New Zealand’s only dedicated film lab, Wellington’s Film Soup, has run into a spot of difficulty; its long-serving processing machine (above, named Marvin after the woebegone robot from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books) is in need of repairs. Fuelled solely by the passion and enthusiasm of owner and photographer Reatha Kenny, the business has turned to crowd-funding to help raise the money needed to get the machinery humming again.
Testament to the zeal and altruism of the film photography community, the Kickstarter project reached it’s initial funding goal of $1200 within hours of launching. Now Reatha is hoping to raise enough money from the campaign to outfit the business with equipment to really keep the lab humming.
D-Photo:How long has Film Soup been running?
Reatha Kenny: I started Film Soup two-and-a-half years ago. Originally I started developing C-41 for myself as I wasn’t happy with the quality of processing I was getting and I wanted more control over my own work. At the time I had no intention of starting a lab. When Marvin arrived he had so many accessories I joked that I had enough to start my own lab. When I started developing it became clear I wasn’t the only one wanting quality processing and that joke started to become an idea. It was about a year before I decided that I wanted to become the lab for photographers and set up Film Soup.
What is the film-user community like in New Zealand?
The community in NZ is very varied, as it is worldwide. I have clients that range from serious art and professional photographers through to absolute beginners. The film community as a whole I think is a very tight community and we are growing. I think the growth is due to a combination of people going back to film because they feel like they need something they just aren’t getting from their digital work and younger photographers who are discovering film for the first time.
Where did your ailing processing machine, Marvin, come from?
Marvin came from the Christchurch art school, they had used him for colour print developing and were considering throwing him into the tip until Greg at Photo and Video very kindly jumped in and put us in touch with each other. One of my wedding client’s fathers had a trucking company in Christchurch and they freighted it up to Wellington for me. It was all very fortuitous.
How old is Marvin and what’s gone wrong?
Marvin is a very old machine, I’m not sure exactly how old, but he’s old. The manual is marked January 1990, poor Marvin, he really has done well to still be processing this long. There is a gear inside him that has broken, a little plastic selector. Its barely bigger than your fingernail but unfortunately crucial as it selects which bottle to pump chemicals from. It can’t be worked around so without it Marvin can’t do anything. Except complain, he can do that.
Do you think naming him after Marvin from Hitchhikers was just asking for trouble?
Haha, possibly naming him Marvin was asking for trouble but it suits him so well and I don’t think he will ever stop complaining. Everybody loves Marvin despite his funny ways. When he broke so many of my clients sent him get well messages.It’s funny how something as small as a name can endear us to machinery. Our little ATL 1000 is named Starbug, notice a theme?
What made you decide to crowd-fund for the project?
When Marvin died, I thought all was lost. How would I ever afford to fix or replace him. Film Soup is run on the smell of an oily rag and even that gets low at times. When I told my community of Soupies what had happened the response was immediate and overwhelming. People were calling and messaging me to tell me that they would support Marvin and I to get up and running again. It was my clients who decided I should crowd-fund and got in behind me. I spent a lot of time in tears that day just so overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness of people.
I researched all of the crowd funding options and I chose Kickstarter in the end simply because it was the most recognised and I knew there was a strong community of film photographers worldwide who would be likely to show support for what we are doing as well. I wasn’t wrong.
You’ve already achieved your funding goal, but your stretch goals are significantly larger – why is that?
Really we need more than to fix Marvin, we need a new and reliable machine. Marvin is very old and it is almost impossible to get parts any more. CatLABS, who are the Jobo dealers in Chicago, have been fantastic helping me to figure out the best replacements for him. We came up with two options, a semi automatic CPP3 which is small, simple and easy to maintain but can handle the same workload as Marvin and is doing well in other boutique labs around the world. Or a factory refurbished ATL 2200, which would be refurbished for me by the Jobo factory in Germany. The fully automatic ATL 2200 is a more modern version of Marvin and would be the ultimate machine for us. There is however a significant price difference between the two machines.
It was a very hard decision to decide where to set my first goal. Originally I was going to go straight for the $8500, which would get us a new machine and allow me to fix Marvin, but I wasn’t completely confident I would make it that far. If you don’t meet your first funding goal with Kickstarter then you don’t get anything. My clients had let me know that they would be willing to put prints up for auction and help me to raise funds in other ways too. So the idea was to go for the lower goal and hopefully any shortfall could be met by other fundraising with my clients. Currently we are limping along with Starbug, which is a much smaller machine, so we hope any further fundraising will be unnecessary as the sooner we can get up and running with a new machine the better.
Are you feeling positive about reaching your first stretch goal?
I’m quietly confident that we will get close, but more than a little nervous. The first day was such a rush meeting our first goal so quickly, I hope I didn’t do myself a disservice by starting so low. Time will tell, in the meantime I don’t think I will have any fingernails.
It seems like a fair few of your backers are not from New Zealand, why do you think that is?
The film community has had to stick together. As digital grows our turf gets smaller so we support each other. Tell people you are there to support the film community and keep film alive and it’s like a secret handshake. You only need to look at some of the bigger Kickstarters like those for Film Ferrania – who supported Film Soup too – or CineStill to see how much film photographers support each other. We all love passionately what we do and we want to keep it.
What’s the best thing about running Film Soup?
The people who understand and love film. Every time someone sends me a message to say thank you and how pleased they are with their work it makes my day. I have loyal clients who need my service and they keep me going even when I feel like giving up. They remind me that by helping to keep film photography alive in New Zealand I am contributing to something bigger than myself. Nothing beats that, it’s been a very humbling experience.
You can help keep film alive in New Zealand by donating to Reatha’s Kickstarter campaign here, and check out the Film Soup website here – and you can hear photographer Virginia Woods-Jack discussing film photography for Film Soup below