WBEZ | filmmaking http://www.wbez.org/tags/filmmaking Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Chicago’s last film processing company shuts down http://www.wbez.org/blogs/alison-cuddy/2013-05/chicago%E2%80%99s-last-film-processing-company-shuts-down-107398 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/acuddy.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-3252b609-ecca-cfeb-290e-1ecf7e6453ce">Chicago has lost a major piece of its filmmaking history. <a href="http://filmworkersastro.com/">Astro Labs</a>&nbsp;was the last film processing company in the city and one of just a few left in the Midwest.</p><p>But after 45 years, the company&rsquo;s doors are closed.</p><p>In its heyday, this place was major. Every movie John Hughes ever made was processed here. So were films like &ldquo;The Blues Brothers&rdquo;, &ldquo;High Fidelity&rdquo;, and both &ldquo;Batman Begins&rdquo; and &ldquo;The Dark Knight&rdquo;.</p><p>For Manuela Hung, who along with Reid Brody took over Astro in 2001, the Batman films were a big deal.</p><p>Hung says director Christopher Nolan wanted daily rushes &ndash; but only of certain scenes. So that meant Astro wouldn&rsquo;t just process a working print of the film. They&rsquo;d have to cut the actual negative.</p><p>Trouble was, most people who knew how to do that were retired or no longer around. Desperate, Hung reached out to some students at Columbia College.</p><p>Yes, students cut the original negative shot by Christopher Nolan and Wally Pfister.</p><p>Hung says she&rsquo;s not sure how they did it - their semester hadn&rsquo;t even ended.</p><p>&ldquo;We were working around the clock,&rdquo; Hung said. &nbsp;&ldquo;But they did a beautiful job, and everybody was happy.&rdquo;</p><p>Reid Brody says that&rsquo;s how Astro competed against the major film labs on the East and West coasts: They were always willing to hustle.</p><p>&ldquo;We always managed to get to someone, either through our friends at Kodak or someone at Chicago being connected to the production,&rdquo; Brody said. &ldquo;It was a just a lot of fun, a lot of excitement.&rdquo;</p><p>But those days are long gone. The last feature film Astro handled was in 2010.</p><p>These days, most features shot in Chicago no longer use film. The commercial work Astro relied on has also dried up - advertising companies too have switched to digital. That left local independent and student filmmakers.</p><p>Hung says that&rsquo;s been their primary business for the past year.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s wonderful to be able to do that,&rdquo; Hung said. &ldquo;But that doesn&rsquo;t sustain a whole entire lab. It just doesn&rsquo;t.&rdquo;</p><p>So earlier this month, Astro shut down. And these days, Hung&rsquo;s main job is overseeing the dismantling of Astro.</p><p>That&rsquo;s a huge job. The machines are massive contraptions. Their color printers are about six feet long, covered in shiny steel gears and sprockets.</p><p>In another room, a chemical lab for mixing developer is full of small glass pipettes and giant steel tanks.</p><p>Further along, inside a glass-encased machine, the negative is processed &ndash; dipped in multiple solutions and then hung up to dry, sort of like laundry.</p><p>All of this equipment is in a series of interconnected rooms, covering about 12,000 square feet in total.</p><p>But walking through the now dormant lab is like walking through a graveyard.</p><p>&ldquo;They have absolutely no value to anyone,&rdquo; Hung said. &ldquo;Nobody wants them. The deconstruction of the lab, especially because everything was working, is what makes it really sad.&rdquo;</p><p>Hung says they&rsquo;ve reached out to people They&rsquo;re willing to give everything away. But the size of the equipment is prohibitive in most cases. So most of it will be broken down for scrap metal.</p><p>Other members of Chicago&rsquo;s film community are also mourning the loss of Astro.</p><p><a href="http://www.hairlessfilms.org/">Danièle Wilmouth</a> is an independent filmmaker and film teacher. She&rsquo;s been taking films to Astro for about 15 years. She says the biggest loss is not just the machines, but the people who ran them.</p><p>&ldquo;Not having their expertise that we could call on, just you know, for some advice or a question about something,&quot; she said. &quot;And of course for our students, being able to go their first hand and talk with technicians. That was really invaluable. So, yeah it will be a huge loss. I&rsquo;m really sad about it.&rdquo;</p><p>Meanwhile, though Astro Labs is gone, Manuela Hung and Reid Brody aren&rsquo;t leaving the film business entirely. They&rsquo;ll continue to operate <a href="http://filmworkers.com/">Filmworkers Club</a>, a post production house in Chicago. And they run a small processing plant in Texas.</p></p> Tue, 28 May 2013 15:14:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/alison-cuddy/2013-05/chicago%E2%80%99s-last-film-processing-company-shuts-down-107398