Why are new film labs being built?
By Jonathan Banks
Issue: January 1, 2011

Why are new film labs being built?

These days, the future of motion picture film is the subject of much debate throughout the global TV and movie industry. There are many commercial interests and technology issues to take into account. I would like to share comments, experiences and strategies of some of our most successful global customers.

First of all, no organization can justify investing in new film laboratory equipment, unless they feel that there is a strong need for those services amongst the film production community, now and many years into the future. The fact that new labs are still being built around the world is a testimony to the needs of the industry.

Who are these professionals who are building new labs, and what markets are they servicing?  

The first type of organization is an existing provider, who serves the film and digital production and post production industries, but does not currently have their own lab. This might be a camera rental operation, or a digital-only facility. They see the addition of their own lab as complimenting their other services, and helping them become more of a “one-stop shop.” 

Perhaps they have traditionally worked with outside, separately-owned labs when their clients needed that service. This has not always been a satisfactory experience, so instead they want to be able to offer their existing clients a high quality boutique laboratory experience, all under one roof. Moreover, the addition of an in-house lab allows them an additional revenue streams to compliment their existing business. 

Once they are in control of their own laboratory, they can be sure that the highest quality standards and timeline priorities are readily available for their customers. To that end, in recent years, many post houses have added both front end (negative processing), and full service labs, including printing facilities. They wish to keep the post production resources on their lot so their international and local clientele do not have to travel far to keep their production moving, on time and within budget. 

The second group of professionals who are building new laboratories are those companies specializing in film restoration, archiving and content migration. This is a growing business throughout the world, as content owners, even of very old material, look to market their content either as high-quality DVD and Blu-Ray disc formats, or for high definition TV broadcast. The need for a dedicated laboratory and dedicated high quality digital film scanners and film recorders is critical if the content and quality is to be preserved and made available for viewing or sale.

In addition, many governments throughout the world are recognizing that a major aspect of their special culture and nationality is represented by locally-produced films, some going back 100 years or more. This precious historical content is resting on deteriorating films of varying conditions. As a result, these non-commercial state-owned archiving operations are recognizing that investment is needed for the film’s preservation. This is driving the building of many modern new labs, right where the films are stored. 

Movie post production is an expensive and highly-competitive industry, and service providers need to have the very best offerings if they are to stand out from the crowd. As film — be it 16mm, 35mm or 70mm — continues to enjoy a special place in the business, it appears there will always be the need for the right laboratories.

Jonathan Banks is President of The RTI Film Group ( www.rtifilmgroup.com) in Lincolnwood, IL. The 40-year-old company provides professional videotape, film, disc and audio/visual supplies and products.