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John Pytlak RIP

John Pytlak Illness

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Hi John

 

I'm severely embarrassed to admit that I've only just become aware of your fight. As a member who dips in and out for selfish gain when needs must I feel I gain far more from the community than I give back. Nobody has contributed more to my nervous gibbering than yourself as your posts always exude experience and confident fact as opposed to opinion and the all too obvious suggestions.

 

My beliefs cannot offer you prayer my friend but do not under estimate the positive thoughts I offer you and your family.

 

May you recover fully and quickly.

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Dear John,

I'm a new member, but I too have always taken joy in reading you answers to everyone's questions. Having just lost my father to liver cirrhosis, I know what it is like to be in and out of hospitals, and I know times can be bleak. But I also know that we have a will, and ability as well, to endure. There is nothing I can do, I know, but say Thank You for being here on this forum to help people such as myself, muddle through filmmaking, always learning and befuddled. I will keep you in my best thoughts and wishes, though I never had the privilege to know you well.

Sincerely,

~Adrian Sierkowski

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John --

 

This is sad news and a sad day.

Your ongoing struggles with this disease have been heartfelt.

Hopefully, we will hear more from you, and in the meantime take care.

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Hi John,

 

I am sorry to hear the news. I have learned a great deal from you and appreciate your endless generosity with your time and knowledge. You are in my thoughts and prayers. I wish the best for you and your family.

 

Sincerely,

 

Andrew

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Would be a hard day if you were to pass on. But then again, miracles can occur. I feel fortunate to have met you such as it is through this electronic proxy, and am the better man for it. Here's rooting for you, may your heart not be judged by the feather of Ma'at for many years to come.

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As an EMS worker in New York City, I see it all. Including a lot of people who fight through some tremendous battles.

 

Stay strong and positive, John. You and your family are in our thoughts.

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Now, John - you get well real soon, you hear? We, and many others, cannot afford to lose you. Stay strong and fight.

 

Cheers,

Adam

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Last week a reporter from my hometown newspaper called. He was following up on news that the Grandview Drive-In in Angola NY (where I worked as projectionist 1967-1970) was being torn down to build a WalMart Superstore. He ended up writing a human interest story about my career at Kodak:

 

http://www.thesunnews.net/sunscene.php3?idkey=6590

 

Former Angola resident reflects on an award-winning 40 year career in film

By MATTHEW CHANDLER

 

For John Pytlak, it all began with a small purchase some 50 years ago.

 

"I bought a kit to process pictures when I was like nine years old. It just sort of came natural to me."

 

And so with one choice five decades ago, Pytlak began a journey that would take him from his beginnings at Lake Shore High School ? where he was the class valedictorian in 1966 ? all around the world as he built a career as one of the leaders in the film industry.

 

Tragically, John Pytlak was diagnosed in September 2006 with cancer of the small intestine. The inoperable disease was a death sentence for a man who rightfully had decades of living yet to do.

 

But in a manner that doesn't surprise those who know him, Pytlak has refused to let his lot in life stop him.

 

Even as his cancer enters the final stage, he has continued to work from his home, stay in contact with his industry friends and colleagues, and is reluctant to focus on the cancer that will soon cut his life short.

 

Instead, with passion and enthusiasm in his voice, Pytlak, who now lives in Penfield, would prefer to talk about how fortunate he has been and the many wonderful opportunities life has given him.

 

"I may not have had a long life...but I've had a productive life."

A life that began right here in Western New York.

Local beginnings

 

After graduating at the top of his class at Lake Shore, where among other things, he was the photography editor for the yearbook all four years, Pytlak enrolled at the State University of New York at Buffalo where he majored in electrical engineering.

"From the time I can remember, I wanted to be an electrical engineer."

 

Like most college kids, Pytlak needed a job. As fate would have it, the student that he carpooled to UB with had a father who was the manager at the Grandview Drive-In in Angola.

 

"I worked as a projectionist at the Grandview from 1967-1970, and it was a wonderful experience," he said.

 

Though Pytlak was a young college kid on a summer job, it was one he took very seriously, and one that set the stage for his future career.

 

"I was fooling around, and I made a transmitter to use AM radio."

At the time, the theater utilized the speakers fed into the car window as the means for listening to the movie. But Pytlak's creation allowed the Grandview to become one of the first drive-in's in New York with radio capability.

 

"It allowed us to expand quite a bit," Pytlak explained.

The Grandview had 400 spaces for cars, but due to the high cost, only 200 speakers. Pytlak's radio system changed that, and the Grandview flourished, leading, in part, to the furor being raised today over its proposed demolition.

 

Pytlak also worked as a projectionist at the New Angola Theatre during his college career. Both jobs fed his bug for film, and he applied for a position at Eastman Kodak in Rochester.

 

When he first applied, Pytlak said it was , "a slow hiring time," but eventually, Kodak came calling, and in June of 1970, the UB graduate and aspiring electrical engineer joined the film giant. It proved to be a wise decision for the 22-year-old.

 

Pytlak spent his first 20 years at Kodak working in product development. As a 'behind the scenes guy,' he was constantly working to develop new, innovative ways to improve film, and ultimately the theater experience.

 

His work saw Pytlak travel the world, taking his expertise to Tokyo, Beijing, England, Germany, France, Finland, and beyond.

 

"I got to meet a lot of very interesting people along the way, and I've gotten to travel the world, and mostly, I just enjoyed what I did."

 

Pytlak said one of his most satisfying experiences was traveling to Beijing, China, and seeing one of his inventions being used overseas.

 

"That was kind of a thrill...I realized, I've really had a worldwide impact here. "

 

While most of his travels saw him working in the labs, he did have occasion to meet his share of celebrities and taste the Hollywood life.

 

"I got the chance to hobnob with a lot of the industry insiders, especially at the conventions," he said.

 

He also shared a story of his first visit to a live filming on set.

"I spent a day on the set of Little House on the Prairie, and got to see them film an episode, which was an experience."

 

As a leader of many development teams at Kodak, John Pytlak had the opportunity to work on a variety of different projects aimed aimed at improving various aspects of film, and for his work, he has been widely recognized throughout the industry.

Front and center on his mantle, are two awards that Pytlak said mean the most to him and best demonstrate what his career has been about.

 

"In 2001, I received a Technical Achievement Award for my work developing a system that helps laboratories improve color in their pictures."

 

Pytlak's development of the Laboratory Aim Density System was a highlight of his career, and put him on a stage in California with his two daughters watching from the audience as actress Renee Zellweger presented Pytlak with his award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

 

Pytlak called the moment, "very thrilling," and said it was gratifying to be recognized for his work at Kodak.

 

"I've had good people to work with my entire career, and I was fortunate to be the leader on some major projects."

 

Pytlak followed up his Academy Award by being named the 2003 winner of the EPA Stratospheric Ozone Protection Award.

The EPA recognized Pytlak and Kodak for his development of PTR film cleaning technology, which utilizes a system of rollers to clean the film, eliminating the need to use ozone-damaging chemicals to clean the film.

 

"It (the PTR technology) greatly cut back the use of the solvents, which were going into the atmosphere."

 

Pytlak said a study conducted estimated that the process saved over 1 million pounds of ozone depleting solvents from being used.

 

"We (Kodak) gave away the technology, because we felt it was good for the environment. "

 

Pytlak's technology for film cleaning is used worldwide, with every IMAX theater using the TTR Rollers to clean their films.

 

Pytlak's work at Kodak, and the prestigious awards he has received, are par for the course for a man who's bosses speak glowingly of.

 

Frank Pettrone, Pytlak's direct supervisor at Kodak, lauded him as a man with "strength and courage."

 

"John's passion is not only film, but the people who use Kodak products and services," Pettrone said.

 

"John would help the smallest customer to the largest with the same attention to detail and care."

 

Frank Ricotta, another of Pytlak's supervisors at Kodak, called him "an exemplary individual and a wonderful family man; one of the most gentlemanly individuals that I have ever met."

 

With his cancer diagnosis came the reality for John Pytlak that his life was going to be cut short. Faced with the inability to eat solid food (he has not had a bite to eat since January) and the increasing difficulty in swallowing liquid, Pytlak knows the end is near. Yet with the class and dignity his family and friends know so well, John Pytlak is facing the end of his life head-on and not backing down from his final fight.

 

"People ask me...aren't you upset? I've always been an optimistic person, and sure, I would have liked to have lived to be 90, but you can see the wide variety of people I've been able to help through my career."

 

That help continues today. Even in the final stage of his cancer, Pytlak does what he can, working to talk to customers on line, and keep up to speed with the industry that he has been a part of for the last 40 years.

 

Asked what the keys to his positive outlook on life are, especially in the face of such adversity, Pytlak said, "My reputation has always been that I'm an upbeat, cheery guy."

"I've got a great family, two wonderful daughters, and I've basically lived a great life."

 

To that end, one of Pytlak's daughters, Katie, called her father, "an inspiration," and someone who is, "handling the dying process with such grace. "

 

Katie said, growing up, her dad was incredibly supportive and encouraging to both her and her sister Annie, and said, "his passion for life is amazing."

 

"He just tries to embrace life to the fullest, and cherishes every day. I hope that I can be the parent he was for me."

 

To see the incredible, far-reaching impact Pytlak has had on the film industry, you only needs to jump online and "Google" his name, and see and hear from the thousands of people he has touched throughout his career.

 

From small town Angola, Pytlak journeyed around the world and seemed to leave the people he met a little better off for having known him.

 

As the credits prepare to roll on the life of John Pytlak, his boss Frank Pettrone offered up a fitting tribute to a man who dedicated his life to the film industry.

 

Borrowing from the movie Braveheart, Pettrone summed up his feelings toward his friend and colleague by saying:

"Every man dies. Not every man really lives. John really lived...and now he is teaching us how to die...we all admire and love him."

 

Email Matthew Chandler

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And I second Matthews "three chreers" Hip Hip Horay!!

 

John, I would truly enjoy hearing any stories funny or just "slice of life" stuff from your days at the drive in. 67-70, there would have been lots of widescreen stuff on those late nights in Western New York.

 

Mike

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John,

 

As a noob you've helped numerous times in the past, I will never forget your kindness, humor, passion, remarkable wealth of knowledge and sheer brilliance on these message boards. You are a maestro of this art form and a true inspiration to us all, my friend.

 

And the article was great! Your family, your career and your friends are all proof that you really are an amazing human being.

 

Much love and respect to you and your family,

Jonathan

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John, I'll be straight. I've never actually met you, but I've seen videos of you on the net and have read many of your posts, and you seem like a real gentleman.

 

I'm very serious about going into the film industry, and I think I'll always remember and respect the guys like you who helped make the film industry what it is today.

 

You're an influence to me in ways John, and I hope that in 40 years time I will have also made my contribution to film, as you have done.

 

Just to say, thank you for all of your kind help. And that you've certainly helped me advance in the industry. And 40 years from now, all of that kind help from yourself that will have helped me along my journey will certainly not be forgotten.

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I've been thinking about the idea of establishing a memorial fund in John's name. So, I asked him privately about it, suggesting a few forms it might take:

 

"One thing that's quite commonly done is a scholarship fund. But there are many other ideas that could be considered. On the academic side, there could be an annual lecture at SUNY or other universities. The fund could provide library books or fund other special academic projects. It could give a cash prize to technical award winners. Would you like your name attached to something along those lines? -- J.S."

 

Here's his response:

 

"I would be honored to be remembered in some way like a memorial fund. Something that aids student cinematotographers with the technical side of the business would be appropriate, perhaps an annual seminar at at a technical conference, or help with purchasing technical books."

 

 

So now I bring this idea to all of you. If there is sufficient interest to go forward, the first thing we'd need is some pro bono legal work to get the fund properly established as a charitable organization.

 

Thanks --

 

 

 

-- J.S.

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This is a great idea, John.

 

Scholarships abound, but individual ones (though of great benefit to the recipient) tend not to be very visible.

 

I'm thinking of something more like the Bernard Happe memorial lecture, given each year at a special meeting of the BKSTS - by a distinguished and knowledgeable expert in the field. Bernard was the Technical Manager of Technicolor London in the 60s and early 70s, as well as author of a couple of great books, and editor of books like the Focal Encyclopedia of Film & Television Techniques.

 

John Pytlak is also one who must be recognised not just for his expert knowledge and abilities (he invented several of the fundamental technniques still used in image quality management in labs) but also the way in which he shares good quality information. A lecture series or seminar series of some sort - if an organisation could be found to host it - would be a most fitting way to continue John's work.

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Hello to all my friends here on Cinematography.com! I've just had a "near death experience":

 

I just spent two days in the hospital (Thursday and Friday, July 26-27) after a very scary event on Wednesday evening.

 

Our older daughter Katie had been spending the week in Rochester from Boston with us to help out. I had purchased a new Toshiba notebook computer system (with Windows Vista Home Premium) that was delivered earlier in the week, and had unpacked it. I was getting ready for bed at about 10:00pm Wednesday, and noticed some of the empty boxes were still in the side hall. I took one small box into the garage through the swinging storm door and down two steps. No problem, although my legs are getting quite weak and wobbly from loss of body mass, especially since mid May (down to 115 pounds from a pre-cancer weight of 172 pounds). The second empty box was large and bulky, so I decided to gently pull it backward through the swinging door. The last thing I remember is pulling on the box as I backed through the door. The next is the Ambulance EMT crew strapping me to a flat board with a neck brace, and shining lights into my eyes, probably 7-10 minutes later.

 

Katie heard the crash, and was the first to find me, flat on my back, totally unconscious on the cement floor of the garage. She says I was not breathing, and she began gentle chest compression and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Younger daughter Annie helped too, while my wife Betsy called 911 for the ambulance. Katie says I started breathing on my own in 30-40 seconds, and after a few minutes was groggily talking to her. The back top right side of my head was bleeding profusely from a deep ragged gash where I had hit my head during the fall backward onto the garage floor. I also had some bruising and abrasion along my back.

 

The Ambulance EMT crew was great. Our neighbor is an EMT, got the call, and ran right down to our house. After securing and checking me out, the ambulance crew rushed me to the hospital where I have been going since my illness began last September. Betsy rode in the ambulance, and our good neighbors gave Katie and Annie a ride to the hospital. At the hospital, they cleaned the head wound. It took six stitches to close the ragged gash. They took x-rays to look for rib or back injury, and a head CT scan. The head CT scan showed some fluid buildup on the right side of the brain, and there was a bit of weakness and tingling in my left foot. They prescribed a strong cortisone type drug to help reduce the brain swelling, and I spent the next two days

in the hospital to heal, build my strength, and recoup a bit. Katie's husband Jim and our grandson Ben drove in from Boston, and visited me in the hospital to cheer me, along with the constant daytime presence of Betsy, Katie and Annie in shifts. Before being released, I had some PT to be sure I could walk with the help of a walker, and even climb stairs with rails. Even though I can walk and climb stairs slowly, my muscle weakness and the weaker left side (I drag my left foot a bit) require that someone walk with me to steady me and be sure I don't fall down again.

 

I came home from the hospital late Friday afternoon (July 27). Saturday, a visiting home nurse checked my vital signs and redressed the head wound. Then a physical therapist gave me a home evaluation of my capabilities with a walker and stairs, and agreed that until I am more steady on my feet, I need someone to walk with me. It looks like I will still be able to travel to the local cancer clinic for my regular IV hydration on Tuesdays and Fridays. Everyone agrees that I not try to do too much on my own, especially never stairs into the garage or basement, lest I take another bad fall.

 

My sister and her husband visited Saturday, while the nurse and PT were here, and then spent most of the afternoon. It was an enjoyable visit, making Saturday a very full day. Katie, Jim and Ben drove back to Boston Saturday evening, as Jim has to work at his high school's summer retreat starting Sunday evening and for the week, and Katie is working half time at her campus ministry job at Boston College.

 

I am getting back on a normal schedule. I am able to have a "clear liquid" diet, which includes water, fruit juice, Jello, broth, and other clear liquids without bulk. Unfortunately, the complete intestinal blockage precludes more calorie-rich liquids like Boost or Ensure or soups. So at most, I am getting only about 500 calories per day, and likely to continue losing weight and strength. Fortunately, last week after several days of severe vomiting, I was prescribed Protonix to stop stomach acid, and it has somehow also helped greatly reduce the vomiting that I had been having to throw up digestive juices. So I am able to hold down these clear liquids and my medicines. For now, I am sleeping downstairs, in a fully adjustable hospital bed set up in our family room, right next to a comfortable recliner, both facing my new HD television -- a pretty cozy setup. :-) (But I still miss getting to see movies on a big theatre screen). Annie has been comuting each evening from her job in Buffalo, and plans to sleep downstairs if I need any help during the night.

 

I also spend time at the computer. Jim was able to set up my new notebook computer, and transfer most of the files and set it up on a wireless home network, and my plans are to complete the transfers from my old (Windows ME) system during the next week. In five years, I've accumulated over 5000 Kodak digital photos, that are now backed up to a separate USB hard drive, and tranferred to the new computer. I've always been a "pack rat" like my Dad (my basement is still filled with hundreds of boxes and files), and my computer files are no exception.

 

Well, as you can see, I've had quite a week! Katie jokes that she intends to write a book about her father's "nine lives" of experience since last September. In reality, everyone's prayers and good wishes have seen me through alot, and cheered me along the way this past year. I've gotten to see and play with my wonderful first grandchild Ben many times, I've just celebrated my 59th birthday, I still am able to help my friends on the Internet Support Groups, and now I've survived a near death experience (no, I didn't "see the light"). I'm ready for death, but life is certainly still worth living. Like the Engergizer Bunny, I keep on going.

 

Please keep those prayers and good wishes coming. Miracles don't always result in a "cure", but in lots of daily blessings to help though a severe illness.

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Your head wound doesn't seem to have affected your ability to type! That's a good thing! Glad you're OK, and thanks for the update.

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