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"Treasure Seekers"
Making a short film in 70mm

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Michael Donahue Date: March 18, 2004
I have a new feature titled "Treasure Seekers" that I'm working on. Its a very low budget independent feature, a screwball comedy, a love story about greed and lust. It’s set in a small California beach community. I just directed my first feature film; check out www.surgeofpower.org, as a director for hire. I have enough funds together to shoot "Treasure Seekers" in 35mm as a SAG Experimental film, but I am looking for a way to get some notoriety for the show. I think shooting in a large format would get some attention, and the story, costumes and settings, as well as the style of the production would lend itself very well to 70mm. 
Further in 70mm reading:

Internet link:



I toured CFI/Technicolor yesterday [mid-Jan, 2004, ed] with Robert Dennis and Bryan T. Recla. I showed them some pages I printed from your website, which they had never heard of but were very very interested in!!!! Bryan worked on that special Cosharp printer they had made. They at one time tried to see if they could use it to make 65/5perf print downs to 35mm anamorphic IP, but they couldn't get enough light through the fancy head stack and optics to print to the very slow Intermediate stock. The COSHARP printer is no longer in service, its in storage somewhere... it was referred to as a museum piece... there was no way to adapt it to modern needs. There's just no reason to print 65mm to 35mm scope positive these days! All the film editing is now done on computers. When they need to see 65mm dailies they print 65mm dailies (usually in the Imax format) and run them at a local Imax theater before or after the regular day's run...ie, at 6am or 12am.

They toured me through the negative developing, where they have a 50 fpm dedicated 65mm developer, which has special high turbidity in the soup to develop the wider stock without streaking. They can also push/pull develop on that machine. The most amazing image in my mind was standing there, when Robert Dennis peeked into that 65mm negative can, and seeing the original camera negative, old, brown, a little wavy... from “Ben-Hur” in Ultra Panavision. Wow. How did Hollywood ever go from the absolute best to just good enough?

I also found out about a VistaVision (1:1.5R) show that is being scanned and output to Imax, at 4.5K resolution, 100 megabytes per frame! They say the results look very spectacular. Apparently the filmmakers were shooting under situations where they needed the smaller (!?) VistaVision cameras. CFI has a special dedicated color timing machine for 65mm 5, 8, 10, and 15 perf. It was a very impressive demo- I may be doing some day for night ocean/beach photography, so we looked at some examples of how they could time those effects for me. CFI is very dedicated to 65mm large format. The employees in that division take up an entire floor of the building. The positive developer runs I think about 150 ft per minute. 

I saw the DTS sound printing system on the wetgate printers. DTS provides CFI with a 35mm 5 perf optical negative encoded with the sound track time code for each show and reel. They contact print that onto the 70mm stock. The way 65mm prints are made is fascinating. They use smaller 1200 ft max reel lengths. The original negative is cleaned every 3 prints to ensure quality. They estimate 30 prints can be made in Imax from a 65mm negative. The rolls are A/B-multiple negative rolls for each positive reel, with overlapping negative sections for fades and dissolves, and they make an interpositive protection master. Then they usually print from the original negative. When the original neg is damaged, they can make a dupe neg from the protection IP. Most of the IMAX is handled this way. Since they don't make too many prints, they don't have to worry about damaging the negative or wearing it out. But they have a great deal of concern about cleanliness. For my production we discussed VistaVision, 65mm 5-perf, and also 35mm scope-70mm DTS.

Dear Thomas, I don't have any illustrations I can release just yet. However, I have met with Panavision and also done quite a bit of work on the screenplay and some location scouting as well to help inspire the rewrites. I've hired Mary Jane Jewell, a local California artist and good friend of mine, to do the color design for Treasure Seekers. 

I was fortunate enough to speak with Douglas Slocombe this past weekend via telephone and we discussed lighting techniques and filtration on large formats. 

I also spoke with Richard Edlund this past Sunday for a few moments and he
was very interested in hearing I was attempting a Super Panavision production and we discussed it for a few minutes and he ended the conversation by saying, "I wish you luck with it!". Very encouraging! Did you know he did the titles on Far and Away? He was unaware of the circumstances of the DTS
sound setups on the Titanic 70mm blowup releases and he was interested in hearing about the lower cost on 70mm prints thanks to DTS and no more 6 track mag. 

I may use him as a resource for some questions about how to shoot some miniature sequences for the titles for Treasure Seekers. I would love to hire him but I know I can't afford his rate. His work of course is

Oh yes, I forgot to mention, Fotokem in Burbank is now coming online with 65mm neg developing. Also they have a 70mm positive print machine that has been in operation for some time. Fotokem is "dry running" their machine everyday. This means that they will start offering the 65mm developing in the next month or so. 

Mike Donahue 


Mike Donahue 

Finding the Camera

I was very interested to read your report [1994 70mm Promotion Tour]. I have a call in to Tak at Panavision already, I left him a voice mail and I hope to hear from him Monday. I had no luck with someone there who is supposed to be the gal in charge of 65mm. I think it is possible that Panavision would be reluctant to lend their brand name to an unknown project without some assurance of quality. This is certainly understandable, esp. in the low budget world. However, things I'm sure can be worked out. I can always call Arriflex if need be. I can even fly one of the 65mm Mitchells in from Europe if need be. When I speak to Tak I will remind him of his offer to Mikael Solomon to shoot 65mm for the price of 35mm. And then I'll tell him the discount that Clairmont Camera gives me! 

In the meantime I am revising the "Treasure Seekers" script. Since we are very low budget I'm deliberately designing the film to take advantage of easy locations, day exteriors, day for night sequences, and esp. dramatic natural locations to add to the filmic impact of large format photography. We only have a few studio (soundstage) sequences, to help reduce costs. Fortunately I have the support of Raleigh Studios, my employers, who have assured me they will help me in any way they reasonably can. 

I have no current DP for "Treasure Seekers". I won't be able to find someone until summer I expect; I think the budget will be problematic for the big "A" players. I may go to the motion picture retirement home and find the meanest, oldest, crankiest DP in there and get him with a hot shot young gaffer and a good operator... we'll see.

The costs were interesting

Kodak does not charge an "extra" surcharge for 65mm production. They pretty much sell film by how much you purchase, 65mm is about 2x as much as 35mm because its about 2x as much film. If you shoot in VistaVision, you have to use 2x as much 35mm... 8 perfs instead of 4 perfs. For an Imax blowup, that's a reasonable savings. For a 5 perf blowup, that's really not very good at all. You have to crop the VV 1.5 AR to 2.265mm 5 perf... so the film negative costs just as much. Sometimes low budget 35mm shows, like my last feature, purchase "short ends", unused 200 to 300 ft rolls of negative, that we would use to shoot on to save money. This allows 2-3 min of shooting between changing magazines. This is fine for 4-perf 35mm. But for 8 perf VV, the same film would be run through in 60 seconds to 90 seconds. Completely impractical, so you would need to buy full camera rolls from Kodak. No savings in VV by using short ends!
The 35mm developing is cheaper though. 65mm costs $ .47 USD per foot to develop. 35mm developing is about $.12 USD per foot, and you have to remember VV runs 8 perf vs 65mm 5 perf... so you have some savings there. Telecine for VV or 65mm costs the same. There's only two places that do it, they both do VV or 65mm, and they charge the same for both. I don't yet have their hourly rate. I bet it HURTS! $300 USD would be cheap. I expect something like $500 USD hourly.

The problem with VV is that you have a much smaller negative area, and, then you DEFINITELY need to blow up to 65mm Intermediate. This means a cost of about $4 or $5 USD per foot if you do a traditional Optical blowup. A 10,000 ft show in 65mm (90 min or so) would cost $50K to make the IN. If you did the best possible Digital intermediate blowup, the costs are scanning at $1 USD per frame, and $4 to $5 per frame for recording, and then you would also have to factor in the costs for digital processing- removal of grain, etc. That must be expensive!

I think that if you shot a 90 min show in VV on a 5:1 shooting ratio on a 2 month schedule you would spend:

Camera rental USD: 16,000
Negative stock USD: 46,000
Developing USD: 10,000
TC USD: 10,000
Optical blowup USD: 50,000
Answer print USD: 50,000
Release printing USD: 7,000 ea
Protection IP USD: 30,000
On Digital blowup USD: 130,000
Output to 65mm negative USD: 648,000

So VV with traditional blowup is $ 182,000 to get to your first 65mm Answer Print. Optimistically!!!) On Digital methods you could figure some cost savings on the volume of a complete show, but I can't imagine in coming in less than an additional $500,000. 
New 70mm Short in progress

I'm about to produce and direct "Treasure Seekers", with a March 2006 start date.

I'm struggling through the funding process right now, also doing a lot of location scouting here in California. We're assembling a production staff and crew at this time as well.

We're shooting in Super Panavision 70mm DTS on a rediculously small budget SAG Ultra Low Budget Agreement. Keith Eisberg is the DP. We'll be showcasing some famous California locations in the film.

We're utilizing the Panavision System 65 studio camera and the 65mm handheld with the Hydroflex underwater housing for second unit. Film should be to answer print about August 1 or sooner.

Also, we're seeking resales/recans/shortends of 65mm camera negative if you know any sources. Need about 40,000 feet of film, about 3/4 daylight and the rest 500 speed.

best, Mike Donahue +1 323 871-5668

Shooting 65mm 5 perf.

Camera rental USD: 16,000
Negative stock USD: 60,000
Developing USD: 47,000
TC USD: 10,000
Optical blowup USD: 50,000
Answer print USD: 50,000
Release printing USD: 7,000 ea
Protection IP USD: 30,000
On Digital blowup USD: 130,000
Output to 65mm negative USD: 648,000

So with 65mm 5 perf you would pay $183,000 to get to your first Answer Print. These projections are of course optimistic!!!! There are additional costs for titles, special effects, negative assembly, and lab-handling charges that would be higher than traditional 35mm. Figure in another $50,000 at least for either format. I have no idea what DTS charges for 65mm but I understand they are very proactive in making the format available to the studios and it is probably not much more than their traditional licensing fee. 

So let's look at 35mm traditional production:

Camera rental USD: 10,000
Negative stock USD: 5,000
Developing USD: 5,000
TC USD: 5,000
Answer print USD: 8,000
Release printing USD: 3,000 ea
Protection IP USD: 30,000

Traditional 35mm production would give you an Answer Print for $36,000. These numbers are all a bit misleading. Big features all shoot more than a 5:1 shooting ratio, so the costs in 65mm go up proportionally. What is that proportion? about 10x more for shooting and developing, add on $100,000 to $150,000 for finishing costs in 65mm. So now we all understand why no one shoots in 65mm. Huh? Wait a second... they are regularly spending $100,000,000 dollars on a film these days. Why should another $500,000 to $3,000,000 even make them blink?
In some cases, it’s because they don't warrant using the format. In others, its because they are ignorant, and in others, its the laziness caused by accepting 35mm 4 perf scanned as digital intermediates at 2000 pixel resolution as good enough- Films are designed for the home market, the studios all know HD is coming along at 1920 lines in the home. All of this is obviously designed for maximum profit in all media. Film Studios are really just Television Studios. Someday, someone will go back in the film studio business. That is, make films for theaters. Oh, right, that was Imax. But they kind of went overboard on that, you can't use that format really effectively for dramatic storytelling. (Don't tell me you can! I've seen it done- it wasn't pretty!) So someday someone will go back in the film studios business with high resolution 65mm 5 perf... widescreens, immersive sound and picture, and dazzling close-ups and the word may get out, they may make a lot of money, in movie theaters. Why, a film like that might play for a year or two in special venues, before it ever got to 35mm general release or home video. You could even make Imax prints- printing the 5 perf 2.2 ratio onto Imax for distribution in Imax theaters and make some money-offering closeups and views of movie stars that no 35mm or home theaters can give the Hollywood public. 

But that's not a business market that television studios and satellite owners understand. Every week in the United States, about a million people go to the movies habitually. and the tickets cost about $7 on average. I wish I could get those million people to go see my million-dollar production, why, I'd be a 6-millionaire! The cost breakdowns were fascinating. 

Did you realize that 70mm blowups from 35mm scope are all done from 35mm internegatives? They have a 90 ft per minute step printer, (basically a film projector!) that prints the 35 IN to 70mm positive stock. I had no idea! No one ever pays to make a 65mm IN, its too expensive- the only place that ever did that was Metrocolor, long closed thanks to Ted Turner. 

It was cool, seeing that 65mm large format is alive and well and thriving [with CFI, ed]. I still haven't received a call back from Panavision... I'm going to have to call Tak. I know his as an acquaintance. Anyway, thanks for the help and encouragement. Turns out we have a mutual friend in Greg Kimble, he is doing the SFX on "Surge".

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Updated 21-01-24