop and things, which was, blimey, this is great stuff – fantastic. But at the context of the time in the 70s, this was very much 70s, the advent of controlled flows and various things was very much in its early days. Any controlled flows would be done though little jets with little holes in that would run for certain periods of time. So, it taught me a lot and obviously as things came through that process, we were taught about aspects of the environmental part. One of the key parts of any film production as a manufacturing base is the light sensitivity via the silver, the free silver in the solution. So managing those areas became very important to us because anything going down the drains, recognised even in those days, a time when people were probably very liberal, in terms of what went down the effluent drains, we were taught about management of that solution. So again, those four years I was with Kodak for four years, followed me all the way through my working life to this time.
CR: I have read somewhat about the huge Track five that was at Harrow, the vast operation that went on there. When you were working there as a trainee, and working on the film coating tracks, what were the main challenges, initially that you faced?
CF: Good question. The issues would have been primarily things like, working in the dark would have been an issue. As you go to work in the dark some days, you’d work all day in the dark, and you’d go home in the dark, depending on when you were working in the daytime and what time of year it was. But that was a big thing for us. As a youngster, 16, 17-year-old, interacting with people who were 50 and 60 years-old with massive experience in manufacturing, you’re just the boy. It was those interactions that were important and they were quite daunting, I’ve got to say, as a youngster in the system. We had to learn various aspects of these roles. Now these tracks, the film would run I believe for about a mile. They were huge tracks that would go multi-floor and they’d come back on themselves, but the science behind the manufacture of any film emulsion was immense, and this is something I again carried through to when I was working with the DoPs and the directors, because you’d understand the science of layering emulsion upon emulsion on a continuous running operation, was precise, absolutely precise, so those emulsions had to be a certain level, they had to be a certain specific gravity, they had to sit in certain ways on this production. Any dust or any dirt in that production line would cause a problem in that film and it could negate a lot of the product. Understanding that and the stocks… I was working with the filmmakers in the end, you know the DoPs and the directors and the film companies. That understanding of the complexity of that side of it helped me understand when we came to fault-finding and various things that we’re going to touch upon later on. But it was understanding the context of the science that was involved in it, which was very complex to your role within that to making sure it worked okay. And to follow that system through and to understand why they did certain things. Why were areas humid? So you didn’t get static electricity so obviously a light-sensitive product, on a production line, that can negate a section of the thing and then when these huge rolls of film base, because they were coated in…I think it was about four-foot wide rolls… they’d roll up and roll up as they were drying, as obviously the process was layering it on, and they would dry through the natural course of the track and come to the end it would be layered off as a huge roll, which would go into a thing called a coffin which would then be wheeled out for storage until such time as they wanted to slit it, perforate it and finish it, so it was ready then for sale to the marketplace. So you’ve got the continuous idea then of orders, the idea of projecting orders and planning for those orders, having material sitting in storage for huge periods of time, which has a cost associated with it because there were things like silver in it, and the expertise involved in it. But the planning of that, to make sure you had enough product in that production line, so that if there was a sudden rush on an order, that they would have stuff in storage, they could then slit and coat and send out to the marketplace, but not have stuff sitting there so long that it negated its quality for instance, which is again, a big part of what was happening at Kodak. So all aspects of that, to understand why we were doing things, was quite key, and to understand the broader picture of the process. There was an element of people, and this was true of all film work that we were involved with in the laboratories side, was that people take a small chunk and deal with that one small chunk only and not necessarily be interested in why we were doing things and the reasons why things were happening further down the line, and that was to me quite crucial. So there was these two schools of people. Those who were interested in it and those who probably weren’t, who probably just wanted to come in, so a job, a specific type of role, and were happy and very good at doing it, but didn’t necessarily want to go that next stage.
CR: That’s interesting, yeah. How long did that training process take, when you were you there for?
CF: The training process went on and on. Again, this idea of always training was important that you were learning the new stuff as it came in. Their educational systems, Kodak’s educational systems were fantastic, they were second-to-none in truth. When I look back at it and the businesses I’ve been involved with after that time, I always tried to promote the Kodak way. They used to say “You’re a Kodak man now. You’re a robot because you preach Kodak all the time.” Not necessarily. We were very proud of working for Kodak, it was a very good company, very strong company, but it gave you the opportunity, the ability was there if you wanted to do well. For the most part, you could do well. If you worked hard, it was generally recognised. The structure within the working force is, and primarily the educational systems within Kodak itself, as I said, it was like a small town so it had its own educational units there, had its own doctor’s had its own fire brigade, had its own dentist. So it was an amazing place and people became… and I guess this is like the American ideal that you’re drawn into a group that you can do everything within the context of that facility. And that encourages people to stay. So most people were employed at that time were thinking “Oh” and in the early days we’d be taking about our pensions, and how good the Kodak pensions were. This is 16,17 years old “That’s good”, at the back of my mind I’m thinking “I don’t really care about that” until you get to now and you’re “I’m glad I did that” but that was the issue at the time. Their education system was fantastic. In truth, because some of them would say to me “Well if it’s that good, why did you move on?” I felt, for myself at the time that I wanted to do more than just go into production and work on that. Not because I felt it was beneath what I wanted to do, because I was just a guy coming through the system with general education. As I’ve said, my life was at different schools up and down the country because that was the service life I had, and in my mind, I educated to a certain level, but I always felt that I wanted to do that little bit better and Kodak encouraged that. Once I got to the stage, after three or so years and I thought I don’t really want to end up in 24 hour production shifts doing three hour shifts, three days on days and then days on nights, you know, I’m not averse to doing it as I actually ended up doing a similar thing later on, but generally, at that time I wanted to use that opportunity and the fact that I was enthusiastic to study outside of it. Kodak provided the opportunity to go to Harrow Technical College, to do physics and maths and various things, but I said to them at the time that I fancied, maybe if it was an opportunity for me to go in and maybe get a degree and go into research, that was the area that I really wanted to do, to move into, because I could see that as being where I wanted to be sitting later on. And really there wasn’t that many opportunities at the time, so I said, and it was said to me at the time, the Kodak guy I was dealing with said “Look, maybe there’s more opportunity outside, if that’s where you want to be”. So, I took him at his word and that’s why I left. A good feeling, there was no ill feeling with Kodak, they taught me an awful lot, and I do smile as I go back in time thinking of… in 2004, 2005 I think it was, after we’d opened the film operations in Spain and Italy you know, the worldwide aspects of the Ranks and the DeLuxe as they were known at the time, I sat with the managing director of Kodak worldwide. He was discussing with me what I wanted to see out of film and what he should be doing to provide for me. And I did think at the time you know, wow, this industry’s fantastic because I’ve gone from being an apprentice, a guy at sixteen years-old, who really knew nothing about film and what was going on, to a guy who was sitting there being asked by the managing director of Kodak Worldwide, what he can provide for me in the role I was doing then. So it wasn’t lost on me that, wow, it’s a long way to come in a business. A lot of people wouldn’t be able to do that. So it was a great business for that really. You had the ability to move on, and the opportunity was there, so …
CR: It sounds like there were a lot of opportunities that were offered to employees working for them at the time.
CF: I believe so, a lot of the systems… promoting from within was seen as a good thing at that time, because you were taking aspects of the knowledge with you. The difficulty…as it probably is today is the idea of academia, that you got the knowledge base that you get from your university years or whatever. They’d put you onto a thing that they felt was right for you with that skill or they look for certain skill, metallurgists or chemists, whatever it was, they’d be looking to put you and pigeon-hole you in these things. As you grew through the thing, the limiting factor for some people of course would be the ability to go on and understand the more complex things and maybe a better education or aspects of education. Doing a degree so, would be seen as a way of propping that up so you could get to the next level because you suddenly got the degree you needed, you got the MSC that you needed for whatever and at the time I started doing all of this and that next stage the… obviously there was the SCRC Engineer Research Council who were doing degrees but the Open University were at the early days of what they were doing and there were opportunities to do things at that time which I must admit I did take I did take on-board. Because by that time I was married, I had three children. Moving into a university set-up, whatever, you couldn’t do it. I had a place to pay for, I had children to pay for, I had to educate part-time you know, I had to maintain job and then study part-time. That was the route that was open to me at the time. A lot more routes available now, but at that time, that was the primary route, and the route I took, I opted for. So, I used my spare time, my lunch hours and three o’ clock in the morning. But it was crucial because the basis of the understanding, and going back to it, I was always one to believe when I came through the system, the experience and the skills of the individual, were probably more important to me, than having a specific background, but they needed to be able to understand complex issues, which would generally come from University training. And discipline, internal discipline, the ability to sit and learn and study and be able to spend time doing something, to set things out in a format that understanding… communication was very, was essential, and the things I understood from my learning at University is that it taught you all of these wonderful things and in your mind It’s second nature, it became second nature, and it was obviously very important to me.
CR: No that’s fine, that’s great. I was just going to ask, before moving on to think about the career shift that you then did to Rank. Can you just describe some of what you think were the key developments that were happening in Kodak at the time that you were working there?
CF: Yeah, I mean in truth, in the time I was at Kodak, the developments we were seeing were shifts in the type of products being asked for. I wasn’t fully involved. We had the lab technical guys. Now, to understand that part of it, Kodak were very… a lot of the businesses I worked for since and probably still are, were very careful with their confidentiality. In the building, in the manufacturing base at Kodak which was where I was working, the chemicals weren’t even listed as the chemicals we know they are. You know, sulphuric acid, wasn’t said it was sulphuric acid, it wasn’t even used by its chemical denomination, it was set as a coded word, so BA ST3 or something like that. They would have their own codes for the chemicals and the bits you were using within the process itself, you… no one could walk away and say “Well actually we’re using derivations of this chemical or this particular dye or this coupler in this process” because it was almost a covert world that they worried about people going off to work maybe for Agfa-Gevaert or Fujicolour or other companies and taking the manufacturing information with them. So, we weren’t exposed to a lot of the concepts other than working with a specific technician for a product line. They would come and talk to us about various things so probably better talking to somebody within that context like Alan [Masson], who would understand more of that line. So, the developments that I would’ve seen are specific to the manufacturing rather than to the specific product lines and change that was going on at the time.
CR: And was there significant difference when you moved to Rank, in terms of what you were doing and the sort of processes that they were working with?
CF: Yes, the issues really were that the Kodak work I was doing was the formulation or creation of film emulsions and product to sell to cinematographers for printing or whatever they were doing at the time. There were certainly some cinematographers, and the laboratory was the other end of it, they were dealing with the stuff with the actual cinematographers, with the DOP’s, and so it was the other end of it. So I’d seen both ends of the scale. It was the more glamorous end, I guess, of it. Not that it seemed like glamorous when you were working at the laboratory, that end of it. So there was a big shift in what we were trying to achieve at that point. Because we’d gone from manufacturing a product to be used in film, to having a facility that was processing that product and creating the final product for the filmmaker, so massive difference. The discipline within chemistry and the types of solutions, the types of things that were used …a lot of these things were pre-defined. If you used chemistry at one part of the business, you’re going to be using other solutions at the other end of the business and that aspect and chemical analysis is similar. The chemical analysis I was using at Kodak laboratory to analyse the silver levels or PH or whatever it was would be the same as it was at the laboratories. The use of the liquid chromatograph would be the same at the Kodak end, it would be the same as the chromatograph at the film end. So that was very similar and… but the actual work relationship was different in terms of where we were in this line of where film came into the system and then went out as a product at the end of it as a feature on the screen. So that was very different. The working practices… I went into Rank’s primarily as a chemist, I started as a chemist with them because it was the opening that was there and the opportunity was very good. They were not as disciplined, or did not come across as being disciplined, as the Kodak team and I was quite shocked at… for instance within Kodak a lot of money was spent on the infrastructure. The laboratory would be well-decorated, things like aspects of the laboratory would be very good. When I went to Denham, for Ranks, there was many parts of the building that were quite derelict and you thought this was…it was quite a culture shock because I’d come from one business who spent a lot of money on the infrastructure, to a business that only spent money on the part of the structures, the processing parts that were key parts that they wanted, to other parts were just left to go derelict and things. So it was a shock- an eye-opener. But some aspects of the things were the same. The training programmes at Ranks weren’t as good as the training programmes at Kodak. The educational systems, they were… they preferred to use external education set-ups, or education being taught within the context of the type of operation you’re going to do within the laboratory. As I said, we started as a chemist and some aspects were very similar, that were very complicated and required a different way of thinking, it required new techniques, new methods which are being produced all the time by in-house chemists. So the film world was changing. The link for us of those two things really is about the fact that Kodak created a system, they created a product and they needed to… for them to be able to have the confidence that people would use that product well and get the best out of that product. And that becomes an underlying feature of the film world. Their education process keeps coming back into the system, the Kodak educational system, and they provided, Kodak provided, an educational centre at Hemel Hempstead for the UK operations where they did all aspects of film, whether it’s processing control, process variation control, grading, printing, that side of things they’d do right across the board. The reason behind that being that they would ensure that people had, were being taught levels of what they need to know and understand by books, or the so-called bibles you get determine how you set up a process, to do certain things, so that everyone could be shown, otherwise people could be taking their own variation of it. So very clever. Hadn’t acknowledged that at the time but as a Rank man a lot of the Rank people and a lot of the film lab people would meet up because we would be going through the educational school at Hemel Hempstead so as a Rank person, I’d be going back to Kodak to be educated on aspects of what I was doing now, and I met people from all over the world, who were coming into that educational centre so very key to give everyone the fundamental basis of how to process film or how to… handling film and things like that. That is a thing that recurs all the way through to the close that aspect, so Kodak had a handle on a lot that was going on at that time. Within the context of that of course, think about the aspects of film. If you create a perfect film, you go through the laboratory process, the laboratory gives you a pristine product at the end, then that product goes out to the cinema and that guy who’s handling the product to put it on the projectors in those days, had it all over the floor, and rubbed it up and wound it badly, it would all be scratched when you came to the screen. So all that work to coat the film, to get it lit to get it perforated, all that, get to the end and the bloke who’s in charge of showing it to the public, has got it in the floor. And that happened. That was the amazing thing, it did happen. Or they hadn’t set the projector up right or one of the common factors was the lamp voltages on the projector for the output wasn’t right, they’d run at different levels. So Kodak were pushing on these levels, but the industry pushed on it. They began to grasp that this was very, very important because again, certain product, certain features would look awful if the lamp voltages weren’t correct. You’re not showing it as it should be shown and that’s how people, the pubic, would see it, “Oh my god”. And it was picked up because a lot of people were going, directors or DOP’s, would go back and see their features on release and go “Oh my God that’s not how I wanted it to look- it looks dreadful”. So education was a very important part of what they were trying to do to get everyone up to a standard.
CR: Absolutely, and that sounds really interesting. Can you talk a bit about that relationship between the laboratories and the filmmakers, and your experiences of working within that realm?
CF: There were three essential parts, obviously you had the manufacturers, the Kodak guys were an important part of it, but also don’t forget the Fujicolour guys and Agfa guys all had part of this but Kodak were the main drivers of it, they were always seen as the main players. But these other groups were there and they had their own expertise and we involved ourselves across all the products that were available. And then you had the filmmakers, the guys who had the concepts, the ideas, the structure of what they wanted to achieve, how they wanted to film it, the scripts, the writers, so that side of it you know. When I say filmmakers I don’t just mean DOP’s, I mean the whole concept of what they were trying to achieve and get to screen. And then you’d have the film laboratory. Now the film laboratory was a black box, because it was the unknown. Nowadays, for digital operations, you can almost set up a production company within your front room because the concept of digital data, transferring digital data, these were things that were not evident at the time I started work at the laboratories and certainly not evident as a main player in what we were trying to achieve as laboratory groups. So the laboratories were the black boxes but they were recognised by the filmmakers as being where they get what they want done properly and the relationship those three territories, those three areas, manufacturers, filmmakers, and the laboratory, was essential to get to screen because the creativity within the laboratory would get them what they wanted on screen. They didn’t always know what they wanted from a filmmaker’s perspective and within the laboratory we were able to alter so much. You know, this is the pre-digital days. You were able to alter so much with chemistry. Even the process of grading a print, which would be a, a colourist would do now on a digital set-up, in our days, the earlier days, it was done on a video analyser. Someone would actually sit down on an analyser, put the negative up, and create the colours through the number sequences that would, you know, the Bell & Howell points system that we used to use for colours where it was split up for the print processor, you could replicate the system for what you’re getting on the grading machine with the customer sitting with the grader saying “I love that. Could you make that a little bit colder, make that look a bit greener here.” And within the context, of the ability within your laboratory, you could make those changes. And that then would, if your laboratory was set up correctly, that would then follow through because the number sequences set up with the scene-to-scene gradings on the feature would follow itself through the laboratory and it would replicate what the director, or the DoP or you know, says “Yeah that’s the colour I like. I don’t like this colour, I want it changed, you know, a little bit that way.” That relationship was very important, and product cleanliness. They didn’t need to know the detail of it, they didn’t know the chemistry, they didn’t know aspects of how we made features look … what they needed to know, they put in… they came in with you, they put a negative in, they could see something they liked and they were then produced with a show print, whatever, to look at it and say “Yeah that’s exactly what I want” or “No I don’t like that. I think those scenes … that’s too cold, that’s too warm. I don’t like this, I don’t like this.” And that was the variation. But they would… that was really the relationship with the laboratory. The laboratory did the work. At a rushes viewing we’d have the overnight rushes on the shoot, for instance, looking at the origination of features with the studios, or outside on location as the stuff came through to you, the stuff would tend to come through in the evening, overnight, and we would have teams in to process overnight, we’d get it all ready for print, whatever they wanted, however they wanted to see it. In the early days, it was all rushes printing, so it was all ready for the morning, so when they came in a five o’clock in the morning, before the day shoot in the studio or on location, they’d sit in the main theatres of the laboratory and go through what they like and didn’t like about the scenes that they were shooting. So that’s where all the clapperboards and rest came because all the information that was related to the scenes that they were doing, if there was anything wrong, we would promote the fact that “There’s a hair in the gate on camera 4 on that shoot with the 5 cameras”, “That one there doesn’t look good” or “There’s an issue with your lighting” you know. I think it was First Knight they were shooting at Pinewood, and one of the problems that they had, or continued to have there, was the light in the trees, the light would vary and, of course, when you’re looking at light and sensitive film… then you’ve got your colour grading on the levels of light intensity, what you can create with it, depending where you are on the scale of colour. If you’re in the middle somewhere, that’s great, you can move up, you can move down according to what you want. If you’re at the top-end, or the bottom-end, there’ nothing much you can do about it. It was those aspects of it that they needed to be told to understand. They understood, different people understood, different aspects of that, but it was very much within the laboratory for us to pick up stuff, and that was part of the relationship. We were very much part of what the production team wanted. We were, they were our friends, they were our colleagues, they were our customers, you know, but importantly, we worked with them to give them the best product. I would get calls from people on shoots that would say “I’ve heard Kodak have got a new stock out, a new negative stock. What do you think of this new stock with the new number? What do you think about this?” “Oh in our experience we’d have done…”. You see because they would be shooting feature-to-feature because of how they were contracted. We would be doing ten, twelve features a week. So we would be dealing with all these people who were trying different things. So we became the font of knowledge as well about different ideas, or different things that were coming through the business. We say “They’re using this type of process” or “Some people are using this type of process. This looks good. If you want to do certain things, use the faster product, but be careful about this aspect of it.” So there was that level of knowledge within the laboratory which was really important, really, really important to pass out. Not to pass on secrets or anything like that because that wasn’t what we were about. We were just trying to give the filmmakers, you know, the perfect product. And sometimes that wouldn’t necessarily mean Kodak product. Sometimes we’d say “It might look better if you use this sort of product” because it was about how things would look. And sometimes cinematographers would come to us with a preference for shooting original on Fuji. We would work with all of them and process all of them. It wasn’t an issue to use. We worked with each of the manufacturers. We wouldn’t necessarily recommend a route because we would just be working on the experience we had. Most people came in with a route, they would start off on a Kodak original, then they would keep Kodak intermediate, and then maybe at the end they put it on a different print film. Generally they would follow the same route through it if they could but it depended in the film guys. And then, they would talk to us about it. “Can we do a few tests to try the different routes and how they’re gonna look” and things, so we do that as well. We would create certain images. A lot of it, a lot of cost came into, obviously cost comes into everything, but particularly in film we’d have to do a lot of free testing. There’d be a lot of stuff charging because clearly at that end of it, they’re looking to try and save money any way they can because film production isn’t always, you know whatever people believe, wasn’t full of lots of cash. They could spend a fortune doing things, it was always limited. Issues within a product, for instance, if you had an issue on a shoot that there was a fault on a particular product they were shooting on a certain day and there was a fault with it, “I need those scenes. Those scenes are important to me”, given the timescale of a project, the filming project, you had to turn round what the problem was, or what the issue was, straight away. Most of the time, you know, you’d get back into things like reshoots, but if you could deal with the problem within the laboratory itself then fine. The relationship with Kodak, it could be something to do with the stock manufacture, my experience of how they coated and things, “Well there’s lumps there. You’ve got a problem here with your production or something.” I had a fairly unique perspective on it because of my background but we worked very closely with the technical support teams from the different manufacturers who’d come in and sit with us when there was an issue to work through what the issue was. It was very easy to say “No, that’s a Kodak fault” or “That’s a Fuji fault” or “That’s a Geva fault” and say “That’s nothing to do with the laboratory”. We’d never do that. We always … my perception was that we need to make sure it isn’t us before we go out and start criticising other people. We wanna make sure that we’ve covered all the boundaries and then we would talk to the technical guys and say “We’ve got problem with this particular shoot. It’s manifested like this. Come in and we’ll show you examples and the testing procedures we’ve done to try and find it.” It could be a lump in the emulsions that’s coming through as a big spot, or something, you know. It could be anything and we would work with them to try and attain the best possible solution for the, for the filmmaker. It was very important they weren’t affected by our relationship necessarily with the film manufacturer, Kodak. And that expertise, that level of expertise, was very important because the lab people, people like myself, Trevor, or any of the guys that I was working with would sit on a bench and be able to see things specific to a problem. “We’ve seen this before, it’s this problem. Change your film stock. Change your batch”, because obviously film comes in batches, “Stick with the same film stock, but change the batch because it may not be in the new batch and we’ll manage that through as a new batch, and we’ll just talk about it.” And that’s how it worked really, that’s how the relationship worked.
CR: Can you… that’s really fascinating… can you think of any particular instances where there was a, I don’t know, a conflict between the product or the process and the artistic demands of the filmmakers that you’re working with?
CL: Yeah, I can think of a few. Unfortunately I can give you quite a few. We all, all labs had issues. The bigger the lab in the context of the fact that we had the capital investment to be able to do the latest machinery we had the ability, we had the research capability, we had to be able to improve machinery, to expand our machinery. We weren’t just buying off the shelf and just expecting that to work fully for us, we were doing things ourselves. So that expertise was in there, so you were creating stuff all the time. But within the context of that there would be issues, sometimes issues. I remember a title many many years ago, I think it was called Mary Reilly, where we continued to have spots in the process. These things kept manifesting themselves every so often and no-one really got a handle, said “Oh it’s a dirty process or something”, so you’d look at it and think “Oh yeah we’ll deal with that” and the pressure then came on, you know, like myself to try and find a solution to the problem. You talked to the manufacturer, the film manufacturers, and say “Look, we’ve got a bit of a problem” who’d said “Oh yeah”. They would go back and say “Well we think it’s the lab” and there was always this issues of conflict, we didn’t want conflict. What we wanted to do was have a joint face to say to them. And something as… you know, we would find that, for instance, that there would be something within our process. I remember that it was, the reason for the little spots that we were finding because I … again the relationship with film manufacturers, they have equipment that we don’t have. They had a photomicroscope so we could get them to section through the piece of film, which had this mark or [unintelligible] on it and they could see there was something within the context of the film emulsions, between the different emulsions, there was something actually in there imbedded. “Right could you tell me what that is?” we’d do an analysis on it. “It’s a piece of rubber. Rubber? How can rubber get into a process?” And you look and we found on one of the developing machines, you’d go round and find, and I was there, well I remember thinking “Oh my god what could that be?” and I put my hand inside the machine where the developer was, you know once the solution was out, and there were bits of rubber. And what it was it was like a seal round one of the doors had failed and it was all deteriorated within the context of the solution. So of course when you drop your solution back to your holding tanks it’s following it through. So we said “Right that tells us a lot about our process.” We were able to resolve the problem very quickly then but it told us a lot about the process. Firstly, with things like changing machines but putting microfiltration on the routes to and from machines because obviously processing is about complex solutions in sequence for processing needs but they have to be controlled through chemistry, temperatures, through you know, all aspects of that, and process flows. And when you’re moving this solution about it can be prone to picking up stuff so we added filtration in and things like that. But we had the ability to do these things, I had the ability … I remember my, I was… I found, or primarily found, what was going on in another fault by sitting in the lab one night with, you know, actually looking at the solutions themselves individually doing a spin and then having a look at what residue was coming out and you’re finding stuff in it. So we were… had the time and the ability to do that because we were, you know, quite a big concern and we could put different people on problem issue. But some of the smaller labs, the issues we’d see from small labs, they couldn’t do that. The important thing is that on original material a lot of the time it couldn’t be recoverable, it wasn’t recoverable at that time, other than reshooting. So if it’s in the original material it’ll follow its way all the way through its film life. So it was always deemed as being a labour-intensive part of our operation, the original material the negative, film negative aspects of it. So it would be the slower machines and it would be managed in a different way to the bulk production. The principle’s the same but much slower and each aspect of it would be dealt with, the sensitivity, you know. I remember seeing some stuff in from one of the labs where they’d, where someone had, wound one of the faster neg stocks, because, everything was done in the dark and it would be loads of magazines or loads at the end of the machines, the process machines, which were continuous processors, and they’d bent the film just enough that there was a line right down the middle when it came to, you know, they’d used it and they came to load it and we got it off at the other end you’d look it and think “There’s a line in the middle. What’s this?” It was only a test piece but someone had actually bend the film just that little bit too much and it actually forked the film. So you know, it was that sensitivity as you got up to 500ASA, the really fast products, anything you did to that product would manifest in, you know, the final bit. When a filmmaker is saying to you “You need to… we need to have this done in certain ways and processed at certain times” and you’ve put it through your process, they’ve delivered their product to you, you’re handling a third-party product because it’s not your product it’s someone else’s product which you’re processing for them. When you get to the final stage and it’s got a problem with it, you know, that’s your problem, it’s what you’ve introduced to it which is not good thing. So your reputation is won and lost on the ability to have the skills there to ensure these issues don’t happen. And they can happen in all contexts, in all areas. There was a story of one of the, of one of the shoots where I think they had couple of cameras on, or three cameras, just to make sure that they – I think it was like a carnival thing, a Notting Hill carnival, whatever it was – and they had, this company, had three cameras on it and when they processed it and the laboratory they put it through, I’m not sure which one it was, but they’d actually damaged it end-to-end, all material. And you couldn’t reshoot it because it was a one-day, it was the final day of the carnival or whatever. So it then came back to your repetition which is why they would have a number of crews for different aspects of the scene shoots, they were shooting, but also that you could, if there was a problem with one of the products you’d actually be able to come and take something from one of the other shoots, one of the other cameras, they could actually move between products that have come off the different cameras, the different teams. But, in general, 99 per cent of the time, the stuff that was going through your processer was fine and they’d look at it and say “That was good.” But that was part of that, that relationship. But in terms of fault finding, as you came across stuff you would be involved and they would trust your judgement because you, there was no point fabricating or saying falsities because it would come back to bite you. And we were very much believers in trying to understand a problem together, so we would see that there was an issue together. Another product came at the time that digital… I remember another… these are things that I’m thinking as we’re talking… another issue was the advent of the digital intermediate aspects of it, which I know we’re going to talk about later on as well, but it brought in a new type of person. You were talking about people who worked in the digital domain all the time who weren’t necessarily used to film. And I remember there was one feature that I was involved with, I got called up to London to have a look at they said they were worried about movement in the background of this feature. And when I sat with these, the Kodak experts and the various people, and we were looking and I said “Look, you know, what you’re seeing is grain. Film grain.” Now, a lot of the guys hadn’t been exposed to film grain, as daft as it may seem, that the issues of the T-grains and the various things within the product would manifest itself as it went through the process. They’d be, you know for the cinematographers and things, they’d be things in the background that you’d notice that most people wouldn’t even notice, but they’d say “Oh, but if you look in there...” It was then highlighted the fact that a lot of people in projection were looking, obviously in a normal theatre you’re looking projecting for long distances a lot of digital, the new digital intermediate companies, or companies that produce it, would be looking at a screen five feet in front of them and they’d be looking like a television, “Oh look I can see something here and…”. So it was difference in approach and understanding, you know, I wouldn’t say limitations of film, there were grains in film because of the way it was manufactured and it’s going to look very different to a say a digital product which is shown as a pure digital image, so.
CR: How early on did those, sort of computer digitisation process start coming about? Was it at the time you were working, in the late-70s early-80s? Or was it later than that?
CF: Later. If you look at specifics, we were, we were involved in … obviously we had special effects companies, we bought a number of businesses, we were fortunate to be able to do that. But the issues relating to things like special effects, what would be done by digital now, are things we used to call them travelling mattes. The early Superman films and the early Raiders of the Lost Ark films and stuff like that, well they were done with travelling mattes where you use an optical printer with a double head and you’d have a little trace of a dark thing going across the screen to hide out bits and then they’d fill it in as a figure like Superman flying through the air. That would be done as, you know, a double-print type of thing. Nowadays they would just put it on a computer and … but in those days it was done as a traveling matte. The only downside to that was in the, in things like the Star Wars features or even in the Indiana Jones films, the early ones, that they, when you ran it you could see, as you became more aware of these things, you could see an outline of the matte. And they would say “Oh we can see an outline. It looks false” you know. But as things developed, I remember a conversation that came back to me, and probably Geoff, Kim’s Geoff [Kim Seager, BFI], will remember this, that the … when Jurassic Park came out, and the manifestation of digital images of dinosaurs which were, now you know it’s, everyone does it. In those days it wasn’t that, and the sound-system which was a huge thing, the sound-system was a huge thing. But, you know, the information came back to us that, you know, one of the guys who worked very closely with Stanley [Kubrick] said, you know, because he’d spoken to, because Steven Spielberg had come over to see him and they were having, I think, a coffee in his kitchen at St Albarns at Stanley Kubrick’s house, and they were talking about the fact that he was doing a project, Artificial Intelligence, AI. Now we did a lot of work on the background for a thing called AI using the, sort of the special effects that were available, this was post [Full] Metal Jacket in ‘88 so it’s after 1988, and they were trying to get special process looks to try and do things with this feature that Stanley wanted to do, AI. And, once they’d done Jurassic Park they went “Wow”, Stanley said to Stephen apparently that, you know, “I can now actually do my project. I can actually do the AI project now because I can see things there that it’ll do things… ”, because obviously you know it’s about the robot boy and things. He never got to do it, but it was done a few years later by Steven Spielberg, you know, but he was very keen to do that because Stanley was always thinking about the next project, the next thing. He was meticulous, he was always thinking about that project, so yes. So the digital, the digital you know, it came in and came about. The issues for digital were really difficult in those early days because, we did a lot of work with Sony on things like EBR’s, there were various high-definition issues, various things that people wanted to do, because we did a lot of stuff for television, you know, it wasn’t just feature films. We were doing Inspector Morse, we were doing London’s Burning, you know, a number of things we were doing was TV. And there would be miniature films to us so you’d be doing stuff within that context as well. But, the change-over to digital as things became available we would start to see the early, first the digital intermediates, when we’d started seeing a digital intermediate. The hold-back for it, the issue for it, was always cost in those early days. The reason that it took a long time for digital projection, for instance, to come in was because the overall cost of digital projection. They were, you know, fairly capable. Ranks owned a company called Brimar who’d set up the [unintelligible] instrumentation for digital projection, so we’re undercutting our own market funny enough. But they had that capability, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, they were able to work on these concepts and look at how it’s gonna work. I mean, talk of the early digital cameras with Kodak was in the ‘70s when they came up with the idea of a digital camera but never, you know, followed it through. You know, things progressed and you’d see these things progress but because there was so much going on, and the productions was so great, you’d focus mainly on production as it was at the time. The digital intermediate aspect, or the arrivals of digital intermediate, were a bit of a shock to the laboratory. There was a number of reasons, there was a number of issues that related to that. Primarily is the talk about the digital guys but it was the cost of actually producing this stuff. The early machinery was very slow, it took a while to produce it. Now, if you’ve got a day-and-date release feature and we’ve got to have, you know, so many negs… I mean it wasn’t just one negative, you’d have, you know, loads of negs, you might have 10 or 15 negatives on a feature film because you’re doing a German, a Spanish, you know, a French, whatever it was you were doing as a film base, this stuff would… if they could produce a negative in 24 hours, we could produce an intermediate within an hour and a half, you know, we could actually have a new negative out there or a load of new negatives together within a very short time scale ready to print for the thing. But if you were doing a digital intermediate, that’s output on lasers, it could take you 24 hours, it could take 48 hours to do it, and when they get up to 4k that created its own issues as well. And it was the overall cost of doing it. They say, “Well we could produce a, you know, we charge a certain amount for producing a photographic intermediate and it would be a certain amount of money to our business.” But if it was coming in from outside, they say “Well look, we want to do it again but we’re going to charge you £10,000 for doing that negative.” Well that’s crazy we would never charge that for that negative. But that’s what they did because control was coming way from the laboratory then to other people and it’s fitting that into what was a very tight schedule because we weren’t doing just one feature a week. I mean, at times, Ranks, Denham, we were doing, could be doing, 20 feature all together, we could be doing different things for different days. And obviously, the day-and-date, the big ones, the day-and-date releases, which took up all your production times, you’d have to make sure all your elements, which are the negatives, the sound negatives, were all in place so you could do it. And, if one went down, through damage or whatever it was, you’d need to replace it quickly so you keep on your schedules, you know. Adding this digital intermediate, for us at the beginning, was a real nightmare because it took a long time to get the replacement. And educating the studios, and the various people we were working with, about this time scale and this lag, and what it impacted to us, was, you know, quite difficult. That’s without getting on to the guys who decided to take the digital intermediate and to split it into layers and colour grade different layers. We came across, you know, some odd things, I think Harry Potter was done like that, you know, very clever people but when they recombined and put it back into the processing laboratory, you’ve got all these things going on, and outputs, and you think “Oh wow, you know, we’ve got different looks.” Then you’d start seeing, you know, different aspects of the quality of products and it opened, it’s in in my notes [CF prepared notes prior to the interview which he shared with the interviewers] it opened a can of worms in regards to process uniformity because as you, you imagine with a negative process, negative machine, you’ve got continuous process, it doesn’t stop so you have to load… the use of compensators at either end of the machine allows for continuous development. So you keep loading features onto a film and you keep taking reels off the film, off the machine, at the other end, but to all intents and purpose it goes through that developer at the same speed all the time so the mechanics of the operation, and the changes to those operations, so they’d all have a, you know, impacts on it.
[00:50:35 – End of Part 1 start of Part 2]
CF: Yeah, some of the variations, some of the changes that we saw through the period that I started at, with Ranks, in the ‘70s through into the ‘80s, and the time periods we’re talking about, those early days for me, not the early days of film obviously, but those early days for me in the laboratory, there were a lot of moves towards, you know, different looks. We were aware, or the laboratories were aware, filmmakers were aware, of being able to find variability in the looks of features by making changes. There were, historically there were systems, there was the, you know, different processing methods that some of the big businesses would use that gave a variable look. Much of that was in the context of altering things like the silver levels within the product itself. Generally that would be done as part of the process side of it and you would make changes according to what the filmmaker wanted. A lot of testing was done at this time, a lot of playing around with ideas and images and different companies had done different things and there were certain looks. Certainly, I know from Technicolor’s perspective, one of the big American laboratories at the time, they had scientists specifically looking on certain looks of things like desaturation. Desaturation of the actual images, the colour images, was actually quite an important, important part of this variability that we could introduce through process variation. And it followed through, they sold that, it would look good in certain features and then clearly that was the sort of things that we could play with, the idea of altering levels of silver. Some of it came about by accident because sometimes the process was going, they’d say “Oh, that’s an unusual look” or, you know, things, but certainly in process variability they would do that and they were able to do that by altering, you know, some aspects of the chemistry, some aspects of the temperatures, you know, that type of thing. Some people like the idea of forced processing to change the images as well. There were different aspects of those looks as insofar as they were working with you to do that through the laboratory. We had experience of people trying different film stocks to try different looks. Some people… I remember where people would try and, they’d want to have a black-and-white feature, they’d want to do a black-and-white feature and, you know, issues such as stock availability, that type of thing, and they’d try grading colour film as black-and-white, you’d get magenta hues. So lots of things were tried out on different features and were promoted as being the next way forward. A lot of the concepts would be word of mouth, a lot of people would talk about, sort of, the filmmakers would say “Oh, I’ve seen that type of image on that feature. I’d like to bring that feature into what I was doing.” And, clearly, we saw a big change of that as it went into the ‘80s. We started seeing a lot more ideas and concepts of looks, looks being altered, you know, by not doing the most … we would look at the things that process variation, and we’d know that if we didn’t do something correctly, for instance if we left silver in the product, that it would look a certain way, it would look different, the blacks would be blacker, that type of thing, and alter the process in certain ways. And there was a number of features at that time, I remember a feature Hamburger Hill that was done in that context. Runaway Train, I think that was a film from the… into the ‘80s, that was done, and the work that was done around that type of feature so the filmmakers could get the look they required. And that went through to, as we look at some of the work we did as we went into the ‘90s, it carried on and I know Beverly, Bevie Wood, in the Hollywood operation was very close to the filmmakers. She had a fantastic relationship with the filmmakers and she spent a lot of time working on a thing called Seven, a film called Seven, which had a certain, a certain look to it. And, by getting these looks, it’s one thing, but understanding what you’ve actually achieved and building it into your production base was an important one because it’s repeatability of a product. If you’re able to do a print and have it a certain context, or even reel-to-reel, you’ve got a certain look that continues through that, that’s fine. But then you’ve got to do, you know, 500 prints with the same thing so it had to be, you had to be able to it as part of your normal process. And this was always one of the difficult things for the laboratories, even up to the end. To create that look within the process without actually causing too much of a problem with your normal process. So you’d alter machines slightly to do a specific title with a specific look with chemical variations. But then your other processing machines had to carry on doing the normal process stuff, so you’re interlinking those two. That was quite a difficult thing, so, that was important to us, and then you’d build that. As time went on, and going beyond that period, once we’d taken experience from the, you know, obviously the ‘50s and ‘60s at times, but certainly through the ‘70s and ‘80s, we took that experience into… they started building these looks and these changes or this alteration in, they used to build it into the intermediate products so that it was uniform so you could send your … it’s one thing having, say, we would call it like a CC, a colour variation, a desaturation feature, as a lab-to-lab basis. Now, we could be printing out of 4 labs on the same title, and then you’d want each of those labs to reproduce that in the same way. The only way you could truthfully do it is by doing a testing procedure and having, and watching what’s going on with that process, cos you have to alter the process at times. What they did in the end was to actually introduce it to a negative, so they would do a variation within the context of a, say, an intermediate negative, which is your copying negative, and then it would go to a lab and they would just have to print it normally and it would look a certain way. That was what was coming out in the end. So they moved away, because obviously in the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s film volumes, productions, were much, much lower. As they got into the ‘80s, ‘90s, once you got to day-and-date releases on the big titles, you might have had, you know, 150, you know, might have had say 60 or 70 prints of a certain title in those early years to get out to the cinema at certain times, whatever they choose to do, then, at the end, you know, some of the German printing was, you know, of a particular title, might be 1200 copies that have got to be out on a certain day, and then the Spanish might be 700 of that same feature. So you’ve got all these volumes picking up for a particular title, you know, so, any colour variations in it had to be, sort of, try and be built in. And you try to steer away from, you know, certain aspects. In terms of shooting, I mean, you know, some of my early … we’d have, a lot of the labs would have a special, an optical printing group with them. They’d do things like titles, they’d do subtitling, you know, you’ve got to think of a feature when they shoot something, where they’re doing something for cinema, that they might want to insert in Spanish. So all the things that are done in the original film as an English title might want to be changed to Spanish, so a lot of the groups have optical groups to be able to do that, a lot of divisions to do that. Even on what you’ve shot the feature on, even looking at, in the context of type of product you’re shooting, you might have only had funding to shoot on 16mm but you wanted actually to release on 35mm so you want to take the negative to 35mm and so you’d actually do a blow-up negative, you would actually expand of the image from a 16mm to a 35mm frame and then you’d copy from then and print from that point, and that aspect of it. And even down to the way that the guys would use the cameras, what type of lenses they would shoot on, and all these variations. For instance, you … most people would shoot as an Academy feature because it’s a full 35mm frame, you’ve got all the information you want in that. Some people prefer to shoot on cameras which are set to scope because they want to release on scope so they would say “Oh we got to shoot on scope.” We always said, we said the choice is theirs but, given a choice, we believe it’s better to be on a 35mm Academy because you’re getting all the information in that one frame, you know, and you can then do with that what you wanted, and that was particularly true of things like, we did one of the, sorry, the second Terminator feature where you’d get certain aspects shot into the full frame. For instance, the special effects where the guy is on the motorbike, he’d actually be on a trolley behind the thing which you’d see in the 35mm frame, the camera would have him there. So what you did is, on these special cameras, these optical cameras, you’d actually refocus the feature and take the top section of it, or what was agreed with the filmmakers, you’d take the top section and re-photograph that as a scope. So you’d take out anything of the things around it and you’d shoot that one specific part of it. We did it with a number of titles and that worked very well. And then you’d match that, cos each lens on a … some of these machines had phenomenal lens, huge camera lenses on. And they’d have, you know, 6 levels of working so you’d actually be able to pull them up, push them in, and it was all on focus and things like that, so it was very specific looks. Baron Munchausen was done, Map of the Human Heart, all these features were done with specific changes. Later years, I know the guys in Hollywood dealt with Titanic, they did a lot of work on Titanic, and they were doing geometric changes with the thing so they could limit what they were spending on certain aspects of the, you know, special effects because they could actually transpose one side of the ship to the other side because they could adjust, geometrically changing it using a lot of the special printing techniques, these optical printing methods. That has obviously been taken over by the digital systems which are much more straight forward now with the [unintelligible], but in those days it was all done on big cameras, big lenses, step printed so each frame was grabbed down printed, grab down printed, and it was, you know, those sort of ways, and that’s, obviously, variations. Other process variations, if you look at it in the context of what we were saying, wet-printing became a big thing. Wet-printing, why wet-print? Wet-print was a process by which a negative which had damage to it, so an older negative, something that’s been used a number of times previously, may have been scratched may have been marked. By going through a solvent solution in the printing process, you can actually fill-in those scratches, you can fill-in those marks and they disappear, depending on the depth of the scratches and various things, but generally they would disappear as a print. So you could print through this liquid solution and then you’d see a variation because the process would take out those scratches, so you wouldn’t need to go and reshoot or anything, obviously you couldn’t reshoot if these films are years and years old, but through that wet process you’d alter that. Nowadays they’d probably go through a process by which they put it on screen they’d digitally take all the scratches and marks out and then reshoot back on to film or, obviously, in the digital domain now of course. But, in those days, it was all done by, you know, liquid printing and things, so, a number of things were created. They created their own problems but a lot of, in terms of looks and changes, a lot of these things were developed according to what the filmmakers wanted and what they wanted to see. As we were given something that was a difficult thing to work with, we would look at it and say “OK, what are we gonna get from this?” and we’d look at it, we’d print, we’d do a test print off it, look at it and think “Oh god yeah. How can we reproduce that?” So there were a number of methods that the lab used, pre-digital, to try and improve the product, in line with what was required, whether it was a historical product, an older negative, or whether it was on a shoot on a new product.
CR: That’s interesting because as part of our project obviously we hear about these new colour processes that are coming through, how Kodak are developing and creating new colour stocks, and so on, and so on. How, I mean, working where you worked, how much did those changes affect the sort of work you were doing, in terms of variations and trends and processes that you were working with?
CF: Yeah, the changes, yeah. That’s a good think to talk about. The issue was, as they introduced new stocks to meet the demands of the filmmakers – the fasters stocks, the low contrast stocks – as new ideas, or new concepts came through, there would always be something there. There were products to recreate, you know, the blacker blacks, there were certain film products and these would be introduced into the system so that they could meet the market needs. They, in turn, would cause, you know, we would have to deal with them, and manage those, according to how it manifested itself within the laboratory itself. It could be, because obviously reproduction of colour is also important in terms of reproduction of the scale within a feature with the negative if your, cos when you reshoot, or when you copy from an original material and you transpose your picture on a scale for instance, on your colour scale, you have to be very careful about where you sit on these scales. So part of the process of film laboratories was to understand the sensitometric aspects of where you were sitting [unintelligible] products and images. Process variation, with a film laboratory operating, and with trying to get certain looks, there would be chemical constituents to form part of your developer, your pre-bath, there would be a system by which there would be a time relating to that film being in that process, and all aspects of it. And Kodak did a volume, the Bible, which showed you process variation. If your sulphate was down in one of your products the colour curve would change, you’d get, you know, a change in your reds, or whatever, in terms of your colour, so you know there were process variations. And each of these new products would require us to manage that aspect of it, and as they were introduced, you know, there might be, you know, changes to the way that we, you know, dealt with things like silver in solution. Silver in solution, not only from recovering that free silver in terms of plating it out and reprocessing, obviously sending it back through the smelters and the silver goes back into the system, but also in the levels of free silver in those … and you determine how much solution was in, how much silver was in the fixer because too much silver would actually cause mottling on the film and there was nothing you could do to try and recover that for the most part, even if through reprocessing you couldn’t recover it. So there were many aspects of things that were being done that changed what was leeching out of film back into the process baths. The process baths were obviously chemical baths that ran a certain way, they’d have a certain constituent part, which were pre-determined by Kodak and by ourselves, because we had our own process methodologies as well and, as you process film, stuff would leech from the film into these baths and would build up. So you replenished, so that as things oxidised, the developing agent oxidised and was disappearing, you’d be putting in fresh solution, replenishing solution, which had a high level of developing agent so it was always consistent. Consistency was very important in colour reproduction, it was massively important. So you’d manage all of these things. Of course, the different products that were introduced leeched things in different ways. Now if you’re a processing laboratory, you then got variations, not only in the Kodak product but also in the Fuji product, or in the Agfa products, or whatever was coming through your process, and they would all … and sometimes they wouldn’t necessarily be compatible. There would be certain things that happened, you’d think “Oh god, why’s that happening?” So all those variations and things when you had to do that, the impact of those variations, yes, you did see those. And we would work, for instance, you know, on the original negative material, you’d have a backing so that there was no reflection when they were shooting through the cameras, there was no back-reflection, or whatever, and if the backing came off too early it would stick on the film so you’d have these big silver splodges through your film. We found, you know, through trial and error, that if we put it through a BiTeX, which is a cleaning solution, if we put a, you know, a BiTeX solution in and put it through that, it cleans stuff off, you know. But that was down to what we did, no-one else knew we were doing that. We would do specific things to do things to repair. But not only looks, it was repair. So, yes, chemical stocks, as they came out, we would do a number of tests with the Kodak, or Fuji, or Geva, but most of the time with Kodak, we’d do a number of tests with them to try and establish that it was not going to affect our process too much, it was not going to affect what we were doing further down the line. And whatever process variations, we would monitor very carefully through the system. So it was managed, we’d manage it. And the importance of the relationship we had with Kodak was, as they made changes to their product, whether they made changes to aspects of the way the manufactured it, you know, that we would have to be aware of some aspects of it. They wouldn’t want to divulge everything because clearly there were certain things, like we did, that we didn’t want other people to know about because it was our edge in a commercial world and that would be the same for Kodak. But generally the relationship was very good and any new product that came in was tested thoroughly before we actually put it … and we would also test it with the filmmakers. We would sit with the filmmakers, “This is the new Kodak product.” We would sit with them on that in particularly. When you’re introducing stuff to … the film world is very loathed to take on new stuff like that. They’re concerned that it … what sort … “How’s that gonna impact us?” I saw it particularly because I started putting out a strategy on film piracy and how we were changing aspects of the visual, and the audio, on a feature to catch our people who were pirating stuff in the theatres, and things. And part of that was to introduce these concepts to a very sceptical studio audience of people who were saying well, you know, “What impact will it have on the viewing public? Will they see these markings or whatever we’re doing? Will they see it? Will they see these things?” And we would have to do a lot of work, it was an awful lot of work, about those boundaries and things, working with the people on those systems. And, again, the film manufacturers, how we did it and sold it to them as well.
CR: So you had huge oversight from different areas of how it was all working?
CF: Yeah, massive, massive, cos it was needed because the laboratory had to understand every aspect. We had to know what cameras the guys, the filmmakers, were using. Understand whether we’d pick up whether the cameras were damaging the products you see, and things, and that would have been all the way through the system from the very earliest days, from the, you know, when these laboratories were being set up, because a lot of the techniques followed from the, you know, from the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s, carried on through the system because it was a done system and tested. And the way you did things carried on, it was passed on generation to generation and a lot of that didn’t change because the overall concept of the product didn’t change. The idea of light sensitivity and things like that, it never changed, it still needed to be the same. When you worked in a dark room and handled product in a certain way, that had to be the same. The only variation would have been on the higher film speeds and then how that was, the film was then predisposed to damage much more, you know, much more easily. But perforation damage, in a camera, would have to be picked up because if it’s a continuous process it can break further down the machine and you could have another film attached to it which is a different feature, you know, maybe a bigger release and it could get damaged in the process. So all of those things have to take a part in your quality checking, your, you know, as part of the processing. And a lot of the things, if we found fault, or continuous fault with the product, sometimes that came through the Kodak production line. So there’d be a feedback that experience had told us that we’d got an issue with a product. It could be that the product has got, you know, parts of an emulsion layer. We had one film product, that we were looking at it and think “Oh, that’s blushing” the film was blushing colour-wise “That’s blushing” and there was part of a coating had gone wrong and it was us who picked them up, you know, going right back to the film manufacturer, we’d picked up the fact there was a blushing and there was an issue. So we picked those sort of things up.
CR: So, would it be stopped then? You wouldn’t go any further than that? You’d have to go back?
CF: Yes, we’d have to change stocks. You’ve got to understand that the aspects of what we were doing in terms of the volume of print … we could be printing ahead by 2 million feet a day so we can process stuff through the system to get it out. If you’ve printed a million feet of product, a million and a half feet of product, and it’s sitting there with a fault in it, who’s going to carry the cost of that, you know? And that was why this aspect, or this knowledge, and this testing procedures for the process and for the product, was so important to us. We had to catch problems as soon as we can. I said to my systems to statistically pick out selected parts of a run so that we can actually pick up a fault then it would determine the previous … so we wouldn’t waste too much film if there was a fault within that. And I think we did that on a film called Frankenstein in the ‘90s. And that was done with the idea of trying to minimise the fault that we … because it could put a laboratory under, you know, those sort of costs were massive.
CR: Yeah, interesting. I guess, you know, thinking about our project as well, you’ve already named dropped a couple of people that you’ve worked with and films that you’ve worked on. Can you think of any specific British films, directors, cinematographers, that you remember having a working relationship, or…
CF: Yeah, we had, I mean, we…
CR: Or regular working relationship?
CF: The film guys tended to, you know, they could go to people they, they’d go to people they preferred to go, so it could be us, could be someone else. It’s also determined by money as well. One of the aspects we’ve just touched upon in my notes is the funding for features on original. When they’re coming to shoot original there is a cost associated with what they’re shooting, to how they want to manage that through a laboratory to get to a stage where they have a, you know, either a finished negative or an intermediate negative, a master negative, by which they can then tout out and sell off or whatever they choose to do with the feature. And some people would like to come to us, some people would like to go to Technicolor, some people like to go to the other laboratories that were about, some people felt they had an affinity with … it tended to relationships and individuals. So there would be specific people they’d wanted to use. They worked with them last time on their last feature film, they loved working with them, they wanna go back there. And it wouldn’t matter which of the labs it was. So there was a certain amount of movement of staff as we started picking out people to pull because we knew that certain titles related to those people, we would pull some of these people in and integrate them into our system. We believed that we had the best lab system. Naturally every laboratory felt that but we were, you know, in terms of what we invested. So people would like to come to us for, you know, specific things. Stanley Kubrick came to us, I think, certainly during the ‘70s, and he worked with a guy called Chester who was the sales guy at the time and a technical guy, who worked for me, Mel, who was brilliant technical person. And he was a micro-manager, Stanley, he micro-managed every project. He would … down to how he had the cameras looking and … Before he did a feature he’d make sure that we were, you know, we were shooting the street, the street map of Belfast, or Edinburgh, or whatever, so that he’d look at it and say, he would then focus on what was done on the last shoot and he could say “Well I can see a focus difference and it’s not as good on this one. What’s happened?” And he’d micro-manage it so we had to have specific people. Obviously Kim’s Geoff [Referring to Kim Seager, BFI] was part of that as well as a grader. He would trust certain people. He would trust maybe five, ten people. He wouldn’t talk to anyone else. He would only trust those people. So that relationship was very important to him. I remember working on a feature that was being shot at Shepperton, there was an issue over the, it was a film called Lost in Space, there was an issue over how ends were being used. The cameraman was shooting to the end of a reel of film, 400ft or whatever he was using, he was shooting right to the end. And then that would come into a laboratory and, because of the lack of understanding of how you actually tag on film to a roll as it’s going through a continuous process, he was complaining, or they were complaining, bitterly on this feature that they were losing parts of the shoot. They were saying like, you know, “I’m giving you 400ft and you’ve given me 350ft back, or 360ft back.” And we said “But there’s a tagging end issue.” I had to go up to Shepperton and stand with him and let him shout at me for a little while and then I told him how the process was actually working. What he was asking was impossible. You can’t have 400ft on a product like that and try and put it through a continuous process and then have 400ft come off the end. It doesn’t work like that. So, people used to leave little ends on the features they were shooting, which was known, so I explained that to him. And I said to him, I was working with Stanley [Kubrick] on the, on Eyes Wide Shut at that time and I said to him, “Look, you know, if I said to Stanley Kubrick that his cameraman was shooting it wrong, he’d have a word with his cameraman. He’d say ‘Well the lab’s saying you’re doing this.’” So he trusted the guys in the laboratory so much that he would … I’d get a call in the evening, I’d be there in the lab and Stanley would phone up and say “I’ve got an issue. I’ve got a couple of marks on my negative.” He said “It’s like this” and said “Explain what it is Stanley” and he’d say “It’s this, this, this. It looks like this” and I’d say “Look OK I think that’s cleaning marks. That’s OK. That’s where you do the ultrasonic clean. It’s a couple of little streaks on it, don’t worry about it. We’ll get that off. If you choose that scene to go through, we’ll make sure that OK. We’ll clean it. We’ll do it.” Because he didn’t like his negs being handled. If you … your original material, he didn’t like that being handled. So that was part of his approach. But he trusted what you said because you’ve got the expertise. He’d say “Colin if you say that, I’ll do that” and that was it. And the guys, all the guys who worked with Stanley would say the same thing. He trusted in the lab people and that was the relationship in the laboratory with the people you could trust time and time again for a problem. Because they know they could call you at 2 o’clock in the morning over an issue they’re concerned about and you’d respond, you’d answer the phone and you’d deal with that problem, whoever it was, because it was part of your thing. You were, you know, you were tied to these guys because that’s the way it was the relationship. They would do a shoot and their reputation is based on this, you know. Janusz Kamiński, you know, did works with us and we did things like Star Wars, he’s Spielberg’s guy, DoP, and he loved us. He loved Clive who worked at our facility because with Clive he got all the expertise he required. Clive had the backing of us and the laboratory and we worked together to get the product out and give them what they wanted. If they wanted a certain thing, or certain things in a certain way on certain days, you’d work your way around these things. So, yes we had relationships with a lot of people right across the board, you know, really … I’m probably best giving you a salesman to talk about all the people but I know when we were closing we got some wonderful letters from, you know, from the directors, very famous film directors, saying how sad they were that, you know, the laboratories were going and what an important part of, you know, the motion picture … the labs have been. It’s such an essential part of what’s gone on because of the knowledge and the expertise within those people within the laboratory. And they would come back to those individuals, you know. That expertise, that relationship was so crucial to us. And as much that sort of relationship with the idea of using product but certainly in my, from my workings, the relationship with the individual people within the laboratories was much more important than even the stocks they were using at times. They trusted what we said absolutely.
CR: I did have another question about, sort of, the … it’s going more onto, sort of, the end product I guess. So, I don’t know if you can explain some of the differences between show prints and distribution prints? Talk a little bit about that?
CF: I think it’s the logistics. It’s about the logistics of what you’re trying to achieve. With a show print you’re getting the best of what you can produce so that they can see something as a … they can see what they’ve actually created once they gone through the stages of film editing and various things. They’ve got to this final print that they want to look at. Now, that was usually done, that was always done, in our time, that would have been through the ‘70s, ‘80s, whatever, it would have been done in the same sort of way that it would have been done off the original product. The original negative would be cut together, spliced together, taped together, you know, just solvent joined together, as a neg, and it would go through a machine, it would be printed and then it would be shown to them because it was the first generation, it’s the original generation of that feature, it’s how the film was meant to be seen. Any copies beyond that, of course, then are generational jumps because you’re copying a negative going to a jump, and there are various ways which I’ll go on to in a second. So those were quite key. The downside to it, of course, was that the more show prints you did the more chance there was of damaging the original negative. So, they were done, sometimes they were done dry, sometimes they were done wet. But they had to be done on machines because the mechanical transfer of the unit, you know, reel-to-reel through a printing head, you know you’ve got a lot of transfer, a lot of the mechanical forces in play there, so it has to be done a certain way. So it was generally done at lower speed, as I said, sometimes they did it on a wet process, but it was always done off the original. Now, every run, your potential to … you know, you’re winding, you’re cleaning, you have to clean the machines on a clean, neg cleaning machine, before you can do it so you get the no sparkle, no dirt. Anything that’s tiny, little sparkle bits on a frame, on a 35mm frame, when you blow it up to screen size, you know, can be huge. So all aspects of that were important. The handling of, the quality of, that product. So they would be deemed to be the show prints. The problem is, after a number of runs – I think someone said after, you know, I think … I can’t remember the number, someone said 70 runs, but that seems an awful lot – but after a number of runs, the product would deteriorate. It would inevitably, every time you ran it, in theory, it could deteriorate. If it was going through a wet solution, the solvent joins would start coming apart. Sometimes products would break down, the film base of the material might break down. You start seeing film base break down, you start seeing problems with the original material which you want to keep pristine. So that’s the essential part of that. So, generally they try and switch to a copy negative ready for the distribution prints which would be done off a, you know … when you’re doing 700 prints for the Spanish market, say, they have to come off a negative, a single negative, and they’d run that through a printing machine at maybe 2000ft a minute. So, clearly, there’s a difference in the type. So if there’s damage to that neg then they can go off the master and make another copy neg but you’d leave the original alone. You’d bag the original up and tuck it away somewhere because all the things you’ve had to do with it, such as the show prints off those, have all been done, they’re happy with that and they go on to the copy stages. Copy stages in the early days, in the, probably in the early ‘60s, ‘70s, was with a thing called CRI which was Colour Reversal Intermediate, which was a single stage copy of negative, of an original. So it would be shot onto a machine through a CRI product, it would be processed as a CRI product, and it would give then a copy negative which you can do your bulk printing off. Problem is you’ve still got a single generation issue there. So the more … and it was quite a complex process to get right the CRI. So, as the ‘70s disappeared into the ‘80s, you had the intermediate process, the interpositive/internegative – interpositive master with an internegative for a specific location. So you’re making a positive negative of the original then making a negative-negative of that. So, that would then go on the machines and be used. Your internegative became your, your controlling, your neg that you actually printed from because if it got damaged you go back to your interpositive you’d make another one interneg off of it, a reel that you’d got damaged or whatever it was, and then the interpositive could go away as your master and then your internegative would, again, carry on. And you could do that, or replicate that, in a certain amount of time. Hence, then we get on to the digital intermediates and the concepts of reproducing further on. But, certainly in those early years, the preference was for the internegatives cos you … off one interpos you could make many internegatives. You might have to cut inversioning changes cos we would do stuff for all over the world, titles in at the end or, as I said before, subtitles, and various versions. Some people have subtitled versions some had non-subtitled versions. So there was lots of different variants on negatives as well so you could actually pull that, enhance that, within the scope of the intermediate. Now, if you only … you couldn’t do that off the original. It would never happen off the original cos you couldn’t cut a negative that many times and not have problems, so, it was just logistics in the end and volumes which were, you know, massive, you know. In those early days of films, as we said before, you know, you might be doing, you might think you’ve had a good year if you’ve done 30-40 million feet and, as we go towards the end, the European base in the Deluxe group were doing, you now, 2 billion feet of film day-and-date release [unintelligible]. The logistics and the scope and how you had to manage things was very very different from those early years of film to the later years. So, variance…
CR: Interesting. And I guess a final question around sort of this area is, sort of, the branding of different colour techniques. Obviously our project is focussed on Eastmancolor. We have … doing research into that we have noticed that there’s a sort of a contention there around how it was branded, what, you know, their different names that are, sort of, given to different kind of colour stocks and where that decision is made I guess. I mean, working in the labs, did you … do you have any insights into that, into sort of where … was it more with the studios that that decision came though or…
CF: I think in truth the branding, obviously, we didn’t get too involved with the overall branding procedure. We would be aware of branding as a procedure only as much as Kodak would have a product that they wanted to put out on a certain feature. A lot of the work that was done we were, sort of, part of this process between, you know, the studios, the filmmakers, the manufacturers and, obviously, the laboratories. But a lot of the contracting work, a lot of what Kodak would do, was behind the scenes, discussions and negotiations in terms of introducing or having a particular product used on a particular film. And there was, we mentioned earlier, that the idea of cost was such an important part of everything, and if they could reduce the price of the negative to the filmmaker because they wanted to use a particular thing in that feature film, and then advertise it and have it, you know, shot specifically on this product as part of the end titles, or advertised in the magazines, they did a lot of that – “We’re glad to be partnering with this as part of their branding of Kodak. We’ve been shooting on this feature, this feature, this feature. We’re glad to be party to…” you know. So a lot of that stuff was done around the laboratory, we wouldn’t necessarily get involved in that other than we would process what was coming in. But the agreement through was, with them, saw specific titles. Some filmmakers preferred specific products. They liked shooting on a product and the company that manufactured would get involved in that. Kodak would get involved with the filmmakers and say “Look, use that product it’s a good one.” And they would, as part of their education process, be educating the filmmakers to use certain products – “We’ve tried this in the laboratory. It’s all OK. They’re OK with it. But try this. It’s a faster product, it does this. Try this one, it’s got this impact on it” and things. So there would be changes to film stocks that were branded as part of a feature that they would say would highlight how good that product was. But we never really got involved in that. We would deal with the different manufacturers, you know, accordingly. We were never happy if a film product turned up and we didn’t know anything about it. It did happen. It did happen at times people would come in with a specific look and we’d be grading it and looking at it, thinking we don’t understand what’s happened here and it would be a breakdown in communication that we supposed to be told something and it would happen. That wasn’t specific to Kodak that was other people that we were involved with. But no, we wouldn’t get too involved in the branding process other than, you know, really back-up Kodak and say “Yes we put it through a normal process and it looks good” and we would show examples to the customers if they required it. But not in the branding process itself.
CR: Right OK.
CF: In the context of which I’m thinking of branding at the moment. If it changes, I’ll let you know.
CR: That’s interesting. OK.
[01:26:26 – End of Part 2 Start of Part 3]
PF: OK, we’ll start again then. Ok so, obviously one of the big issues in terms of the Eastmancolor project is related to restoration and preservation and Eastmancolor fading. Can you give some kind of insight, you know, sort of over the past 10, 20, 30 years, in terms of how proactive the industry have been in terms of restoration and preservation of faded films?
CF: OK. One of the issues … well obviously over the years, I remember when I first started in the industry they were talking about the life-cycle, the life-time, of product because once you’ve originated material onto something you want that to, I guess, to last forever. If, you know in truth, most people believe their product is really important then they must be there, you know, forever. The early days, the laboratories, in terms of original material, and just at the basic level in terms of the logistics of original material, a lot of the laboratories offered vaulting … access to vaulting and they would have, at Denham we had a massive film vault, a huge film vault, and the variations of types of film would have to be accounted for. So you could store all of the master materials, the original materials, the master materials, whatever, it was that generally rather than prints but sometimes prints were in there as well. And generally, the storage and the logistics of that had to be catered for. For instance, some of the earlier films were on nitrate so there had to be nitrate vaults where we had to allow for explosions in the vaults so they would be built specifically for that and they would have been built at the beginning so this would have been stuff that was done in the, you know, the ‘40s – ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s. As a feature came through, aspects of the original material, the master materials, would be stored for the customers, whether it was in the filmmakers, if they were in control of it, or though the studios, whoever controlled ownership. And therein lies the initial problem because as the volumes increased, the demands on vaulting storage, storage locations and the ability to store, became a real problem because of the original promise to store stuff in perpetuity, the idea that you would store it forever. Well forever has got a time limit on it but in the early days of film and that it was just great to have the features coming through your door and you didn’t worry. And these vaults were massive. They were huge vaults. Then it was noted that you had to store, obviously, different masters. Your original material would have to be stored in a different vault to your master material, your master copy, because if one went up then at least you’d have that copy. And this was the idea of being able to come back and get hold of the product at some later stage. In terms of doing that you had to manage then where it sat in a vault. Simple stuff, very straightforward stuff. But on top of that you then had ownership because ownership of materials weren’t necessarily as you thought. So you would have the legal process, which they called access letters, so they had to have access letters and anyone who wanted a negative coming out of a feature, to have a print made off it, would have to get approval from an access letter. Storage in the earlier vaults was always a bit hit and miss. A lot of the vaults were just open spaces with walls and a roof. There may not be much heating, there may be too much heating. And it was then considered, once they’d, once they started to see variations in the, particularly, with the colour film, they have it in the colour film product, and how things altered with extra humidity, stuff started deteriorating in the cans. Suddenly, an area of the laboratory that may have had … a vault which may have had a leak, suddenly the cans have gone rusty and the product inside it had disappeared and you’re thinking “Oh my god” you know. So the importance of storage it seemed to, in those early days, it seemed to be “Oh yeah, we’ll just store it” and it was done “Oh that’s gonna be OK. That’s fine.” It was a hidden thing that no-one ever worried about it. But as the years went on and we started looking at what was happening, and how the environment in which it was stored would impact the feature, it became clear that, you know, much of the products had been stored very badly and that needed to be catered for. But then, if you cater for that and you start putting in environmental conditions and things, which a lot of companies started doing, you’re then driving costs up and you’re talking to companies that weren’t prepared, potentially owners of product, weren’t prepared to pay anything. A lot of people had started to disappear. Some people … owners had died and you, you know, how do you get hold of that. You’ve clearly got a responsibility to not to throw material, or get rid of material. So there’s ownership of material but, you know, perhaps the people have passed on and had not necessarily left it in their will or whatever they’ve done. So that became quite difficult and you’d have to cost because you’d have to have people to move the negs around, you’d have to have storage racking, you’d have to have facilities for doing it. Any space is cost, the people involved with it are cost. If someone calls out a negative you’ve got to retrieve the negative from the vault, the correct negative because there’s different versions of the negative, and have to be passing that on and to make sure it’s transported safely to … the whole thing became so much more complex. And it became noticeable that some products were deteriorating faster than others. You opened up a can and it would smell of, you know, vinegar or … there would be various aspects to it that weren’t great and people came to, you know, became more wary of that. But, as I said, the underlying issue was always the finance of it. You could charge a certain amount to store it per week, per month, per year, plus a retrieval cost, which is the current system, but to get that in place was a terrible … I mean, in truth, even when we started shutting down the vaults, anything that we didn’t have ownership of, or we weren’t sure who ownership was, we had to pass on to other vaults that we had and take the cost ourselves as a business, or to the BFI as we saw things. Some products there were old products that had no meaning to anyone, it was just copy stuff that there was, you know, obviously digital copies of. But there was, you know, in terms of destruction notices and things like that, it was a legal mind field. You couldn’t do it. So it was preferred to keep hold of materials where there was a certain amount of unknown to it then it was to get rid of it. And those cost are carried to today in truth, in certain circumstances, you know a lot of those products... There were a number of the studios who said “Yes we agree there has to be a process or, you know, procedure by which we store negatives” and as the laboratories tried to hand it off, you tried to sell that option that someone else would take over storage because we didn’t want it because it became such a mind field for us. We’re a film laboratory dealing with processing, you know, materials for certain looks for filming. We’re not there to store materials but access to retrieval, areas of retrieval of a feature, a feature film, you know, we would have the negatives on a feature film on release for maybe six months so we can retrieve if they decide to do another version or do other copies. But as day-and-date releases became more prolific they, you know, the materials would move through your laboratory so much quicker. But there was so much of this material, you know, you’re talking about many many copies of, you know, intermediates for the different versions that they decided to keep. So, the master aspect of that was really important. In terms of [unintelligible] film preservation, the access that we had to film preservation was historical. It was the things that you guys will have come across, the YCMs, the, obviously, the separations, film separation techniques which we used … some people took it on more seriously than others. The idea of splitting down into the YCMs was seen as a way of maintaining, or assuring, that the product would last longer. It was believed that was the right route to go and that was a reasonably common thing. In terms of the system that was the common way but not everyone did it. Stanley … our access … thinking back to the times that we were doing YCM’s on a number of products but particularly with Stanley Kubrick where he would be interested in the quality of what that he’d shot before. I mean I remember doing quite a lot of work on, with Mel who was his … who worked with me, who worked for me, but he’d spent a lot of time as the technical expert for Stanley and we were working on things like Dr Strangelove and looking at the negatives, the black-and-white materials that he’d shot that on and for a new release we’d do another release. So every so often, Stanley would come back and want to do a release of a … there might be a film festival where he’d want to, you know, re-run a couple of prints of Barry Lyndon or something like that. So we would very much deal with the material, look at the testing procedure by which it … and look at what differences there were to make sure it went out and it was a perfect print. So that was important. The issue of separations, splitting into a separation as a YCM, as I said, was the preferred route. The issue became that as they tried to recombine the YCMs into a single print to show, or as a negative to print off and show, they didn’t always recombine very well because they’d all stored in different ways, maybe, and because there were separate reels, because, you know, each reel was obviously, you know, was YCM so you’d have three runs for one reel. What they decided to do at Denham at the end of the ‘70s, early ‘80s, was to create an optical printer that did sequential. So you would take a frame and we would do a YCM off that frame, then we’d take the next frame and do a YCM off that, so it was on the same reel with the idea that a reel would tend to move as one. So if one reel did certain things that are changes that would affect all those frames on that YCM. You weren’t trying to recombine three, three different types of roll into one so you … it was because it was part of the same reel of film so anything that effected that reel of film would affect all three YCMs off that frame. So that was the, that was the, the principal behind it. And that seemed to work out very well. That was specific to Stanley Kubrick, it was specific to that work and I know as we came to the shutting down of the laboratories, as we started determining where areas were that we could use the facilities of the laboratory to do expanding into other things, it was one of the things that I felt was quite important, the idea, the ability to have the, the specific machine in a location so we could always come back and recombine. The argument now, of course, would that they could just digitise it and recombine digitally which, I believe, has been done, so, in a better place. But that would tend to be our, our restoration works. We would sometimes, you know, obviously we’d involve ourselves with someone like the guys at the BFI and various things. There was other businesses that we’d get involved with and there were specific titles that sometimes stuff would come to us but we weren’t geared up to print reels that were non-standard, that really wasn’t our game that … we would expect to have materials through the door that we could print as a standard, you know, give or take some differences, but generally, as a standard, that was important to us. And there were places outside who specifically dealt with things, particularly the BFI of course, and so we didn’t, we weren’t doing the restoration type works that they were doing, they were specific to that. Within the business we took on some aspects of it, cleaning, tidying up stuff from a manual perspective, but generally, as a business decision that wasn’t what we were doing all the time, you know. Certain titles we’d do but not all, so…
PF: So, you were talking a little bit about the separations. Obviously the issues of Eastmancolor fading came in sort of ’78 ’79 – was there an extra demand for the separations when that had happened? Or, was that really not noticeable during that period?
CF: I would say that, from my perspective and where I was in the system at that time just joining the laboratory, I would guess there must have been… as information was coming through the system about fade, and the idea of fade, and if you look at the logic of the system, and the dyes, the couplers, the various things, you would see that they, you know, this is going to happen to a certain extent. I wasn’t aware of any changes but I… there was certainly a few more YCM’s around at that time then there was in the later years so it was something that they lived with. Fading variation in film, in terms of fading of negative, obviously the colour negative, that presented itself to us as a production group primarily in the fact that if you were… we were talking earlier on about printing ahead, so we’d be printing ahead on a title so we could get a, you know, a product out as a release print, we would be printing, we could be printing a million feet ahead on a job and we would do tests within that million feet so we’d have regular, every tenth reel printed would be tested and go through as a priority through our process so we could keep a track of the fact that there was no issues on that. But we did notice very early on that if you, if you print your pre-print product and you held it for any period of time around the back ready to be processed, in storage, that you would get, there would be colour fade. It could be as much as two to three points of colour in a 24 hour period. If you knew you were going to store, and we started managing this as part of our process, we would manage in printing at different lights so that we knew when we came to process it, the fade would be down to where it should, where we expected it to be, and we would do a number of tests on that and we would be really pretty much on the ball on the fade. So there was a pre-determinable fade within the product in the latent image, in the latent image mode. In terms of final product and fade, the feedback on print films, they wouldn’t be in the market enough time, they’d tend to go to cinemas, do their release run, and then come back. They’d be stored at the dispatch areas, the Deluxe dispatch whatever, and they’d either be disposed of or stored, or whatever they chose to do with it. For negative fade, we were aware of issues because obviously when you come to print it, for most of what we were trying to achieve, we would reanalyse, regrade, and review that in the context of having to produce a print that looked a certain way. We would try and then match the original print within the context of using the technical, you know, the things that were within the laboratory that we could do. I would guess from the discussion you have that the, the discussion is around the fades of the different layers within the film which, you know, difficult to, you know, to deal with. I think probably in my memory it was the fact, it dawned on people that suddenly product wasn’t going to be there forever unless it was managed through its life-cycle. What is its life-cycle, you know, you pre-determine it, you go to digital then certain aspects of digital now have been replaced. There was a time when people felt that video would be a great way of storing stuff. Well actually, you know, the master tapes and various things and then suddenly everyone started picking up on fade so every generation has its next stage where someone says “Well we’re going to put it on digital” which is great as long as the, you know, the digital formats all stay the same and the management of that stays the same. If it doesn’t and it changes [unintelligible] then all that stuff that been stored has got to be stored again, you know, and it was those, that aspect that became an issue, forward thinking. But we, you know, I would say that that’s probably more one for Alan [Masson] in that time because he would have been more involved with that than me, you know.
PF: Just to go back to something you mentioned just then, so it was factored in that there would be some level of fading before the negative went to print. Would that be for a first-run feature would that…
CF: Yeah. The fade with the one I mentioned there with the positive was called latent image fade and what it was was that once something was shot on the film, obviously the image is contained within the, the emulsions on the film before processing… there’s a variation… there would… that that actual process would actually… the images would fade within the context of that feature prior to it being processed. In terms of negative, the idea was to get negative to, to developing as quickly as you could for that, you know, I guess for the same, the same issues. We weren’t aware of that as prevalent because it was a quick turnover. Stuff was shot at the studios, it came to us, we processed overnight, it was ready the next day in general. Sometimes they’d shoot, sometimes they’d hold if they were shooting somewhere like Egypt, for instance, if a team was working out of Egypt and they didn’t want to process through their local laboratory in Egypt which you can understand, they would put it on a plane, it would come to us and that might be a… we’d all… you know, that would be a few day’s work… we’d always say, for a number of reasons, we’d always say “Get it to us as soon as you possibly can.” We’d rather have it in small batches and process in small batches than one, you know, whole three week run, you know, issues over fade probably not as big an issue as if something happened on the day you put it through the process and if you got everything together after three weeks and put it all through together. So we tried to split it all up just in case there was an issue, there was an issue of some sort, you’d pick it up. But anyone who shoots a lot of product without seeing what’s on those images on the film is crazy because it’s cost. Particularly if you come to the end of a shoot and you break down a set and they suddenly process it and they go “Oh my god, we need to reshoot that. We’ve just broken the set down.” And that happened, it did happen. It happened on a number of different occasions and different companies we heard about. So these events happened so you have to be very careful. Hence then use the, you know, might be the, you know, the B Team camera, use the stuff that they shot. “We don’t really want that, we want that stuff.” But you have to be very careful. If things got damaged there was no… irreplaceable once the set… because you don’t want to be making a set again and getting everyone back in, particularly if you’ve got a star who’s flown off and then they’ve got to fly them back in and… but it did happen, those sort of things did happen.
PF: So, you mentioned the fact that you weren’t really involved in any of the restorations of films, but you had some kind of relationship perhaps with the BFI. In terms of printing films that had been through restoration was there anything else that you could add to that? Was there anything, any considerations, perhaps cinematographers or directors working with the restoration team perhaps. Did you have any involvement there?
CF: Not too much. We had a very close relationship with the BFI and we did, obviously did items for them as they wanted stuff printed we could do that. They had their own internal processing facilities which you’re aware of but generally we’d work closely on a particular thing. If something was pulled out and they wanted to do a re-run on something, yes, we’d get involved in that but it wasn’t a key part of what we did, it wasn’t. We always had the expertise in-house to deal with an issue as it presented itself and we would always put something on that. We had people from different, obviously, from different generations or whatever and we would associate… you know, we had specialist graders, specialist technical guys, who would get involved if they needed that but it wasn’t called upon loads of times. That’s, you know, the specialty stuff would be things like Schindler’s List where, you know, wanna shoot everything on black-and-white and have it has a black-and-white feature, and the little girl with the red coat in it, and they suddenly realised they couldn’t produce enough black-and-white, you know, film to meet the needs of the feature. A number of issues that presented themselves like that, but in terms of restoration, not really no. Not too much.
PF: Okay. Can I go back to an earlier questions that we had. You were talking a little bit about show prints and release prints and the fact that there’s an extra generation involved there. What are the big differences really? Obviously you lose definition, I’m guessing. So what is the most noticeable thing because, in terms of the project, what we’re interested in is the fact that a different film might have been seen and, kind of, discussed by the cinematographers than what was actually seen by the audience on screen.
CF: That was, that was quite common, I mean, that’s quite common with a lot of features because it… and it would be, I mean most people wouldn’t notice it. It would be a generational thing. As you copy a copy then obviously it’s gonna degrade. It degrades in… it’s a level of, you know, magnitude, by which it degrades. Most people wouldn’t notice the degradation. For those of us who were in the theatres every day we would see the product, we would run side-by-side on the main screens, you know, stuff from the original stuff from the copy, you know. The level of quality reproduction was incredible in terms of what we had to achieve primarily because they knew this was an issue. The generational thing really came about if a process hadn’t been set up correctly, particularly at the intermediate stage when they did the copy negative. Process that weren’t set up correctly could, it could suddenly produce a non-uniformity. Now, this non-uniformity became… it’s a big issue through processing anyway, through history, but non-uniformity in the later stocks was a big issue because, you know, the colour products, because it would be seen as a background. Some people would notice it some wouldn’t but it would be seen as an internal flicker and it would be built into the negative, you see a flicker. And what it is, it’s the way that the process is set up in terms of the neg development and the jets in the developer, or the process itself. Some aspects of it weren’t fully understood and some believed because it was, you know, no one ever really got to the bottom of it because there was various levels of non-uniformity. Some believed it was inherent in the product itself, the actual film manufactured stock. Some believed it was inherent only in the fact that they, when you put it through a processing bath, if your spray baths weren’t spraying at the right pressure, or the developer process wasn’t correct, or some aspect, or the acid stopping part of it wasn’t good enough, that you’d get these little flow marks. Sometimes they would ruin a feature, you couldn’t use it, but sometimes it would just be in the background subtly. And there were elements of our, or the film world, that noticed this and started picking up on it, particularly within the labs and the techy guys would be thinking “Oh my goodness you can see that in the background on that feature.” And if you went back historically to something, you’re running something, you know, as you became more aware of it you’d start saying “Oh, there’s a bit there, there’s a bit there”. So these things did, you know, create… they didn’t create a massive problem in terms of the day-to-day features going on to screen but, you know, for those who were more techy in the lab, as the DIs became more prevalent, people would pick up more of that. For some reason they seemed to be more susceptible on the DI stuff than they were on others. But no one ever quite got to grips with it. Some features were perfect and some features showed it more than others. Many argued that it was the type of material being shot, that you might see variations on a period piece being shot then you would do a movie that was flicking across from channel to channel, with all action scenes and, you know, explosions and things, you won’t necessarily see issues in the background and stuff. But there were talks about that so, in terms of negatives through a generational change, yes you’d tend to see that. You wouldn’t necessarily see it, and you wouldn’t expect to see it, in an original print… the original negative. The original negative to print would generally be fine. It was as you took it through its generational difference. As you dropped it into an interpositive, first generation, then you drop it again into the internegative, which is another generation, ready for printing. And it was there that sometimes you could see issues. This was probably, looking back at the earlier issues of it in the earlier years, the argument was around the laboratories and what they could invest in their equipment and the expertise available to the laboratory to truly understand how a machine ran mechanically. It was always said, the old school people, I remember as a junior coming into the laboratory in those heady days of ’78, they were saying that film really is about mechanical… what was it… it was mechanical application, mechanical, you know, I can’t remember what the word was now but it was the idea that it was mechanically driven but with chemical application and any one of those sequences, if it wasn’t correct, would cause you a problem with the product itself and that was so true. And whereas the bigger labs had two or three machines, if they found a problem on one of their machines through… because we’d do extensive testing on a machine before any work went through it and if we picked up a problem we would then switch to a machine, of the other machines you’d have all three tested and… “Right, we’ll use that one tonight we’ll try and find out what’s wrong with this one.” Now, the smaller laboratories, because of capital concerns and things like that only had one machine and if they couldn’t get it right there was a major issue for them and we know this because we would get calls from time to time that they couldn’t get something through a particular… could we do that work for them that night and stuff like that. So, that sort of thing went on a lot and we had an unfair advantage because we were a big unit, as the big laboratories were. You had unfair advantages. You had access to the capital to improve your machines all the time. You could test your machinery all the time because if one was down it didn’t matter because you had a second one there. Well, not everyone had that luxury. And in terms of things like chemical turnover, if you’ve got a processing solution and we think it’s done its time, you know, that developer’s been in the machine for a year and a bit and we’re not quite sure about this now, we can change it and alter it and throw it away and start again because there are certain costs associated with that. But the smaller laboratories, financially, it’s a big thing for them to do that, you know, it’s a big cost. Apart from the mixing and the management of it, you start again with another solution… there are elements of that within it so we were very fortunate from that perspective.
PF: Yeah, brilliant, thank you. We’ve kind of covered most of the questions we’ve got here so there’s something else I’d like to go back to. We were talking a little bit about branding earlier and there’s another issue surrounding branding, particularly when we see in the credits for a film, or if the film is listed in a technical journal, occasionally we’ll see “Processing by Rank” or it’ll be a “Metrocolor” film. And now, obviously doing some digging, we’ve found that, obviously, a film… Metrocolor was a film that was developed by MGM. But this whole issue around Metrocolor, what’s your insight into that and why were certain films being listed in credits that they were being processed by Rank or if they were…
CF: Well there was two aspects to the process side. I mean that’s, yeah, branding as a part of the title it was part of the, obviously, the title runs is that whoever processed it…. but it would be… there would be sometimes that the issue would be split in terms of where the laboratory, which laboratory was used for the processing of the original material. So it would be “Colour by Deluxe”, you know, “Colour by Technicolor”. But sometimes the prints would be done by a different group, it wouldn’t always be the same groups. So, Metrocolor might do the original material and they would be branded on the title, but then “Prints by Deluxe” or “Prints by Technicolor”, or whatever, however they choose to do it. And the issue behind it was always about cost and, you know, obviously contractual obligations as well but generally cost. Some people would not necessarily go through the big, the bigger labs, to do something because it might start out as not a major feature through the studios, it might be more of an independent, and they’ll start doing it and they’ll cost in achieving what they want to achieve without having a massive spend on the original process before they get to that final stage. So, they might use one of the other labs to do it. But when they come to distribute, when they come to put it on screen, there’s no way they can meet the demands of 4000 prints over a week or something like that, they can’t do it because the most they can produce is 50 prints in a week. So, the logistics for producing for, you know, for screens really comes into play at that point. A lot of the early driving factors are cost… some of the independents. Studio driven, origination, tends to be with within certain contracts. Not always contracted, there was always a… whereas the major features, printing-wise, were contracted, not all the origination was contracted. It was a very open market for negotiation. As we touched upon before, we’d always believe that it’s best to come through us because if we started with the origination, anything that’s built into that product we know about and we can, we can manage it. If you have an origination from one facility and they transfer over to another to print, you can’t guarantee that that product’s going to be to your standard or there’s not going to be issues in it. And then it’s, “Well it was alright when we delivered it to you.” I touch upon it in the notes a bit because it was quite a difficult thing to deal with. Once origination started somewhere else and it came to you for the final thing, any issues you noticed at that point was something you couldn’t do much about. And you’d say, “Well look, this was what was done at that other laboratory” or “This. These people did this” or “This was happened before…” we weren’t in control of it. They liked to be in control of those facilities. Yeah, so branding, if you see “Prints by Deluxe”, sometimes we would do the original material and the prints would be done by Technicolor, so, and vice-versa. There was certain, certain aspects of it. So, yeah, that went on a lot. So, it didn’t always come though, the origination developing wouldn’t always come though the same lab that distributed. So it would, you know, it could all be different and that happened quite a bit. We were always concerned with people who didn’t originate through us because we weren’t quite sure, if we knew we were going to do the release, what we were going to get later on and that could be through an intermediate, you know, given to us, it could be with anything that was in DI, particularly in later years, and the arguments about things like we said about colour non-uniformity, you know, “Is that something that they’ve done in their process.” If we’ve got a neg there which we go and grade this neg up to our standards what we were gonna grade it for, for colour printing within our system, it may be just totally different to, you know, what we expected. We’d see marks on it, we’d see scratches. “Where’s that this scratch come from?” “Well you must have done that. When it left us it was OK.” And you got into this massive area then we said, OK, we’ll have to set up a telecine unit so we could actually… when we do get this stuff coming through, we’ll have to put it on a telecine first and foremost and say “Is there any marks on it?” So, we’d have to look at stuff before using it because we couldn’t guarantee that it was in good order, you know. That’s not to say the other labs were poor at what they did, it was just, they would do the same for material we sent to them. They would check it on a bench and say “Well, you’ve got a couple of marks on here which we’re not happy about” and that type of thing. So it went on quite a lot. So yes, the branding in that side of it was always sometimes contentious, in aspects of it. In aspects of it.
PF: Would it happen that, perhaps, Rank or Deluxe would process and printing would go elsewhere? Was it usually common…
CF: Yeah, very much. That would happen, it would happen. Tried not to let it happen but it did happen. Sometimes they’d have a deal with us. Sometimes we’d do a special deal on something, you know, this is what the sales team were doing. They were always out there. The front end… because there’s two aspects to the laboratory, there’s the front end and there’s the bulk operation. The front end is being the origination of materials through to a master and from the master then to bulk, you know, that was the bulk operation side of it, and if you could get both sides that’s fantastic. The origination side was a much slower, a much more labour intensive aspect to what we did. The bulk side was, tended to be, go out, high volumes, big products, straight out, [unintelligible]. The front end aspect of it, the slower operation, was much slower speeds, much more labour intensive, a lot more people involved with it, much more, you know, obviously there was control through the whole system, but, much more intensive work around the origination. And as the prices came down, because prices in the, you know, the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, were probably higher than they were than when we were doing stuff in, you know, 2000, you know, because prices had come down because the competition, people setting up the small labs, small front end laboratories, the neg processing only laboratories, a number of people were doing that so they would go to them for the special deals and then it would come to us afterwards. And we were, as I said, wary of that, extremely wary of that. You could negotiate… it always seems crazy to us that someone who’s doing a £200 million feature would tend to go to a lab maybe that’s not doing, you know, would not be set up in the same way that the big labs were set up but that was down to the filmmakers and what they chose to do at that time, for economic reasons I guess.
PF: So it was largely to do with cost then?
CF: A lot of it was to do with cost, yeah, because it’s… someone might look at this and say, “Nah, it’s not true because we prefer to use that system because they had these people in it” but I think a lot of it was driven by cost, particularly at the front. I remember many battles, sitting there discussing, you know, the current pricing on origination material because then it, it wasn’t just processing, it was processing and printing, processing and telecine transfers, processing and digitisation, there were aspects of it. Then it got down to process and cleaning because, you know, when you’re, you’re cleaning negatives, they need to be clean, they use a solvent cleaner and these solvents… use up solvents they do, and they’re quite expensive to run. So every aspects of it as the price came down to price per foot, it became much more difficult to give them a whole, whole thing around one aspect of it so you had to try and build in a number of things. And part of that was done to build in a tie-in to them so once they had gone through all those things and they got to telecine transfers and stuff they’d say “Oh yeah, we’ll stay with you guys for the other end of it.” So a lot of people tried to do very low pricing at that stage so that they could catch them on a hook and have them for the more profitable bulk release side of it. So, there was a lot of that. So, it wasn’t really a massively profitable part of the business, the front end, as time developed and prices did play a major part in it and the different routes that people would go, you know, film process to digital, shooting on digital, you know, digital cameras, as things came on. I mean, there’s a guy who lives on this road actual who did a number of film productions and he came to me a couple of years ago to oversee a project he wanted to do on something and I went through the different pricing structures though contacts I have in the industry and there were big variances. Most people, you know, balk at the fact that it’s going to cost them £100,000 to do a certain aspect of a certain type of shoot, you know, and they know they’re gonna shoot a certain, you know, volume of rushes work before they get, you know, they can shoot 200,000ft of rushes, negative, and the film’s 10,000ft long, you know. So you look at, you know, the loss aspect of it because you’re paying for every foot that’s processed and transferred and cleaned and… but to use 10-12,000ft of it. It’s a big difference, you know. The only difference to that was Stanley [Kubrick]. Stanley would shoot, you know, over a million feet, a million and a half feet, over, you know, eighteen months. It wouldn’t worry him because he wanted a certain product in a certain way and they allowed him to do that. But most people would shoot, for a 3 month period or a 6 month period, with a certain volume and you’d know that would be it so they could price within that structure. Any variable was, had to be allowed for. For forced processing, if you changed the way the machine ran to do forced processing, or to push the film or pull the film, you know, it terms of its contrast and looks, that was always a cost associated with that because it was a downtime on your normal processing. So, cost was a massive part of the industry in the end and probably a lot of people went by the wayside as time went on because they couldn’t compete in that marketplace. Even the big players, even us, we dropped out of 16mm primarily because we couldn’t just compete in the 16mm market, we just said “OK, we’ll just focus primarily on 35mm and that would be our market.” So the 16mm market was then spread between the other laboratories which was good for them [unintelligible] but the, in terms of battling and the finances about people challenging each other on price per foot, you know, it really, it didn’t give you much of a margin, it was all about margins, and there weren’t that margin. If you had a problem on a shoot, an issue with a neg and you had to rerun something or whatever, you know, your profit was gone. It was really, it was, I mean I guess it was called lost leaders. You’ve done something that’s a loss to the business so you can try and catch the big stuff further on and that really, as it ended up, was the way things had gone. I mean to me, to techy guys within the laboratories, it was always amazing that that aspect of it was always seen as a money thing, money-driven thing, because its, you know, a film is a labour of love. Its creatives, you know, they’re trying to get this image, this thing on the screen and its first hurdle, it’s all about “Oh, you know, it’s gonna cost us an extra, you know, bit of money for doing this” and they wouldn’t use the laboratory that’s got the expertise, the machinery, the set-ups, and all the things that would be set up to be perfect. It cost us money to get things perfect, you know. Sometimes they would go to a laboratory maybe that didn’t have all that, you know. And it could be local, it could be European, it could be world-wide, you know.
PF: OK, I think we’ll have to wrap it up there. Just want to say thank you very much Colin.
CF: It’s a pleasure.
PF: Thank you.