This swarming around the "Little Boy" coater will soon be very common. Except that it will be totally in the dark...
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:
Water (3 kinds)
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Founder and Proud Papa
By Nicola Baldini, FILM Ferrania Founder and CEO
Below is a transcript (and translation) of the original article "News from Italy: An Exclusive Glimpse of FILM Ferrania" published by German magazine Cine 8-16 in late 2015.
Read Nicola's original response in Italian »
FILM Ferrania’s Kickstarter campaign launched last year, and it was very atypical compared to those that normally populate the site. From the beginning we did not want to pre-sell products to finance the beginning of production. Our campaign was a public call to the ever-passionate film community, asking them to help us save from imminent demolition some strategic assets in Ferrania for the production of color film - in the future. These assets - primarily industrial equipment are almost unique in the world (apart from similar machines owned by Kodak and Fuji) and fundamental to maintaining film production at an acceptable cost, and at the right size for the new niche market. In our campaign, the rewards were to be considered as products not intended for sale, but specially made and dedicated to backers as a sign of gratitude for supporting us in this epic saving of the factory.
I must emphasize that many other European players before us had considered the possibility of revamping some equipment in Ferrania, but, because of practical difficulties related to the particular situation of the factory, and the Italian bureaucratic context, they finally opted not to finalize the transaction. The situation we found when we arrived was not dissimilar to that found by others, but as local people we immediately started to work from both the bureaucratic and technical point of view to create the right conditions to have the Ferrania factory operative again in a reasonable timeline.
Unfortunately, in the meantime, the dismantling of the former Ferrania property was accelerated - especially the buildings where most of the equipment we need was still in place. This situation forced us to raise funds very quickly for the purchasing and handling of these machines, and to save them from demolition. Hence the launch of the Kickstarter campaign with a timing linked to this emergency. Of course at the same time we began to organize the various production steps in the our “new” LRF building, while trusting in the timeline of the larger restructuring going on around us - and counting on services being supplied to the building (electricity, gas, water, etc.) by Regione Liguria (the regional government and current owner of the LRF building.
This timing would have allowed us to make one experimental first batch of color reversal film to be finished in four formats as reward for the supporters of the crowdfunding campaign. Immediately after, we would then start with regular production during the first or second quarter of 2015. Various events, both technical (disposal of asbestos) and bureaucratic (certification of new equipments), delayed our timeline by several months - so much so that we failed to begin production in 2015.
Did this delay damage us economically? Yes, of course! We had to pay the personnel to work mainly on issues not strictly connected to film production (this time was actually used for R&D that will prove useful later on).
Anyhow, the goal of saving the equipment was our focus; and now it has been almost completely dismantled and placed safely in our warehouse. At this moment, having at our back most of technical difficulties, we are unlocking new financial resources to restart production machines and finally deliver the rewards to our loyal supporters who have had the patience to wait for such a long time. Immediately after this we’ll make our products available for widespread distribution. Everything is now scheduled for the spring of 2016 - almost exactly a year delayed from the original schedule.
That said, FILM Ferrania is a far reaching project whose aim is to maintain the color film market for the long term. To keep alive the most popular formats both for still and motion pictures, and to allow people to buy new film and new formulas as they need. This is exactly the opposite of what is happening today, with various brands forced to create their own products using materials from the latest batch of other historical producers (i.e. Agfa color reversal) - products that are destined to expire with a strong impact on quality. Our Kickstarter supporters know this very well and joined with us in an attempt to reverse this trend.
All of the products we have announced so far - and those that will be presented in the future - are absolutely original formulas and processes of FILM Ferrania. The market does not need another player that simply re-brands something already existing. The market needs a color film manufacturer who is self-contained - able to supply new and old customers with fresh products long into the future, and to create new products as well. Products that will initially be derived from historical Ferrania formulas, but which will evolve thanks to the know-how and experience of the staff of this great company that we have partially re-engaged. For obvious reasons of optimization and tuning of production we will present a reversal color film as our first product - one that is directly derived from the Scotch Chrome manufactured by 3M Imation until 2003.
One of the main features of the Ferrania products were their capability to maintain color quality over time. It’s something that my partner Marco Pagni, responsible for the technical part of the company, has been able to appreciate because of his past experience as an expert cinema film restorationist. He has also verified this longevity in the field during our stay in Ferrania. All the Ferrania material that we found in the closed factory - despite being stored in uncontrolled climatic conditions and well after its expiry date - was found to be in very good condition. We analyzed it in our lab and found just minimal deviations in terms of color from the reference fresh product...
In fact, we found the same results for all the samples of exposed film since the '50s. And since are going to use the same recipes and formulae for new products, we can assume our products will have the same characteristic stability over time.
All our products are acetate base. This will continue, thanks to our Kickstarter backers, because soon we will start our in-house acetate base production machines - another critical aspect to our self-contained future.
For market strategy reasons, the first film produced by FILM Ferrania will be a color reversal film in the following speeds: 64D, 100D, 200D, 400D, 640T, 800/3200T. Subsequently the introduction of a negative film is also scheduled (derived from last Solaris film) in 100, 200 and 400 ISO speeds. The release date of the negative film will depend on the market demand. Regarding black & white film, we think that at this moment there are excellent products (Ilford, FOMA, Orwo) already in the market. Therefore, we prefer to concentrate on color that from the production point of view is far more critical than black & white. With that said, for special products like the historic Ferrania P30 that was used for the greatest masterpieces of Italian cinema, we are certainly considering a small production in limited edition.
The first film will be initially available in only 4 standard formats: 135 and 120 for still photography, as well as Super8 and 16mm (30m spool core and 122 meters) for motion pictures. For all other formats such as 9.5mm, N8mm DS8mm we saved all the converting equipment and they will be put into production only if we have enough requests to cover the investment of equipment refurbishment and installation costs. At the moment we are unable to estimate the annual size of this market and thus other formats are not part of our short term strategy.
Despite the difficulties of communication in the past, it is our intention to stay very close to our users, ready to listen and to respond promptly to their requests. To all our followers, please send us your requests, comments, suggestions etc. and we’ll do our best to reply as soon as possible. For example, for the cinema market, we are thinking about making 35mm non-perforated film in rolls of 30 meters from day one in response to users who want to manually pack film by themselves.
In order to allow enthusiasts to develop films at home, we’ll provide all the necessary support documentation in a specific section of our website. Supporting users for this activity has been one of our goals from the beginning, and we are eager to share this information as soon as we can.
For distribution, our goal is to ensure that anyone, anywhere in the world will be able to purchase all our products easily, and at the right price. To achieve this we are already working with selected partners around the world to help us to implement this strategy. In fact, we believe that the analog imaging industry has just one chance of survival and success - and that is for all players to cooperate with the common goal of providing an affordable, easy and accessible product to the market.
Customers will be able to buy our products directly from our website, from selected dealers, or in the shops that want to keep them in stock. Opening physical stores as Impossible Project and Lomography did is not a plausible approach for us, although as soon as possible, we would like to open a small "factory shop" in Cairo Montenotte inside the plant for all those who will come to visit us in person.
One of the main characteristics that always distinguished Ferrania from other manufacturers is the fact of having, in-house, virtually 100% of the film production workflow from the synthesis of basic chemicals to the final packaging. This feature came from the autarchic origins of the factory during the fascist period when buying supplies abroad was forbidden. This aspect, which in almost all other industrial sectors would be considered absolutely crazy, in the case of film production, it is of fundamental importance. This is especially today. Most third-party service providers and suppliers converted their activity toward more attractive sectors like the pharmaceutical or cosmetic industries and are not available anymore to re-enter the niche film market.
From our perspective, this is the only possible approach for the future in order to assure a long-term continuity in film production. For this reason, with money raised from the Kickstarter campaign, we have bought the packaging and converting lines from the old Ferrania for almost all still and motion picture formats; it is a real insurance for the future of analog film. Depending on how the relationships with our partners evolve, we’ll decide if and when we put the various packaging and converting machines into our production workflow.
The coating machine that we have is very flexible in terms of productivity and it can be configured in different ways depending on the level of demand of the market. We are talking about color film that is normally produced with 16 emulsion layers, unlike black and white film that needs only 2 or 4. A plausible production level for the plant will settle in about 24,000 sqm/year of color material in our first year.
From the beginning of 2016 we’ll try to have a better presence in terms of communication and response to questions. The channels to contact us are always the same: our facebook, twitter, our website and by email - email@example.com
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.
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!