A cadre of famous filmmakers has urged Hollywood's studios to keep Eastman Kodak in business, reports Ben Fritz in the Wall Street Journal.
Those filmmakers include Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, Judd Apatow, and J.J. Abrams. "The negotiations--secret until now--are expected to result in an arrangement where studios promise to buy a set quantity of film for the next several years, even though most movies and television shows these days are shot on digital video," Fritz writes.
Kodak is the only major company producing motion-picture film, the Journal reports, now that Fujifilm has left the field. Given that the big-name competition is gone, you couldn't be blamed for wondering if Hollywood's heavyweights considered investing in Kodak--and that was apparently the hope of Kodak's new chief executive, Jeff Clarke, according to the Journal.
While that investment proposal "fell flat earlier this summer," the next idea--to get support from movie studios by securing long-term orders--gained steam when Tarantino and the other filmmakers lobbied for it. "It's a financial commitment, no doubt about it," producer Bob Weinstein tells the Journal. "But I don't think we could look some of our filmmakers in the eyes if we didn't do it."
The Upside of Celebrity Customers
If Kodak were to cease operating today, it would easily qualify for immortality in the annals of business history. This company, born in Rochester, NY, in 1878, is the reason the word "snapshot" exists. This company is the reason Paul Simon could sing "Momma, don't take my Kodachrome away." Moreover, this company still makes the film used in countless contemporary TV shows and movies, from True Detective to The Grand Budapest Hotel.
The new wave of support for Kodak, from loyal celebrity customers whose endorsements carry significant weight, echoes similar developments at coconut water company Vita Coco. Facing competition from a seemingly more-successful competitor, CEO Michael Kirban recruited several celebrity minority investors, including Madonna, Demi Moore and Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. These investors raised Vita Coco's media profile and helped it land a deal with Dr Pepper Snapple Group, the country's third-largest distributor of beverages.
Time will tell whether Kodak's newly formalized ties to Hollywood A-listers generate a comparably fruitful payoff. But for now, at least, the arrangment means that Kodak won't have to close its Rochester-based film manufacturing plant, "a move that had been under serious consideration," according to the Journal.
The Vinyl Resurrection
Other celebrities have rallied around technology that falls somewhere on the spectrum between "retro" and "endangered." Musician Neil Young is an investor in Lionel, the maker of model trains. In his memoir, Waging Heavy Peace, Young describes his continued fascination with the train sets, even as an adult in his late 60s. "I stand in the room alone and admire the beautiful Lionel models, all perfectly lined up in an order that only I understand," he writes.
As a company, Lionel is 114 years old. It has many celebrity fans--not only Young, but other stars of the music world, including Roger Daltrey, Rod Stewart, and the late Johnny Cash.
Like Kodak, it is a company worthy of the adjective iconic.
But will it survive another 114 years? That will depend not on only celebrity associations, but on its ability to balance the brand-building of the past with the consumer demands of the future. "Many business owners don't realize that with the adventure of building a new product and diversifying the company in new directions, there's the risk of losing the brand's identity," wrote Lionel company president Howard Hitchcock in Entrepreneur.
Clarke faces a comparable challenge at Kodak. But fans of both companies can take heart in something else that Young, Daltrey, Cash, Stewart, and Simon know plenty about: the resurrection of vinyl records as a medium for music consumption. As Joel Oliphint writes in Pitchfork, the rise of vinyl is a very real force in the music industry. In 2008, he reports, sales nearly doubled from 2007's 1 million to 1.9 million. Since then, the numbers have risen every year. 2013's 6.1 million marked a 33 percent increase from 2012's 4.6 million.
The reasons for the resurgence are numerous. Some consumers prefer the sound quality. Others love album art. Still others savor the act of collecting records. And to be sure, there's the coolness factor, what Oliphint describes as a badge, or "a way listeners can self-identify as true music fans."
Lionel and Kodak possess a similar aura. You can enjoy their products, in and of themselves. But you can also savor how the products mark you as an appreciator of vintage art forms. Old-school products have an intangible aura--the appealing whiff of authenticity, an undeniable link to a more earthbound past, when not everything was digitized and shareable.
All of which is one reason the medium of vinyl has not died. Millions of consumers still crave the product itself, not to mention what it signifies--about the era, and about themselves. That intangible coolness factor can hardly be hurt by endorsements from the likes of Tarantino and Abrams--and for Kodak, that may just be the best news of all.