[ continued from: Bleach-Bypass ]


Another technique that filmmakers have occasionally asked the lab to perform in order to radically alter the look of a picture is cross-processing reversal film. This method has recently been utilized by such cinematographers as Robert Richardson, ASC (on Oliver Stone's U-Turn, see AC Oct. '97), Elliot Davis (on Steven Soderbergh's The Underneath, and for portions of Spike Lee's Get on the Bus, see AC Nov. '96), Malik Sayeed (also for Lee on Clockers, see AC Sept. '95), and Newton Thomas Sigel (for the "Demon-Vision" sequences in Fallen).

The use of cross-processed film has become something of a taboo subject matter for laboratories, film manufacturers and distributors. In fact, very few labs even offer the service due to the inherent conflict of interest the technique represents. Duart in New York is one of the few labs currently servicing cross-processing clients, and dailies manager Al Pierce states, "Cross-processing in the motion picture lab is when an exposed image shot on Ektachrome reversal film is developed through a color negative process. While Ektachrome was not manufactured to be processed as a negative film, this technique will allow you to obtain a negative image on a clear-based original reversal film. The effect on the screen, either by a workprint or video transfer, is usually a higher-contrast and increased-grain image. We've found that a normal to slightly underexposed image gives the best results for lab timing and printing equipment; too much exposure will not allow for the use of an orange-based filter in the timing and printing of the negative. Use of this filter will help match the cross-processed film with the color negative film, and thus enable the lab to better time and correct the images."

The effect of cross-processing on the image varies greatly, with even the most minute changes of the nearly infinite factors affecting the exposure, handling, processing and storage of the film. "A serious problem associated with such cross-processing is the need to use formaldehyde, or a formaldehyde derivative, to stabilize the film's magenta dye," states Frank Ricotta of Technicolor. He adds that "such chemicals carry with them significant ecological and health concerns that may preclude their use. If you don't stabilize the film and just protect the image with an interpositive, the magenta dye in the camera original is going to fade fairly quickly. Since Technicolor will not use the noted stabilizers, the lab's policy is not to accept film for cross-processing since it will not have a stable image. However, if someone chooses to use cross-processing for a commercial or a music video, they're probably going take that negative and go straight to transfer, so maybe the long-term stability of the negative is not a concern for them."

Some labs have concerns about the chemicals that could be released into their processors' tanks by cross-processing reversal stocks, but this has not been a problem at Duart. "We have not had any problems in processing Ektachrome in our color negative bath while using the existing chemistry," Pierce submits. "However, there are important environmental concerns connected with some chemicals used in the stabilizing process of Ektachrome film. We have found a suitable substitute which has been shown to considerably slow down the fading problem associated with this film when cross-processed. However, there still is no total guarantee for the long-term stability of this product after it is cross-processed. Also, it is my understanding that Kodak will not guarantee the stability of Ektachrome when used in this processing procedure."

Despite all of these logistical headaches, the resulting imagery can be stunning. Depending on all of the aforementioned variables, the effect on the footage can range from a subtle increase in contrast and grain, to a truly bizarre skewing of tonality throughout the picture, particularly in the highlights and shadows, which can radically shift to magenta and cyan respectively.

Given the associated risks of cross-processing, French cinematographer Denis Lenoir, AFC has utilized a lesser-known laboratory printing technique to achieve similar results. Developed by fellow countryman ÉÉric Gautier, AFC (Personne ne m'aime and Love, ect.), the technique entails printing a normally-shot camera negative onto standard print film as an interpositive. Print film is a much higher-contrast stock, and Lenoir notes that when this IP is subsequently printed onto a 5244 internegative, the resulting imagery will be much more contrasty, with amplified grain and skewed colors.

"We know effects in grain and deepened blacks can be achieved by other processes like bleach-bypass and ENR," says Lenoir, "but those techniques mute colors. This technique yields colors that are quite strong and shifted in the highlights and shadows."

[ continued: Stripping the Anti-Halation Backing ]