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 - firstname.lastname@example.org