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A message to all film telecine labs/post house owners.


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#1 Vincent Sweeney

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Posted 28 January 2011 - 04:38 AM

Keep in mind, I know some of you guys and really appreciate what you do and how complex it can be. I understand all about protecting yourself and your investment. I know you paid out a ton of cash or borrowed a lot to buy that Spirit (or whichever). I know it takes something to keep it going. I know how it feels when you are faced with changing your pricing and how fearful it is that this might undermine your business model, but...

If you want to keep your old pricing in place, I think you are about to lose the very business you started. I hate saying this but the reason film usage is suffering badly in the independent movie world doesn't have that much to do with the ease of pushing a button on a all-in-one camera, and little to do with marketing by Sony, Panasonic or RED, but more to do with the $600+/hr rates that seems to be the norm for scanning film from everyone. The time to pressure change in your suppliers and/or your way of operating is here now, in my opinion. The film sales side of things is basically dead and more and more producers know this which will make it worse too, and quickly.

I'm posting this now because I have been involved with three funded indie features over the last few months in either helping to budget their tech costs or in a more direct producing position. All three wanted to shoot film, and for good reasons in their cases (two S16 and one 35mm) but just now the last one, just like the others before it, all had to go to something digital instead, along with pricing out color grading to a micro post business using a small "Color" suite. This scenario will just keep growing until it reaches a tipping point at which time I would assume you will either shut down that part of your business or go out altogether.?

Are the big clients and the (fading) 35mm ad business the only ones worth worrying about? We all know the big guys are saving money more these days too and since 3D is still hanging around strong, they won't be needing film work for those shows. The AF100, the F3 and Epic/Scarlet's are going to really make it tough in the coming year for indie films to consider anything else, even when they may not want to. How can I again show someone with, let's say a $250,000 budget, a $20,000 camera related item for something that many of them don't understand anyway?

I know I'm ignorant as to how machine ownership needs to financially operate but, to be blunt, how soon before I can get quotes that are far cheaper? When might you have to sell that scanner off to someone else who will offer this instead? I see more and more machines popping up for sale... is it possible that some indie film collective will end up with one soon and do it for $200/hour instead?

Just concerned here about being forced into using what may not always be appropriate and curious about your plans to deal with this, if at all.
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#2 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 28 January 2011 - 08:10 AM

Couldn't agree more. This has been a terrible problem in London for years.

The thing is, if the machines cost X amount of money to build, then they need to make X+Y amount back, where Y is dependent on the profit motive of the owner. I suspect X is bigger than Y in many cases, so the freedom of the owner to reduce it is actually quite limited. I mean, if a spirit costs $3m, what the hell can you possibly do. It's going to be expensive.

Eventually if you get to the point where nobody is willing to pay X+Y for the use of the thing then the business either folds or moves on to other things and you lose the ability to do it. And if that's the case, if film is simply too expensive to use, then you do something else. That's the equation that will finally kill photochemical production, if not distribution.

P
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#3 Matthew Parnell

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Posted 28 January 2011 - 08:11 AM

Are you now going to turn around and ask why rental on lighting equipment is so high?

Obviously, as with most service businesses, post houses set there margins based upon competition, the old supply vs demand factor and the fact that most customers are willing to pay that rate for the services rendered.

Also consider the fact that most post houses rarely get there rate-card rates on many jobs. They are a business, n

Edited by Matthew Parnell, 28 January 2011 - 08:14 AM.

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#4 Matthew Parnell

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Posted 28 January 2011 - 08:32 AM

Your right. Slowly film is less and less cost effective. Post houses, labs, and film manufacturers have very little they can truly do to compete but make better stock, purchase better equipment and make the result worth the money.
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#5 Gary Lemson

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Posted 28 January 2011 - 08:42 AM

Yes, the costs can be rather discouraging, but maybe we can persevere by adjusting expectations for a given project scenario. I know...it sounds so simplistic. If we don't support the chemical-based infrastructure, then indeed it seems likely the prognostications will come to fruition.
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#6 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 28 January 2011 - 08:49 AM

Film always was expensive. at least you don't need cutting copy prints and magnetic sound transfers from your rushes.

How much you get charged can vary quite a lot from the rate card. If you've got a relationship with a company or it's lower budget independent production they may strike a better deal, but say they're fitting you in during down time. However, there is a point which it's not commercially viable to go below. I suspect quite a few rental houses and facilities have gone below that point on a number of productions in recent years.
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#7 Brian Rose

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Posted 28 January 2011 - 12:09 PM

I'm not so sure I see the dilemma here. I can understand the cost for datacine...it's time consuming, you can only do one film at a time. I believe the technology is improving, allowing faster datascans, so perhaps this will help the price decrease.

Color correction is as much art as science, and you're paying for skilled labor. Considering what I have to go through to get a fair wage for my work (so many people think it's all in the camera, and so I should be able to just do it for free!), I won't begrudge the colorist their rates for the time and labor.

And given how the whole process of production, post and exhibition works, why the concern over scanning and color correction anyways?

I mean, if it were me, and I were shooting on film, I'd get your basic HD telecine (which have come WAAAAY down in price, check Cinelab's rates), do a bit of CC myself, and get the film out to festivals or to potential distributors. Try to get someone to pick it up, and let THEM foot the bill for the high priced color correction. Because even if you do pay for all this yourself on the first go around, if your film were to get picked up, no doubt the distributor would send it back through the post-pipeline to tweak the visuals and audio, and a lot of other small things. I believe Blair Witch was cheap to make, but cost quite a bit on the back end to get it up to snuff for wide distribution.

So really, I'd say the kind of work you're complaining about shouldn't be on the radar just yet. If it's a good film, it won't matter if the color correction isn't the best, or if you've just got a regular telecine as opposed to a 2K or 4K scan with color correction. And on the flipside, if you think your film's success DEPENDS on a full blown scan and high priced CC treatment, then I'd say you don't have a film.
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#8 K Borowski

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Posted 28 January 2011 - 12:41 PM

I've been to motion picture labs in six different states. I've run five different film processes myself.


Funny, I haven't seen a single lab owner driving around in a Mercedes Benz. I sure-as-hell don't either.

When you get involved with real professional budgeted film productions, you'll quickly see that the stock and processing costs are a minor part of the budget. Rawstock, for the most conservative estimate of the budget of the film I worked on, was 4% of their expenses.

With tax breaks and other concessions thrown in, I'd say it was maybe half that number.
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#9 Richard Boddington

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Posted 28 January 2011 - 01:09 PM

$600+/hr rates that seems to be the norm for scanning film from everyone.


Who in the hell is charging that much? I've never paid any where close to that and I've transferred hundreds of thousands of feet of 35mm to HDSR.

R,
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#10 John Young

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Posted 28 January 2011 - 02:25 PM

Who in the hell is charging that much? I've never paid any where close to that and I've transferred hundreds of thousands of feet of 35mm to HDSR.

R,


Since I have emailed LOTS of people in the past few weeks, I can tell you that several companies are charging WAY more than that, even for SD transfer. It looks like the problem comes from the "data handling" fee, and not the actual transfer fee. Some companies are reasonable, and others with the same data equipment are not.

I guess some companies have a larger overhead than others. In theory, it should not "cost" anything to transfer data from one disk to another. But, in practice, I'm sure someone has to sit there and watch the little progress bar fill up, making sure the electrons get where they're going. I don't actually know. I do know that I personally HATE watching progress bars.
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#11 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 28 January 2011 - 02:32 PM

I think part of this may be that post houses are absolutely terrified of file based workflows, on two levels:

- First, their hoary old I've-been-in-for-seventy-years people don't know anything about it, and have the octogenarian's dislike of new technology, and

- They know that a hard disk that costs about as much as an HDCAM tape can outperform an HDCAM tape deck, and they have several million dollars invested in HDCAM tape decks.

My view of this is that almost all of the work that's currently being done on HDCAM and HDCAM-SR could be done much more cheaply with file based workflows and that attempting to resist this is ultimately useless.

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#12 John Sprung

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Posted 28 January 2011 - 02:42 PM

The post houses have been aware of this for a while. It hurts them quite a bit, but it won't be fatal to any of the major players. A whole lot of telecines were taken out last hiatus, a bunch more will go this coming hiatus. The SAG almost-strike accelerated the move. It's going to tip to where telecine is a restoration function rather than a post production process. It'll still be available if you want to shoot film, but they'll be changing over from doing all those old YCM's to run your negative.

For the vast majority of low budget movies, we just have to face the fact that shooting digital will be the right price/performance choice.




-- J.S.
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#13 Richard Boddington

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Posted 28 January 2011 - 03:27 PM

For the vast majority of low budget movies, we just have to face the fact that shooting digital will be the right price/performance choice.


What do you see as the cut off number? I shot Dark Reprieve not for a low budget, but for a "micro" budget, and that was 35mm four perf!

When people hear that they tell me you can't shoot on 35mm for less than 4-5 million, I guess if you just want to waste film that would be the case.

R,
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#14 John Sprung

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Posted 28 January 2011 - 03:46 PM

What do you see as the cut off number?


It's more of a cut off gray zone, depending on the requirements of the story and you ability to get good deals and freebies on all the items in the budget. A really great simple character driven story that inspires the generosity of vendors, made by people with experience and contacts, might still be able to shoot film on, say, $100K. OTOH, the Alexa is a fine system, it could very well be the "A" camera on a $100M tentpole picture.




-- J.S.
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#15 Richard Boddington

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Posted 28 January 2011 - 03:58 PM

the Alexa is a fine system, it could very well be the "A" camera on a $100M tentpole picture.
-- J.S.


Except that it's video. :D

R,
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#16 Alessandro Machi

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Posted 28 January 2011 - 04:25 PM

Kodak just announced I-memories, which could put a hit on the independent home movie transfer business. However, the operating model they are using, if it ever crept up to 16mm and 35mm, could lower prices on film transfers in general.

http://www.imemories.../January2011A1/

Ultimately, Kodak is going the Sony Beta-max route, and Sony got clobbered. Kodak's spirit is so proprietary, and there are enough gotcha's when it comes to how long they support older Spirit's, that they are only allowing the richest clients to succeed.
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#17 John Sprung

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Posted 28 January 2011 - 04:55 PM

Except that it's video. :D

R,


So? Why would that stop them?




-- J.S.
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#18 Marc Roessler

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Posted 28 January 2011 - 08:34 PM

The funny thing is, telecine / scan really seems to be the most expensive part of the whole film workflow.

Shooting film is cheap (relatively speaking) as long as you go the photochemical route. It's really when you do either a BlowUp (S16 to 35) or telecine/scan (2K) the stuff when it gets expensive.

I got a quote from a lab for a 16mm shoot (b&w negative): negative cutting according to a workprint, including the "zero print" and one regular print, with sound negative and printing with optical sound to regular 16mm b&w print. This was half of the cost. The other half was scanning (SD telecine) and preparing for the DVD. This somewhat surprised me...

If just telecine or scanning would come down a bit shooting on film would be so much more interesting (especially S16). The price of 16mm/S16 equipment really has crashed and processing 16mm ECN-2 is quite affordable. The negative is not too expensive either. The only problem is telecine/scan. I'd shoot much much more S16 if (HD) telecine prices would drop a bit.
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#19 K Borowski

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Posted 28 January 2011 - 10:17 PM

Kodak is not going to endanger its lab customers by cutting into their profits Alex.


Scan prices are NOT going to come down. It is cut-throat enough trying to make a profit in such a niche market.


Labs need to make their money somewhere in the workflow. It used to be color timing was really expensive. It has since moved on to telecine or transfers. Once the labs have amortized the cost of new datacines, 4K+ scanners, high speed film recorders, and the price of memory and speed of computers all get to the point where the data is cheap and easy to move around, THEN maybe you'll see prices come down.

After all is said and done, a lab makes maybe 10 cents profit out of every hundred that come in. As long as the equipment is evolving and market is migrating and in flux, they'll always have new equipment that they bough with 10% down on a small business loan to make payments on.


One thing that is probably never going to mature and stabilize is digital equipment. It's never been built to last, and there are constantly issues. Not like a film processor that can run for 100 years and uses standard parts you can buy at a hardware store. So labs are always going to have to spend a sizeable amount of money maintaining and upgrading their high-tech equipment.
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#20 Vincent Sweeney

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Posted 29 January 2011 - 03:05 AM

Lighting rentals as a parallel? Lights don't relate to this, nor do tripods, cranes or car mounts.

Do RED's rent for what they did a year ago? I recall a DVX "package" once going for $300/day at a rental house, now you can buy one for a little more. An Aaton Prod or SR3 body was worth $20-30,000 a few years ago, but as of 2011 you'd be lucky to get $7000.

There is no need to defend an investment here. I'm just bringing up a fact that people don't seem to want to acknowledge. The time is now. The shift is happening in larger percentage this year than any other I bet. Either prices have to change now or that's it for a lot of users. For those not actively in an indie film producing role, right now, all this might be hard to see.

If a machine costs X amount, then I hope it has already recovered much of that X by now. Is getting $200/hour better than it not working at all? Maybe Robert could shine some light on that question. And Phil, I don't think they cost $3M, they sure don't now anyway.

Brian, what you think happens to small films just isn't the case in the real world. That's the stuff that film books/schools teach students but don't be fooled. The chances of someone picking up a small film, and on top of that paying for anything extra besides maybe E&O insurance, is basically 0%. A winning lottery ticket is a more likely thing. Also, everyone here knows a colorist is a hired artist but paying for the overhead is what I'm getting at. I wish it weren't true but not just little $100k indies are looking for cheaper ways to get it done anymore.

Richard, I'd think you have run into lots of those $600 rates. It's a good average, maybe a little high but is true. Funny enough, I just checked my email while typing this and Pro8mm is advertising a sale at $300/hour rates for their 1080 M2 scans. They have some great 8mm packages too if anyone is looking to play around with 8mm. And to your 35mm comment, I could see it budgeted fairly easily given a $500k film or above, although at 2 or 3perf. If you ran into a lab you like recently who's rate is way under the norm, please IM me, I might be able to save the next one.

Hey Karl, I know all about what percentages of budgets are for what, having signed checks to pay for it. This post isn't about $10 million dollar films, if that is what you are trying to say. Lots of them are renting Alexa's by the way and 2011 will see that jump.
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