accident, that’s how I got into this business,”
says Manuela Hung, with a wide smile. The personable
General Manager of Filmworkers/Astro Lab in Chicago
and Sanitary Lab in Dallas, never saw herself
as a technical person until she started working
in film labs.
Early on, Manuela had a studio
and tried to make it as a photographer while she
worked at a still photography lab. “I shot
everything to make money,” she says, “including
weddings on the weekends!” A guy she knew
went to work for Allied Films, and eventually
offered her a job.
“Allied had just completed
all this renovation, so he asked me, ‘how
would you like to work at a brand new motion picture
lab?’” Manuela says she didn’t
know anything about motion pictures, but she interviewed
anyway. They offered her the job for more than
she was making, but there was a hitch. They wanted
a five year commitment. She couldn’t do
that, but she promised them one year.
Manuela’s career in film
has spanned a variety of lab departments and labs
on the Chicago scene, including Gamma Photo Labs,
Allied Films, Sanitary Lab and Filmworkers/Astro
Lab. The commonality that colors all of her experiences
is her laser focus on quality. She is passionate
about solving quality issues and improving quality
at the lab.
When Allied lost its chemist,
Manuela didn’t want to know anything about
chemistry, but the lab needed someone to do analysis.
She started looking at the instruction manuals
and finally called the senior quality controller
at the main lab in Detroit for help. “I
found it was kind of like cooking,” she
explains. With guidance, she got involved in analysis
and eventually became the senior quality controller.
In the early 80s she moved to
the video department at Allied and turned her
attention to online editing. That lasted for over
In the early 90s, Editel talent
Reid Brody opened his company, Filmworkers Club,
and started killing the competition with one telecine.
Manuela says he was like a kid in the candy store
when he showed her the processor in his basement
that someone in New York had built for him. “The
guy took him to the cleaners,” she remembers.
“It was a mess. I said oh my god, have you
ever been to a lab? He said no, but I want to
do it right.” He convinced Manuela to join
Filmworkers and set up Sanitary Lab.
“When we opened
the lab, we had all kinds of problems, but I got
the right experts together and nine months later,
we had a beautiful lab, a little lab!” Her
response to issues with the scrubbers was to design
one that worked, have it built and installed.
She thrived in her new environment with the freedom
to learn, create and build a good lab and an expert
team. “It was really fun because I worked
for people who really trusted me and as a result
of that trust, I felt I couldn’t let them
down. So I really did my homework!”
Allied Films closed and Sanitary
Lab acquired Astro Labs. Today it is known as
Filmworkers/Astro Lab with business that includes
high end commercials, independent and student
films and feature films. They have two Spirits,
high def boards, their own software people and
the ability to offer streaming dailies.
One of Manuela’s favorite
stories is the work the lab did on “Proof”,
a Miramax film that had an 11-day shoot in Chicago
last fall. Three days before the shoot started,
they got the specs. The film editing was in England
and they wanted work prints of select takes, edited
mags and screening of dailies in London. The turnaround
demands were challenging for the small lab and
they had never edited mags before. Manuela found
equipment at Columbia College and did a crash
training course. “It was a very tough job
and I thought I was going to die. But, by the
time it started, we had it all put together and
it was very satisfying.”
For Manuela, membership in the
ACVL is essential. “In Chicago, we are very
isolated because we’re the only lab. The
economy has changed and it’s a relatively
small market, so ACVL gives me the opportunity
to meet with other people in the industry and
discuss technical issues. “ She says the
ACVL is doing a great job, particularly with looking
ahead, preserving film and providing information
about developing ideas.
“I love film. I
love every kind of film,” says Manuela with
a sparkle in her eye. So she must, as her original
one year commitment is still going strong!