Preparing the Base

Making the Rewards: Part 3

Yes! We have restarted the "Making the Rewards" series that we were forced to interrupt in June 2015. 

Our testing phase has turned a corner and we’re now preparing the base material for our first production runs.

Film is coated on a transparent triacetate or polyester material. This is commonly referred to as “base.”

Our chemical formulas from the Ferrania/3M days are all designed to use a triacetate base that is manufactured from organic materials rather than the polyester base that is more commonly used today. This is crucial for us because the only way to keep all the coated layers in place is to match the chemistry with the base. These layers must deposit correctly and adhere to the base properly to create an accurate exposure and to stand up to the rigors of processing. This is particularly true for cinema products where the film runs through the camera at 24 frames per second - mechanically stressing both film and camera.

 

This video was originally filmed last spring for the Making the Rewards series before we got interrupted. As you can see in this video, we have a lot of original Ferrania triacetate base in stock right now. As Renzo explains, many of these "Jumbos" are cut into the Kodak-standard of 1.38m wide x 3000m length. What is not mentioned is that we also have a number of Jumbos in Agfa-standard width of 1.13m x 3000m length.

After an initial inspection of our stock, we have opted to start with our Agfa-standard Jumbos.

These two standard sizes were of course perfect for the Big Boy industrial coater, but not at all for Little Boy, which can only accept rolls of 23cm wide and 300m length. The infographic below shows how we go from Jumbos to miniJumbos.

Cutting down the Jumbos is relatively easy because it can be done in full daylight.

The triacetate base is really just transparent plastic and not sensitive to light. The only thing we need is a reliable slitter and a clean room!

After a lot of research and discussion, we decided not to spend the time and money necessary to put our modern, multi-format Kampf slitter online. It’s practically brand new, but it’s a real beast and requires a significant cost and effort to move it to the LRF, hook it up to the building services, and get it tested and adjusted. (We’ll dedicate a specific post to the Kampf slitter in the future.)

The Kampf Monster

Instead, we have installed a slitter from 1917!

This machine features custom-made Japanese blades, and was made in France during the time that Ferrania was just called F.I.L.M. and was in partnership with the famous Pathè brothers. This machine served Trixie (the triacetate production machines we also saved as part of our Kickstarter campaign) for many, many years and remains super accurate and entirely useable today.


The New Old Slitter

(click any image to open a fullscreen slideshow with descriptions)


We will use the antique French slitter only to cut the Jumbos into miniJumbos - but even for just this one purpose, installing it saves us enormous time and cost.

With miniJumbos cut and ready, we move to the next phase - coating. After coating, every movement of film rolls must happen in complete darkness - first into the aging room and later into the converting room.

But this is another story - coming soon...

 

Lessons of a Naïve New Father

I am feeling like a father of a newborn child - but with too many expectations. I was sure that a few minutes after he was detached from the umbilical cord, my baby would be playing Playstation and speaking Latin!

Perhaps I exaggerate a little too much, but I can tell you that many of my expectations about my new "child" were wrong - even from my very cautious point of view.

As we explained a year ago, the LRF building had its umbilical cord cut from “Mother Ferrania” and he had to start to "breathe" by himself as quickly as possible.

In fact, it’s quite appropriate to view the LRF as an organism. Just like a body, the various departments are systems like the nervous or digestive system, and its equipments are just like organs in a body - each working together to stand up and take those first steps.

If a baby normally takes a few moments to adjust to its new situation and begin to use its new organs, then the same holds true for our LRF building.

Owing to its huge size, and being attached to its mother for more than 40 years (here you could make some easy jokes about how much the Italians are attached to their mothers) - the moments have become weeks and the weeks have turned into months. The underestimation of this fact has been already discussed in other posts and it is our clear mistake, no excuses.


The Changed Map

These slides are snapshots from Google Maps made in mid-2013 and June 19, 2016. You can clearly see the changes to the campus, most of which happened in the last six months.


So now let’s stop with the metaphor of the father and child, and let’s tell the facts. I do this with the duty of a good reporter, speaking plainly and for the permanent record.

In the picture above from atop of LRF, we can see the umbilical cord cut, as scheduled, to make way for the access road. But what are the essential services that LRF needs? Essentially those of any apartment, but at industrial size:

  1. Water (3 kinds)

  2. Gas

  3. Electricity

Simple, right? Well, not exactly:

  • Each of these services comes from a different external supplier

  • The suppliers never serviced such a remote place as Cairo Montenotte and they had to gear up (excavations, etc.)

  • Those suppliers are public companies and, in what has proven to be a worst-case scenario for us - they are coordinated by another public company (owner of LRF)

  • In Italy particularly (and perhaps in other parts of the world) these public companies are notorious for not talking to each other

The result is that after more than one year of work, we have this situation:

Water

 
 

Problem

In red, you can see the place where the public water arrives, and in green, the place where LRF needs water. The result - 52 meters of missing pipes.

 
 

Solution

Water is supplied from these giant bins (yes like during the past century) to supply the internal buffer of water for all simple building needs (toilets, etc.). Luckily this is only one kind of the waters we need, the other two are coming directly from the river (Fiume Bòrmida di Spigno) and internally treated.

Gas

Problem

All external pipes were made for the low pressure standard ignoring that the LRF building requires high pressure to work properly. This issue is currently under examination by the public gas provider, and still no answer.

Solution

A temporary connection has been provided by our friends at Ferrania Technologies, who have been a great neighbor and enormous help to us throughout this process.

Electricity

Problem

As with our water issues, the much needed electrical services also fall short by several hundred meters. Along the stretch of green in the image above, we only need copper wiring to be installed in the conduits. The red area, however, requires a tunnel to be dug under the public streets.

Solution

A bank of temporary diesel-powered electric generators has been installed.


The Little Things

These are only the large issues that continue to cause delays - but there is a long list of many smaller things that our team has been dealing with over the past few months. To list these out would be quite boring, and might give you the wrong impression about the progress we have made. Suffice to say that any time a building has been left unused and unattended for nearly seven years, it builds up a “resistance” to having people walk in and turn everything back on. As a result, teams of contractors from nearly every kind of trade have been crowding the LRF to chase down and fix a hundred small problems.

Our own team has had a hundred other problems to solve. I'll give just one small example....

Shown here is the original slitter from the 1920s, now installed in the LRF. This is the machine that cuts Jumbos into miniJumbos. We did not think we would need this machine - maybe never - but loved the machine-age style and decided to keep it in storage to display one day in the future.

We discovered, however, that we cannot install our brand new Kampf slitter until the issues listed above have been sorted. So the team has spent some days locating, extracting, installing and testing this antique machine. It's not the solution we wanted, but it is the one we got.

The Light

Ok, I was not expecting that my newborn son REALLY was ready to play video games after a few minutes in the world - but I at least expected that he would not be turning blue from lack of air! Let's say that in the case of the LRF, we've had to put it in an incubator - and every day we are still struggling to get it into the condition to live by itself.

That said, we are alive and kicking, and we’ll never give up!

A big hug to everyone for believing in our dreams.

Nicola Baldini
Founder and Proud Papa

What Happened to 2015?

We entered 2015 with a head of steam, a batch of emulsion and a schedule in place to produce and ship our first batch of film.

Our team collected resources, cleaned the coater by hand, and had everything in place to begin the first of three (potentially four) test runs.

Everything was on schedule to get the first batch completed before the government-led team of contractors would descend on the building to begin necessary projects designed to bring the building up to full production capability.

Then a crew found asbestos in the building and one by one, the steps in our tightly-scheduled plan crumbled away.

click to view larger

The Takeaway

We hope these charts show clearly that we had just one chance to make film during the 2015 R&D Phase... It was a narrow window and when it closed, all efforts turned to readying ourselves for the Production Phase.

It should be noted that R&D and Production phases are very different, and the names are not arbitrary at all. Government regulations are very different for these two phases - and the transition from one phase to the other has required an enormous amount of paperwork, lawyers and meetings with Regione Liguria to make sure everything is up to standards.

For those of you who wish to learn more about the details shown in these charts, please feel free to ask us questions in the comments below and we'll do our best to answer in detail.

While 2015 has been frustrating for us all, the net result is positive!

The upgrades to our building have been far more extensive than we originally expected. The government picked up the tab for a few things that we originally expected to pay for ourselves. Perhaps most importantly, because of the support of our Kickstarter backers, we have managed to salvage even more machinery and other useful items than we had originally planned.


Nicola's LRF Walkthrough

In this extended version of a video released in December 2015, our founders show the many additions and changes at The LRF.


FILM Ferrania: Year One

From any perspective, 2015 was terrible. We didn't make film, plain and simple.

But we enter 2016 in a much better position than if everything had gone to the original plan. We spent the month of January finalizing all of the paperwork for FILM Ferrania and now our operations and staff are fully ready to begin the Production Phase.

To be clear, our team still faces weeks of assessment and testing - but we have checked off several more of the most fundamental pieces to our particularly complex puzzle.

Although we have been hard at work on this project for three years, we are now prepared for FILM Ferrania: Year One.

Grazie mille a tutti quanti!