Welcome to our archive of the "Ask a Filmmaker," a column that was devoted to your questions and concerns about the filmmaking process. Our guest columnists were screenwriter John August (Go, Charlie's Angels), director Penelope Spheeris (The Decline of Western Civilization, Wayne's World) and cinematographer Oliver Stapleton (My Beautiful Laundrette, The Cider House Rules, The Shipping News).

January 31, 2007

Ask a Cinematographer
by Oliver Stapleton

While 3-Strip Technicolor is often the most talked about item in color film history, what I am wondering is about the Eastman stocks of the 50s and 60s. There seems to be an "Alphabet Soup" of color names (Metrocolor, Warnercolor, Anscocolor, Agfacolor, Pathecolor, Deluxe, etc.). What was the difference in these types? Did they use different stocks of film or a different photochemical process for these films or something entirely different? Were there any books written on them?

Also, while many of the color stocks lacked the same bold, saturated look as 3-Strip Technicolor, some of the better ones came very close. Are there any labs or film stocks that can achieve this level of color today?


I'm not too good at film history but I'm really good with the Internet so here is some stuff cribbed from various places:

  • METROCOLOR: ''Metrocolor''' was the trade name used by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for films processed at their lab. It is unknown when or where the name was first used. Virtually all of these films, however, were actually shot on Eastman Kodak|Eastmancolor film.
  • WARNERCOLOR: Meant processed at Warners Lab - usually Eastman Kodak film.
  • ANSOCOLOR: A film made by GAFF which Kodak tried to suppress.
  • AGFACOLOR: Agfa made fine film stocks for many years which were widely used in EUROPE. It tended to be more pastel and lower contrast than Kodak and Fuji.
  • PATHECOLOR: Pathe owned and operated it's own lab in Bound Brook, New Jersey. Sometime in the late 1940's or early 1950's, Pathe's USA operations were bought by Kodak and ceased to exist in this country. (courtesy Mitchell Dvoskin).
  • DELUXE: Still a current chain of film labs processing Kodak and Fufi film stocks.

    I don't know of books specifically on this topic (wouldn't be a big seller I suspect) but there is truly entertaining and wonderful web site which your question allowed me to find: check it out: http://www.widescreenmuseum.com/

    As far as achieving the 3-strip look today it is possible to simulate it but it never has quite the yellow and green of the original in my opinion. There is just a difference between a colour that is a dye and one which is not: bit like hand dyed organic wool sweaters I guess; there's a vibrancy to the colour in them too.

  • Oliver Stapleton, B.S.C. has photographed dozens of critically acclaimed films, including My Beautiful Laundrette, The Grifters, The Hi-Lo Country , and The Cider House Rules . He received an Independent Spirit Award nomination for his work on Earth Girls Are Easy . He is currently filming The Waterhorse in New Zealand.

    If you are considering working in the movie industry, Oliver Stapleton has written a brief guide available at www.cineman.co.uk.

    Got a question about cinematography? Send it to Ask a Cinematographer.