I am a filmmaker of Super-8mm short films, from the UK, and I'd like to share a few experiences that I've had with Pro8mm.
My first encounter with Pro8mm was in 2010 after winning a jury prize at a festival here in England in 2009. The prize was 4 films from Pro8mm, with developing and HD scanning included. These films, once shot and sent to them, were destroyed by their developing tanks, during a power cut. I had paid $50 in push process fees, as well as almost $150 in postage costs (due to their insistence on using Fedex, despite there being a USPS post office 100 metres from their office). The shooting of these rolls however, cost me an awful lot more.
But never mind, power cuts happen. They sent me two replacement rolls, with developing and scanning included, as a way of saying sorry. This didn't come close to making up for what I'd lost, but it serves me right for failing to shoot some backup footage.
My second encounter with Pro8mm was earlier this year, after winning another Jury prize with the same festival in 2011. On this occasion, I was awarded HD scanning time on their Millenium II scanner. I had to pay $50 in prep and cleaning fees, but that seems reasonable when one considers that the scanning time would have cost over $500. Anyway, in order to avoid the expensive Fedex service, I planned to email Pro8mm a pre-paid USPS label. Apparently the 3 minute walk to the post office was still too much to ask.
However, once the work was completed, I was told I needed to provide them with packaging materials. I didn't think to include an empty jiffy bag with the reels, naturally thinking that they (as you'd expect of any reputable business) wouldn't struggle in providing me with one. Not the case. They flatly refused, and insisted that I send them an empty jiffy bag, all the way from England. Apparently California is currently in the depths of jiffy bag drought.
When I finally got the footage back, I discovered very quickly that it had been scanned out of focus. To be certain that it was the scan and not the footage that was out, I had it re-scanned by a lab here in Bristol that has an MWA Flashscan HD. As I'm sure you know, these are not the best telecine machines by a long way, but the footage is markedly sharper than the Pro8mm scan, and immediately confirmed to me that Pro8mm had made a serious error.
Naturally I informed them. I sent them stills from the footage, along with stills from the MWA scan that clearly illustrated their mistake. This was their response:
'If you are unhappy with the transfer we are happy to re-do it.'
They informed me that I would have to pay for the postage to have the reels sent back to them, the postage to have the reels and scan sent back to me, and the prep and cleaning, all over again. Another $150. And despite their clear and obvious error, they refused to apologise or even acknowledge that any error had been made. Below is a link to an account on Flickr, onto which I have uploaded the exact same comparison stills that I sent them. They are taken directly from the 10-bit uncompressed files and are not manipulated in any way.
As you can see, the scan is badly out of focus from the far left of the image to the near right. The far right of the image is perfect. I don't know enough about Super-8mm scan gates but is it possible that the left hand side of the film was not seated in the gate properly? Pro8mm certainly aren't willing to entertain discussion on this, but perhaps someone reading this knows something.
Pro8mm tried to tell me that because I had chosen a one-light transfer, focus throughout the footage cannot be guaranteed. I tried explaining to them that the footage is out of focus from the beginning to the end, and all the way in between, but they've stopped responding to my emails (which have always been courteous).
This job, had I paid for it in full, would have cost over $600. Am I really supposed to believe that they are willing to offer a service that costs so much but can guarantee absolutely nothing? Why on earth would they even offer a one-light scan if they can't guarantee that it will be in focus? What use to anyone is an out of focus scan? One-light transfers are not adjusted for changes in exposure and colour temperature, and are thusly a risk if one's footage is badly exposed and / or poorly colour balanced. Scan focus has got nothing to do with it.
In 2010 Pro8mm destroyed my film in their developing tanks. This year, they've given me a scan that is completely unusable, and have offered me nothing for my wasted time and money, other than the opportunity to waste even more. Thankfully, I only invested $150 in this entirely fruitless exercise; the MWA scan, by the way, cost me $20.
I'm not a bitter person (really!), but this company have annoyed me so much that I feel compelled to write this post. It will be entered onto various forums, not just this one, so apologies if you see it twice.