Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Damaged 16mm Film

18th October 2005>


Longtime reader first time poster and all that. Long story short - over the last five months I've poured nearly every spare moment and every spare nickel into a 16mm film that had come to encompass 3000 feet of b/w reversal Kodak stock. Today I called the lab I sent the film to (first time with this lab as I switched from a different lab feeling their quality was lacking) to find out that, according to them, nearly every square inch of the film has a running scratch through it. This was strange to me as I had tested the camera beforehand with a 100 ft reel to find no problems (upon development of a different lab), as well as cleaning the camera/gate/etc between each film change.

Regardless of who was at fault (myself or Lab Link of Manhattan), I'm f***ed. Are there any affordable ways of digitally removing this damn scratch? Are there any easy ways I can do it myself with a simple effects program? What is the best way to jump off a bridge, head first or just to go at it free for all?


Erik Weber
Jersey Shore, USA

First thing is DON'T PANIC!

Scratch removal can be done.

There are a number of ways.

It all depends what the scratch is like.

Is it a single scratch.

Does it stay fixed in position or does it wander around?

The solutions vary from the very cheap, you do it frame by frame by hand in something like Combustion or After Effects, to the much more expensive :

The point is that it can be done.

You could even dupe it optically via a wet gate printer.

Also, check this out:-



Geoff Boyle FBKS
Director of Photography
EU Based

Yes you can get rid of this type of scratch by cloning or other wire-removing tools available in a wide range of color-correction/photo-retouching software’s. Adobe Photoshop does just this, but you'll have to correct frame by frame. There are other high end products which do such works automatically (by taking the physical co-ordinates of the scratch as constant inputs).

Anirban Lahiri

Indie Film director & Digital Artist

Hi Erik,

Oh F**K. What a nightmare. I'm assuming that the lab is unable to wetgate the scratch out? I know that B&W stock is softer than colour emulsion but I have not shot on B&W reversal. I think you probably have a long and difficult battle on your hands if you want to try and prove that the lab was at fault. However if you have not used/serviced the camera since, then I guess you could run 40' of film through it and process it at another lab. If no scratch appears then you are safe to use your faultless camera and if you then feel the lab is at fault you can try to get some compensation or at least bad mouth them to your friends at CML.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing but getting a daily / weekly rushes report or a quick test at the new lab would have minimised this problem. Perhaps a lesson learnt.

I can't offer much more advice and although very amusing please don't jump off any bridges. I'm sure you will get it sorted out.

Good luck

Lol Crawley

Erik Weber wrote :

>Regardless of who was at fault (myself or Lab Link of Manhattan), Are >there any affordable ..."

Take a small sample from the beginning or end of a reel and get that sample to Kodak at their motion picture offices in New York City. They will be able to tell when the scratch happened. Before or after exposure and after exposure and developing. Also you should look at the beginning of a roll in the thread up region of the roll and see if there are any scratches. As the lab usually ties more than one reel together for processing you will see the scratches in the thread up region that can only happen after your camera exposure and when running through the processing step and if they printed dailies.

If it was the lab's fault you should find this out. There is responsibility at the lab stage.

You did not say what was the final post production process. If this is for telecine transfer some telecines tend to hide scratches while others show it very plainly.

I believe there is a Cintel Telecine with the Grace option in NY.. This is like a electronic wet gate. Also it is important to know if the scratch is on the emulsion or base side. A base scratch can be eliminated electronically for all practical purposes. If on the emulsion layer there is missing image information and this is harder to correct.

Get all the information and make an informed decision how best to correct the problem.

Post here what you learn about the nature of the scratch.


Bill Hogan

Is it a cell scratch or emulsion? If it is on the cell, then wet gate printing will almost certainly do the trick. (You don't say if you were planning a film finish or video transfer, but as it's reversal I guess it wasn't going to be a big budget effort.)

If it's an emulsion scratch and it has removed or fogged the emulsion, then you will need digital solutions. If the scratch is absolutely straight then it's easiest. Telecine will have some tricks for this.

As to where it happened: the lab says that the scratch is throughout 3,000 ft of film (I presume you sent 5 months of work in one batch from your message). So that's 7 or 8 rolls (?) shot over that period, all with the same scratch? Now, examine the very ends of the rolls. If you can see the scratch on the surface (by a reflected spotlight), this is easy. If the scratch runs right to the end, past where you laced the camera up, then I'm afraid the lab has some answering to do. Either way, the advice to involve Kodak is good - they will be impartial and expert.

Strictly, if the lab is proved to be at fault, their liability is limited to replacing your stock. If you challenge that in court you may do better but it's likely to cost you a lot more. However, if there is a relatively simple fix (there often is) that the lab itself can offer (wet gate printing won’t cost them anything, and digital fixups will cost them far less than it would cost you - they ought to come to the party.

But if it's a wavy line, or really thick, you could have a difficult time.

Still as others have said, there is nearly always a solution. Good luck and let us know how it goes.

Dominic Case
Atlab Australia

Erik Weber wrote:

>Today I called the lab I sent the film to (first time with this lab as I >switched from a different lab feeling their quality was lacking) to find out >that, according to them, nearly every square inch of the film has a >running scratch through it.

Is it a base scratch (typically looks dark), or is it a scratch where the emulsion is removed (and reads white) on B&W reversal. Base scratches are no big deal -- wet gate or diffusion will cure them.

Emulsion removal scratches require digital intervention.

Find out where the problem lies, and best of luck!

Jeff Kreines

Two years ago an eagle eyed camera assistant spotted a scratch on some 7248 on the supply side of the gate .

On unloading and checking he found the entire roll had a scratch on the emulsion - the first that he'd seen like this in 20 odd years.

None of the other rolls were effected even though they were the same batch etc.

Paul Hicks


Sorry about the lab disaster ... I'm currently dealing with a similar situation myself which happened almost a year ago at Fotokem LA, the machine broke at the time of development and 4000ft of S16 mm film were lost for ever, out of 16.000, they were burned and replaced with black leader and 3 main scenes (out of a total of 7) were extremely damaged with scratches, blue rain all over, spots, emulsion scratches, consistent lines on one side of frame.

Everything you can imagine with the craziest patterns ... it became a big disaster and a big situation at the lab. The film was edited nonetheless and recently got into the Tribeca film festival, the director applied with a rough cut that had no removal or digital repair of any kind and I guess the they selected it without worrying about the obvious film damage... But now we have to get a master to screen at a movie theatre...

Because of the damage we were "forced" to go to a digital format in order to be able to repair it, we transferred the selects from the negative to HD and today we finished the transfer and color correction. At this stage we were able to do one thing that improved some damage situations, every time we had a blue consistent scratch all over the image on the right side of frame, we would just zoom in 1 or 2 percent and get rid of it without affecting the framing or composition that much, so I don’t know if you have seen where is your scratch on the film, but if it's far enough on one side or the other of frame you could move the frame left or right or zoom into the image if you do a telecine transfer. The other parts of the movie that have very difficult emulsion scratches is going to the DRS (digital repair services) today at Fotokem and I'll let you know how that goes when I finally see it... they say they can repair it... I'm a little worried but wont really know till I see it...

Hope this keeps your hopes up,

Magela Crosignani
Dp Ny

> Are there any affordable ways of digitally removing this damn scratch?

Well, from your post, I'm not so sure that this is affordable for you, but I do want to pass on my experience with Kodak's Cinesite (now joined with Laser Pacific). Two complete scenes representing two full days of shooting for a French film that I shot were scratched by the lab. Fortunately, the lab owned up to it. Insurance got involved and our digital fixes were covered for those scenes. The work that Cinesite/Laser Pacific did was flawless, and we never saw those scratches again.

This is probably obvious, but do wait until you have finished your edit before fixing the scratches. No need to fix three thousand feet of film if only three hundred feet is going to be part of the final project.

Good luck, and stay away from those bridges.

Erin Harvey
L.A. cinematographer

>Erik, sorry about the lab disaster, I'm currently dealing with a similar >situation myself which happened almost a year ago at Fotokem LA

Magela, you mention the lab by name. Obviously it was their error, but it seems from your account of what has happened since, that they have been very co-operative in helping to recover from the disaster. I hope I've read correctly! I've always said that things can go wrong anywhere: but what sets the good companies (in any field) apart from the bad ones, is the way they work to recover from stuff-ups.

How much of this problem has been met by insurance, how much by the lab, and how much you have suffered yourselves, is between you and the lab. But I guess it's fair to say that a good lab will swing everything in behind the production to help in these situations.

Congratulations on getting into the Tribeca Festival anyway. It's a good reality check to know that you can get this far despite the "big disaster".

Dominic Case
Atlab Australia


Now I’m not sure if I should have mentioned the lab or not here? The way labs deal with problems like this should probably become its own thread, and I had many questions at the time when it happened, and I still do, but it so happened that I was already on another movie when the news came in and the lab being in LA and me being at the time in Prague I had too many hours of difference to even be able to deal with what was happening, also there wasn’t much I could do at that point. This was a student project, a grad NYU thesis film, and we didn’t have the back up of any insurance company or the power to really know what was supposed to happen at that point... how much responsibility the lab had to take? did we have to get legal assistance or not? Did we have to reshoot? who would pay for the reshoots? (we didn’t but it was a possibility at the time) The director, being also the producer, dealt with everything herself, and at times felt the lab was helpful and at times felt she was being pushed around, I think what happened mainly is that she found some people that were helpful and understanding and some other people were not, I don’t believe there was a standard or a company response per se, which makes me wonder if that’s just the way it is everywhere?

I wont get into details as far as who´s paying what, not because I don’t want to but because maybe I shouldn’t here, but I would definitely like to hear some opinions as far as what should be the lab responsible for in a case like this. This wont change what’s happening with this film since we are 10 days from showing and the deal has been made, but I’d love to know what other people have dealt with before. I’m specially interested in hearing what do you think should be the labs responsibility Dominic, since you are part of one, or if you can tell me if there is a standard in this type of situations at your lab, or if you know other labs that do or don’t have a standard response when problems like this arrive.

thanks for the congratulations on getting into Tribeca, if anyone happens to be in NY at the time (April 25, 27, 30), the name of the film is ¨Breached¨ and the director is Laura Richard... we’ll see what the DRS is all about.

Magela Crosignani
dp NY

>. .I’m not sure if I should have mentioned the lab. . .The way labs deal >with problems like this should probably become its own thread . . .

Magela raises some interesting questions here.

First, let me pre-empt a few regular cml-ers (ykwya): "It's always the lab's fault". Now we have that cleared up, let's move on. I’ll comment, but "without prejudice", and with the usual disclaimers that these are personal opinions, and do not relate to any particular lab or to any particular situation.

I was prompted to send my earlier email because it's frustrating for anyone who does good work for years and years, unnoticed, then gets lambasted for one slip-up. I don't hold any brief for the particular lab in this instance, though I know a few of the folk there. I've been in a similar situation. Everyone has, not just labs: the one day you screw up a focus pull, after months of perfect work; etc.

Productions carry insurance because the lab processing charges are entirely unconnected with the cost of the production, and so can't be expected to indemnify anyone against the cost of a reshoot. (The only thing that is certain is that the exploding helicopter shots will ALWAYS get stuffed up in preference to the pick-up shots of passing traffic). The lab is responsible for the material of the film, not the content. Though I think we all recognise the inadequacy of "we stuffed up your week's shoot, here's a new tin of film". And even if the insurance comes good, of course if it's a clear case of negligence, then the lab can expect the insurance company to come knocking!

That said, most labs will do their utmost (a) to prevent any mishaps and (b) to resolve anything that does go wrong. My own practice has always been to distinguish two jobs when going into "troubleshooting" mode. (a) to find out what went wrong and prevent it happening again and (b) to fix up, as well as possible, the client's work. Both equally important. Whose "fault" it was is secondary to that, although ultimately there _are_ issues over who will pay.

But there is no set response - not in my book anyway. All too often, there is no single cause of a problem anyway: it's a combination of circumstances. Where there is a clear responsibility (as in Magela's case) there will still be room to discuss the best and most practical way of recovering.

As this is the student/basic list, I'd close with the advice of listening to the lab's information, cooperating in any tests that they want to carry out (we can't track down a persistent scratch if you won't run a test through a magazine for example), being prepared for complicated situations (the easy problems are easy to avoid), and above all, get help from a third party if you aren't sure: the stock rep (Kodak are well-armed with film-knowledgeable
people) for example.

Dominic Case
Atlab Australia

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