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Lab Ruined Negatives during Processing


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#1 Salvador M. Rodrigues

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Posted 15 May 2007 - 04:32 PM

Hi Everyone,

I have recently finished shooting my graduation piece for my film school. I had a very tight self funded budget of $6,950 to shoot a small sci-fi short on S16mm. For this short I had to rent a studio for a week and had two sets built purposely for the story. After shooting was done, I had to clear the studio and get rid of everything as was stated by the contract I signed with them (Also, I had nowhere to store them as the sets were huge).

After shooting was wrapped I personally handed over 5 reels of 400ft colour negative to my chosen lab, a highly respected one in central London. The next day I receive a call saying there had been an accident while developing and because of it, 7 minutes from my last reel were ruined. I have seen the telecined rushes and those 7 minutes are totally bleached out. What this means, is that my film now doesn't have an ending. Because I was filming under such a low shooting ratio (2:1), those 7 minutes account for various scenes and shots. There is no way I can complete the story without those 7 minutes. Also, after spending that much money I can't think of falling short and edit a totally different story. The consequences are, that I have to rebuild the set in question once more. Furthermore my art director is no longer available, which means it will be almost impossible to have an exact replica, so some of the earlier shots won't match.

After speaking with the lab, they have assumed full responsibility and are trying to help me out financially to complete the film. I have calculated that I will need at least $4,000 in expenses to have the re-shoot. When the lab learned of this, they obviously felt that it was too much money and although they want to help me, they reminded me that in the terms and conditions of their policy, they should only provide me with a new reel of stock as my insurance should cover the damages. Except, being new and naive into using film, the only insurance I took out was for liability on the film equipment and lighting gear.

All in all, I'm left with a very unique scenario as I never heard of a professional lab accidentaly ruining the negs(And this lab like I said, is highly regarded) and with an incomplete product.

Just would like to know if anyone has ever faced such a situation and how they dealt with and also what should be my legal options ?

Best Wishes to everyone,


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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 15 May 2007 - 05:13 PM

I hate to say this, but labs ruin footage all the time, just that it's not usually large amounts (often just part of one roll) and they have always only been legally liable for replacing the film stock.

That's why movies carry insurance and why you often shoot at least two good takes of any set-up.

It doesn't happen enough to offset the advantages of shooting film, just enough to be annoying. I had one Steadicam shot in "Akeelah and the Bee" ruined when the lab machine jammed and stopped rolling, which solarized and overdeveloped the shot, but I had another take on another roll (luckily you shoot a lot of shorter rolls on a Steadicam.)

The most common lab error (ignoring dust problems) is scratching, which luckily can be fixed digitally if severe (and wet-gate printing may hide it if mild enough.)

You don't have much legal recourse -- just mark to down to bad luck.
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#3 Dominic Case

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Posted 15 May 2007 - 11:41 PM

I hate to say this, but labs ruin footage all the time

Oh David, I thought we were friends :o
Labs don't ruin footage ALL the time. Some of the time yes, all the time - not fair.

What proportion of footage is ruined by labs, and what proportion of footage is ruined by actors, or directors, or focus pullers - did you ever see a director do "one more take for the lab"?

OK, now I've dealt with that, on to the question.

You are indeed in an unfortunate position. Labs do limit their liability, because the price they charge is related to the film process and not to the shoot, or the content. Very often too, the lab will charge a discounted rate for student productions, so there is even less in the kitty to help you recover from disaster. As David points out, there is usually some way of recovering from any error - bigger productions are insured, and/or can squeeze in a reshoot before the end of the shoot: you can't do that as you've been forced to strike the set. Not a happy position.

It sounds as though the lab is keen to do what they can to help you. I think you need to recognise that - maybe talk to whoever it is at your filmschool who negotiates rates with the lab to make sure the lab understands the ramifications of your situation. And work very hard - with your teachers - to find the cheapest way out of the problem.

Legal action against the lab won't help - it would cost everyone far more than is at stake, and take too long for your needs.
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#4 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 16 May 2007 - 12:11 AM

Hi Everyone,

I have recently finished shooting my graduation piece for my film school. I had a very tight self funded budget of $6,950 to shoot a small sci-fi short on S16mm. For this short I had to rent a studio for a week and had two sets built purposely for the story. After shooting was done, I had to clear the studio and get rid of everything as was stated by the contract I signed with them (Also, I had nowhere to store them as the sets were huge).

After shooting was wrapped I personally handed over 5 reels of 400ft colour negative to my chosen lab, a highly respected one in central London. The next day I receive a call saying there had been an accident while developing and because of it, 7 minutes from my last reel were ruined. I have seen the telecined rushes and those 7 minutes are totally bleached out. What this means, is that my film now doesn't have an ending. Because I was filming under such a low shooting ratio (2:1), those 7 minutes account for various scenes and shots. There is no way I can complete the story without those 7 minutes. Also, after spending that much money I can't think of falling short and edit a totally different story. The consequences are, that I have to rebuild the set in question once more. Furthermore my art director is no longer available, which means it will be almost impossible to have an exact replica, so some of the earlier shots won't match.

After speaking with the lab, they have assumed full responsibility and are trying to help me out financially to complete the film. I have calculated that I will need at least $4,000 in expenses to have the re-shoot. When the lab learned of this, they obviously felt that it was too much money and although they want to help me, they reminded me that in the terms and conditions of their policy, they should only provide me with a new reel of stock as my insurance should cover the damages. Except, being new and naive into using film, the only insurance I took out was for liability on the film equipment and lighting gear.

All in all, I'm left with a very unique scenario as I never heard of a professional lab accidentaly ruining the negs(And this lab like I said, is highly regarded) and with an incomplete product.

Just would like to know if anyone has ever faced such a situation and how they dealt with and also what should be my legal options ?

Best Wishes to everyone,


Well, looks to me like there's only 2 things you can do, Re-cut it for a different ending using the footage you have IF possible or get as much money from the lab as possible and get creative with your staging, camera angles and story line, for example can you change the location of he ending to a nondiscript place or to an exterior, can you tell the endinmg in tight shots that limits how mach of the set you see so you can paint a wall the same color and the footage you have will cut together, Can you use some of the outtakes, over the shoulder with a voice over to sell the dialog in particular instances, ect? What's the story and how does it end, maybe I can help. I'm constantly having to make something out of nothing so if there's a way around it, I'll betcha I can find it.

Edited by James Steven Beverly, 16 May 2007 - 12:16 AM.

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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 16 May 2007 - 12:23 AM

Oh David, I thought we were friends :o
Labs don't ruin footage ALL the time. Some of the time yes, all the time - not fair.


Sorry, I didn't word that properly...

I meant "all the time" as it's a problem that occurs now and then over time (not "all the time" like in "daily"); it's heartbreaking when it happens, but I've stopped being so shocked, that's all, because it's happened often enough to me. So don't expect it but I don't discount the possibility any more either. I'm actually surprised the error rate is as low as it is.

Yes, sometimes the fault is not specifically the lab's.

And the truly catastrophic failures are pretty rare; usually you have something more minor, like some dust problems, occasional hairline scratch (neither of which is always due to the lab.)

It's like any other human or mechanical error that occurs on a film shoot or in your life in general -- you deal with it. When that shot was ruined in "Akeelah and the Bee", the director said "I thought this was supposed to be a good lab!" -- which it was, one of the two best in Los Angeles. But I told the director that I have had something go wrong at every lab in Hollywood, big or small (Technicolor, Deluxe, FotoKem, CFI, etc.). It just happens now and then; doesn't mean the lab is incompetent. If you stopped going to a lab because it made mistakes, eventually if you shot long enough in your career, you'd run out of labs to go to.
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#6 Dominic Case

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Posted 16 May 2007 - 03:01 AM

Sorry, I didn't word that properly...


I think we all knew what you meant, David. I'm just here to stir! :rolleyes: When I see a topic with the title Lab Ruined Negatives during Processing, I'm ready to bite.

Yes it is heartbreaking (for the lab too, we do care!) when a shot (or roll) is destroyed, but as you say it is a very great rarity that it is completely unsalvageable. I guess if you compared it with all the footage that goes through the system exactly as it's meant to, you'd find a failure rate in the fractions of a percent.

Tough though, if it's your work that is that fraction of a percent.
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#7 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 16 May 2007 - 03:11 AM

It is also crucial that clapper/loaders understands the importance of how a lab system works. I was myself guilty of sending off film with torn perfs and generally in a bad state when I started out, simply because I didn't understand that a lab's process is one continous roll. And if that breaks, all of it gets ruined.

I'm not saying that's what happened here, I just had to point that out.
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#8 Robert Houllahan

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Posted 16 May 2007 - 10:22 AM

It is also crucial that clapper/loaders understands the importance of how a lab system works. I was myself guilty of sending off film with torn perfs and generally in a bad state when I started out, simply because I didn't understand that a lab's process is one continous roll. And if that breaks, all of it gets ruined.

I'm not saying that's what happened here, I just had to point that out.




We had a piece of tri-x crash our reversal machine a month or so back, a student sent a daylight spool of unprocessed film which had been tape spliced in the middle of the spool with scotch tape and unfortunately Bill missed it and the whole machine crashed. We were not happy but during the school year the B+W reversal machine runs 8-10 hours a day 5 days a week and there were only 2 accidents like this this school season.


As far as I know in the 4.5 years I have been at Cine we have not ruined any ECN (8mm, 16mm, 35mm) but I think we are lucky that we have Bob Hume running our color department as he is a particularly experienced and meticulous guy. We also run a smaller 70ft/min demand drive machine and not a big 200ft + sprocket drive machine (for 35mm) which I think is more tolerant of torn sprocket holes in 35mm. We also have a dedicated 8mm ecn machine.

As anyone who works/has worked/etc. at a lab knows it's a lot of work to run film and I am sure most if not all labs try to hold them selfs to a zero defect standard for processing. With Color Neg where the value of the original can be astronomical, such as work we do for a Jet Aircraft engine manufacturer where 900' of 16mm ecn (cut down from 24 400' rolls) is worth $33m !!! :blink: the work that goes into shooting it does register and nobody wants to be known for ruining anything.

-Rob-
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#9 Will Montgomery

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Posted 16 May 2007 - 08:15 PM

during the school year the B+W reversal machine runs 8-10 hours a day 5 days a week

Always glad to hear when a lab is busy. This is good news for film.
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#10 John Sprung

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Posted 18 May 2007 - 06:07 PM

Catastrophic lab failures -- the ones where you have to call the insurance company and re-shoot -- are quite rare. In a couple decades doing TV post for a major studio, I can remember maybe a handful. Labs are good, my memory isn't.

Forget about litigation. Your whole budget is under the small claims limit. At the beginning of your career, it's unwise to be widely known as the guy who sued the lab. Instead, look for a solution that leaves all the bridges unburnt.

Does this lab have DI capability? If so, perhaps they can do a test on the bad stuff and come up with a look you can live with. It's science fiction, maybe a strange look would work. Matching the good stuff to the bad would be pretty easy, but it's a DI on your whole film. It's a lot easier for facilities vendors to do freebies in house than to cut a big check.



-- J.S.
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#11 Salvador M. Rodrigues

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Posted 25 June 2007 - 02:42 PM

Hi everyone,

I know it has been more than a month since your last replies. I haven't posted anything, because the situation hasn't changed. I decided to move on and concentrate on getting post production done on the film.

The lab have been very open and generous, I can tell you the reason for the accident was due to the sprockets of a film being processed in front of mine getting torn, which led to a halt in the machine which subsequently left some of my film on the processing bath too long before the supervisors got it fixed (nice analogy) .

The good thing from this though is that the lab hasn't charged anything (as of yet),and so I saved around £400 worth of processing and telecine and managed to come under budget! However, I don't know if this will change as they still have a copy of my neg's. Was it worth it ? Hmmmmm, probably not!

Regards to everyone and thank you for all the replies and support!

SMR
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