Forty Some Odd Years Ago

Chapter 3


Processing the Film


Kodak made two types of  color film stocks, they were Kodachrome and Ektachrome.  The Kodachrome was considered to be an amateur film because it was quite high contrast and generally over saturated with color.  The grass would look greener than green and the sky would be bluer that blue, but that was what people wanted.  On the other hand the professionals wanted something more real to life, so Ektachrome had less contrast and had less color saturation.  At Quality Film Labs, we processed the Ektachrome type films.  Kodachrome was mostly left to Kodak to process as it was a much more difficult process.

The color dye was put into the emulsion from the processing chemicals, where Ektachrome already contained the color dyes in the emulsion.  This made for a simpler process.


The processing (developing) of Ektachrome consisted the following steps

Step 1  Pre-hardener   (to harden the emulsion to withstand the high temperatures of the chemicals)

Step 2  Neutralizer     (to neutralize the pre-hardener)

Step 3  First developer (to develop the negative image)

Step 4  Stop Bath       (to stop the developing)

Step 5 Water rinse

Step 6  Color Developer (to develop the color positive image)

Step 7  Stop Bath       (to stop the developing)

Step 8 Water Rinse

Step 9  Bleach       (to bleach out the B&W negative image)

Step 10 Water rinse

Step 11  Fixer       (to harden the image and remove any residue)

Step 12 Water rinse

Step 13  Stabilizer   (to hold the color intact)

Step 14  drier           (to dry the film)

Yes, I said simpler.

Each of these steps required the temperature to be within   ˝ of one degree.  With the temperatures ranging from 95 degrees to 110 degrees Fahrenheit.  The time the film remained in each tank of chemicals was very critical, especially in the first developer.


The film traveled through the processor in one continuous length, to enable this all of the 100ft.rolls were spliced together using acid proof staples and wound onto a 1200ft. reel.  This was done in total darkness of course.  That reel was put into a light tight magazine which was placed onto the feed end of the processing machine.  The film end, which exited the light tight magazine via a light trap, was stapled to a machine leader which was much like film itself but a lot stronger and was already threaded throughout  the entire processing machine.  The film would follow the leader through the various tanks of chemicals. 


Our processing machine ran at 30 feet per minute and it took approximately 30minutes to get the first frame of film onto the take up reel and then of course 30  feet each minute thereafter.  Everything ran perfect until you happened to have a film break which would happen occasionally.  Usually a break would occur because there was a small tear in one of the customers  rolls of film that managed to get by our efforts to find such tears in the dark. 


We checked for tears by allowing the film to pass through your fingers that were held  lightly on the apposing edges of the film.  Doing this however could cause it’s own set of problems.  If the film was wound onto the reel to quickly it could cause static electricity to build up and then discharge to a ground.  A very small spark would travel across the film.  Even though this spark was quite dim, because it happened right on the emulsion it would create an exposure!  A static electricity exposure would almost always look like a tree limb with a heavy line extending across the frame and smaller line branching out from it.  No matter what it looked like, it was a definite no no in the processing business. 

We in the motion picture film processing business got blamed for a lot of things, everything from the film is too dark you must have under developed it to the film is too light you must have over developed it, but the static thing… most people had no idea what it was or where it came from!


 No matter how much you did to prevent it, from time to time a break would occur and film would get ruined.  The sad part is that in many cases the film that got ruined was NOT the film that caused the problem.  We were keenly aware that every day we were processing original films that in almost every case could never be re-shot or replaced.  That was a lot of pressure you put yourself under every day and it could do you in if you let it.  Luckily,  the monetary consequences were limited as the labs were only obligated to replace the film stock and could not be made to pay the cost of shooting the images that supposedly were on it. 


I recall the time when one of our customers who also had processing done at a big Lab in New York, came in and was telling us that on two different occasions he got back a

Processed 400ft. roll of film that was completely blank (unexposed).

A note came along with the blank film stating that he should have his camera checked as it may have a shutter problem.  He could not figure out what was going wrong.

I asked him if he kept a record of the emulsion numbers of the stock he used so he could check those numbers against the numbers on the mysterious blank film.  At first he asked why, then as if a light bulb lit over his head he said “They ruined my roll and sent back a blank roll to hide what happened!  He quit sending his film to that big New York lab which is now long gone as they should be.  If you have to operate that way, you should not be in the business.  We always were right up front with your customers and knew that they fully appreciated that fact.


On one particular occasion we processed a 400ft. roll of ECO that was completely blank with absolutely no exposure.  That roll belonged to a local production company that had been in business for years.  Between us we tossed around every possible reason we could conceive with no concrete answer.  The next day, I received a phone call from the cameraman.  He said “We know what happened,  our assistant cameraman loaded the 400ft. roll which was a core wind in the film magazine in the dark room, then placed the magazine on the camera with the film stock going from the supply side to the take up side but not threaded in the film gate, leaving that for the cameraman to do.”

“I (the cameraman) came along and thought he (the assistant) threaded the film through the gate so I just started to shoot.  All along the film just traveled from one side of the magazine to the other and never got a image to expose it!”    

I brought that situation up with the other producer, but he said that did not happen in their situation as only one person loads and shoots the film.


I mentioned a core wind in that story and should explain what that is.

Earlier in this book I told you about the film being loaded on a daylight spool.  This was primarily done with 100ft. rolls.  With the larger rolls, Kodak would supply them on either daylight spools or on a film core.  Unlike a daylight spool, a core has no sides and offers no protection from being exposed if handled in the light.  Most film magazines were designed to use a core.   This meant that the film must be removed from the film can and put in the magazine in total darkness.  After the film is placed in the supply side a empty core is placed in the take-up side of the magazine and the film end attached to it.  Then the lid is placed on the magazine leaving only a small loop of film sticking out the bottom that is exposed to light  When the magazine was placed on top of the camera this small loop of film was manually pulled down and the film was threaded through the feed sprocket drives and the film gate.  The light tight lid was then secured to the camera a the shooting could begin.


Film loaded on a core had to be handled very carefully as there nothing to keep it in place.  If not handled properly the film would just fall off into a jumbled mess.  Winding the film off the core in the dark room onto our processing machine reel could be tricky.  For the weak at heart we had split reels.  These reels could be split open by turning one side in the opposite direction to the other side. This would un-screw the two sides.  With the two sides separated the film including the core could be placed on one side and the other side screwed back together.


Back to the processing machine,  as I said the film would travel through a series of rollers submerged in a chemical and then exit that tank and go into the next tank of chemicals.  After all of the chemical steps were complete  the film would pass through a air wipe.  This was a device that allowed high pressure air to blow the remaining water or chemical off the film.  The film then entered the dry box where warm air was blown over it until dry.  The film then was collected on the take up reel.


The machine was designed to allow for changing both the supply magazine and the take up reel without stopping the machine which would be disastrous to any film in the chemical tanks.  This reel changed was accomplished by having elevators at each end.  These elevators either raised to continue to supply film or lower to take up film during reel changes.


With this ability to continually feed more film into the processor coupled with a replenishment system for the chemistry we were able to develop an unlimited amount of motion picture film.  



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