I'm hoping someone can give me some guidance on a situation.
I've spent about 5 weeks shooting about 31 x 400' of 50D. I've got a cooler with me that contains 20 rolls of 35mm 200T, that I intend to also shoot. The fridge contains 7 rolls of 50D x 35mm, and 10 rolls of 50D x 35mm are enroute from EK. I imagine I'll shoot it all over the course of the next 3-5 weeks. This is relevant later.
I'm shooting with an Arri 235, on the surface of the sun - also known as NM. Today, it was 97 degrees with a 15 mph wind. I'm doing about two setups per day, on my own. Every shot requires 95# of sandbags, and I have no grips or assistants. It's kind of rough work.
I sent 14 rolls to the lab in June. No problems. Then 14 more rolls on Monday. Today, I got an email telling me that the film broke during processing and about 5 rolls were destroyed. Kind of a bummer.
The break occurred where a mid-roll magazine switch happened. I've been shooting establishing shots in one mag, and action shots in another. I do this because action shots potentially take 100-200' of film, and I don't want to run out. It's hard to shoot establishing shots after the action shots, because continuity is broken by rapidly changing weather.
When I swap mags, the film sometimes becomes pinched in the mag throat, because I'm doing the change in my car - which is very confined. On a few occasions, I've noticed that I pinched part of the film loop. I pull the film into the camera and it winds up creased. But I've never had a severe crease that the film gate got mad about or that had a broken edge, as far as I know. I tend to notice such things.
The lab seems to be running on a skeleton staff. I'm glad they exist and I like them. They haven't disappointed me in the past. I wonder if skeleton staff isn't as good as regular staff.
I asked lab to replace the film stock. What that would mean here is not charging me for processing and not charging me for telecine. The cost of those equal (within $100 or so) the cost of the lost film. They refused. I guess their position is that I am responsible for the break. But I feel that the lab bears responsibility for ensuring that whatever they get will make it through their machine.
I expected them to simply agree to eat the cost of processing and telecine to compensate for the stock. I thought this was industry standard for film manufacturers and labs. I've never actually ever had a lab ruin a roll - not in 47 years of shooting film - so I don't actually have any direct experience.
Their refusal to waive charges to compensate for the film loss is particularly frustrating because I have to bear the cost of an additional ~5 days of shooting to replace the footage. I'll incur lodging, car rental, lens rental, tripod rental, and other expenses during that time. I don't expect them to compensate me for incidental damages, but it seems like the incidental damages should make them feel a bit crummier about the situation.
I conducted some experiments this evening with film, my camera, and a mag. I pinched the film to varying degrees. I was not able to break any of them by applying strictly a longitudinal load to the film. The only way I could get it to fail is if I bent i the film, like I was trying to tear it. When a side load was applied, I was able to tear it at the pinch.
This leaves me wondering if an inexperienced machine operator did something that caused unusual loads to be applied to the film and made a defect tear that would not normally tear,
If I were running a film lab and I messed up someone's hard work, I would waive all charges as a natural reflex. I wouldn't have to think about it for a second. And if that reflex didn't kick in, I'd at least think about whether waiving fees is the best move in terms of maximizing future profits. Like, if I don't waive fees, I may not get the rest of the job or any business at all from this customer in the future.
I'm interested in gathering information from others to guide my approach to this situation.
Thanks in advance for any wisdom/anecdotes.