Kodak CEO Jeff Clarke nearly took the company out of the celluloid film production business about a year an a half ago — relenting when Warner Bros, Universal, Paramount, Disney, and Weinstein Co. committed to buy a set amount of film stock for several years.
But after finding several additional buyers for the product — including makers of touch screens and X-rays — “we are no longer reliant on those agreements [with Hollywood] to make film,” he told me at the CES consumer electronics confab in Las Vegas.
Indeed, he says film is now a break-even business. “If we continue to have momentum on origination, this will be nicely profitable” for Kodak.
That should be welcome news for major directors including Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, Judd Apatow, and J.J. Abrams who prefer film to digital photography. Kodak’s product was used for last year’s biggest hits — Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Jurassic World. It also is being used to capture images for Batman vs. Superman, Wonder Woman, and La La Land.
The company famous for its film and cameras emerged from 20 months under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September 2013 vowing to become a forward looking technology company.
Yet Kodak now hopes to stoke interest in film by promoting related products — including a revival of the Super 8 camera, a product it hasn’t made since 1982.
“We need people to be able to see it,” Clarke says citing film students and professionals such as wedding photographers. “There’s an ecosystem here that’s important.”
He has a prototype at CES of a Super 8 camera he expects to introduce in a limited way this fall, and offer to the masses in 2017 at a cost of between $450 and $700.
It will use the same sized film cartridges that the old cameras handled. It will have a few modern bells and whistles, though, including a digital screen viewfinder and ports for USB and HDMI connections.
Users had better have deep pockets: It will cost anywhere from $50 to $75 to buy a film cartridge — with enough film to last about three minutes. The price includes developing. Users will have an envelope to mail it to Rochester for Kodak to process. In addition to the film, they’ll get a scanned digital video version.
“For someone learning film, this is in the ballpark of what you’d expect” to spend, the CEO says.
In addition, Clarke wants to see more movie theaters buy film projectors. He also cited studies by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that point to a “digital dilemma” as movies stored in digital bits run the risk of becoming inaccessible over multiple decades as technical standards change.