Oh boy! Where do I begin with this one? I guess that I should start off by saying that Technicolor is not an actual product, but a service, and that is what I am reviewing. Please note that when I am referring to "Technicolor" or "TES" in this review, I am referring to the film shipping depot, not the film printing lab. Perhaps I should just leave the rest of the review blank at let everybody just write their own. Unfortunately that would flood this web site's server. Allow me to touch on some of the basic points.
Technicolor Entertainment Services (TES) is in charge of shipping prints from most of the studios these days. So far they have managed to convince the chief brains of such studios as Buena Vista, Universal, MGM, Sony, DreamWorks and Miramax (to name a few) to allow these fine people the opportunity to handle their shipping needs. They offer a 24-hour, 7 day-a-week toll free phone number for you to call and bitch at them. I must say that having this number is indeed a good thing and most projectionists probably use it frequently. But the results aren’t always great. You can call up and complain on Thursday night, just after screening a movie and discovering that reel 3 has a bad digital track or some other defect. The promising voice on the other end assures that a replacement reel is on its way and will be at your theater within hours. Typically the replacement reel does not arrive until Tuesday, well after the all important opening weekend. Technicolor won’t call to tell you that the reel will be delayed or to make other arrangements. And on those rare occasions when they do call for something, they don’t bother to speak to a projectionist, they just talk to whoever answers the phone or a manager who has far too many things going on to remember to pass the message along, so the people who really need the information rarely get it. Problems like that are just not big enough for Technicolor to worry about.
The most recent example was when we received a used print of “Dinosaur” for its opening weekend. It had defects, of course. We call and complain and they immediately send out a replacement print within only a few hours! Turns out that the replacement print is also used and in WORSE condition that the original. (Note, both prints were "integrity inspected".) So we call back and finally are able to get a new print in the next day. They shipped this particular print out to arrive at theaters on Wednesday, so fortunately we were able remedy the situation before the first shows on Friday. Why TES doesn’t ship every print two days prior baffles the hell out of me. This is a perfect example of how shipping the film to arrive two days prior to the film’s opening date saved us from having a dark screen and lost revenues. Later we get a call from TES informing us that other theaters were bitching about their prints of Dinosaur as well, so they had us release our defective prints to Sky Courier so they could send them directly to these poor, unfortunate theaters. That’s Technicolor for ya, an endless sea of quality concern. Fortunately for us, this was one of the better examples of their service...but all due to the early delivery. Had this print arrived on a Thursday night, we would have had to cancel a day's worth of shows. With ETS, there are a few dozen depots spaced around the country, so there is always one not too far from you for a quick replacement.
I could go into the piss-poor cans, reels and all of the bad TES products. I could, and I think that I will! Every theater projectionist has at least 10 dozen horror stories of TES’s crappy reels. Technicolor has felt it necessary to bless us with only the crappiest reels ever to grace this planet, as quality is obviously their #1 priority.
ATTEMPT #1: The “Classic” Reels. These are the infamous black reels that everyone knows and holds dear to their heart. It had a fairly decent metal shaft insert, but after they had been pulled apart and snapped back together only a few times, they became completely useless. But that didn’t stop TES from shipping them out with brand new prints! They wanted to share their bastard lovechild with everyone possible. Note the trademark "bite" missing from the edge of the top flange. TES should consider feeding their inspectors.
ATTEMPT #2: The similar “Gray” reel. This is Technicolor’s second attempt at getting it right, but need I say they have failed again? The physical cutout is exactly identical to the classic black reel described above, except it is gray and the latching design has been changed. This latch is a bit better than the first, but as anyone who regularly plays prints from TES knows, still sucks ass. The main problem with these reels is the lack of a metal shaft insert. Granted they fit snugly onto the table shafts, but the hole was not cut straight! Because of this, the reels wobble constantly as film is loaded or pulled from them. Note the sheer flatness of the flanges!
ATTEMPT #3: The new “ETS Like” translucent reels. The design is identical to the ETS reels, but they use a forced latch instead of 4 clips. Thus far I haven’t seen any of the ETS version of these reels bust, but since these are “Technicolor” reels, of course they arrive pre-broken. Just last week I pulled one of these "new" reels of film from a can and the latch was apparently completely broken off, as I watched a core of film roll down the booth hallway. Another problem with these reels is that the flanges are always warped (typically inward against the film) and can scratch the film if careful guidance is not applied. What is it with TES and warped reels? Is it that hot in Ohio? Also, many of the center holes on these reels are not drilled out properly and the theater projectionist must make cuts into the holes in order to retrieve the film off of them. The funny part is someone thought this design was wonderful enough to actually patent! Go figure.
We often have to call TES and order new empty reels because the ones they send us fall apart. Many times they send us broken reels as replacements! A few weeks ago we ordered 10 reels to replace the broken reels for the two 6-reeler prints we had received that week. When we opened the box, ALL of the replacement reels they sent us were broken! Technicolor loves you. And we sure do love them! What is interesting is that the only replacements that are sent that are not broken are not actual Technicolor reels! They are either ETS reels or old NFS reels.
Promises, promises, promises. TES is just full of them. Remember when they promised us "new cans" and "new reels"? Well someone is getting ripped off as all TES is doing is sending out broken reels and painting old beat to death cans to look like new! Check out this fine, and typical, example below. Note the can on the left does not even have a handle! Looks like they forgot to paint the can for "28 Days" on the right.
And don’t we all just love how TES prints arrive only one day prior (if that) to your theatrical engagement? This provides PLENTY of time to inspect and replace any defective reels. Oh wait. No it doesn’t. There is nothing like spending Thursday nights not only making sure that all half dozen prints are properly inspected and built up, but making sure that all Technicolor prints are quickly broken down, frequently for a midnight pickup! Wait a minute. Who’s going to run the booth during all of this? I guess Technicolor doesn't give a flip when it comes to actual theater payroll costs. Perhaps TES does this to deter piracy. But why worry about that when we have the CAP code defending us? Besides, anyone who would have access to the theater as well as the intention of bootlegging a print on a Wednesday night would most certainly have the same access on a Thursday night. This is the main reason that many theaters sloppily and hastily assemble their prints and is directly affecting the presentation quality of theaters today! The projectionists simply do not have enough time to do a good job. Yet TES always blames the studios when they tell you why they can’t deliver two days prior. "The studio won't let us," they say. You would think that the studios want their product to look as good as possible, and have any and all defective reels replaced by the first show on Friday. That seems to be the case with ETS, who commonly delivers two days prior in many parts of the country.
Often when a print must be broken down in a big ass hurry, the courier will tell you that you have given him the wrong print number, if the theater has multiple prints of the same title. TES rarely ever tells you which print they want. No problem. A call to TES will give you the command "just swap the cans!" Now that's efficiency! Wouldn’t this screw up the CAP code? What if somebody at the next theater pirates the movie and then the MPAA comes knocking on my door because they assume we still have the print? Not only that, but the actual address label on the cans is your receipt for a successful pickup. The courier just rips them off and gives them to you. Basically that means the day you get the print in, you also have a confirmed “been shipped back to TES” receipt. What kind of dumbass idea is this? You could just keep the print and TES won’t be able to do anything about it since you have the “receipt”. Who originally thought up this incredible system?
Another very annoying TES “feature” is the rejuvenation they perform on re-issue prints. This is supposed to protect the film from scratches as well as cover them up. It does do that to some extent. But what it really does is make the projector run extremely loud, shed like no tomorrow and causes uncontrollable jump and weave on screen. It also makes it difficult to use FilmGuard or any other common film cleaner. When “American Beauty” was reissued, I requested a non-Photoguarded print. When I got it, reels 1 and 2 were both Photoguarded. After several e-mails with Timothy Mauer of Technicolor, it was revealed that reels 1 and 2 were not actually Photoguarded. Instead, they were “Imageguarded”. As it turns out, Imageguard is basically a cheaper knockoff of Photoguard. It works the same way, is applied only to the base side (yeah, that’s REALLY helpful for emulsion scratches), and has all of the same symptoms. Sorry Tim, I guess it was MY mistake right? Thanks by the way for your outright refusal to replace the first two reels. We wouldn’t want Dreamworks to realize what crappy film rejuvenation you guys are doing, now would we? That’s the kind of Technicolor service I’ve grown to know, love, and expect. Fortunately, TES only uses this at the studio’s request. Dreamworks seems to love the crap. Someone needs to tell Mr. Spielberg what a joke this stuff is.
Recently I shared a few e-mails with Mr. Timothy Mauer, mentioned above, about the “American Beauty” incident. At one point instead of simply replying to my e-mail, he just faxed his response to my theater. It seemed as if it was an attempt to get me into trouble with the “higher-ups” in my company and to embarrass me. I then e-mailed him again asking why TES can’t deliver two days prior and a few other queries. No reply. I e-mail again a week later. No reply. I keep e-mailing for a few weeks, but got no replies. I forwarded that same mail to Joe Wade and Adam Uhrig at Technicolor. It seems that Technicolor just doesn’t have enough time to reply. They must all be way too busy breaking their reels before they ship them out. Horrible customer service!
Anyone remember the “Saving Private Ryan” screw-up that occurred in California when the movie was originally released? Apparently theaters in California received their prints of the movie a day AFTER it's nationwide opening. Weather or some other such thing delayed the truck that was carrying the prints. Well, if the prints would have been slated for delivery two days prior, then that would have reduced the amount of time that screens were dark, or may have even eliminated the whole issue altogether! But no, TES must ship only one day prior. It seems as if TES will make sure that you and the studios lose as much revenue as possible because remember, they care.
And no TES review would be complete without mentioning the term “INTEGRITY INSPECTED”. To quote Webster:
“Integrity”…Firm adherence to a code or standard of values.
“Inspected”…To examine in detail, especially for flaws.
Well now, from the official definition of those two words, I would expect that any print tagged "Integrity Inspected” would mean that the print was “examined in detail, looking specifically for flaws and maintaining a firm adherence to a standard of values for print quality.” Well, it’s a shame that the fine folks at TES have such a loose grasp on the English language. Allow me to elaborate.
I have a friend who’s best friend worked for TES up in Wilmington, Ohio for a time not too long ago. He was one of the “integrity inspectors”. From his explanation of the situation at TES, they were hiring any kid who was willing to work for a measly $6.00/hour to perform the print inspections. Now bear in mind, this fellow had never touched film before. Here is a description of his job and his training.
*Open the cans.
*Verify there is film in the cans. (Film is that big videotape stuff on the plastic round thingeys.)
*Take one of the reels of film out of the can and place it on the “integrity inspection bench”.
*Remove the paper band.
*Unspool 20 or so feet of film off of the reel and ONTO THE FLOOR. (Winding it onto the floor is very important to prevent scratching.)
*Look at it for defects. (Note: no explanation of “defects” such as scratches was provided.) Verify there is a series of pictures on the big tape. Make sure you don't forget to eat fried chicken before coming to work and be sure to touch the film as much as possible. (The oil from your fingers will help to lubricate the film.)
*Roll the tape back onto the reel until you come to the splice where the numbered part of the tape is taped to the picture part of the tape.
*Verify the “ID frame” (the first picture) matches the first series of pictures on the roll. If so, then there are “no missing parts within”. If it does not match, then “there are missing parts within.” (Who would've thought that merely checking to see if the ID frames matched would tell if there was any missing footage? You learn something new every day!)
*Replace the paper thingey with the string, making sure to place the sticker OVER the string catch. (It is very important to cover the string catch. Projectionists love that and it helps to ensure the labels get destroyed by the next projectionist trying to unwind the film.)
*Place the reel back into the can and go to the next reel.
*Repeat until all reels are "integrity inspected".
*Close the cans and seal them with a tamper proof cable tie, commonly available at all electronic stores.
Now unfortunately this is second hand information, so perhaps they DO teach the difference between “film” and “tape”, but that is how I heard it. Regardless, anyone who has ever received an “integrity inspected” print from TES knows there could not possibly be much more training involved than the above. It is interesting to note Mr. Tim Mauer said he actually would allow us to tour the facility, however any picture taking would be strictly forbidden. I guess pictures would serve as proof to their level of quality standards. I wonder what he is hiding?
I’m sure that there is so much that I am missing for this review. But one can easily search the Film-Tech forums for more TES horror stories. It really is too bad that we are FORCED to use them. If only the studios knew how bad they really are. What the hell were they thinking when they signed up?
Bottom Line: TES is an embarrassment to all presentation-minded people in the industry.