[Frameworks] Kodak Film Stocks to be Discontinued, Announced in December

Dave Tetzlaff djtet53 at gmail.com
Sun Aug 31 00:12:00 UTC 2014

Alex Balkam wrote:

> It may be time for Frameworks to consider contacting the higher ups at Kodak to express the importance that the less industrial, less Hollywood products really need to be maintained during this challenging time in order that we can continue to expose young filmmakers and the public to the merits and beauty of film.

Been there. Did that. Pleaded, cajoled, begged John Mason, former higher-up in Kodak's Ed division (now retired) that they continue making tungsten color reversal so schools with non-studio-style programs (and budgets) could still teach photo-chemical filmmaking in color. I told them they were driving us little-folk into digital. Deaf ears. All they really cared about were big schools that bought lots of stock and fed students into the industry as camera crew. Their position was: 'You teach basic cinematography in B&W, and anyone doing an advanced project will have the time and resources for color negative.'

> I am thinking there must be some way to make them realize that the only way we will have Tarantinos lobbying major production companies to guarantee Kodak contracts in the future is to be able to show the next generation what it means to work on film.

They know that. You have to understand Kodak was a giant industrial corporation that had no economic path to shrinkage, and is now is capitalist hospice, waiting out its last days. All they're trying to do now is slow the bleeding, and save as much stock value as they can for the next quarterly report. Even if someone in the higher-ups still plans to be around for the next generation of output by major production companies (and that's doubtful), they're not in a position to 'maintain less Hollywood products,' plan for the future, or do anything but maximize profits from the Cinema Division right now as a bandaid on the larger corporate hemorrhage.

Kodak used to be a big sponsor of UFVA, throwing a big Banquet at the conference each year, and bringing in a major personage from ASC for a featured evening talk, e.g. Vilmos Zsigmond, Laszlo Kovacs... (Their concept of 'filmmaking education' beginning and ending with cinematography for narrative film. If any of the many Ed. reps who used to go to UFVA even knew who, say, Al Maysles or Jem Cohen were, they didn't give a poop.) Kodak even hosted the conference one year at their corporate HQ in Rochester, in the fancy R&D building they had put up maybe a decade or two earlier. Most of the facility had been vacated, and the place already smelled of death. That was 2001. It was either around that time or in the next couple years (memory fails me) that they made their Big Move to "show the next generation what it means to work on film". This was the introduction of the exact B&W stocks they are now discontinuing or making unavailable in 100' loads (read 'phasing out'). The old Plus-X/Tri-X processing was considered too toxic, and they had to entirely reformulate the stocks for new chemistry. This cost them a lot of time and money, and it was all spearheaded by the Ed. Division. The read-between-the-lines message was: 'We don't make enough money on this to justify the R&D economically, and if it was up to the bean-counters corporate would be dropping all of this stuff, but we (Ed. div.) went in and fought for you (teachers), and convinced them that profit-or-not, we need new B&W stocks so the academies can still teach cinematography at a reasonable cost.'

A few years later, the Ed. Division had shrunk to a fraction of it's former size, Kodak was no longer sponsoring UFVA as before, and the sumptuous Kodak Banquets and prestige ASC talks had been replaced by crackers-and-chesse receptions and bozo editing talks sponsored by Avid.

By the last time I taught my photochemical filmmaking class in '09, I was spooling 100D off 400' cores onto 100' daylight reels so the students who could afford color stock could get something into our clockwork cameras. When I'd found out Kodak had discontinued the 100' loads of 100D, I had just shaken my head. What else was I to expect after 10 years of watching the ship sink, but another nail in the non-Hollywood-photochemical-film-education coffin? 

In conclusion, if non-Hollywood makers and educators are going to organize around the preservation of reasonable-cost 16mm stock, I think it would be wise to aim those efforts beyond Kodak. Try to funnel as much $$ as possible to the manufacturers that have the best prospects of staying in business the longest, try to make it in their interest to expand distribution in North America, and offer student discounts. Lobby them for the latter, perhaps by gathering commitments from schools to order X amount of stock if a discount becomes available. Explain to them that when Kodak goes under, the students aren't going to have the option of paying more for un-discounted stock, and they'll almost all just go digital. 

Look at the development rate of digital technology, and make a reasonable guess at how long it's going to take for a 4K digital camera with good dynamic range and no rolling shutter to hit the market for less than it costs to shoot/process/scan a single 15 minute short in color 16mm based on a 5:1 shooting ratio. (a BMCC 4K body is $2500 at B+H now). Sure, digital will never be film. Now count how many people outside of Hollywood honchos like Tarantino really care.

More information about the FrameWorks mailing list