A long, long wait to develop my film

Question: A few years ago I found some undeveloped 8mm movies that were more than 40 years old. They were of my family and I wanted to see if I could get them developed.

I knew that because they were old, I would probably have a hard time finding someone who could do it. I looked online and found a couple of different companies and read their websites. They both seemed reputable. I also went to our local camera shop and asked them if they could recommend any place. They recommended Rocky Mountain Film Labs in Aurora, Colo.

This was one of the companies that I had found, so since they had also recommended them, they were the one I chose.

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I contacted them by email and was told that for my two cans of film it would cost $91 and take six months to one year to develop. In January, 2010, I sent them my movies and a check for $91 in the mail with a return receipt card. I never got the return receipt card back, but my check was cashed.

I sent several follow-up emails to check on the progress of the film, but received no response. When I called, all I would get was a recorded message stating that they were ‘restructuring’ and that things were safe, but were going to be taking longer than planned.

Finally, two years after I had sent them my film, I received a voice mail from a representative, saying that they were “waiting to get a batch” of 8mm movies before starting on mine, and that they were running about eight months behind schedule.

Since I sent the movies in, my father has developed an extreme heart condition and cancer. It is important to me that he sees these movies before he passes and we really don’t have any idea how much longer he might be with us.

Last week I called again, this time actually getting a human on the phone. I was told they do have my film, but they are currently developing Super 8 film. I was told that they would start the regular 8mm film next and that I might get it by the end of the year, meaning they had my movies for just under three years. Can you help?

Kyleene Smith, Springfield, Ohio

Answer: Rocky Mountain Film Labs should have quickly acknowledged your emails and calls and sent you a receipt for your film. And, obviously, it should have processed your film when it said it would, instead of holding on to it for almost three years. But you don’t really need me to tell you that, do you?

The next time you have a special order like this, I would suggest contacting the business immediately before you send your order. Make a note of the person you’re talking to, and make sure you have a way of reaching that person by email or phone after you’ve sent your order.

Businesses often have a set of double standards when it comes to service. For example, they offer a toll-free number for prospective customers, but existing companies must use a regular phone number (or even pay per phone call, in extreme cases). You can’t let them get away with that. You’re just as important before your order as you are afterwards, wouldn’t you say?

I contacted the company on your behalf. A representative called you and apologized for the lengthy delay. She said the company would do its best to process all of your film by the end of the year, but also offered to return your film and give you a full refund.

You took the company up on its offer of a refund, and will take your film to another developer. Good luck.

Did Kyleene Smith make the right call by taking her business elsewhere?

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54 thoughts on “A long, long wait to develop my film

  1. For photography’s sake, I think it’s a moral obligation of any avid and professional photographer to at least preserve the old ways of shooting photos particularly the use of films even when the aging revolution of digital world.

      1. In any activity there is value in maintaining the historic skills that started and evolved in the practice. So many of the digital practices are based upon the way photographers managed light either in nature or in the dark room, but now they are just names. “Dodging” as an example used to be literally that – in the dark room, one put ones hands or a piece of paper over part of the exposed paper to make an area lighter or to “burn in ” the rest of the image. Makes sense with light, doesn’t mean as much with pixels. Nothing ever replaces the thrill of putting the exposed photo paper into the developer bath and watching the image form. Granted, the chemicals are nasty, the darkroom is wasted space, and the number of people who can do this well compared to the number of people who can point and shoot digitally is miniscule, but it should not be completely lost.

        1. “In any activity there is value in maintaining the historic skills that started and evolved in the practice”

          Really?

          Horse and buggy? Gas street lamps? Telegraphs?

          1. For historical context, if not commercial viability, yes. Just because it’s outdated doesn’t mean it’s lost all value to every person ever.

      1. My husband and I each pulled out slide rules for my son for his calculus class, Yes, of course, we use calculators but it is incredibly easy to make huge errors with a calculator that one would not with a slide rule because a person must THINK about the end result not just plug in numbers.
        The understanding of the process, rather than just the end result, is necessary for the art and techniques to continue and develop further. The fact that someone knows how things really work enables technology to grow so the point and shoot consumer can use her/his camera and computer without knowing why they work.

        1. Yes… but my point is that they are probably using a SLR with manufactured film. Technology moves on and the world moves with it. Understanding the interaction between F stop and focus to produce the best photograph is a good thing even if you leave the camera in auto most of the time. Understanding how to color correct in an editing program is a good thing.

          I might use a slide rule for a calculus equation until I understand how to get the result. I’m not going to solve the differential equations that governs the motion and forces inside a cannon recoil mechanism by hand. I’m using Mathematica instead.

          1. Slide rules were used for the first moon landings. It is just not efficient any more. But even you said you might use a slide rule to understand how to get the result! We want our son to think first, then proceed.

          2. Yep and the lunar lander had less computing power than my iPhone. It doesn’t mean that I’m going to advocate that a lunar mission go back with the computing power of a pocket calculator.

            My daughter hates that I make her write out her problems in math and show her work. I also don’t allow her to use a calculator.

          3. Agreed that understanding the basics of how something works is useful for any field. But using a slide rule is still an arbitrary technological point. Why not an Abacus? There is a difference between a tool and a fundamental understanding of a field.

            By the way, congratulations on making your son understand that a calculator is merely a tool. I used to tutor kids in math and science who could only get the right answer with a calculator. They had no understanding of what they were doing and it was maddening.

          4. I still occasionally tutor college students in math and science and run across the same issue of calculator dependence. When they forget their calculator, or it breaks, etc. they are completely lost. Ever been to a retail or fast food place where the cash register won’t ring up properly and the clerk has to figure out how much change to give from a $20 bill? Or when they’ve already hit the “Change” button and you pull out the exact coinage to add to your $20 so that all you’ll get back are bills? Too funny, in a sad, sad way.

        2. Rubbish said three engineers I asked for an “opinion.” Slide rules are obsolete. And, if you know any engineers, they ARE NEVER WRONG!!!! (they told me this).

          1. Wow! Three engineers who agree with each other all at the same time! That is even rarer than finding one who is wrong. I I agree, it never happens. :-). Toughest project I ever had was renovating an engineering school building.

          2. That was a great comment (3 engineers who agree!). My best laugh so far today — and (really) much truth to that statement.

    1. I think it is a good thing to preserve old methods and techniques for historical reasons if nothing else. I don’t think it is a “moral obligation”. The old photography techniques are being preserved. There are many people who still want to do things the old way, not because it is better, but because it interests them. There are people who are making daguerreotypes today. There are people who film 16mm movies. I noticed online you can still buy 8mm movie film (old, but serviceable) and there are companies that develop it. 35mm film remains popular with a lot of people. Few of the enthusiasts in these hobbies will say that these methods are “better” than modern methods in just about any way. They may say they are “different”, just as the sound of a tube amplifier is different in a way many audio enthusiasts like. Some feel that every photographer should spend some time with film just because the increased expense means they have to be more careful in their choice of shots. I’ve met people who build furniture with no power tools. It’s a lot of work, but it’s work they want to do and have fun doing. I own tape recorders. They are rubbish compared to modern digital recording, but those big reels turning and the warmth of the sound are nostalgic to me.

  2. Really? It would take up to a year to develop the film? Since they only charged $91, I’m guessing that represents 3-5 hours of work at most. Why would it take up to a year to do? That alone would put me off.

    1. The reason it takes longer – a few weeks perhaps – is that they wait until they have enough film to fully utilize the chemical baths. Each type of film has a different series of chemical baths and perhaps a light exposure process. Use the wrong one and the film is ruined. Once opened and mixed the chemicals have a short shelf life so it is uneconomical to do many different types of films simultaneously unless one has a steady supply of them. There is no excuse for taking years. Some of the processes are simple enough to do at home, others involving the light reversals are too complex. I used to process my own black and white film and certain color slides, but could not process color print film.

      1. Interesting! I wonder if they offered expedited service. I can barely wait the few hours it takes to get my own photos developed, much less wait months and months. You would think they’d offer to eat the cost of the chemicals just to get the order done…

        1. For enough money, I’d guess they would, too. But I suspect a manpower shortage might get in the way of that. This can’t be any more than a tiny part of their overall business. The whole “restructuring” probably meant they lost the one person who was doing these or he/she got pulled onto some larger project.

    1. Now he gets to spend another 3 years hoping the next place will pay better attention to him. It’s not like there are a ton of them around and you can compete for bids. I’m doubting he’s going to get a quality video from 40-year-undeveloped film, if any video at all. Take the money back and toss the film as lost, or leave it there and hope they finally make an effort, now that they’ve got bad press urging them on.

        1. Where does one find an 8mm projector that is still working?Ah, a Bell & Howell from Antique Roadshow in PBS.

          My goodness, would you even remember what could possibly be in the film? Maybe a 4 star general in his childhood running after girls around the swimming pool. No nasty emails, just messages carved on the barks of trees.

      1. So how long should she wait, how many ignored calls and emails should she endure, before she finds someone else who has the time, inclination, and ability to do this in a timely manner.

        I wish all my clients were as patient 😉

  3. Being told 6 months to a year to develop the film should have been a warning flag. Should have shopped around more at that point.

    1. This. It may be considered a “specialty market” these days, but with a quick Google search, I found five places that would do it within two weeks.

  4. It would not surprise me to here that they eventually wind back at Rocky Mt. This film is old, either Ektachrome in a E-3 or earlier development or Kodachrome. (Now obsolete). Not many labs do the first and none that I know do the second. (But RM ) might save up batches to process. Old color movie film is very hard to get developed. Old still camera color film is also very hard. I do agree that 3 yrs is long but RM has always had a good reputation in the obscure film development world. Lot of luck with this and I hope all turns out well.

    1. No, they don’t have a good reputation.

      Companies with good reputations don’t have an F with the BBB, nor will warnings, angry blog posts and complaints fill the first page of a Google search.

      1. Clearly you’re unfamiliar with the various exposes on the BBB’s business practices. See 20/20 etc; the CT AG, etc. While some BBB franchises are decent, others are pretty unscrupulous about their business plan. If you rely on an A rating to do business with a company, you’re crazy, and some of the Fs are totally undeserved. Starbucks and Wolfgang Puck both got Fs….really? And Hamas got an A! (That was a set up by angry businessmen who’d been unfairly maligned.)

        1. So many people simply don’t understand how the BBB works. They don’t seek out upstanding businesses and ask them to join for free– a business seeks them out and pays a fee to be a member. That entitles them to certain privileges, including a very friendly process to expunge complaints. Yes, the BBB does mediate and work with the complaining party to some degree, but at the end of the day the business is paying the bills.

          Bad ratings mean unresolved complaints. And that almost always means the business isn’t a BBB member, since getting complaints resolved and protecting your rating is the whole point of being in the BBB. That can still be helpful to the consumer since a lot of smaller companies do a good enough job of avoiding complaints against them so they won’t have bad BBB grades. But, if you’re a large company and not a BBB member (Starbucks being a great example) you’re going to get lots of complaints simply because of the amount of business you do and those complaints won’t be resolved since the BBB isn’t concerned with clearing complaints away from non-members.

          1. I was solicited to join the BBB which I did. It was the single most useless thing I ever did and a waste of $300 perfectly good dollars.

        2. I agree with you. Based on my dealings with them, I would guess that our local branch would have been part of the 20/20 story

  5. Really sad, I just Googled their name and this was the first thing that came up.

    http://blog.timesunion.com/chuckmiller/rocky-mountain-film-lab-just-made-a-big-mistake/1835/

    They also have an “F” with the BBB. I have seen bad business still get a “B”, so an “F” means something pretty severe.

    Its a shame that a business would take the money, and then start ignoring their customers and not deliver as promised. If they so need to re-organize, why not at least contact the customers first, and offer to return everything rather than just putting everyone’s lives on hold and ignoring the customers.

    1. Bad businesses that have B ratings are probably members of the BBB. If you know you’ve got problems, it actually makes sense to join the BBB for that reason to keep your rating looking good. It’s very easy to get complaints erased if you’re a BBB member. And the F rating basically guarantees they aren’t a BBB member. Because nobody would pay dues to a group that would saddle them with an F rating.

      1. So the BBB is sort of useless. The bad business I refer to was a carpet cleaning company that opened up here a while ago. They were very inexpensive, but required pre-payment. We hired them and they never showed. So I re-scheduled and they no-showed again. I left several messages and never heard back, so I filed a complained with the BBB and saw they had 60 something recent complaints, yet they were a B. There reply was that they did show and I wasn’t home, and it was closed. I lost the credit card dispute for the same reason.

        We also had a pizza place that delivered 1 Pizza only when I ordered 2 pizzas and a salad. I asked they re-deliver the rest and they said they were too busy. The manager was a jerk, and ended up charging my card for the full order. I filed a complaint with the BBB and the manger responded with a nasty letter full of curse words saying I am unreasonable. They have an A+ rating with the BBB, and still do after that. I did get a refund from the credit card company in that case.

  6. Having worked in a photo lab for 6 years, I would not only have not trusted these bozos to actually touch my precious film after this debacle, but put in a complaint with the BBB, Yelp and whatever other online/printed media I could find to warn others of their incompetence!

      1. That explains things. There is a restaurant near my house that I went to with some friends because it had good reviews. It was horrible, and we both gave it bad reviews. The restaurant only has about 5 total reviews and ours never show up and they have a high rating. There is a little link at the bottom that says “Filtered Reviews” and when you click it, and verify an image, you see our bad reviews.

    1. And the BBB isn’t a whole lot better than Yelp. Assuming they’re a BBB member, this would have been immediately marked as “resolved” and wouldn’t even have hurt their rating. All you really need to do if you’re a member business is tell the BBB you’ve addressed it. (And in this case, that would be true. Yes, it took far longer than they said it would and they were hard to contact, but they did eventually got back to the customer and they returned the film as soon as the customer requested it back.)

  7. They “might” get to her movies by the end of the year? They promised 6 months to a year. After 3 years, yes, she was right to take her business elsewhere with that weak of a “promise”.

  8. Back in the mid 70s I had some film I took of Evel Knievel trying to jump the Snake River Canyon. I had rented a 16mm camera and made the trip. Since it was newsworthy I went to the local TV station and they processed it for a flat rate. Back then they still did film instead of video. Maybe someone at a local station knows where you can get it processed, or, maybe they would think its newsworthy of a family finding old movies and showing them to a family member before he passes away that they would actively search for a processor.

  9. I was alerted to your post by a friend and unfortunately our lab does not process reg. 8 but if she is still looking for a place, she should try Film Rescue, the specialize in old and expired film or Yale Film and Video, they still process 8mm. But first choice would be film rescue, since Yale mainly deals with newer material.

    1. I actually found Film Rescue online, called them and actually TALKED to someone! They said that if I could have the film to them by October 31st (when they were starting their next batch) they would have the DEVELOPED movies back to me by THIS Christmas! I called RM & they did return my film & money and I was able to get the film to Film Rescue in time! Film Rescue has contacted me, letting me know that they have my film and that it will be ready in 6-8 weeks. Furthermore, they did not require payment up front like RM.
      I am fully aware that the movies won’t be as great as they would have been if my parents had them developed 40+ years ago, but see anything that is on them will still be a thrill!

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