With FilmCraft’s closing, Astro is Midwest’s sole lab


Filmcraft lab manager Jeff Wanless

After 90 years of motion picture film processing in Detroit, Grace & Wild Studios has ceded to the increasing dominance of the digital world and closed its FilmCraft division in favor of handling file based workflows and film archival work.

Jeff Wanless, FilmCraft’s lab manager for 13 years, says FilmCraft will refer processing requests to Chicago’s Filmworkers Astro Labs.  With the closing last year of Minneapolis’  and now FilmCraft in Detroit having ended, Astro stands as the Midwest’s sole 35/16mm processing lab.

Manuela Hung, Astro’s general manager, says she was sorry to learn of FilmCraft’s closing. “We’ve always had a good relationship with them.  They’re good people and we’ll help in every way we can.”

Keith Neff, Grace & Wild’s VP/technology, says the company will continue to be involved with film,  “whether it’s material still being created for commercial work all the way through archival preparation and restoration.

“We like to think that the legacy of the lab will live on in the world of digital and leave the chemistry behind.”

Two factors led to the closing: the inevitable and increasing transition from film to digital capture and the killing of Michigan’s top-rated film incentives by Gov. Rick Snyder this year, which vastly reduced the amount of film the lab was processing.

“What people may not realize is the sheer magnitude of film that passed through our facility,” notes Wanless, who leaves the company along with three other lab employees on Friday.

“Thanks in part to Michigan film incentives, in the last four years the lab processed film for over 20 features — 500,000 feet for the feature ‘30 Minutes or Less’ alone,” amounting to 1.5 million feet of film,” says Wanless.  That amount sunk to 100,000 feet this year.

FilmCraft was one of the oldest and most durable labs in the film industry.  It dates  back to the earliest days of motion pictures when it was founded as Detroit Film in the 1920s, Wanless relates.  It became General Film with new ownership in the 1930s and FilmCraft in  the ‘50s.   Grace & Wild purchased it in 1988.

The heyday of film lasted from 1970-1982, says Wanless.  “Detroit’s film industry employed thousands of people at that time. We had three big labs — Producers Color Services, Allied and FilmCraft — putting out industrial, educational and religious films and commercials for ad agencies and the auto industry.  Then video came in and killed the lab business.”

Detroit’s film industry was revived a few times since then, especially during the three years of tax incentives when Michigan enjoyed $300 million in production revenue.