Technicolor builds ‘world’s largest film lab’

Montreal: Technicolor has started construction on a state-of-the-art $45-million motion picture release plant in suburban Mirabel.

The new facility will employ up to 275 skilled technicians and managers and supply prints to the North American and international markets, competing head to head with Rank’s Toronto subsidiary, Deluxe Laboratories.

The world’s two largest film processors compete virtually everywhere in the world, and despite the recent financial problems and reconfigurations in the exhibition industry, overall film usage continues to increase 3% to 4% a year, says Walter Schonfeld, president of Technicolor’s Worldwide Film Group.

Schonfeld says the new Mirabel facility will be the most advanced technology of its kind, and as such, will be in use for many years to come.

Technicolor was recently acquired by Thomson Multimedia (NYSE: TMS) of France.

"Thomson is apprised of all these [new plant] developments," says Schonfeld. "All the negotiations are completed and we are waiting for regulatory and shareholder approval only for the sale to be completed."

Quebec’s new Premier-designate Bernard Landry says the new Mirabel plant is likely to be only the beginning in a series of interesting commercial developments with Thomson.

The new 125,000-square-foot processing and distribution facility adds to Technicolor’s existing motion picture release print production in Hollywood, North Hollywood, New York, Rome and London. Covitec, a Technicolor company headquartered in Montreal, operates a front-end processing film laboratory with optical camera services and also produces release prints for domestic distribution. Schonfeld anticipates the new plant will do up to one billion feet a year in release prints, at the current market price range of 14-16 cents (U.S.) a foot.

Schonfeld says the advance features on the processing side include faster, higher-quality film available at lower prices. "On the Covitec side, which we only acquired a few months ago, we’re expanding their [telecine and post-production] capabilities both in terms of digital and high-definition in Montreal and we think this is a big boon for them."

Guy Gagnon, president and CEO of Covitec, says Technicolor’s wideworld network will help in developing more international clientele. He says the recent investment in HD post-production includes editing and color-correction capabilities. An HD telecine investment is under review.

With the new Mirabel facility already under construction and slated to open in less than a year, Technicolor will have close to 1,000 employees in the Montreal region and more than one million square feet of plant space.

Technicolor has an important share of the wide- or large-format film processing and release print market, and is evaluating further expansion in this sector in the Montreal area in 2002. A large-format film lab does not exist anywhere else in Canada at the moment.

In the past year, Technicolor acquired post-producer Covitec and AstralTech’s videocassette duplication plant in Montreal, and formed a joint venture with QUALCOMM to support the delivery of digital cinema to theatres. Technicolor’s operating profit for the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2000, was US$247 million on revenues of US$1.6 billion. *