For the annual joint meeting of the LRS and the Museum of Communication on 27th September 2017, Alan Masson GM3PSP gave an autobiographical talk on his career with the motion picture division of Kodak in the UK and the USA, ending up at the Director of Engineering in Hollywood.
The following is a shortened version of Alan's Powerpoint presentation.
After graduating in Chemistry from Edinburgh and the Heriot-Watt University, and with his interest in radio as GM3PSP, Alan joined the Research laboratories of Kodak Ltd in Harrow and became involved in motion picture film processing and sound track projects.
Alan joined the Processing Technology Laboratory which, apart from fundamental research in the chemical processing of film and paper, also provided technical support to the company's sales departments including (in Alan's case) the Motion Picture Sales Department.
Alan with his lab technician Dave, who happened to be from Aberdeen, doing camera tests on the roof of the research building.
Most of Alan's work concerned Motion Picture Film. This is a simplified schematic of the various motion picture film stocks and how they relate to each other. Colour negative film (of various types and speeds) after exposure in the studio or location is processed and printed to give rush prints for immediate evaluation and workprints for editing. After editing, a duplicate negative is made in a two-stage process via a master positive and printed to give many hundreds or thousands of release prints for projection in the cinemas.
Film sound tracks are recorded on magnetic tape and after editing are transferred to black and white sound negative film as one or two narrow strips of variable width at the edge of the film. This is then printed with the picture negative to give a composite print for projection.
The Motion Picture Sales Dept provided technical support to customers such as Rank Film Labs (later Deluxe Labs) for example when they had had problems with film processing and Alan made a number of visits there.
Alan's first move was from the Research Labs to the Marketing Education Centre in Hemel Hempstead. After a while in Photofinisher Training he became the Manager of the Motion Picture Training Group, providing training courses of up to 4 weeks to customers and Kodak staff from all over the world. .
One field course was to Jos in northern Nigeria to run a course on the processing of 16mm Ektachrome reversal film for news gathering for the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA. This shot of the students working on the processing machine was interrupted twice by brief power failures but somehow the course film came out OK!
At the end of the course this photo was taken of Alan with the students. When it was sent into the Kodak house newspaper he received the politically-correct query: 'which one is Alan Masson?'!
Trips were made to Eastern European countries to present technical papers at photographic conferences and to staff the Kodak stand at exhibitions. This was the Interkamera Conference in Prague, Czechoslovakia (as it was then).
A visit was made to Barrandov Studios in Prague where the movie 'Amadeus' was being shot in a mock-up of a concert hall built inside the studio. These are the technical managers of Barrandov Laboratories and Barrandov Studios.
Alan's next move was to the European Region of the parent company, Eastman Kodak Company, in London. His job was defined as making two technical trips each year to customers and Kodak houses in each of the 16 countries in western Europe which proved to be impossible in spite of being away from home for two weeks out of four for over three years!
Technical presentations were made at film conferences throughout Europe. Apparently the famous Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman was in the audience on this occasion but unfortunately he didn't get the opportunity to meet Alan Masson!
Alan working on the Kodak stand at the Montreux International Television Symposium in Switzerland, demonstrating a Kodak innovation of providing barcoded footage markers on film to aid editing.
One day in London, Alan's American boss, who was about to return to the US, asked Alan if he would like to come back with him. It wasn't a difficult decision, and after choosing the right moment to ask Alison, Alan moved to Kodak Office in Rochester NY where he became Director of Product Planning for Motion film products.
Kodak Office - a relaxed, creative atmosphere! Alan is still in touch with these two colleagues, Glenn and Ana.
Again, attendance at motion picture conferences and exhibitions was a frequent duty, now in New York City and Los Angeles. An important industry organisation is the Society of Motion Picture & Television Engineers (SMPTE) which among other things is responsible for setting motion picture technical standards, in which Alan became involved on behalf of Kodak.
Of course in the film industry there are interesting people to meet. Well, someone has to do it!
After about five years in Rochester (with its arctic winters) Alan moved to the Kodak Hollywood office and became the Director of Engineering, working with the top technical people in the industry, particularly the laboratories, sound houses and post-production houses. The Kodak Hollywood office was located on Santa Monica Boulevard on Route 66!
More interesting people to meet, this time when the Kodak Christmas party was held at Paramount Studios.
Just up the road in North Hollywood were Universal Studios, the only ones to have retained an extensive 'back lot', popular for tourist visits.
Warner Bros studios in Burbank.
... just along the road from Walt Disney Studios where Alan attended monthly breakfast meetings with all the sound engineers in Hollywood at a time when several important changes were taking place in sound tracks - the introduction of digital tracks and the conversion of analog tracks from silver to cyan dye.
At that time there were four major motion picture laboratories in Hollywood -Technicolor, Deluxe, CFI or Consolidated Film Industries and Fotokem. Technicolor was conveniently located right next to Universal Studios and with a nice view of the famous Hollywood sign.
Kodak maintained a close relationship with the camera rental companies, in whose cameras their film would be shot in the studios. An important test for any new film stock was how much noise it would generate when the camera was running in a sound studio. Alan would arrange tests at Panavision in a sound-proof room with a sensitive directional microphone, measuring the sound level every 100 feet of a 1000ft roll of film. An early lesson learned was always to conduct these tests in the morning as after lunch tummy rumbles would give full-scale readings on the most sensitive range!
As the principal users (and choosers) of Kodak camera stocks, the members of the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) were most important contacts. On this occasion Alan brought a party of Australian cinematographers to the ASC clubhouse in Hollywood to meet a number of famous ASC members
A trip to George Lucas's studios - Industrial Light & Magic - near San Francisco, and Alan had the opportunity to meet R2D2.
Mr Fukushima, a visiting customer from a Tokyo laboratory, meets Charlie Chaplin in the lobby of the Hollywood Rooseveld Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard.
Location shooting could be seen frequently in the streets in Hollywood where the police were very cooperative in closing the streets.
And of course the famous Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard with all the stars set into the sidewalk.
During Alan's time the Kodak Theater opened on Hollywood Boulevard and the Oscar ceremonies were moved there.
Just along Santa Monica Boulevard from the Kodak office is the Hollywood Forever cemetery where many famous stars are buried.
Rudolph Valentino is just one of many.
In Hollywood Boulevard is the Warner Bros Pacific Theatre which was built for the premiere of the first sound movie The Jazz Singer in 1927 but wasn't ready in time so it had to be shown in New York. The radio towers were for the Warner Bros radio station which was housed in the same building. The building was damaged in the Northridge earthquake in 1994 and was never used again as a theatre.
Halloween night on Hollywood Boulevard is something else with everyone dressed up for the occasion.
Then there is Las Vegas where important exhibitions and conferences are held. Alan had to go there at least once a year and soon learned that he was not very good at gambling!
It usually meant exhibition duty at the National Association of Broadcasters show (NAB), one of the largest in the world and very important to the industry.
So important that major political figures, right up to the President, would attend and make speeches.
George Bush, Sr.
Talking of big names, here is Charleton Heston attending the premiere of a Kodak film Forever Hollywood , a composite of short clips of classic movies, at the Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. Alan still keeps in touch with the chief projectionist there.
And the Oscars, of course. Alan's boss invited Alan and Alison to the Oscars and even laid on a stretch limo (with bar).
At that time the ceremony was held in the Shrine Auditorium with its red carpet for the arriving stars.
Not so well known are the Academy Scientific and Technical Awards better known as the Technical Oscars, with a ceremony held two weeks before the main Oscars. It was Alan's responsibility to coordinate the Kodak entries for these awards every year and to attend the ceremonies.
Typically the Kodak entries were for improved motion picture film stocks and related technologies. Kodak were very good about flying out the entire development team from Rochester to attend the ceremony.
Alan was even permitted to hold the Oscar statuette, if briefly!
Well all good things come to an end and Alan retired from Hollywood in 2005. Instead of returning to Scotland immediately he actually returned to Rochester for a few years, while waiting for the poor pound-dollar exchange rate to improve. Rochester is a very interesting place for everything photographic and Alan was invited to become a part-time lecturer in the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation at the George Eastman House.
The school runs one and two-year annual courses for groups of about a dozen students from the USA and abroad. Alan modified a number of Kodak technical lectures to suit the needs of these students and presented them for four years. He also attended all the other lectures with the students!
A major project in Alan's last years in Hollywood had been his work in the Dye Tracks Committee whose objective was to convert the world (!) from using silver sound track to cyan dye tracks on colour release prints. This was achieved and eventually the committee was honoured with a Technical Oscar.
Kodak were kind enough to fly Alan (3rd from left) out to Hollywood for the ceremony, a really nice way to end his career.
After his presentation, Alan was presented with liquid appreciation by LRS President Brian Flynn GM8BJF.