Film’s not Dead in Conversation with Kodak Alaris

We’re sure your all aware of the up and downs Kodak has been going through over the last year or so. Finally one of our beloved film manufactures is back on track and has formed a new company under the name of Kodak Alaris. We were lucky enough to catch up with Lars Fielder (Product Marketing Director, Personalised Imaging – Europe, Africa & Middle East) who was kind enough to sit down and tell us all.

So here goes…

Film’s not Dead: Hi Lars, First of all, nothing too juicy!  What’s the meaning of Alaris?  Why Alaris?

Lars Fiedler:Well the key thing on top of all was that we were able to secure Kodak being part of the new company name because Kodak is what people recognise, people know it and it has an awesome awareness, and is also what people will look for in the future. The word Alaris is kind of almost made up the same way as George Eastman made up Kodak, a generic word, trying to enable everyone around the globe to pronounce it more or less the same as Kodak has. So the new company and its name preserve the heritage and legacy of the Kodak brand, while embodying greater speed and agility to meet market needs and changes.

Film’s not Dead: It’s interesting to hear the same thought process that went into making the word Kodak went into making Alaris. Moving on to our second question, could you briefly summarise what has been happening with Kodak over the last 12 months?

Lars Fiedler:Obviously quite some things have changed, since Eastman Kodak went into chapter 11, beginning of 2012. So Eastman Kodak has shut down a couple of consumer focused businesses like Digital cameras and other devices, the consumer inkjet business, KODAK gallery, so a couple of things really. Also, quite some patents where sold last but not least. Then, on September 3rd Eastman Kodak succeeded in emerging from chapter 11 – also by spinning of 2 more of its businesses: Document Imaging and Personalised Imaging. And these 2 businesses now form the new company Kodak Alaris. While you could say that Eastman Kodak has completed their move towards a commercial imaging company, I feel it was most likely the best possible thing for us and our consumer focused businesses to be part of Kodak Alaris. So, all the Kodak instant printing services, our trusted and beloved film products as well as our broad paper and chemistry offering has now one new home and we are as committed today to safeguarding everyone’s Kodak Moments as we ever were!

Film’s not Dead: Well it’s strength in smaller numbers then, but our beloved film has survived amongst other things.

Lars Fiedler:Exactly. All the businesses forming the new company are pretty profitable and as Kodak Alaris, we’re without any debts or obligations, we’re definitely not in chapter 11. It’s rather the opposite: we are backed up by the new owner, the Kodak Pension Plan, who really believes in the businesses, seeing a good and growing future and also is prepared to invest. So that’s where the excitement is, we’re almost starting from scratch. Personalised Imaging consists of four smaller sub businesses. While those were amongst numerous other businesses under Eastman Kodak, all our customers incl. photographers, retailers and labs can expect a strong focus. Whether that’s someone who loves to shoot on film, is looking forward to get the maximum out of images by getting them printed on photographic paper, or someone who shoots and prints for fun using digital – we’re dedicated to delivering a product or service to suit every need.

Film’s not Dead: Bright sky’s ahead! So the KPP, that’s the Kodak Pension Plan, former Kodak employees, from the UK. In effect Kodak Alaris is owned by the people that were working there over the past 20/30 years ago?

Lars Fiedler:The UK Kodak Pension Plan (KPP) is a trust established to pay pension benefits to Kodak’s current and former U.K. employees who are plan participants. While the KPP utilizes the “Kodak” name, it has been and will remain a completely separate entity from Eastman Kodak Company. 

Film’s not Dead: So it’s in everyones best interest to make sure it keeps going towards those bright sky’s.

Lars Fiedler:First of all as you correctly said they are probably the best possible investors as they understand the business better than anyone else. The other thing is that, since they’re a trust, they’re thinking in decades rather than in years. They’re following a long-term strategy. Their prepared to invest because they understand it needs some investment, for all the future opportunities and to have ongoing success and growth in the future. With all the smart phone, tablets and the hyper connected world we are in today there’s a lot more opportunities out there for innovative products and solutions supporting photography and printing. On the other hand film is definitely still a key piece of Kodak Alaris moving forward. However, I believe it is fair to say it is rather a mature market. It’s in decline, rather than growing. Although we have good signs of young photographers discovering film, the old is the new for them, which is great, but never the less, it is rather a mature market.

Film’s not Dead: I am sure everyone is just happy to still have their yellow boxes on the shelves. As of 18 months ago it was all up in the air.

Lars Fiedler:That’s one of the key pieces for us: To be able to use the iconic Kodak brand not only in the company name but to be able to brand all of our products the way people are used to it and know them today. It’s probably even more important for the Film’s not Dead fans to know that there are no plans to change any of the portfolio.

Film’s not Dead: Woo Hoo! Film wise, what we have is what we have, and we’re guaranteed to have that a while longer?

Lars Fiedler:It would be very speculative to say “I can guarantee you that it’s one two three five years”. While we’re seeing growth in photography in general, driven by the smart phones and the hundreds of billions of images that’s growing every second, this also opens up opportunities or needs and we look very much forward to come up with products/services to market those. At the same time we have to also closely watch the market and where the demand for film is going. Clearly speaking I wouldn’t see any reason why it should drop dead at the end of this year or some time next year, clearly I don’t see that. As long as that doesn’t happen and there’s a good continuous demand for our film portfolio then we don’t see any reason to change or cut anything.

Film’s not Dead: We’re doing what we can to try and create demand, don’t worry!

Lars Fiedler:That’s what we have to try to do. I am not only sitting here saying it depends only on the photographers. Definitely what we want to make sure is that continuously we are delivering those world-class quality products and films, like the award-winning PORTRA or all time classic TRI-X. But it is also about supporting all your fans, and basically all the film lovers out there by making it as easy as possible for everyone to understand where to find the film and where to get it processed. As obviously that is another key piece, one thing is that photographers like you guys, going out there, loving to shooting film, continuously buying film, the other thing is that is there enough good places out there where you guys can get it processed and printed.   

Film’s not Dead:  That’s where the real magic happens! Looking at film sales on the whole have you seen that curve come up at all over recent years?

Lars Fiedler:It is difficult to say where the overall market is going. Up to a couple of years ago we had fairly detailed market data. That has kind of diminished with a couple of players gone, and with the market getting smaller and other markets growing the focus has moved away on the business research side of things. I would say that the overall demand is still in decline, although abating over years. That said, we are really seeing up takes in a couple of sub categories, not the whole range, there’s ups and downs, especially in Black and white. When we started to launch Ektar a couple of years back we had seen some really strong demand on our colour neg portfolio. Chrome films on the other side are really dramatically going down, but at the same time the colour neg is in a way gaining. The people who used to shoot on slide films have decided to move over to negative film. Just because of 10 years ago chrome film was unbeaten in terms of being the best possible starting point of getting things scanned in. But I don’t see any issues of getting great scans out of the Ektar or Portra, There were some really good improvements this is where we focused our developments over the last couple of years. If you go back a few photokina’s, next to the improved T-MAX 400, we have launched improved versions of the PORTRA 160, 400 and you had the EKTAR 100, it is going in that direction to make the colour films as fit as possible for perfect scans.

Film’s not Dead: I’m going to moan a bit I am sorry. But still with the intention with digitising, when the Portra was re-released, the base layers are optimised for scanning. The final resting place is the scan, is that the vision?

Lars Fiedler:Not really, that’s just paying respect to what happens often. We see that with even professional photographers, some of them jumped on digital but then over the past couple of years at trade fairs, we have had not only young people asking about film and what films you have, but pros came to us saying they have only shot digital for the last couple of years and want to come back to film, but really depending on what type of customer or area of photography it is that especially in the pro area is that it is mainly digitised. It’s paying respect to that trend, with at some point in time it will get digitised, but by no means we want to give up on printing. We rather look forward to encourage people to print with our products & solutions.

It’s really a good idea to shoot film to have the best possible input get it probably digitised or get it printed straight away. Get the most out of your images is for me using AgX photographic paper, leveraging the wide range we have there. Yes you can share your photos on the tablet or on the laptop but it’s still so much more impressive and emotional to hold a print in your hand or have it hanging on the wall like the ones you have here in your gallery store. Nothing is better for me than that.

Film’s not Dead: The proof is in the print! Something we joke about is winning the lottery and start producing Kodachrome again, when KPP took on Kodak Alaris, the rights to all the films, did they get the rights to previous films?

Lars Fiedler:That’s a good question. As far as I know it is all the current trademarks, all the sub brands like Kodak Express, PORTRA, T-MAX, TRI-X. All necessary to ensure that we exclusively can market and sell all those products ongoingly.

Film’s not Dead: Just out of interest Lars, do you shoot film?

Lars Fiedler:Well yes, of course! 

Film’s not Dead: Often?

Lars Fiedler:Well when ever I go on Vacation, the old Canon T9 and the Lomo Spinner is with me, loaded with KODAK film – of course!

Film’s not Dead: What makes you shoot film?

Lars Fiedler:I like the emotions shooting associated with it. I believe Digital tends to make you shoot like silly, and you shoot because you like to shoot. With Film you go there, you open your eyes, you approach it differently. Say you have 10 films with you so that limits you to find that great image. Or there’s some uncertainty which some people try to avoid where on the other hand that is the emotion and the excitement to see what you have shot, there’s more feeling involved with it.

Film’s not Dead: And the literal feeling of carrying the film and taking it to the darkroom.

 Lars Fiedler:You think first before you shoot. It’s not just switching the camera on and shoot, shoot, shoot.

Film’s not Dead: Now we have some questions from people on Twitter and Facebook.

Does Kodak Alaris buy the film that’s still produced in America?

Lars Fiedler:Yes. We’re leveraging that world class factory in an exclusive supply agreement, one of the reasons is that Eastman Kodak still continues with it’s motion picture film, which is really the big chunk of film production. It makes sense that film production stays with Eastman Kodak.

On the other hand the whole paper manufacturing is part of Kodak Alaris so the whole of the paper manufacturing has moved over incl. the site here in Harrow, and we have more finishing sites in Brazil, China, Russia and India. 

Film’s not Dead: Your touching nearly every continent there, it really shows the scale the operation is on.

Lars Fiedler:We’re some what smaller than Eastman Kodak, but we are pretty much active world wide.

If colour reversal film will make a come back, maybe in the form of a reversal version of Ektar 100 or maybe start producing small batches of Kodachrome 64 and using Dwayne’s Photo and Orms Direct for processing?

Lars Fiedler: I have expected that one to be honest; the key point is that we do want to continue with the current portfolio. The thing is that we keep monitoring where the markets going and I mentioned it before, while the other downside trend is almost debating, I don’t believe colour or black or white films will drop, but on chrome films it has declined a lot.Colour reversal has become an extremely niche market, while there’s no doubt there always have been and probably still are, dear fans to Kodachrome who we thank a lot for using that film over all those 75 years. The development process was very tricky and time consuming, you had to use a lot of chemicals compared to other processes.

The strong message and good news is that at Kodak Alaris want to provide the same portfolio ongoingly – and there might be some film shooters, who may not know what is all available still, all the formats and the different film types such as the odd large sheet film sizes which are available on a ”Can You Supply” order basis.

Film’s not Dead: So it’s not practical to make small runs of old emulsion types?

Lars Fiedler:I am going back to what I just said before. It’s definitely worth looking into odd sizes on sheet film especially, that’s what we’re offering. Asking about film types/ emulsion that’s tricky to be honest. The key thing again is that we have a very broad range and we still plan to offer and market this range, which I think is not too bad. I definitely can see where the people are coming from. But our focus is, to keep the range as it is plus those additional format offerings.

Film’s not Dead: I’m sure everyone will be more than thankful and happy. Be happy with what you have that kinda of thing.The grass is always greener, on Kodachrome especially, last one I promise!

Lars Fiedler:By the way, I will throw it back! You know that very famous picture by Steve McCurry, the Afghan Girl on Kodachrome and then he shot her however many years later and he shot her on E100G. And he loved it, probably more than Kodachrome. No doubt Kodachrome was a fantastic film. But what I wanted to say is that we have a lot of great film emulsions out that in our current portfolio. Look ahead and try all of what is available!

Film’s not Dead: Thank you so much Lars for taking the time to come to the shop and sit down with us, as you can imagine we weren’t sleeping terribly well after hearing about Chapter 11.  Now though, after hearing the great news we’ll be sleeping like a babies!