Firm Knows the Color of Money
For decades, moviegoers have seen the words “In Technicolor” flash on the screen--signaling the color process that made the brick road to Oz yellow and Scarlett O’Hara’s lips red.
While much of its storied history remains tied to cinema, in recent decades the world’s largest processor of motion-picture film has diversified and now slightly more than half its money is generated from video duplication and CD and DVD replication.
Camarillo-based Technicolor has contracts with leading entertainment companies, including Disney, DreamWorks and Warner Bros., to produce videotapes of many of their hit movies.
Technicolor’s operations are housed at various sites throughout the world, including a film laboratory in Hollywood. Nearly 1,500 of its 10,000 employees work at three warehouses north of the Ventura Freeway on Mission Oaks Boulevard--making it the biggest company in the city and the fourth-largest private employer in Ventura County.
“Clearly they are a positive part of our community because of the employment base and payroll, " said Camarillo City Manager Jerry Bankston. “When you have that many employees--and a significant number live in Camarillo--you have those payroll dollars being spent at our retail stores.”
Inside Technicolor’s warehouses, 20,000 videocassette recorders tape reprints of new releases and popular classics when retailers run out and request more.
750,000 Videos Shipped Daily
Under tight security, hundreds of machines made copies of “The Wizard of Oz,” “Casablanca” and Robert Redford’s “The Horse Whisperer” one recent day. Several hundred thousand copies of “Shrek” were recorded earlier that week in preparation for its nationwide release on video today.
Duke Potts, the company’s head of manufacturing and distribution in North America, said about 750,000 videocassettes are made and shipped daily. As many as 20 titles are recorded simultaneously around the clock.
The company also makes compact discs, and in 1998 added DVD production for Hollywood studios and software and game manufacturers, reshaping its business strategy. Today, the Camarillo site also produces 150,000 DVDs each day. Technicolor, which moved to Newbury Park 20 years ago, relocated to Camarillo in 1993.
“We have found that as businesses come into the area to look at Camarillo, the [Technicolor] building sets a good tone,” Bankston said. “Certainly it doesn’t hurt when a company is looking at coming here to know that a company with a reputation like Technicolor has chosen to make this its corporate” home.
The company, which has annual revenue of $1.6 billion, was purchased in March by Thompson Multimedia of France from London-based Carlton Communications.
Technicolor expanded operations last year to add digital cinema in a joint venture with Qualcomm Inc. Technicolor Digital Cinema has installed digital projectors in more than 30 cinemas worldwide, including locations in Los Angeles, Burbank and Irvine.
“They are like any company in a business that is changing. They are trying to reinvent themselves so that they can continue to be profitable in the current landscape,” said Jim Korris, executive director of USC’s Entertainment Technology Center.
Cinema owners are waiting for proof that digital technology will not be obsolete before they convert theaters.
“The equipment is quite expensive, so it is hard for cinemas to justify it,” said Korris, who runs a digital cinema lab working to develop such standards. “There is no guarantee [against] obsolescence . . . and add the fact that the current system works.”
Technicolor’s Chief Executive Lanny Raimondo said the digital systems are in place for the future. “It’s film theater now,” he said. “But in the next 10 years there will not only be film delivered to the theater but material delivered in digital form.”
A Long and Storied History
But it’s Technicolor’s film services--from development of the original negative and released prints to post-production--that have cemented the company’s place in history. Construction began this year on a 125,000-square-foot film print laboratory in Mirabel, Quebec, near Montreal.
“It was the first company to bring color to the screen on a commercial basis,” said Fred Basten, a Santa Monica-based film historian who wrote the book “Glorious Technicolor.”
In 1915, Herbert Kalmus, an engineer from MIT, set out to bring lifelike color to the big screen. Adapting the name of his college yearbook, “Technique,” Kalmus formed the Technicolor Motion Picture Corp. and created the first Technicolor film, “The Gulf Between,” in 1917, starring Grace Darmond.
It wasn’t until Kalmus teamed up with then-independent filmmaker Walt Disney in the 1930s that the painstaking dye transfer process began to gain momentum.
The first full-length animated feature in color, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” was produced in 1937. Walt Disney, Basten said, “basically signed a lifetime contract with Technicolor. Every Disney movie since the 1930s has been done by Technicolor.” With ongoing relationships with major studios, Technicolor dominated the industry in the ‘30s and ‘40s.
“It was the only decent color process around,” said Rudy Behlmer, a film historian and author for more than 35 years. “Technicolor pretty much had the field to themselves. When you wanted to do a film in Technicolor, you had to contract them not only to shoot it, but they brought their camera over to the studio along with a Technicolor cameraman and coordinator. It also included development of the film, the processing and the prints. It was a package.”
The invention of a single color negative by Eastman Kodak in 1950 opened up color industrywide, and Technicolor’s hold on the market loosened. Boasting superior quality, Technicolor continued to make film prints but used Eastman’s color negative for shooting the film.
But cinematographers still consider the company’s dye transfer process a better way to preserve film because it does not fade.