Laboratories (Kodak, Kays, Soho Images, Ascent Media, Metrocolor)
Interviewers: Sarah Street (SS) & Carolyn Rickards (CR)
Total Length: 01:30:31
[00:00:00 – 00:03:35 General pre-interview conversation]
SS: This is our Eastmancolor project interview with Paul Collard on 6th December 2017 with Sarah Street and Carolyn Rickards. So, thank you for coming Paul.
PC: It’s my pleasure
SS: I guess the first areas that we wanted to talk to you about was your background and interest in colour and how you got into thinking about using colour professionally and just a little bit about the early background.
PC: Yes indeed. When I was at university, I studied physics at university and was very much on the technology side of things. But I was always interested in creative things and when I was at University in one of the summer holidays, I went to the local photographic shop down in Gloucester Road in Bristol and bought myself my first camera which was an Exa 500 German Single Lens Reflex Camera and a few rolls of transparency film but the guy on the shop was very much an enthusiast and he did his own pictures, he showed me some wonderful shots obviously he’d taken and that aroused my interest, and I experimented and took quite a few pictures. So when it came to applying for jobs after university, in the last year of university, I came across Kodak as an employer who were pretty much a top rated employer, but the interesting thing was, it was all about photography so I was lucky enough to get an interview and I told them all about my interest and that it was a hobby and somehow it gelled and I was lucky enough to get selected on their marketing graduate course so although I was a physicist and scientist, I really didn’t want to be a researcher so I also wanted to do something that had a public facing front. So, I joined the marketing graduate scheme, and…
SS: Was this in London?
PC: This was in London, yes, I went to University in Birmingham and in London I joined Kodak in Kingsway in there very grand building there and we were given a two-month tour of all the departments and that included a week at the Kodak photographic school in Harrow. And it just so happened that they were looking for a couple of young graduates to join their teaching staff as assistant lecturers and I got talking, you know, I think the physics background appealed and anyway I was lucky enough to get a job there and so I had this amazing experience of learning at the font of knowledge of photography, all about the different aspects of it. The photographic school was located right next to the testing department and the applications laboratory and opposite it the Kodak Museum so it was…Kodak museum was in the original building that George Eastman came to the UK and set up his photographic business, having failed in America first and it was his first successful venture and from there he went back to America and set up the business all over again so the it really was the origins of Kodak in the late-nineteenth century on a commercial level. So, we had the opportunity to take groups of students, trainees on tours of the Kodak Museum which was the most wonderful place. It had samples of Joseph Niépce,Fox Talbot, it had a Technicolor three-strip camera. All of these things were really like at the core or the heart of the birth of photography and also the very fundamentals of it in terms of wet collodion processes, coating emulsions on glass, field laboratories with blackout curtains. So, that was wonderful but the other wonderful thing was that they had a principle. All the lectures on all the different courses, and you have to remember these courses weren’t just in motion pictures, they were in graphic arts, they were in industrial X-Ray there were in medical X-Ray, there were in professional photography, they were in amateur photography. All the different fields. All of the different courses had to be sufficiently well-prepared that should a lecturer fall sick, you had to have the ability to pick it up and give a presentation on that subject. So, part of our training was to go to all the different courses and to learn enough about all the aspects of all the different areas that Kodak were involved in so that you could, as it were, deliver credibly a lecture with assistants. But that was very… not the kind of grounding you’d get anywhere else. So I was very lucky. But I was employed by the motion picture training team, to deliver courses on the technical side of film processing, process control and chemistry and all those different areas. So, I tended to specialise on the control side of things, and my colleague, who was a chemical graduate, did the chemical side but we had to swap over as well. But that tended to be my field. So, I was very much interested in the colour aspects, you know the optical side of it, how receptors work, how the eye worked. We gave presentations on the psychology of colour. We gave presentations of spectral characteristics of the dyes and I had quite a bit of involvement in filters that we used for densitometry control, being the subject where you take measurements from film surfaces and plot them against reference lines… linear clothesline plots for process control. So that was an area I sort of specialised in. So, we were in Harrow for a couple of years.
SS: Who were the main students?
PC: Yeah, the students who came to our lectures were clients so they were people from film laboratories who required training in these different courses. We also went out on location so I went to Rank laboratories in Denham around 1971, 1972, I still have the list of attendees there. A lot of them are very well-known people in the industry because they were at that time. They only had time to just spend an hour in the lecture room and then they had to go back to their jobs. So that was how we did that it was on location. But we spent a week in there and we would do courses in the morning, courses in the afternoon. So, they’d do on this week-long training course and then we’d give them a certificate at the end of it. So the courses all had numbers and they dealt with different areas of the industrial practices of motion picture laboratories and involved printing and processing. And then in about 1972, Kodak built the marketing education centre which was all-singing dancing beautiful building in Gadebridge Park in Hemel Hempstead. So, we had a wonderful location with big American Sequoia trees and we could go out and film as part of the course so it was hands on. So as part of that we acquired a Arriflex BL16 camera. We had a processing machine so we could process the films, we had a colour analyser so we could colour grade the films, a printer that we could print the films and then we could process back again through a modified version, like a little minilab as it were, and we could take people through the whole of the practices of shooting a film. Which was very, very useful for lab people because they wouldn’t ever have done that. So, we did both colour negative and positive and we did colour reversal film as well, both at times. And all the aspects, as I say, how to do process control how to mix the chemicals, how to do chemical analysis, all this kind of stuff is what I was involved in. Then in ‘74 my boss Paul Read left Kodak to become the lab director at Kays, Kays laboratories in Highbury, and six months later he said “I’d like you to come and join me as a technical manager. I need that sort of…”, so as a relatively mid-twenty-year old I was quite surprised but at the same time I did grab it, you know, and become a technical manager of a film laboratory. And that was a baptism of fire I can tell you. I think from that day on until I finished in laboratories I think my phone was on every night. I could get phone calls in the middle of the night you know, this was when all the rushes were being processed of course so things happened in the night so I had to be on my toes as it were in terms of trouble-shooting, problem-solving, giving advice and all this sort of stuff.
SS: In those early years, what would you say were the main sort of changes that you perhaps had to grapple with or were you sort of having to use… guide people through in the lab? What were the main challenges that cropped up during those early years?
PC: Some of the most significant changes that took place during this period was in 1974 and that’s one of the reasons why we had all this equipment at the marketing education centre, because that was the point at which the new hot processes were introduced. So that’s ECN 2 and ECP 2. That’s Colour Negative 2 and Colour Positive 2. And essentially, up until that time, our film emulsions, really, they were suitable for processing at room temperature. Anything above 27 centigrade, 80 degrees Fahrenheit you had the risk of reticulation which was grazing of the emulsion service, so a new development occurred. They found a way of fore-hardening emulsions that could withstand high temperatures and this meant that they could now develop film much hotter. So, instead of having a process that was an hour long, dry-to-dry, it came down to seventeen minutes dry-to-dry and the developer temperature was up around 36 degrees as opposed to 20, 21 degrees, a big difference, everything was happening fast, so it just meant that temperature control had to be that much tighter because when everything’s happening at a higher rate and things could drift more easily or change more suddenly. So ECN2 came in in ‘74 and when I joined Kays, they’d literally just got commissioned there in ECN2 processes so they were going through the teething stages of it and that was one of the reasons why I got a lot of phone calls and things. But luckily, I had that training and that background to help me. The ECP came along in ‘76 and that again was a very similar reduction in processing time so instead of having a machine that was the length of a very large room, you could have a much more compact machine or you could have a machine which could process at a higher speed at the same length, so the capacity for making prints was raised by a very considerable extent through the introduction of ECP2. And that was important because for print distribution, you know, as cinema became more popular the number of prints that you made could increase very rapidly without having to move into a bigger building or you could replace an existing machine with a machine that was two or three times the capacity. So that was a very significant moment in terms of laboratory work.
SS: Was yours the main laboratory that people would use?
PC: No there were three or four at that time. We were in competition. There was Technicolor who had existed for a long time, there was Rank laboratories, there was Humphries who were in Whitfield Street in Central London, there was Kays and a smaller one called Filmatic who did 16mm. There was Studio Film Labs which became Soho Images who I eventually went to work for down in Soho.
SS: Did the labs have… sorry I’m slightly deviating, it’s fascinating. Did the labs have particular areas that they were best known for, to distinguish… what was your unique selling point as opposed to say…
PC: Well both Kays and Rank had large chunks of BBC work, so we were kind of serving them, so all their news gathering and comedy. We tended to do the local news, comedy, documentaries and Rank did the dramas. So, you could say we were the quick turnaround people and Rank were the sort of slower, more sophisticated… they did… the BBC shot most of their work in colour negative.
SS: So, they’re still using film as opposed to studio work?
PC: At that time, yeah, I mean really. Film was used extensively until I think the late ‘90s. And certainly, all the dramas were done on film right through. But the 16mm facilities that we had even had fast processing for fast turnaround of stuff and that was very much part of the BBC’s output was film work. They did tele-recordings as well, lots and lots of tele-recordings so we would process their… what was on tape, they’d put it into film and save that. So yeah, those were the sort of areas that we worked in at Kays. So that was a significant thing that happened in the 1970s. Another significant thing, which occurred a little bit later than perhaps your project, but I think it’s very important to draw attention to it, was the breakthrough of the development of something called T-grain. Now T-grain stands for tabular grain, and that means that the research laboratory has found a way of creating silver halide crystals that were flatter and thinner, and for a given surface area, which equated to their sensitivity to light, they were a third of the size in terms of the weight of the crystals and the volume that they occupied. So, Fuji followed as well with a different name but they nevertheless also produced tabula crystal form. And that development occurred in the 1980s and it kind of opened the door to breaking out of the cycle of grain size versus sensitivity and sharpness. Those were constraints that you would trade one off against the other essentially so if you wanted a faster film then you had to have more grain and so on. Once they created these t-grain emulsions and started to introduce them, Kodak introduced them in a range of films called EXR. Kodak EXR negative films, and subsequently in their Vision One, Vision Two, Vision Three products. They mixed T-grain with ordinary to start with. So, they created the T-grain to start with and it really gave them the ability to create faster, finer grain films in steps right the way through the ‘90s, 2000s, really until Kodak kind of started to slow right down. They don’t develop new film stocks now but they are active at a very refined level anyway and everybody seems pretty happy with the images, so we were…I must say, it’s rather interesting that I spent most of my working life striving to produce finer grain, sharper images on film, because that was what we were being pressured to do. And now, everybody loves film grain and they are using film because it has that organic texture of film grain and nobody’s bothered about it anymore and it is so incredible. But that it the way it was for me.
SS: Speaking about the conventions and in a way, fashions in sort of how colour was used. You mentioned earlier that you were trained a little about… you mentioned colour systems. Were there particular ones that you ascribed to or you felt pertained during that period, you know, Munsell or whatever. What were people using in terms of…knowing about colour?
PC: We very much used the Macbeth System for colour measurements of density and control we used what was called the status filters so status A for colour print film because the three filters, the red, green and blue filters, profile the cone sensitivities of a standard viewer if you see what I mean, whereas the status M filters simulated the sensitivity responses of a print film or a film that you were printing onto. So status M measured density from the viewpoint of printing material, status A was for positive film was for films that you were going to project or view. So that’s an example of a system that we used and there were a lot of papers on that time that I followed…but they became very much the established way of doing things and we used, obviously the standard Hurter and Driffield S-shaped curve for the profile of films so there was a density versus log exposure curve and why do we measure density. What is density? Density is the logarithm of the incident light over the transmitted light and so as the transmitted light drops, so the density goes up from and the numbers were one to four… things like that. So, four would be about as high a density as you could ever get on a print film and the D-min levels, the minimum levels, were about point one, point two, point three thereabouts. So… and the reason why we plot as density against log exposure is because the eye responds to light intensity in a logarithmic fashion so we see things… so if we look at a scale, a grey scale, that goes in equal increments to the eye, then they are equal density increments, or log-E increments and so that’s the reason why it was always done that way. So, a D-log E-curve was originally designed for black and white film and it was measured through a visual filter, status-V, and you just got a single curve. Well, when it came to colour films you’d measure the density of effectively the three layers because you measure the density through the red status M filter, and the green status M filter, blue status M filter so you have three curves, a red, a green, and a blue curve. So you could see what was going on in the different layers of the tri-pack film, and that way you could diagnose any chemical, control problems, yeah. So we would measure a density reading at the bottom end of the curve at the toe… minimum density first of all then the density reading in the toe region of the curve, a density reading of towards the shoulder of the curve, and occasionally, a D-Max reading as well, and then we’d have clothes-line plots so that every hour you’d measure a control strip and these control strips were always exposed identically. You could buy them from Kodak or you could have an instrument called a sensitometer which was a beautiful box made by Kodak with a silver tablet in it and a travelling light box, with a calibrated lamp in it. Lamps came from the national physical laboratory, you knew exactly how many candelas output it was certificated, and you could calculate how much light was falling on the film surface. You get a strip of film there, press the button, and a strip of light would go across and expose the strip, and we’d get hundreds and hundreds of these, then we’d put them in a freezer, and then we’d withdraw them, bring them back to room temperature. So, they were totally constant exposures, so the only thing that could change was the process. That was the principle of it. So that was how control worked.
SS: Great, thank you.
CR: So just following on from that, we’d like to hear you reflect a bit more on your experience working directly with Eastmancolor as a process. You mentioned earlier about particular teething problems that you encountered in your job and how did you manage that I guess and how did you find your experience working with Eastmancolor specifically?
PC: Yeah, what I found first of all was, I think I said to you in our conversations prior to this interview that alongside Eastmancolour negative film there was also colour Eastmancolor Ektachrome reversal films. Now the reversal films had a much tighter tolerance in terms of exposure, because they were already projection contrast and so you only really had half a stop either way of the sweet spot before you burnt out the highlights or you pressed the shadow. So, cameramen had to be spot on with the exposure okay? With Eastmancolor negative films, the contrast was only…let’s define what I mean by this. If you were viewing something with a contrast of one, you would be seeing the scene exactly as you see it yourself. But a lot of research by Dr Hunt at Kodak and various other people showed that when you were projecting a film, you needed to be looking at a contrast of 1.5 to give you the optimum viewing experience. It was much more satisfying to see some end result, a picture, a positive picture, with a contrast of 1.5 which is the slope of this D-log E-curve, alright? So, we had to try to get to this contrast of 1.5. Well, the way we did that, or the way Eastmancolor worked, it worked as a system, so that there was a negative film and a positive film. The negative film had low contrast and only had a contrast of 0.6. And the positive film had a contrast of 2.5 and we had a thing called the contrast rule so you multiply 0.6 by 2.5, you get to 1.5 so that’s how you got to the contrast of 1.5 for viewing. Now, what that 0.6 meant was that you had a long straight-line curve, spreading over a large range of Log-E or exposure, so the tolerance of EC negative was minus one stop to a plus three stops, and you could print back to get a good result from anything from within that range. So you had a lot more tolerance on exposure with EC negative than you had with reversal films. So that’s the first point. What other characteristics? The colour negative films had a moveable jet backing called an anti-halation layer, and that was to prevent light from bouncing off of the back plate in the camera and coming back through the film and creating a halo effect. In effect, halation. I’ve got a very interesting story from around about 1980. David Watkin the famous cameraman who was cameraman on Out of Africa, he shot Chariots of Fire which was a film that we processed, and prior to the shooting he wanted to do some tests in the candlelit hall where they ate their dinners and where he wanted to create this halo effect. He said “Can you do anything with the halation backing, it’s destroying my ability to create the halos”. So, being up for it I blacked out our processing room and processed a role of colour negative in complete darkness and just threw the backing removal, which is a carbonate an alkaline solution that softens the backing, then sprayed it off, jumped it across to the wash and then through the drying cabinet in complete darkness and then sent it out to him to shoot. And he was very nice he said “It works brilliantly” he said, but unfortunately there’s static marks all over the film, you know because once you had removed this carbon layer, not only did it prevent the reflection from coming back through, but it was a conducting layer that was also used as static suppression. So as soon as the film started winding and things like that it was creating little bits of static so he kind of said “Nice try” you know, it didn’t actually work. But I’m just illustrating that EC had a removable jet backing on it which was quite helpful because it shielded the base of the film from scratching and abrasions. The reversal films didn’t have an abrasion backing, they had sort of pressing layer, transparent layer, on them but they were more prone obviously to scratching on the base, so those are a couple of characteristics of EC, the low contrast and the halation backing. Generally, in those days, the grain level on EC negative, particularly on 16mm, was greater than the grain on reversal films and that was one of the reasons I mentioned to you about reversal films were very popular in the 1970s, ‘80s, yeah, ‘60s, late-‘60s, and 70s, particularly over in East Anglia, which are your partners, where Survival were based, because Survival used to shoot on reversal film. They used to shoot on a film called Ektachrome Commercial, which was a little bit flatter than just a projection contrast film and it had… Ektachrome commercial 7252, and it had a sister, a reversal print film 7389, which boosted the contrast up to projection contrast when you printed it. But Ektachrome commercial had an exposure index of only fifty. It was very nice slow film and the grain level on it was really, really low. But these cameramen at that time must have performed miracles to be able to shoot with such slow film, and shooting wildlife and things like that, but you’ve only got to look at those films today, to see what masterful work they did. And the Ektachrome commercial films have lasted incredibly well. They are… you know, the colour has been retained, the quality is there provided the base hasn’t hydrolysed and any kind of problems like that. It was a good film.
[00:35:34 – 00:37:14 Break in recording as battery is replaced]
PC: So, you’d asked me about Eastmancolor… about the colour films
CR: Yes and then you were talking about Ektachrome.
PC: I was yes.
CR: And how it was used for natural history programming and so and used for news gathering?
PC: Yes, indeed yes, there was a thing called Ektachrome Commercial which is the one, as you say, used for natural history, and the other one was Ektachrome Video News Film which was already projection contrast, that they would go out shoot news stories, process it and telecine it straight out of there.
CR: I was just wondering in relation to that the challenges of using that process, when especially talking about natural history programmes and locations abroad were there any issues in kind of using …
PC: Well certainly x-ray, the risk of x-raying film was always present, but they didn’t use the powerful x-ray machines that they use today, today’s x-ray machines are intelligent and if they see something that matches or is close to a profile within a hold or a baggage area, they’ll zap it with a much higher intensity of x-radiation than they did in the past. So the x-rays were a standard sort of level of x-ray my experience is very, very little x-ray fogging occurred until they started to produce these much more… you know the terrorism, the bombs, and the much more sophisticated x-ray devices came into play and literally a blacklist of, you know, avoid putting film through these x-ray machines was produced. So yeah, coming from abroad was one aspect but these films were used in all kinds of conditions of extreme heat and cold and they all, the cameras, performed incredibly well. I mean they really did so it was remarkable. I mean, film is a remarkable medium and it is so much more durable than you would think it would be being a flexible base and everything else but history has shown that films have held together a hundred years or more and enabled today’s equipment to scan them and produce images from those original films that had never been seen so film has stood up remarkably well, remarkably well.
CR: And it’s amazing to hear the colour has preserved so well.
PC: The colour has preserved particularly well on reversal films. Kodachrome was the best. I mean Kodachrome was a dye destruction process so the dyes were not needing to be formed within the process they were simply…. it was dye destruction. Getting on to dyes, because dyes were a big important factor in the development of colour film. The advantages of the tri-pack were obvious it got away from three-strip and everything else but the Technicolor process used dyes, printing dyes, on a blank, and those dyes have stood up amazingly well over the years so Technicolor prints today are very good. The mechanism by which colour film, tri-pack film, was developed is that there is a black-and-white process that takes place at the head end of the process, and then the oxidised developer that is formed as a by-product of reducing the silver halide to silver in the areas where the exposure took place, they couple with colour couplers that are resident in the film layers to form a dye. So you got cyan couplers forming cyan dye, magenta-magenta dye, yellow-the yellow dye. You know the challenge to produce a permanent dye from that kind of process where the dye’s being manufactured within the process is much more challenging. And clearly, for the first twenty years of colour tri-pack films, there were deficiencies in that area and the particular deficiency was in cyan dye fades, so the cyan layer would, even in dark conditions, could break down and some of the cyan was lost, and that would create… it was particularly noticeable in print films, worse in print films, so that’s how you get that characteristic red magenta from colour prints which have faded. So that kind of brings me on to that third point about significant developments or significant changes is Scorsese had this campaign in 1980 where he absolutely went for the jugular with Kodak and said “You’re responsible for destroying the memories of the 20th Century.” I mean it was really extreme but it worked. And Kodak sort of went away and came back and said “Well we can introduce this LPP print film, low print fade film,” and they did. And although it has some fade tendency, it’s like so much better than the films that went before, So we have this period, up to 1980 I’d say, where a lot of prints have gone magenta basically. Now, why they’ve gone magenta, you know, it isn’t just as simple as saying “Well they all go magenta.” I’m convinced it’s something to do with residual chemicals in the film, the amount of washing that took place during the print process. It’s undoubtedly the case that some prints fade very rapidly and others last remarkably well, so there were other factors besides just the fact that they weren’t permanent dyes. So that Scorsese move was really, really significant. And you know as a result of that the Kodaks and the Fujis of this world made a virtue of saying “Our dyes are really good now” and so they continued to improve them, and the negative colour and intermediate films, the intermediates were virtually, they say stored correctly, 100 years, no problem sort of thing, which is great. So that was a really, really, really important factor. But I mean we’re going to come on to restoration in a while, but the good news is that although you do get this dye fade, it simply drops the contrast of that layer right down, and you can use predictive tools, using the other layers of references to raise those curves back up again, and to make them look, digitally as good as they were originally, so there is a good news story there.
CR: One of the things that’s interesting for our project is this idea of Eastmancolor as brand, and we have read that there are differences between how laboratories and studios kind of promoted Eastmancolor as a process. Do you have any insights into how that branding worked, especially given your experience and background in laboratories and…
PC: Yes, I do. I can help you with that. Prior to Eastmancolor being released, in 1955, thereabouts, tri-pack films, Technicolor were really dominant in the world of colour because of their Technicolor Process. The studios were always vying with each other to come out with better systems to wow their clients in their cinemas, so we had Technicolor that was obviously the brand, but then you got Warnercolor, you’ve got Metrocolor and…I don’t know whether Fox… Fox had a couple of things that they, was it were trademarked. And they were nothing more than a kind of branding exercise really, but essentially, they would kind of say “It’s our film. We’ve produced this film and curated it and it’s in Warnercolor or it’s in Metrocolor” and they’d put big branding around it, but essentially, it would either have been Technicolor or Eastmancolor process. You had this hybrid period which was really through the ‘50s and early-‘60s… I mean really Technicolor, the Technicolor process, finally disappeared in 1975, but prior to that it was so much more cost effective to shoot on a tri-pack film than it was to shoot in a Technicolor two or three strip camera, so they quickly adopted shooting on tri-pack films as capturing the original film, and then they would beam split, you know, the red, green and blue components, and make separations and from there they would go into the Technicolor process. So a lot of films originated in Eastmancolor but they were distributed in Technicolor if you see what I mean? Now Rank also did. They adopted the use of Eastmancolor print, so that they used the tri-pack print film rather than the Technicolor process. And DeLuxe who were the biggest single rivals… colour by DeLuxe, I didn’t mention that earlier, but colour by Deluxe, again was a branding process. But colour by DeLuxe is Eastman was Eastmancolor, alright? And they could make their prints cheaper than the Technicolor process for small to medium runs so it…when I was at Kodak, the Technicolor process was still going and it was explained to me that if you needed 500 prints of something, then it was economic to set up a Technicolor dye transfer line and knock off 500 prints because the individual cost of each print was lower. They just brought blank film and these dyes that were sprayed on in great big chambers. Fantastic process. Actually saw it once. Effectively, for small to medium runs, it was way more cost-effective to simply take a tri-pack colour film and, print film, and process it through a Kodak ECP process to make the prints. So, colour by DeLuxe would have been Eastmancolor, Technicolor was Technicolor dye, Metrocolor-Eastmancolor, Warnercolor-Eastmancolor… and so on. I don’t know if that is helpful?
CR: No that is yes. It’s good to get that insight into the differences. Yes thank you.
SS: I think that’s why we called our project the Eastmancolor revolution as I think we kind of thought, that’s what really did it.
PC: It did really. And Technicolor themselves then moved over to print, yeah to Eastmancolor. Quite quietly, but they still kept “These prints are produced by Technicolor”, you know. It really was about the flexibility and the economics of making prints. That’s what really, the branding thing was all about.
SS: That’s fascinating, thank you. Thank you very much for that. We understand that as part of the work you did that you developed this bleach bypass technique, for basically desaturating prints, colour prints, and I wondered if you could just talk a little bit more about what that process involved and examples?
PC: Okay, I’ll give you a little bit of background. So, the film 1984 was produced by Simon Perry, directed by Mike Radford for Umbrella films and the DoP on it was the famous Roger Deakins, who since then has done many different colour processes. And John Hemmings was our feature film contact man who would go off to the set and in the pre-production discussions about the rushes and the look and everything else. He came back to the lab one day and said to me “They’ve said to me there’s this line in the book ‘everything was without colour except the television screens which shone forth with a bright yellow light’”. He said “That’s what they want” so he just said “Can you go away and do that?” And got me back to first principles being a physicist and I thought, well, black and white, you know, that’s silver, colour, that’s the dyes, we have both silver and dyes in the process. And I messed around with…well first of all, I thought there’s no way I’m going to do this on the negative, because the negative is a very flat low-contrast film, there’s tonnes of silver in there, there’s like six times the amount of silver in colour negative to give it the speed, than a print film. So, if I have a silver image in the negative, it’s going to be far too contrasty, it’s not going to work, so I discarded that, but the print, let’s try that. So, I started off by putting some print film through the soundtrack redeveloper because you redevelop a silver image down the edge of a print film for the purpose of getting the soundtrack on the print. So I dumped it in this gooey rather high contrast developer and had a look at it and it was all streaky and looked sort of a bit ugly but I thought we’re sort of getting… and as I was looking at it I thought well, I was standing right next to the machine and I thought well we actually remove the silver in the bleaches, so why don’t I try not removing the silver from the bleach, not using the bleach and see what happens. So, I re-laced the machine and I jumped over the bleach and the bleach wash and went straight from the stop wash into the fixing bath and tried doing a print that way. It came out very heavy, because you’ve now got like a double image there. So, we then said, okay let’s play around with this. So, we took five points of printing density off of the printing process, when we were printing the print, and that was optimum, that gave us the sort of right density of print, but now we had this amazing looking image that had a kind of black and white and colour combined together so John took one of these prints down to the set and he said, “Yep, that’s what we want so that’s what we’re gonna’ do”. So at that point I was starting to have kittens because I knew that once we’d committed to this process, not only would we have to make the rush prints this way, we would have to make the release prints this way we would have to make sure that the soundtrack worked okay, I wasn’t now redeveloping the soundtrack, it was just retaining the original silver so there was all sorts of tests I had to do. But we managed to find a cancellation point on the soundtrack that worked very well so that was alright and we had to test it through the intermediate stages, so not only the original neg but to interpos and interneg and check that it’s still looked okay, and it did. So that was the start of… and yeah it was funny because I didn’t come up with the name, a colleague of mine called Terry Lansbury, “What shall we call this?” and he said “Well let’s call it bleach bypass” and that’s where the name came from. So I mean there were other processes that existed. I didn’t know, because it was so proprietary and so secret, there was a process called ENR which was done by Technicolor, and there was this kind of secrecy about them...these are our special processes. But I suppose the one thing I did, I democratised it because having made this process and proved that it worked and it was obviously recognised at the time. We had to ship, for contractual reasons, we had to ship negatives to other countries to make prints that they needed to make the same prints and so I just said “This is what you do”, you know, and so I just told everyone how to do it. And I think that probably was a wise move actually because it just meant that it could be done by other people as well as…I mean, your project is defined around British films, and the contribution to British films so, in that sense what happened over in America isn’t so relevant I guess, but there were variations on these processes. The ENR process, DeLuxe had a thing called silver sprint, they had other names where they would have ways of controlling the amount of silver that was left in the film. With the bleach bypass, you could either leave all the silver in the film, or you could do a 50% process where you took some of the silver out, but it worked and I’ve given you some examples of films that used that process and 1984was the first recognised but Terence Davies very much liked it on his films so he used it for Distant Voices, Still Lives he subsequently used it on The Long Day Closes... sat in doing a lot of camera tests with Mick Coulter and Terence Davies before they shot The Long Day Closes. I still feel The Long Day Closes is one of the… a most beautiful, beautiful film and it’s a wonderful film and he is the most astonishing visual filmmaker, he’s got an amazing talent and there’s some beautiful, beautiful shots in it, my favourite being when he’s looking over the balcony at the screen and then the pan shot goes down and then it dissolves into the fairground. I mean it’s the most amazing… so yeah, it was used for that, but it was also used by…Mike Leigh used it for Naked which won in Cannes, he won best director, best actor for David Thewlis in about ‘92 I think it was. So, the process was used on and off for particular style, particular look but also it was adopted electronically, I mean you see so much stuff now where, even on Match of the Day when they do flashbacks and they basically blend colour and black and white images together to create this slight posterization. Slightly unreal sort of world of things, and it all originates from that sort of look if you know what I mean, so at the time, it was quite good.
CR: And it continues today into the digital realm as well.
PC: It does. There are even electronic machines that have a bleach bypass button on them! It’s so funny it really is. Well, the thing is and I’ve got to make electronic examples of those films, but it’s important to note that I always protected the original negative, I never did anything to the original negative, it was always done at the print stage. You’ll see people occasionally writing about “Oh I did it in the negative”, well never subscribe to that. You’re playing with fire if you start doing alterations to the negative. So essentially, certainly in those days, what we would do if you were going to make an electronic version for a DVD or something like that, you’d actually take the colourist into a theatre and show him a roll of the print and he’d go straight back in with a negative and he’d do his… back off the saturation and it effectively simulated. And of course, you could control it infinitely with a digital technique. But I will… cos you’ve asked about how do you then manipulate colour and how do you use colour, well what we found through experience and experimentation, particularly with 1984, was that if you had a scene, if you graded it cold and towards the cyan area, then the silver image would then come right in and be a much more dominant part of the image, so you would create lines on faces, pit marks…. everything was there like really raw. When you went towards red and yellow, so you produce a red, yellow bias, it’s almost like the silver veil lifted away. Now, it might have been to do with you were now backing off on two of the layers, and one of the layers just had its silver image there, but it was a way of giving yourself colour back, and then having de-saturated scenes by contrast. So, we would manipulate in the grading process, warmth and cold to create amounts of desaturation.
SS: Would the overall image though have less contrast because of the difference of the…overall image, would it be slightly more diffused?
PC: No, the sharpness was very, very sharp.
SS: It would be retained? Okay.
PC: Very, very sharp. It’s almost… well with regards to printing, you have a black-and-white layer don’t you, to add sharpness to an image. So, it was sharp. You’re right in one sense that had we printed at the same density as we would make a normal colourant, then the density, the saturation, would be the same, but that would be, would make the whole print too heavy. So you’re right in the sense that by printing… if I were to make a print five points lighter than usual, it would look quite washed out. And then you put the silver on top of it. So, you were backing off on the colour image and layering a silver image on top of it. There were other techniques, because I always had a thing about… they used to do presentations on the contribution of the laboratory to the creative process so, another technique that I was requested to use by Mike Figgis was a thing called cross-processing. So we would process Ektachrome through the negative bath and that created an unmasked negative, with obviously colours inverted, because they weren’t reversal. And then if we telecined that or if we printed it, it would produce super-saturated reds and yellows and things like that. So it was quite effective for dream sequences and flashbacks but you had to make a safety intermediate or master of this or an inter-pos or something, because those reversal films required some fixing of the dyes. Formaldehyde was used as a pre-hardener, and that wasn’t there on the original neg so we know that those original images would fade within a year or two, so you needed to make a sort of copy of it. Or, if it was just for a pop video or something like that, then you’ve got your electronic version anyway, but that was another technique. Yeah, it’s interesting. They were certainly both used. I mean, it is interesting how you go through things from first principles. And I have a story where, in the 1990s I think it was, we did lots of commercials at the lab. And one day, quite a large budget 35mm commercial came in from Switzerland, and there were a couple of cans that were marked up incorrectly, they were marked up for black-and-white, and they were processed through a black-and-white process, so when they got their rushes back they said “Yeah, but this was shot in colour and it’s black-and-white. What are we gonna’ do? This is the Alps, this is high budget. Where’s the rest of it? We’ve got a bit of a problem here.” So, I kind of went back to first principles again and said well actually, let’s think about this, we’ve got a black and white image, and we’ve still got the colour couplers in the film, what can we do? So, I thought well, nothing to lose, we’ve got black-and-white here, so I put the film, the black-and-white film, back through the bleach and the wash but not the fixer, to convert this silver image back to silver halides again. Then, we dried it and put it all the way back through the process, and it came out as colour.
CR: That’s amazing.
PC: But it come out it was fine, absolutely fine. The resilience of film I think it is, yes.
SS: Okay shall we move a bit towards talking about restoration in your work, because that’s obviously, I mean, I know you’ve mentioned Paul Read who has a big association with the BFI and high-profile film restorations but you too have also been quite involved in that work.
SS: I wonder if you could tell us about how you got into that and what was your main contribution to that work?
PC: Yeah, the company that I was working for, the successor to Soho became part of what was known as Ascent Media. Now Ascent Media, eventually in 2011, was bought, taken over by Deluxe so became part of Deluxe. But as Ascent Media we had an established restoration business with the major libraries such as the ITV library which was the Rank library. And we had lots of restoration tools. In 2008 the BFI put out their first tender for their Unlocking Film Heritage project, we were one of the providers for that, and subsequent to that, I think every year going through from 2009, right until… I mean, I finished in 2015, but all those years we produced the restoration for BFI’s London Film Festival archive Gala, so a signature restoration that would be shown each year, and when we became part of Deluxe, we also set it up as a dedicated restoration facility. So within one of our facilities, we had all the tools, the scanners, the digital restoration tools and a team of eight restorers, a colourist, a theatre a digital intermediate theatre. All of those did nothing but restorations so we weren’t juggling around between other forms of work. And it was a very successful period and really one of the peaks of that was doing the commission for the Cultural Olympiad so that was the restoration of the surviving eight Hitchcock silent films. We needed to restore all of those in time to shown during the Cultural Olympiad which was that period in July and August just running up to the Olympics. It was the BFI’s contribution to the Cultural Olympiad. So we worked on, I think, about three or four of the films had colour elements to them. They were mostly tinted and toned and the others were black-and-white.
SS: And was it clear what was intended how the original tinting and toning was done as I know this is a bit of an issue that sometimes we just don’t actually know exactly. There’s a huge difference in which cinemas, round the country you would have a different experience of seeing a print so what was the approach to authenticity and…
PC: Authenticity, was… the BFI, before they embarked on one of these restorations, would trawl the world for surviving examples of their films. So they would get several examples together, out of which you could get a very good idea of what the original colour toning was. Interestingly enough, when we were Soho images, we did a lot of work… a gentleman called Bob Mabberley, who was my chief chemist, did loads of research on the dyes that we used for tinting and toning, and he produced… he went back to the, you know, the original chemicals and he made those dyes and then reused them and compared them with the present-day examples and there’s no doubt about it, the saturation levels were higher and more vivid.
SS: It’s often quite surprising isn’t it?
PC: Now I passed over that entire research file to Kieron Webb at the BFI, and they’ve got that locked away, so it was a very extensive piece of work, showing all the different dyes, all the different colours they produced and how they did it. Funnily enough, we did it for a reproduction of The Lodger, where we had an actual print line and we hand tinted and toned. But it was a horrible process because, as it changes, you can only process the strip that requires that particular set of chemical and then you have to create another set of chemicals and do it for the next bit and then join bits together to make the film and it was very laborious. But yeah, that process, that is, as it were, a piece of research work that was done. But we would use references, the BFI’s references were pretty good and we never really had a problem and the skill is actually in the colourist’s isolation of areas of the image in order to be able to put an area of tint, of tone, the tone essentially colours the image, the tint is essentially to colour the base, yeah.
SS: And we’re read that you’ve been involved in much later films being restored and I picked up a title, the restoration of The Long Good Friday. What was the problem that it needed restoring?
PC: Well, you will find that all these films from that period, and more and more, are all being remastered because quite simply, the scanned quality of them was just way, way down on what you can do today, so if you take The Long Good Friday, that was to make a brand new Blu-ray and DVD, which was scanned in 4K and restored and masters were produced, suitable for making modern day… and the detail and quality in that Eastmancolor, shines through. I mean Kodak calculations have always shown that 35mm film images are approximate to a resolution of a 4K scans across the image, so anything less than that, you are throwing away image information and that’s the principal motivation. There was… it was seen that there could be a market for that. You did ask about what was done, I mean, first of all, it is a masterful film. It is Bob Hoskin’s standout performance. It is almost clairvoyant in its screenplay by Barry Keith. When he walks along the dockside with all the flattened land and said “We’re going to build a new centre of London here”, I mean it’s incredible because that is Canary Wharf and everything, I mean it is wonderful. So, the story’s great because he has to get these mafia guys with the money to fund it, where all his problems start. Helen Mirren is brilliant and his… who controls everything really… he’s just the menacing one. But the film was shot by Phil Meheux. Phil Meheux is a mine of information, but Phil, he’s very famous for shooting things like Casino Royale, Legend of Zorro, Goldeneye. But he shot The Long Good Friday in 1979/80. So he came in during the time we’d scanned the film, and he kind of supervised the grade so he could approve it and an example of what he did, and I think this is sort of licence for a cinematographer there, there’s a shot in the boat, where it’s just the head and shoulders shot, and there’s a window at the back and as they’re going up the Thames and Phil said there was some kind of Saharan dust cloud or there was some problem on the continent, which created, on that very day, the sky to suddenly go really dark behind this window, and he’d just been stuck with that, they had to shoot it and all the rest of it. When they got to the restoration, we could actually sort of create a little window and lighten, “Yes! I got my shot back.” So that was done for him. So that was a good example of creative input. It’s wonderful really because we’ve done Women in Love you know and Billy Williams came in and supervised the grade on that and subsequently Billy then showed it to the whole BSC showed it at BAFTA got a BAFTA award. It’s fantastic that these films can be made to look like they’re brand new, and that’s the wonder of Eastmancolor.
SS: Do you have any choice, if you could… if I said “I’d give you all the money in the world, you can restore…”, there’s come un-rescued films in other words, because sometimes a project would come your way and you would go with that, but were there other films you think “Gosh- I wish we could restore that?
PC: That’s a difficult question
SS: Cos’ often it seems like the same films get restored. Don’t Look Now, there’s several and, yes, it’s a wonderful film, but in our project, we’ve actually come across so many films that were popular that aren’t really known that well, don’t get that sort of attention.
PC: I can’t answer your question, but I have experienced the opportunity to restore many films that have no real commercial justification for so doing. And the BFI has a panel of the good and the great that actually lay out their priority films for the next phase of Unlocking Film Heritage and they deliberately target films that are not gonna’ make it commercially so there’s no chance that those commercial owners of the rights are going to restore them and they will provide sufficient funds to be able to do that. So, I don’t feel that qualified to judge on films that should or should not be restored because there’s a cultural impact there, but yeah there’s a lot more to do. Want to know my favourite film? LocalHero.
SS: Yes, very important British film.
PC: I love that film. Okay, so we did it at Kays and it was just the most wonderful… and it’s still a… its story is still relevant today. It was in quite good condition, I don’t know if it’s- it’s probably had a Blu-ray made of it, I don’t know.
SS: I think it’s very popular in America as well as the UK so I think it gets good attention
PC: Good. Yeah. Another thing I wanted to say to you as quite important during that period at Metrocolor, again it all tended to happen in the 1980s, early-1980s, but it was the birth of Channel Four and the birth of Film Four. Now Film Four is still going today, but Channel Four was recently set up and they, I think it was David Rose the head of film there, and you know, he had this vision, that was supported, that a television company could make films, and create a genre, you know, of television films, which could also be shown in the cinema. Now I think the big caveat was that they were restricted to a budget of £300,000 per film so it was a very tiny budget, and so one of the solutions to that was to shoot it on 16mm rather than 35mm and to blow it up. So I was very involved in that in the sense that we built a special printing machine for printing Super 16mm up onto CRI stock which is called Colour Reversal Intermediate, which gave us a one generation intermediate and a print. And it gave sufficient quality that you could both show it in the cinema and you could show it on television, alright, at the time.
SS: So, would that be films like My Beautiful Launderette?
PC: I think that did go that way. It was Technicolor. No, no we did the very first three films that were done this way. The first was a film called The Disappearance of Harry which you’ve probably never heard of but it was shot by Phil Meheux interestingly enough. The second was Remembrance by Colin Gregg and the third one which was a big hit was The Draughtman’s Contract, Peter Greenaway.
SS: Which looks beautiful.
PC: It was shot by Curtis Clark who is now the chair for the American Society of Cinematographers technology committee so he’s still around, but he did shoot it beautifully. It still has appeal today, it’s a Greenaway with all the... it’s a Greenaway. But there was quite a bit of momentum in this process at the time. In 1983 in film 83’ the BKSTS used to run these international symposiums I ran a sort of mini symposium on this blowing up process and I actually was able to get on the stage with both Peter Greenaway and Mike Radford to talk about…cos’ Mike Radford had shot a film Another Time, Another Place, also using that process and their experiences of using Super 16mm and blowing up and all the rest of it. So contrarily I think that was quite important in the sense that it meant television had a foothold in feature films. They were low budget, and they would…it was the early concept of actually, by having a theatrical screening, screenings, it publicised the television event and now it happens all the time doesn’t it? But it was the early thinking. I think I had a list of about two or three pages long in the end of all the films that were done that way over many, many years so it was the start of it in that period you know, just around ‘82/’83 when Channel Four just got going.
SS: Right well I think that’s covered most of our areas unless there’s anything you think that we need to know and haven’t stated?
PC: I’d go back to the significant developments… I did… I spoke about the T-grain, I spoke about the hot processes, I spoke about the Scorsese intervention and the dyes. The last one I would add to that it is the development and use of polyester film base. Acetate film base is subject to hydrolysis and a thing called vinegar syndrome which is a menace.
SS: Learnt about it at the BFI.
PC: Well, if films are preserved today, they tend to be preserved on polyester base with either black-and-white separations or with the dyes that today are good enough to last 100 years plus, so a lot of security in that, I mean I’ve got a couple of pictures to show you but, today, the solution to preservation, physical preservation film, is low temperature storage. The BFI have built an award winning, from an energy point-of-view, an award-winning vault at Gayden, where they have always had vaults but it’s a beautiful, beautiful building, and they store all of their original negatives within that vault, nitrate and the acetate at minus five degrees. So, at minus five the deterioration is so small as to be almost negligible so they are doing the best thing they can, you know, to preserve the film.
SS: That’s great. Thank you very much that’s been very helpful
PC: Can I say one more thing?
SS: Yes absolutely.
PC: Because grain… we talk about preservation and we talk about grain. Today’s techniques of restoration, because although we have digitally restored things, I think it’s important that you understand my opinion on digital restoration relative to the original images. It’s extremely important to preserve the original images as were originally seen by the audiences of the day. So digital restoration is all about removing the artefacts, removing the distractions, correcting physical problems to do with shrinkage, stability, all those sorts of things. Those are all great. But the use of automated restoration tools, has to be approached with great care. And people inexperienced in restoration can over-restore things. You can remove all the grain structure, you can remove all sorts of things. I mean if you’ve got a field of daisies, you can just remove all the white heads from the daisies, because it doesn’t know it’s not sparkle. If you see what I mean? So, we always have to approach it with care and in consultation with the client in terms of what you do and how far you go, what you leave in, what you take out. And that was always the approach that was taken. To give you an example of how sophisticated it has become, film grain can be stripped out of any film now, and then it can be replaced with film grain of any film stock of your choosing. So, Kodak film stocks, the 500 speed, the 100 speed and so on. You could actually put back with grain tools, the grain of a completely different film. You could take 16mm grain out and put 35mm grain back if you want to. So, you can… the world is your oyster on this sort of thing, but it has to be very carefully considered what you do. And now, what is so good is that television grain has been the enemy of television transmission systems, it drives them mad, it uses lots of bandwidth and it usually replaces grain with some sort of a mush. So that’s why the engineers hate it. But as we go more into streaming, online, 4K images and everything else and the mastering processes, the resolution of the mastering process, and the preservation of it, is so much better now, and you can stream content digitally and that doesn’t have to go through transmission chains The grain in simply scanned as it is, and it is retained as it is, so you see film grain how it was. You don’t have it being messed up by technical processes down the way. And I think, you know, that’s the future, that digital processes, transmission chains, have to by their nature, route through many, many gateways, up to HD down to SD and it’s an automated process, it doesn’t take any regard of the image, so that’s my view on that.
SS: No, I agree I think the materiality of the image, that’s part of its life and that should be preserved and not banished from the eye. Great, okay thank you very much