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After 90 years of motion picture film processing in Detroit, Grace & Wild Studios has ceded to the increasing dominance of the digital world and closed its FilmCraft division in favor of handling file based workflows and film archival work.

Jeff Wanless, FilmCraft’s lab manager for 13 years, says FilmCraft will refer processing requests to Chicago’s Filmworkers Astro Labs.  With the closing last year of Minneapolis’  and now FilmCraft in Detroit having ended, Astro stands as the Midwest’s sole 35/16mm processing lab.

Full article here.

The motion picture film processing industry is admittedly somewhat of a dying industry.  Each year, digital video and HD filmmaking continue to take a bigger and bigger bite out of film sales which leads to a motion picture film lab closing every six months or so.  

I'm well aware of these closures and the pressures that induce them because I work at one of the last motion picture film processing labs still standing on the east coast.

However, this particular quote in this article caught my attention:

Two factors led to the closing: the inevitable and increasing transition from film to digital capture and the killing of Michigan’s top-rated film incentives by Gov. Rick Snyder this year, which vastly reduced the amount of film the lab was processing.


“Thanks in part to Michigan film incentives, in the last four years the lab processed film for over 20 features — 500,000 feet for the feature ‘30 Minutes or Less’ alone,” amounting to 1.5 million feet of film,” says Wanless.  That amount sunk to 100,000 feet this year.

Ladies and gentlemen, your "pro-business" republican policies at work.

Here's a little bit more background about FilmCraft and the Detroit film industry:

FilmCraft was one of the oldest and most durable labs in the film industry.  It dates  back to the earliest days of motion pictures when it was founded as Detroit Film in the 1920s, Wanless relates.  It became General Film with new ownership in the 1930s and FilmCraft in  the ‘50s.   Grace & Wild purchased it in 1988.

The heyday of film lasted from 1970-1982, says Wanless.  “Detroit’s film industry employed thousands of people at that time. We had three big labs — Producers Color Services, Allied and FilmCraft — putting out industrial, educational and religious films and commercials for ad agencies and the auto industry.  Then video came in and killed the lab business.”

Detroit’s film industry was revived a few times since then, especially during the three years of tax incentives when Michigan enjoyed $300 million in production revenue.

Most people don't really know much about the film industry so I would also like to point out that there is another Midwest film lab in Kansas called Dwayne's Photo, but they mainly process 8mm and 16mm Ektachrome film, which is I guess why they weren't mentioned in the article.  In fact, Dwayne's was recently notable for being the last film lab on Earth to process Kodachrome film, that memorable film line that was responsible almost all of America's amateur home movies from 1935-2010.  Kodak itself discontinued Kodachrome production in June 2009.

I'll let power of Kodachrome speak for itself:

The photographer, Steve McCurry, was actually allowed to be the last person who processed the last roll of Kodachrome at Dwayne's Photo in December 2010, such was his affinity and professional success due to the medium.

I'll also mention this other memorial of Kodachrome by Paul Simon

Anyway, back to article.  Film as a medium is particularly susceptible to a destructive cycle in that it is expensive to produce and to process, which means that it only becomes economical if you produce and process it in large quantities.  Kodachrome, in particular, serves as a good example of this vicious cycle in that where it once enjoyed a dominant share of the amateur and professional market until about the 80's and 90's when it really started to decline due to competitiveness with video and other easier to manufacture and process filmstocks.  

Kodachrome is actually unusually complicated to process in relation to other filmstocks, which was partly designed to discourage amateurs and independent labs from competing with Kodak for processing it.  It was actually the subject of court decision in 1954 called United States v. Eastman Kodak Co. where Kodak's monopoly over Kodachrome processing was declared anti-competitive and other labs were allowed to acquire the chemicals and machinery needed to process it.

However, with dwindling sales overall, Kodachrome processing at labs began to dwindle, leading to less demand for chemicals, which made it more expensive for Kodak to produce the necessary chemicals and for the remaining film labs to purchase those chemicals, thus driving more labs to close Kodachrome processing and so forth.  

In short, due to the high expenses associated with producing film and processing it, the film lab industry really depends on having a high volume of work in order to be sustainable.

And that appears to be what happened with FilmCraft in Detroit.  Under Democrats, Michigan offered important incentives that helped revive Michigan filmmaking to the tune of $300 million in revenue, a byproduct of which helped maintain enough demand for a small business like FilmCraft to stay in business.  

Then after the 2010 tidal wave, Republicans are swept in to office who proceed to kill off these important incentives to allow millionaires and wealthy corporations to keep more of their money.  It's a prime example of the shortsightedness that embodies conservative ideology that all government spending is inherently wasteful unless it's going to people at the every top of economic ladder.  Instead, they ended up killing off an industry that Democrats had, years before them, spent a significant investment reviving.

Finally, I'd like to end with a little piece on Film vs. Digital in general.

Don't get me wrong, I don't have a particular grudge against video or HD.  Film, video, and digital are all tools by which they can succeed or fail depending on the skill of the artist who wields them.  In fact, I think it has some very notable advantages over film in certain situations, especially in documentary-type settings where you can't tell the world to stop everything while you download, can, and reload an 11-minute magazine of film.

However, I feel that there are some important advantages film has over digital that should be mentioned:

First, it's by far the best medium by which to learn motion picture storytelling.  This may seem counter-intuitive because most people might think of film as an archaic, expensive, and cumbersome mean of production.  It's actually these qualities that make it a good teaching medium because it forces a student to fully understand technical principles like exposure, lighting, frame rates, and shot composition as well as basic management and pre-production skills to plan ahead and really think through all of aspects of making a film.  In short, you really have to imagine and see in your head how the technical decisions you make now will look on film a week from now after it's been processed.  Do you think the average student with a digital camera will put that much thought into their production on their own if all they had to do was flip a switch and turn on a digital camera that chooses an exposure for them?

Second, film has the advantage of being "human-readable."  What do I mean by "human-readable?"  I mean that if you take a roll of film, all you have to do is unspool it and hold it up to a light to see the images that have been recorded on it.  A film shot back in 1909 is just as accessible to the human eye as anything shot on film today.  From personal experience, I can say that it's always remarkable to unspool a 90 year old film and reveal a bright, smiling human face etched into the silver halide crystals.  Can't quite say the same thing about a DVD or a video tape.

And finally, how well do you think that video tape will hold up 90 years from now?  Or that digital video file?  Could you say with 100% confidence that you could find a machine 50 years from now to play back that tape with working, usable parts and the incorporated software to know how the tape has been encoded to play it back?  Has anyone ever had a hard drive fail, become corrupted, or erased?  Has anyone migrated an old file to a new computer only to have the new computer not be able to recognize it?

From an archival standpoint, I find it hard to think of any medium that will ever surpass film in terms of longevity and human-readability.

Originally posted to DeanNC on Fri Sep 30, 2011 at 08:08 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The world changes whether we want it to (22+ / 0-)

    or not.   What is so sad is that mankind kills so many beautiful things off before their time.  And Snyder just wants to kill things, period.  He seems to be an angry and destructive person who should never have been given so much control over people's lives.  Walker is a tool and bully, but Snyder makes it seem more personal.

  •  Michigan loses out on two major films (22+ / 0-)

    due to the dismantling of the film industry incentive of Governor Snyder and the Republican majority in the state government.

    The state lost out on the "Avengers" and "Iron Man 3" due to the revamping of the incentive policy.

    Freep article about loss of Avengers/Irorn Man 3 and the difficulties the once promising film industry is having in Michigan.

    This is the second major superhero movie that has opted not to film in Michigan. In February, Marvel chose Ohio over Michigan for the filming of part of "The Avengers" after it could not get the incentives it wanted from the Michigan Film Office. "We didn't seem to have learned from the first one," Richardville said, referring to "The Avengers."

    -6.25 -7.08 The glass is neither half-full nor half-empty. The glass is just twice as large as it needs to be. If you play Microsoft CD's backwards, you hear satanic things, but that's nothing, because if you play them forwards, they install Windows.

    by Unit Zero on Fri Sep 30, 2011 at 08:42:42 AM PDT

    •  So can someone tell me when corporate welfare is (0+ / 0-)

      good and when it is bad?

      Why should we be subsidizing companies that are owned by people with much more money than most of us have?

      Let their owners pay their costs or shut them down.

  •  Sad to see this. Poor Michigan. Hang in there! (10+ / 0-)

    Snyder cannot last.

    "They are the best among us." -- Hedges on #occupywallst

    by livjack on Fri Sep 30, 2011 at 09:49:21 AM PDT

  •  This is very interesting and sad. (11+ / 0-)

    Your point about how well video tape and digital will hold up is well taken and applies not just to movies but all forms of communication.  Egyptian papyri 5,000 years old are still accessible to us (thanks to the Rosetta Stone).  Imagine archaeologists of the future trying to figure out an iPad.  

    We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately. B. Franklin

    by Observerinvancouver on Fri Sep 30, 2011 at 01:40:43 PM PDT

  •  This is a great diary which illustrates (11+ / 0-)

    the difference in framing between those of us who wish to enrich society, and those of us who wish to enrich themselves. When the story points out "investment to revive the Michigan film industry", Republicans only hear "government picking winners and losers in what should be a free market." When we hear "incentives to support small business", they hear "government waste". The truth is that both are true, to a degree; the challenge is, how do we decide which is the path of "truth"? I think that two criteria might be useful to analyze this situation: 1. Is this intervention creating or furthering a societal good? and 2. Is it cost-effective? To evaluate the current story, I would posit that the first criterion is affirmatively fulfilled - a wide variety of smaller business activities are spawned and fed by the infusion of "seed money" into the Michigan economy in this fashion. Regarding the second criterion, close and careful analysis of the economic impact of the grants and loans would be needed, but I would surmise that the tax returns to the state that are generated by the salaries paid and goods purchased in the production of these films likely exceeds the cost of the initial outlays, so I would rate it cost-effective as well. In a Republican world view, the only societal good is that those who have lots of money get even more, and the only cost-effectiveness parameter is that the cost of lobbying for this disbursement is less than the eventual return from the governmental payout. In other words, the Republican framing is "cost-effective FOR ME" and "a societal good FOR ME." Their framing works very well in meshing this calculus with the "job creator" meme, even though, in most cases, they really could hardly give less of a shit about creating jobs - what they want to create is more power for themselves as they tighten their stranglehold on the rest of society.

    Your black cards can make you money, so you hide them when you're able; in the land of milk and honey, you must put them on the table - Steely Dan

    by OrdinaryIowan on Fri Sep 30, 2011 at 01:57:48 PM PDT

  •  thanks (8+ / 0-)

    and it's sad to hear this. I'm a film-folk from past decades - was a grip for 20 years in Mpls. and shot & processed my own 16 mm in school.
    One thing @ film that you didn't mention - it's a 3 dimensional object that tampers with time - emulsion on acetate is 3D and the 'blobs' of emulsion that move around from frame to frame randomly give film an aliveness that cannot be replicated. It better replicates what the human eye can see than the newer media also.

  •  Thanks for this diary. (9+ / 0-)

    I enjoyed this diary and I think its a shame that Michigan changed its incentives. The GOP really fucked that revenue stream up. Michigan was reaLly rolling there for a while.

    In FL, we fought hard to get some improved incentives. We got a half-assed thing under Crist, incentives for "family films" (Disney is a HUGE influence in the state) which basically made the incentive for other major release films useless. Not everything is a "family film". So it was basically useless. But hey, at least they attract a bunch of "christian films" and other similar types of films. Yay. Not.

    Now, I have to make a comment re: the digital vs film thing.

    I'm a filmmaker and producer. My husband is a cinematographer. And we use digital. We do all the same pre-production planning, shot listing, storyboarding, planning, as any film project. My husband does NOT use the "auto" or "manual" feature. NO GOOD PHOTOGRAPHER DOES. We have to choose lighting, exposure, aperture settings (called gain in digital) and various other things. Just this week I bought some new gels for my lights because I'm shooting a day-as-night situation set in a time period when there was no electricity. I'm using fire as some of my lighting for a few indoor and outdoor scenes and have to do some testing on-location to insure I get a believable effect. This would need to done regardless of medium. I'm thankful I can do it without having to shell out $20,000 in stock costs.

    On set, I look at every shot taken on a monitor set apart from the live area. Just like any director on a film set, I plan the shot, coach the actors, make sure everyone knows what we're capturing and before I roll "film".  I use the storyboard and shot lists to plan shots with my DP, who works with the lighting folks and camera operators. We use all the same stuff you see in a film: fisher dollies, light stands, cranes, jibs and etc. There's NO difference in terms of preparation for the shot or the technical knowledge needed to get the shot. It's tremendously time consuming if you do it right. And it's no different than what any film-using director would do. the advantage is I don't have to wait for dailies. And I don't have to spend a sizable chunk my budget on film stock. This means I can use that film stock money to shoot extra days or make sure I'm better staffed. Or I can do something more with digital effects. I'm not Hollywood with 100-million dollar budgets. So every dollar matters. And creating a quality product matters.

    My husband has several 10's of thousands of dollars worth of lenses that he uses, just as any film camera would use. Choosing the right glass for a shot is no easier with digital filmmaking than with film. It takes technical expertise an artists' eye. Lighting properly is no different and just as important in digital as in film. Making sure you have a good location sound team is just as important (you didn't think we use the on-camera mics did you?)

    Digital is not just good for "run-and-gun" or "doc-making". It's excellent for making real legitimate films. It IS filmmaking.

    As far as the nostalgic things you mention, I suppose. That's a matter of whether someone is nostalgic that way or not. It's not something that makes it "better". Digital formats have to be stored smartly just as film stock formats should - for best preservation. But you're right no one can predict whether the digital file (or more accurately, the card) that the media is stored on will have anything that will be able to read it 100 years from now. And I also can't find a rotary pay phone anywhere in this country except a prop house. I can't buy a computer that can read my circa 1990 "floppy disks" either.

    But maybe there's room for some enterprising person who converts them digital media into readable format or into whatever "system" is being used 100 years from now.

    I have nothing against film as a medium. I like it. I appreciate it. I've enjoyed it longer than digital has been around. BUT, that doesn't automatically make it better.

    Anyway, /end industry rant (as you know this is an argument that is still going on in th biz and will never be resolved, really).

    I've become re-radicalized. Thanks a lot you bunch of oligarchical fascist sons-of-bitches. But once again, I have no choice. Bring it the fuck on.

    by mdmslle on Fri Sep 30, 2011 at 02:49:48 PM PDT

    •  you make films in FL? (0+ / 0-)

      were you involved at all with Yulee's Gold?

      Someone I know did costuming for it.

      Being ignored is the difference between being a one percenter and an American.--sweeper

      by SouthernLiberalinMD on Fri Sep 30, 2011 at 08:25:54 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Thanks for the comment (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Matt Z

      I certainly didn't mean to imply that ALL digital filmmaking was done with "auto" functions but I can see how it read as that.  I have also worked extensively in video production for a few years maintaining and prepping digital cameras, audio gear, and lighting and grip equipment for professional broadcast so I've had exposure to both worlds and I definitely know that professional videographers take just as much care with their craft, lighting, and equipment as Hollywood-style film crews.  I spent many hours color shading different video cameras with a waveform and vectorscope so that they matched or produced certain stylistic looks for clients.

      As mentioned before, I view both film and digital as tools that can succeed or fail based on the skill of the artist that wields them.  And well-produced digital filmmaker does require just as much care and effort as traditional filmmaking with just as rewarding results.

      I had meant to draw a distinction between students and professionals in that comment that didn't come across clearly so I'd like to expand on it a bit.

      What I meant to say is that for a student who is learning the craft, I personally feel that film is more technically demanding just to make a usable image so it really forces them to pre-produce, plan their shots, and measure their exposure so that they are conscious of what f-stop they're using and they're thinking about how the entire composition will look in the end.  Perhaps it's a bias in how I was trained but I remember always keeping in the back of my head while I was learning, "Ok, I've got a 3 minutes of film in my magazine and the 100' daylight spool cost me $30 to purchase with another $30 to process and workprint that later so I better make sure that I don't screw anything up."

      I also feel it made me a better editor because when you're cutting and splicing actual film, if you mess up a cut, you have to physically undo the splice and do it again which takes a significant amount of time and effort.  Therefore, the nature of the process forces a student to really think about whether this particular frame is really the one that they want to cut on.

      My film class was the last class to edit films with synchronous dialogue on Steenbecks (flatbed editing consoles where you physically cut the film and audio and splice them together, for those who aren't familiar with one) and shortly after I graduated I overhead a couple of younger film students in same program I graduated from saying, "man, can you believe people actually cut their projects on those things?"  I felt compelled to tell them that's how I learned and I felt it was a very rewarding experience that made me a better digital editor as well.

      I'm not saying that one can't learn and hone their craft exclusively on a digital camera and become an excellent filmmaker (I've seen some excellent work from cinematographers that never touched film before) as I was saying that personally, I found the nature of the film medium very suited to an academic setting.

      Proud to share my name with Howard Dean

      by DeanNC on Fri Sep 30, 2011 at 08:43:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lineatus, linkage, Lujane, Matt Z

    As a photographer still using analogue film this is a bad sign.  Along with the news of Kodak shares plummeting, it hasn't been a good week for film users.  I'll keep using it until the last roll is done and it's not dead yet but it's going to reach a point where stock will dwindle and cost will skyrocket even more (the rise in the price of silver doesn't exactly help either).

    •  So I shouldn't throw away all the old rolls (0+ / 0-)

      stored in my refrigerator?

      I've been trying to decide what to do with them.  If you know anyone who can use them - probably a dozen assorted ones - I'd be glad to be rid of them.  

      I just hate to throw anything away, especially if it's never been used.

      •  You could probably still get an image on them (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        If you want to use them, the best thing to do is contact a film lab and ask them if they'll do a snip test on old film to try to measure how the stock is currently performing.  

        You would send them the sealed can and they would clip off a 2 foot section from the head (in a dark room of course), process it, and then read it with a densitometer to see how the red, green, and blue layers are responding.  That would tell you if the film is worthless or not but old film can get what's called "age fog" where it becomes grainier and noisier.  

        In fact, some experimental filmmakers actually seek out old film (even film that's 20 years old) specifically to try to achieve an effect like this.

        You could also probably sell it on ebay as there are people who will take a chance with it (hopefully after getting a snip test so they have an idea of how the film will perform).

        If you have old film, in general, you're probably better off overexposing it by 1/2 to a full stop to try to make the negative denser.

        Proud to share my name with Howard Dean

        by DeanNC on Fri Sep 30, 2011 at 08:50:59 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Our Kodachrome speaks for herself, too. (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    CoyoteMarti, Orinoco, Lujane, DeanNC, Matt Z

    She was named for the song, but we were thrilled when Kodak featured one of her kind for in-store posters and promos about ten years ago.  When I wrote them and told them her name, they sent me a whole buncha stuff, and we framed one poster to hang in her room.  Painful to hear that Kodak is on the verge of bankruptcy now.

    orange bird and

  •  Huh. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I see film as a dying industry that's being replaced by a better, cheaper, more versatile alternative.  You don't need a bunch of horse buggy manufacturers if everyone's driving cars.

    New favorite put-down: S/he's as dumb as a flock of Sarah Palins

    by sleipner on Fri Sep 30, 2011 at 04:36:57 PM PDT

  •  I like your diary (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lujane, DeanNC, Matt Z

    and I hate to knit pick but Detroit is spelled wrong in your title.

  •  Your first reason strikes a cord. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lujane, DeanNC, Matt Z

    The discipline of creating imagery on film engages one with the world.

    I still have a Stereo Realist and wish I had Kodachrome for it.

    If you see the world in terms of Left & Right, you really aren’t seeing the world at all . . . Barry Ritholtz.

    by Fossil on Fri Sep 30, 2011 at 05:28:10 PM PDT

  •  Thank You - N/T (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lujane, DeanNC, Matt Z

    "Upward, not Northward" - Flatland, by EA Abbott

    by linkage on Fri Sep 30, 2011 at 06:54:10 PM PDT

  •  You get a tip (5+ / 0-)

    from this old B&W shooter who's lost 3 hard drives in the last 2 years.  But miraculously, my negatives survived a raccoon nesting and raising 4 pups (?) in the storage bin where I had them.  I do still have to wash the urine off a bunch of them, but they're not irreparably harmed.

  •  with you, but I'm afraid we're a dying breed (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DeanNC, Matt Z, Egalitare

    Being ignored is the difference between being a one percenter and an American.--sweeper

    by SouthernLiberalinMD on Fri Sep 30, 2011 at 08:22:36 PM PDT

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