Jump to content


Photo

Are Labs being Killed by the Top of the Muffin Telecine businesses?


  • Please log in to reply
18 replies to this topic

#1 Alessandro Machi

Alessandro Machi
  • Sustaining Members
  • 3318 posts
  • Other
  • California

Posted 11 April 2008 - 06:22 PM

Are film processing labs profitable? Do most film processing labs make their money from processing film, or do labs process film and then rely on a portion of their customers to transfer their film with them to keep them afloat?

The film to video transfer places that do not offer lab services might be inadvertently killing off the film labs without even realizing it. It's an insidious catch-22 in which no one is to blame other than perhaps rising real estate prices and capitalism. If the labs don't have any competition for film to video transfers, they might probably charge an arm and a leg and be smug about it.

However now the pendulum has swung too far the other way. Now more and more transfer businesses want to take the top of the film transfer muffin business (A Jerry Seinfeld reference), and leave behind the film processing muffin stump. I commend everyone that offers a film transfer service, but, if that service contributes to drying up the transfer business for the labs that are barely staying afloat and causes the lab to just give up, sooner rather than later, this will spell the demise of film for everybody.

So here is the second catch-22. I would love to suggest that EVERY film transfer to video place prominently publicize and be aware of the remaining labs and educate any customer that asks them about a film lab question. The problem is because some film labs do their own transfers a film transfer only facility might not want to spend too much time promoting a lab that could steal a customer from them.

I just would like people to think about all of this. Somehow a happy medium should be struck because I doubt any new labs are popping up to replace the labs that are going out of business. But before one says well that is because film is dying, not exactly. However real estate prices and competition from "Dry Labs" might start taking their toll on the remaining film labs, especially the super-8 labs.

Any thoughts or ideas?
  • 0

#2 Robert Houllahan

Robert Houllahan
  • Sustaining Members
  • 1585 posts
  • Industry Rep
  • Providence R.I.

Posted 11 April 2008 - 08:31 PM

Are film processing labs profitable? Do most film processing labs make their money from processing film, or do labs process film and then rely on a portion of their customers to transfer their film with them to keep them afloat?

The film to video transfer places that do not offer lab services might be inadvertently killing off the film labs without even realizing it.



I hardly think any labs have been killed off by transfer houses, in fact as a lab co-owner I wonder how all those small transfer places keep afloat! I think most labs have a split on profitability between process and transfer... and most labs do upgrade their gear and offer as good, or better services than lower end transfer joints. I know that most of the film we process gets transfered here too, sometimes just for dailies that will then go on to a scan, i.e. we are doing a 2-perf feature with SD disk dailies right now and that will go on to a scan elsewhere.

There is trillions and trillions of feet of 8mm and 16mm home movies, etc. out there that i think the smaller stand alone transfer company lives on and then there is billions of feet of new film shot every year and much of the new stuff needs work that a little transfer house cannot do, like keycode reading and flex file generation. Plus a lab will have both Alcohol/Prista and ultrasonic cleaning, etc. so there are many advantages to using a lab for a complete package..

The road diverges at the Hi-end - lo-End and most labs can feed both as a "Front End" I know that there is film we process and do best light dailies for that ends up going on to a Spirit or Arriscan, etc and the costs of process and dailies is insignificant in this realm..but we do well on it.

Then there is the guy with a super-8 camera and a few rolls of tri-x that we would process and maybe transfer or maybe he shoots it off the wall or sends it to a guy with a sniper, etc... the machines used are allot cheaper than a Cintel (in fact you could buy 4 or 5 snipers for the cost of the tube I just bought) but the Cintel machine is all 10bit, not CCD but flying spot and has a all real time color corrector (we have a Copernicus 8X8 and a DaVinci 888) which processed color at 16bits in real time with secondaries and power windows, etc. I could not imagine getting all the film out we do if I had to mess around with a mouse and a pc color corrector tied to a slow projector...

I think labs are doing fine, the few that have gone out recently (like Magno or A1) had real estate issues not lack of business problems..and if anything feeding hi end post shops, etc or doing dailies for indie features is good money for a lab. No wet lab is going to be a get rich quick scheme or millionaire maker but you can do ok working in this realm..

-Rob-
  • 0

#3 Alessandro Machi

Alessandro Machi
  • Sustaining Members
  • 3318 posts
  • Other
  • California

Posted 11 April 2008 - 09:09 PM

All great points Rob.

If no new labs sprout up, but more transfer systems do, eventually the math won't add up, no?
  • 0

#4 John Sprung

John Sprung
  • Sustaining Members
  • 4635 posts
  • Other

Posted 11 April 2008 - 09:33 PM

In the beginning, there were labs. They would develop and print film. TV shows cut on moviolas just like features.

Then in the early 1980's, TV post production moved to the develop, telecine, and post on tape model. The wet labs would run their develop and print jobs first, then the develop only jobs for the video houses. Made sense to them, they wanted to get stuff into their print department. But the video guys ended up having to wait until sometimes 4 AM or later. So, Laser-Pacific, the biggest TV show factory of that era, built their own wet lab, because the town needed the capacity, and to get control of their schedule and work flow.

The math may get a little out of balance now and then. But when it gets noticeable or becomes a problem, the people who notice or have the problem act to solve the problem. That's the natural order of things, it works every time. If bread gets scarce and prices go up, more people will open bakeries. Same with labs or telecine houses....



-- J.S.
  • 0

#5 Alessandro Machi

Alessandro Machi
  • Sustaining Members
  • 3318 posts
  • Other
  • California

Posted 11 April 2008 - 11:00 PM

In the beginning, there were labs. They would develop and print film. TV shows cut on moviolas just like features.

Then in the early 1980's, TV post production moved to the develop, telecine, and post on tape model. The wet labs would run their develop and print jobs first, then the develop only jobs for the video houses. Made sense to them, they wanted to get stuff into their print department. But the video guys ended up having to wait until sometimes 4 AM or later. So, Laser-Pacific, the biggest TV show factory of that era, built their own wet lab, because the town needed the capacity, and to get control of their schedule and work flow.

The math may get a little out of balance now and then. But when it gets noticeable or becomes a problem, the people who notice or have the problem act to solve the problem. That's the natural order of things, it works every time. If bread gets scarce and prices go up, more people will open bakeries. Same with labs or telecine houses....

-- J.S.


Another excellent response. I heard that Foto Kem can't keep up with 16mm processing. (that was before the writers strike). However in super-8 it's less likely that a new lab will come onto the scene.
  • 0

#6 Jim Carlile

Jim Carlile
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 464 posts
  • Cinematographer

Posted 12 April 2008 - 04:24 AM

That Seinfeld was just on the other night.

Remember, the muffin-top business didn't do very well until they started baking the stumps, and then no one wanted them when they tried to get rid of them.

So I guess the moral is, you've gotta do both. And keep them together.
  • 0

#7 Leo Anthony Vale

Leo Anthony Vale
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 2010 posts
  • Other
  • Pittsburgh PA

Posted 12 April 2008 - 02:40 PM

In the beginning, there were labs. They would develop and print film. TV shows cut on moviolas just like features.


16mm release prints used to be a big part of some labs business. Most of that was wiped out by VHS.

WRS used to churn out release prints for NatGeo. Then NatGeo switched from 16mm prints to video.
WRS was able to add mass video duplication, they had to move to a larger facility to do that and hang on for a while longer.

The owner was able to run it into the ground with a lot of bad, if not suicidal business decisions.
  • 0

#8 Robert Houllahan

Robert Houllahan
  • Sustaining Members
  • 1585 posts
  • Industry Rep
  • Providence R.I.

Posted 12 April 2008 - 07:30 PM

Times change and labs have to change with the times, plus look at Bear Sterns a supposedly rock of financial stability that is a train-wreck now, you can run any business into the ground, even a lab :blink:

One thing has remained constant and that is people want to shoot on film, and continue to do so, furthermore film is the best format overall for many situations.

I love film, I have made it so my life is full of film, I certainly do not work at Cinelab for great financial rewards, I did a HD shoot at harvard a few weeks ago that paid a considerable percentage of my annual lab income, but... I am shooting a feature in NY/NJ and have run through almost 400 rolls of 16mm for it and I am timing all of the dailies and possibly will grade the final 2K scan, would I do that all again on the next picture? maybe not my head is almost melting but I have a very complete idea of the whole process.

I am working to make our lab into the lab I would want which includes a very keen eye towards a completely green organization, film is all organic chemistry and I believe it can be made not only textbook green but fully sustainable as well which includes biomass remediation of chemistry. Making computers and their systems (including d-cine cams) requires exotic plastics, metals and many persistent carcinogens and those systems are obsolete quickly and consume allot of power. As energy and environmental concerns become more pressing I think film will be seen as more valuable.

As long as someone makes film somewhere, be it 35mm, etc we can slit it and perf it and make 16mm or 8mm out of it, and thus film, and film labs, will persist for a long time..

-Rob-
  • 0

#9 Alessandro Machi

Alessandro Machi
  • Sustaining Members
  • 3318 posts
  • Other
  • California

Posted 12 April 2008 - 07:38 PM

..........Making computers and their systems (including d-cine cams) requires exotic plastics, metals and many persistent carcinogens and those systems are obsolete quickly and consume allot of power. As energy and environmental concerns become more pressing I think film will be seen as more valuable......


This may seem like an odd analogy but apparently wall warts that are basically always on consume 4% of all the power in the United States. Computers and video are more like a wall wart as they are left on most of the time. Film can be stored as is and can even be looked at with a loop if necessary.

As long as someone makes film somewhere, be it 35mm, etc we can slit it and perf it and make 16mm or 8mm out of it, and thus film, and film labs, will persist for a long time..

-Rob-


How come nobody seems capable of spooling the 50 ASA negative in super-8?
  • 0

#10 Robert Houllahan

Robert Houllahan
  • Sustaining Members
  • 1585 posts
  • Industry Rep
  • Providence R.I.

Posted 12 April 2008 - 07:47 PM

How come nobody seems capable of spooling the 50 ASA negative in super-8?


I thought both Spectra and Pro-8 did am I wrong? I would like to setup S8 cartridge stuffing but don't have the staff right now...

-Rob-
  • 0

#11 Michael Most

Michael Most
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 765 posts
  • Other

Posted 12 April 2008 - 09:22 PM

Then in the early 1980's, TV post production moved to the develop, telecine, and post on tape model.


Since we were both around at the time (only a couple of buildings away at MGM as I recall) and because you know I can't resist, a few minor corrections (based on my own memory, of course).

It was more like the mid-80's. The first single camera show to be cut on an electronic nonlinear system (Editdroid at the time) and the first show to go through Pacific Video (now Laser Pacific) as an "Electronic Laboratory" show was Knots Landing, a show I remember quite well because I worked on it. That was the 1984-85 season. Dallas and Falcon Crest were added a year later (although not at Pacific) and I believe a couple of shows called Matlock, Beauty and the Beast, and Father Dowling Mysteries - shows which you are very familiar with - began the following season. Or was it the second half of that same season? Maybe my memory isn't that good after all....

So, Laser-Pacific, the biggest TV show factory of that era, built their own wet lab, because the town needed the capacity, and to get control of their schedule and work flow.


As I recall, they didn't quite "build" it. They bought United Color Labs, a primarily 16mm umm, "adult" lab, and cleaned it up - literally. And I'm not sure they were "Laser Pacific" at that point. Were they?

Ahh, memories...
  • 0

#12 Alessandro Machi

Alessandro Machi
  • Sustaining Members
  • 3318 posts
  • Other
  • California

Posted 12 April 2008 - 10:52 PM

I thought both Spectra and Pro-8 did am I wrong? I would like to setup S8 cartridge stuffing but don't have the staff right now...

-Rob-


I tend to not acknowledge the second of those two, and Spectra is doing Velvia and Ektachrome 100D.
  • 0

#13 Jim Carlile

Jim Carlile
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 464 posts
  • Cinematographer

Posted 13 April 2008 - 01:50 AM

Is there any demand for ASA 50 negative?

I wouldn't imagine so. I think the Velvia 50 is considered to be a great looking stock when it works so that explains the availability...(?)
  • 0

#14 Robert Houllahan

Robert Houllahan
  • Sustaining Members
  • 1585 posts
  • Industry Rep
  • Providence R.I.

Posted 13 April 2008 - 01:57 AM

I tend to not acknowledge the second of those two, and Spectra is doing Velvia and Ektachrome 100D.



Well Bob Hum who works at Cinelab was working for Super-8 sound in Cambridge Mass when it was founded, and he runs the Color department at Cinelab, Vigent has made a business specializing in 8mm film and there is no denying it, I think the Millenium machine is just about the best Telecine ever made so if you can buy the ticket then the ride is good. We will be the last lab in the western world to have a Scan/HD capability and that is fine with me, I just bought the best optical printer ever made...call me a traditionalist....

Plus I am cutting my first directorial picture (a short) on a steenbeck for a 16mil B+W print no DI involved, and some Oscar contenders agree that DI is lower quality for more money....

-Rob-
  • 0

#15 Charles Doran

Charles Doran
  • Basic Members
  • PipPip
  • 65 posts
  • Other

Posted 17 April 2008 - 06:47 PM

Is there any demand for ASA 50 negative?

I wouldn't imagine so. I think the Velvia 50 is considered to be a great looking stock when it works so that explains the availability...(?)



Yes, but negative stock has far more latitude. I shot tons of the Velvia 50D but mostly under bright skies. I would have loved to have shot some 50 neg as well in different lighting conditions.
  • 0

#16 John Sprung

John Sprung
  • Sustaining Members
  • 4635 posts
  • Other

Posted 17 April 2008 - 07:02 PM

As I recall, they didn't quite "build" it. They bought United Color Labs, a primarily 16mm umm, "adult" lab, and cleaned it up - literally. And I'm not sure they were "Laser Pacific" at that point. Were they?

They bought the United property. United did both 16 and 35, I had done some low budget 35 work there in the late 70's/early 80's (not X-rated). But the lab was old and worn out. They scrapped 100% of the equipment, did some environmentally required cleanup, and built the new place from scratch, including the building it's in. They kept the old building, their sound department is there now.




-- J.S.
  • 0

#17 John Sprung

John Sprung
  • Sustaining Members
  • 4635 posts
  • Other

Posted 17 April 2008 - 07:08 PM

As long as someone makes film somewhere, be it 35mm, etc we can slit it and perf it and make 16mm or 8mm out of it, and thus film, and film labs, will persist for a long time..

Alas, slitting and perforating aren't trivial operations. Camera perf pitch is 0.1866", specified to a tenth of a thousandth. That's a very difficult level of precision to achieve, and your registration depends on it. No less a filmmaking authority than Mel Brooks has commented on this very problem. He said that the hardest part of making Young Frankenstein was poking all those little holes in the edges. ;-)
  • 0

#18 Robert Houllahan

Robert Houllahan
  • Sustaining Members
  • 1585 posts
  • Industry Rep
  • Providence R.I.

Posted 17 April 2008 - 08:43 PM

Alas, slitting and perforating aren't trivial operations. Camera perf pitch is 0.1866", specified to a tenth of a thousandth. That's a very difficult level of precision to achieve, and your registration depends on it. No less a filmmaking authority than Mel Brooks has commented on this very problem. He said that the hardest part of making Young Frankenstein was poking all those little holes in the edges. ;-)



I know but it's easier than building a wafer fabrication plant and we have those too here in Massachusetts, Our C-n-C shop builds parts for the Space Station, plus I have a Perforator sitting here from the past, this lab's been around in one way or another since the 40's If I only had all that stuff they threw out over the years!

-Rob-
  • 0

#19 Alessandro Machi

Alessandro Machi
  • Sustaining Members
  • 3318 posts
  • Other
  • California

Posted 17 April 2008 - 09:21 PM

At this point in time, I would say anybody interested in slitting negative ASA 50 for super-8 would find a market. Would that market increase super-8 production overall or simply raid a different super-8 film format sales? I don't have the answer to that one.
  • 0


Ritter Battery

Broadcast Solutions Inc

CineLab

Opal

Rig Wheels Passport

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

Abel Cine

Technodolly

Wooden Camera

CineTape

The Slider

Aerial Filmworks

rebotnix Technologies

Visual Products

Tai Audio

Gamma Ray Digital Inc

Metropolis Post

Paralinx LLC

Willys Widgets

Glidecam

FJS International, LLC

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

Abel Cine

Wooden Camera

Ritter Battery

Tai Audio

Paralinx LLC

Rig Wheels Passport

Metropolis Post

Technodolly

Willys Widgets

Opal

CineLab

CineTape

Broadcast Solutions Inc

Glidecam

The Slider

Visual Products

rebotnix Technologies

FJS International, LLC

Aerial Filmworks

Gamma Ray Digital Inc