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Inside the World of Cooke Optics with Les Zellan
Today on the show we have the chairman of the legendary Cooke Optics empire. For over 100 years, Cooke has been at the centre of the filmmaking business. We’ve been listening to the community of which we are a part. We lead by introducing new products such as /i Technology, and we remember our success is built on a simple idea – do what the filmmaker needs.
From Cooke Optics website:
Our factory in Leicester, England has generations from the same family working side by side. That experience is un-beaten anywhere. We manufacture a full range of primes and zooms for 35mm, digital and Super 16mm photography, plus a range of large format stills lenses.
We know our customers, and they know us, as individuals. Our rental partners do their training next to the craftsman who built their lenses. There are no barriers. We meet our customers at our factory, at trade events, distributors and rental houses and of course on the set.
We’re intolerant when it comes to tolerances. We research continuously to drive innovation. Our lenses are dependable and practical in use on the set; our optics superb. The lenses are straightforward to maintain – which is why so many rental facilities carry our products. Our manufacturing and testers keep going until we get each lens within our very tight specification. We get it right, whatever it takes. At the heart of what makes Cooke special is the “Cooke Look”. The Cooke Look® is about the science of creating beautiful images for the motion picture industry.
As a result, for over a century, cinematographers have chosen Cooke lenses for a smooth roundness and dimensionality to the picture and for the velvety skin tones that flatter.
Enjoy my conversation with Les Zellan.
LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE
- Cooke Optics – Official Site
- Cooke Optics TV – Youtube
- Cooke Optics – Facebook
- Cooke Optics – Instagram
- Cooke Optics – Twitter
- Industry Jump
- BlackBox – Make Passive Income From Your Footage
- $1 Closed Captions for Indie Filmmakers – Rev ($10 Off Your First Order)
- Rise of the Filmtrepreneur®: How to Turn Your Indie Film into a Moneymaking Business
- Rise of the Filmtrepreneur®: FREE AUDIOBOOK
- Indie Film Hustle TV (Streaming Real-World Film Education)
- Alex Ferrari’s Shooting for the Mob (Based on the Incredible True Filmmaking Story)
REAL-WORLD STREAMING FILM EDUCATION
- Indie Film Hustle TV (Streaming Real-World Film Education)
- Hollywood Film School: Filmmaking & TV Directing Masterclass
- Filmmaker in a Box – Learn How to Make an Indie Film – 18 Hours+ of Lessons
- Storytelling Blueprint: Hero’s Two Journeys
- The Dialogue Series: 38 hours of Lessons from Top Hollywood Screenwriters
- Filmtrepreneur® Podcast
- Bulletproof Screenwriting® Podcast
- Six Secrets to getting into Film Festivals for FREE!
- FreeFilmBook.com (Download Your FREE Filmmaking Audio Book)
Alex Ferrari 2:18
Now today on the show, we have Les Zellan, who is the CEO of cook lenses. Now in this episode, we are going to go deep into lenses. That's right, we are going to go deep into the history of cook, how we got how we cook got gets its look, advice tips on how to make your images look better. And all sorts of just we're gonna geek out a bit. I'm sorry, we're gonna geek out a bit. So if you love lenses, want to know more about creating a better image for your film. This is probably a good, good interview to listen to Les is awesome. And I am a fan of cook lenses. They are legendary, because of the look that they're able to create. So without any further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Les Zellan. I'd like to welcome to the show chairman of cook optics Les Zellan. How you doing, man?
Les Zellan 3:14
Good. How are you Alex?
Alex Ferrari 3:15
I'm very good. Thank you so much for taking the time out. I know you're a very busy man and talk to the tribe today about all things cook and glass and images and all sorts of cool stuff.
Les Zellan 3:26
Well, it's one of my favorite topics. So yeah, I'm happy to be here.
Alex Ferrari 3:30
So first question, how did you get into this film business in the first place?
Les Zellan 3:36
Well, there's a good question. I'm back in my I'm actually a lighting designer for the theater. But back in 19. In between 1976 and 79 I was working for a company called color tram and doing inside engineering laying out theatres of laying out studios. And then in 79, I went to work for a company called furka which was Sony equipment rental company that was obviously a rental company in New York as their sales manager and almost a day one I was approached by somebody saying Can Can I buy a baton camera from you? And I said Well, sure. Well, I didn't know the fix was in and that that at the time I was really just struggling to get a foothold in the United States and you know area was the 800 pound gorilla in the fix was it you know you could get you you were you could you could be a dealer for at time but God help you if you sell any of them. So I lasted for co until about September and to this day the guy that ran for a call at the time can't remember if I quit or he fired me. We're our memories are pretty fuzzy place a lot of a lot of our con cameras and they really pissed them off. I start my own company in the fall of 79. To sell that time cameras, which led me Of course, the lenses need a lens on a camera. At the time, the really hot lenses were beyond your nine, five to seven, and the 12 to 120. And then cook approached me and 1981, I think is the I taught at the time was the only Super 16 Gala. And cook had, we were not the only Super 16 months really well they made two supersuit made me to 16 millimeter lenses. One was called the CBK Sydney very chemical. And there were two versions of it, a nine to 50 for regular 16 and a 10.4 to 52 for Super 16. So they approached me because they couldn't give this lens away anywhere. And I was selling out super 16 cameras. And lo and behold, it went from a product they couldn't give away to a product they couldn't make fast about. Thomas Segal, I think was the first time that I convinced to take it and took it Thomas it is up in his pre ASC days, it was a documentary guy in New York. And he had a mad camera and he took a quick, lengthy thing down Tony. He sounded like Nicaraguan and Sandinistas and all that. And Eddie came back and the footage that he had was just stunning, and everything else like. So the result of that is that then we had a line of people at the door looking to buy the sleds. And that was my beginning of relationship with cook that has endured for almost 40 years. And I I wanted to buy the company, you know, straight away, and they didn't want to sell it to me, obviously. And then 20 years later, in 1998, when cook really had fallen on hard times, it was just about well, it was virtually bankrupt and pretty much out of business. I was able to buy a Dell. And you know, as they say the rest is history. We've turned the company around, I really do. I don't think it's boasting to say the cook is now once again an industry leader in developing optics or cameras and, and the intro. Was this for the industry. And it's certainly gotten crazy with you know, a new format every week.
Alex Ferrari 7:34
Very much so. But actually the question though, so you obviously you've been in love with this company since 81, basically or right before then when you first were introduced to them. And you basically like you just held on waiting for this, this, this young lady to say fine, I'll marry you fine. It's took forever. What did you both? Yeah, what did you see? In a barely barely, you know, functioning, if not completely bankrupt company that nobody else saw?
Les Zellan 8:08
That's a really great question. And, you know, you know, like, there's an expression in real estate that buyers are liars. And what that means is they say I want this kind of house that I want that kind of neighborhood and I want this, that's the other thing. And then they walk into a house that has none of those things. And they fall in love. They say this is what this is. And that's almost what it was with me. And the first time I went to cook actually the second trip I went to cook had my wife with me and I said to her, I said to Barbara, I said you know, I want to buy this company. And I want to and that was based on I don't know anything about manufacturing, I knew nothing about glass. I mean that was it was just a emotional, instant emotional response to see how this company was set up. At the time was part of the rank organization part of rank Taylor Hopson, which was a big at the time a very big company and lots of interest, which cook was insignificant. And it was obvious from just walking through the end of the factory that cook was in and I mean we were set a little shoe box inside of a big factory that it didn't want there it was obviously a cottage industry stuck inside this big company and didn't get the attention they needed why I had an affinity for it. It's one of those great What is it? I just don't know
Alex Ferrari 9:34
but you saw something but on a business standpoint you must have looked at and said I think I can turn this around I think I can make because I mean I love Love is love but way too much credit. So literally was just love like I just want to buy this.
Les Zellan 9:50
I'm not a numbers guy. I just had a gut feeling that I could do it. Okay, fair enough. And you know It took 20 years to get control and but once we got control, we've never looked back in those days that we've gone on from barely being barely alive to now, I believe we make more lens series and lenses for the industry than anybody else.
Alex Ferrari 10:17
Now, in this in this company, if you could tell a little bit about the history of this company, this company has been around for ever.
Les Zellan 10:23
The whole story of cook would make a great movie. And if you've got anybody out listening that wants to write a script. So the company the fact the founder of the company was named William Taylor, in 1886. In the company was called Robson and he he and his brother Smithies made ones. And then just to give you an idea of how it evolved, and how small the industry was back then, Kodak started in 1989. And before George Eastman started Kodak, he took the boat over to England, and he spent some time with William Taylor to find out about lens making. So I mean, this, it's all in the whole, the whole history of the movie business is interwoven well, between all these companies, but it's a fascinating story. Anyway, cook, the cook brand, it came out in 1992 93. There was a guy that worked for a company up in New York, my company is based in Leicester, by the way, less training and there was a guy in New York named I named Dennis Taylor. And he's no relation to the, to my tailors. And he worked for a company called t cooking slots, and they made telescopes. But Dennis Taylor came up with his arrangement of glass that allowed you to get detail all the way to the edge of a photograph, without shooting through a tunnel with shooting through a wide aperture is in the 1880s 1890s to get detailed to the edge really had to shoot an F 64. You know, even if basically you had to shoot for a pinhole camera. Sure. So this was revolutionary. And in fact, most optical historians consider this invention to be one of the most important and modern lens making in photography. So that but fortunately for me that has no no real application and telescopes. So the guy is a tea cooking songs went to their friends that on Western said, you want to use this patented invention we have that of course not being stupid, they said You bet. And the deal was made other than the money that changed hands. The deal was made and anyone's using this invention would be called a cook lens. And hence from 18. The early 1890s to now cook has been in one way or another been in continuous production. We made all the chapter early Chaplin movies, the Mary ticker movies, the team's Claire's Mansky movies, we made wings, the first Academy Award winning film, in fact, with the speed pan crows that came out because the sell, sell sell in the early 20s. you'd be hard pressed from the early 20s to probably the mid 50s or 60s. To find a film that we weren't on, it was sure it was really it was just a magical time. And then, after World War Two, Frank organization took over Taylor Hobson, which cook was lucky. And we actually did very well under them for a while because you've seen those old movies with the gong man at the beginning and only hits. Well ranked Taylor house, J officer rank was a faker and he would love the movies. He filled the hole. He built Pinewood he bought rank laboratories he felt Shepard and I don't know if you've bought Taylor Hobson, because of the lenses or not but they In any case, they loved the film. Well, as time goes on, rank, Mr. Rank dies. And the whole focus at the rake organization. So turns around, and instead of manufacturing, they decide they want to be in leisure businesses. So not only was a cook suffered, but things like rank syntel century strand. All their manufacture manufacturing companies, many of which you've never heard of because they're not in the motion picture business. fell on hard times. And this was probably starting in about the late 80s. So the product you know, in our product at the time, we stopped making prime lenses this paper was in 1965 and then we started making resumes. And our resumes were, you know, not only the two cvk that I talked about earlier. But I'm sure last year if the if you guys are old enough, there was a 25 to 250 and a 20 to 100 zooms that really bought I know ingenue was out there, but we really bought zooms to the motion picture industry. But as they lost interest in, in manufacturing, they didn't make investment, so ingenue, for instance, in zone, they came out with some products that weren't that good. But then they came out with, you know, the vhr series, and then the optimal series, and they just sort of left us behind. And coke was sort of withering on the vine. For years. As I said, in 1998, I was finally able to, for the fourth product, I was able to buy the company.
Alex Ferrari 15:47
It's fascinating that you were literally able to, you know, I'm sure pennies on the dollar.
Les Zellan 15:53
I wish I wish that were true. material, I overpaid. But you know, at the end, it was good to me. Yeah. It's been a great relationship. It's allowed me to go all over the world allowed me to talk to you about cut. Yeah. I don't regret a penny that I put into it, but it was not pennies.
Alex Ferrari 16:15
Okay, but you were still able to you were still able to acquire a legacy company without question. Because I've known about cook. From the days of my film school days. I mean, cook was cook and I think it was even even I would describe went to film school in a 96. So as a couple years before you purchase the kit, so even then there was still you know, from the old buy old cinematography teachers were talking about, like the old cooks and, and all that stuff. But, but I wanted to ask you about the the infamous and yet very famous cook, look. Ah, what is the cook? The cook which is not trademarked, of course.
Les Zellan 16:59
So what is the cook look to be fair? No, we did not invent that slogan. The industry invented that slogan, and then we sort of crap.
Alex Ferrari 17:08
Yeah, fair enough. So what is a cookbook?
Les Zellan 17:12
Well, that's a great question. On our website, on the cook website, we do have the best cinematographers to write it down. And they all say more or less the same thing. But in different words, it's a warm look. It's very what I think Ed Lockman used to work round looked is, it has a really nice, gentle fall off of focus. So it gives you a very dimensional look. And frankly, that the warmness of the lens gives you makes people look up. And who genuinely who doesn't want to look at negative photographs. In fact, in the old days, like in the in the old studio days, there were stars to put in their contract that they had to be photographed.
Alex Ferrari 17:57
Because they knew that much.
Les Zellan 17:59
Yeah, well, they know what they do. They know what makes them look good. And, and, and the cookbook continues today. I mean, that ever since the speed Pancras came out in the 20s, the cookbook has been consistent. So you know, you can you look at an old pan crow relative to a new f7 or an S four or whatever, the coloration in the fall off. It's all going to be very, very similar.
Alex Ferrari 18:30
It's interesting cuz I remember watching a YouTube video of like, a tour of your of your facility, or the making of a lens, which I mean for lens geeks and oh my god, it's just like, it was like it was like porn. I mean, it was beautiful. It was such a beautiful experience. Why did you just sitting there going? Because it takes so much man
Les Zellan 18:53
Aren't you a lecturer which I've done all over the world basically using you know, PowerPoints how you build lenses and interwoven with that as cook history and movie history but it's I do it all over the world. I just came back from doing I think five lectures all over China a few weeks ago and people find it fascinating and I love doing because it's it's it's an awakening to show people here's a tool that is basically their it's their eye on the world is this the lens and they have no idea for the most part other than in Scott glass in the front and West in the back. And so metal that goes into making a lens and so I love doing it is usually people are not usually the responses right.
Alex Ferrari 19:42
Now the one thing and please correct me if I'm wrong, but each lens manufacturer has their basic kind of like Coca Cola recipe for the coating. It does the coating. Yeah, for the coating. So I mean there there is a specific kind of formula that you guys have.
Les Zellan 19:58
Let's go back one step. Because whereas the cook philosophy in line is designed to get the coatings for the chef. But our philosophy has been the same from what he Pancras to today, other manufacturers have looked at their lenses, it will be all over the map. Now most of them, and I can't take, most of them have come around to doing what we do. Now they come up with a philosophy, and whatever that is, and it's not right or wrong. It's just their philosophy. And then all their lenses from that point forward have a similar look. But if you look back at like the old Zeiss distagon for the Super speeds, the 35 was one color, the third and the 20. Now they're all different depending on who design them is they didn't have a corporate philosophy of what they're but they were Amiens so it came down to the designer birch cook. One of our big advantages is we've been consistent. And you know, one of the reasons I think the animation did the Primo ones is back in the late 80s was up until then their glass was cooked and ingenue and Zeiss and, and tokina. And, you know, you fill in the blank, they bought lenses, they panavise them, and they put it up. But that takes that puts them all over the map. One of the things that they did when they came out with the premise and say, we are now color matched Well, you know, custom color match for already, then we were color match for almost 70 years. So but now I would agree with you that most manufacturers have a certain look to their, in the design. And your to your direct question. Do we all sort of guard our coding recipe? The answer is absolutely yes. But I will tell you the coding recipe that everybody thinks in parks, the magic to the lens is a few percent of the magic. The real quick look, or the brand x look doesn't come so much from the coatings, it comes mainly from the choices of glasses that you used to build your lens with. Each glass not only has a different index of refraction, but also has a different color transmission characteristics. So by by choosing those classes carefully, you give it the personality, but coatings add just the scope, but not a lot.
Alex Ferrari 22:27
Right. And it's all and it's also about the width, the way the sand how you get this, like I mean all the all the raw materials to build everything and then the process of building it. It's
Les Zellan 22:37
it's artists. Yeah, but we here we all use the same more materials. In the old days, you know, we used to smell class right now. But right now the reality is there are two or three or four optical glass manufacturers in the world. And we all use their material. So whether it's as Iceland's our cook lens, or an ingenue lens, the material comes from the same half a dozen manufacturers around the world.
Alex Ferrari 23:05
So it's more about the processing, and actually the craftsmanship
Les Zellan 23:09
And the choices. I mean, if you look at a glass map, it's it has maybe 100 different types of glass, that each have different characteristics. So are designers knowing that they want to get the cookbook command, you know, at the end, they pick the one the class types, that will not only obviously focus the lens where we need it, but also the right color transmission, and the right contrast or everything else that we're looking for that goes into the cook worlds, so that we get the cookbook out the back,
Alex Ferrari 23:39
Which the one thing that's funny that I'm listening to and it's something that I hope everyone listening understands is that you as a company have decided that this is the kind of product that we're going to put out. So every time you buy a cook lens, you expect a certain level of quality a certain look and you're not playing around with it. You're not like oh, well let's let's do a little darker Look here. Let's make it a little sharper edge to like, no, we're cook and this is what people want from us. We're going to deliver
Les Zellan 24:09
And the reason we do that is because that's obviously what people want. They wouldn't have come back to us and said this is the cookbook and we want it I'm such a thick star I can dictate what lenses I want to be photographed if they didn't like the luck playing with the out of business years ago.
Alex Ferrari 24:26
Now the the the lens that kind of put you guys back on the map was yes for us. Right. Absolutely. So what was it like with that? Because when you guys released that took you a few years to release it after you took over the company.
Les Zellan 24:38
But when you actually released it To be fair, though, yeah. The the previous management before I came along started the development. me backtrack just a bit. So the Primo has come out in the late 80s late 80s, early 90s the non Hana vision world goes into a panic Panic. literal panic is up until then, the non panic isn't real thought panic vision was on the ropes that they were going to be dead and, you know, work or sold off for parts in the few years. creemos absolutely changed that whole calculation. And all the customers that were floating away from panelization is they realize, why should I run a payload of 25 to 250, when I can just get the real thing and cook thing from autoware Guinea or whoever, at a better price. So, the prelims come out, that whole flow away from Panamanian obviously starts to flow back they had the hot new product. So the non television world guns get everybody, everybody they went to cook. area, they go to Kenya, they go to anjanette, but you Nikon, CAD, and you can you can fill in any glass menu lens manufacturer in the world, they went to all of them. And for whatever reason. This is that 9293 for whatever reason, cook is the only one that said yes. And so we started cook, the previous management started the project. Yeah, he did it as a skunkworks project. He didn't have permission to do it from the report, they would have never given him the money to do this. But he did it because he, he told me, I met him right after he decided to do it. And he said, Well, I'm going to do this, and I can do it in a year. So don't ever find it by the time they find out about it. I'll be here. All right. And yes, I, I wasn't it's better to ask forgiveness than Yes, yes. Yes, of course, if it's, if you're asking for forgiveness in your order book just went from almost nothing to this. Forgiveness is pretty easy to get well, yeah. Even though I didn't know anything about manufacturing and optical design at the time, I know he was dreaming. This was a major project. And it dragged on and on and on and on and on. And in fact, when I took over the company in 98, it was close to being done. But it wasn't finished. I won't go into all the gory details of what happened. But how he hid the money from hacci Sterling from, but it was it was it was, it was not a pleasant thing. But that's neither here nor there. So when I got there, the several vs. fours prototype. So we very quickly turned that into production. And we got out four lenses. I can't remember the first markings fly the 1825 50. I don't remember the first one. Sure. But the match, this is a magical time in the industry. And this is when you say you're not going to the right place at the right time. So all the people that have passed and the only ones that I care about passing precise and airy, and so they passed on this so and I mean I understand they have the the the prime rather than distagon to the supersedes which even then we're 30 year old designs, areas making a new area. It's nice. We're making a ton of money on those right there. 30 years old designs, the tooling, everything's been paid off years ago, and we're still selling. And so yeah, the promos are a bit of a problem, but our stuff is still selling nobody's got anything to compete. Well, we come out with these fours. They were the first modern non piano vision lens, and the world winds up in my dorm. Why so I went from no business to three or four years worth of business almost overnight. And then the anxiety scenario went into a bit of a panic and they put up you know, you know the story about putting an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number type parameters and sooner or later outcomes, you know, all the great works, but they did pretty much the same thing. But what is designers and I put them in a room and said don't come out until what became the bid did the mat not the master primes the Alia the zip with the ones before the it'll come to me anyway. But that gave us really, when you think about that, that took them about three years to do. That gave us a window from 98 to 2001 that we were all alone. We had the only new primes in the industry and they were just incredibly in demand, as I said went off the shelf, off the off the shelf off the charts and so All right place right time.
Alex Ferrari 30:04
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.
Les Zellan 30:15
Yes, yes. Yes, fours are still one of our best selling products, and this year are Laettner. 21 years old. Wow. still selling, I think as far as more or less the standard of the industry.
Alex Ferrari 30:28
Now, can we discuss a little bit about vintage glass? Because there is something that we talked about, about vintage cook lenses. And what happens because a lot of people don't understand. They're like, Oh, I need a brand new lens. I'm like, well, not necessarily, you
Les Zellan 30:42
know, you know what we actually, were actually dealing with that. So So tell me, yeah, tell me, you know, a lot of people love for you to build speed paragraphs. Now. Again, let's step back a little bit. Let's think digital for being a boring and scalable format. Right. So when digital comes in, I mean, pre digital people were throwing away or, or giving away a speed pack rose. We don't we're never going to use this again. Let's get rid of it and sell it for 50 bucks.
Alex Ferrari 31:14
I know. I remember. I heard. It hurts. It hurts.
Les Zellan 31:18
So digital comes in. I mean, I think Jim janardan every morning. The revolution he started is simply amazing. Yep. I'm not crazy about digital from a personal disease does 10 backdoored film but I loved it as a manufacturer. Digital has been amazing. Amazing. For me. It's taken a small market and made it astronomically big. And it's caused people to think Wow, it's really a little boring and sterile. How can I put character the character and personality I used to get in film? How do I how do I re inject that into Digital's and of course, one of the easy ways is to use old glass. The problem with old glass is that it's glass. So like with with with the, with our old vehicles, keep in mind, the last paper we made was in 1965. So if you found one today, it's almost 5054 years old, right at the at the at best. And it was probably one made in the late 40s, early 50s. So it's a lot older. We're talking 70 year old glass 67 year old glass anyway. So that glass still makes beautiful movies, but it is a pain in the ass is every lens is a different color. The wall discolored over time. I know when they were shooting the first two seasons of the crown, the DI T the hook shot on sweeping across the DI t had a separate lookup table for each lens of Oh, yeah. So. So we looked at that. And we said, well, you know, speed pack. Okay. We are I mean, I understand I get I know why people want to use the glass. And it does have a, if you remember the old St. Pancras they were very small lenses, right. And the scores are significantly bigger while the scores are significantly bigger. So we could give you a better field performance than the pancrase. The pack row, the main difference between a pan pro at an S four is that the fall off or focus on an S four starts of that what we call the picture height area, you can imagine a frame and you put a lot of vertical lines through the frame at the axis and make a circle about that area. That round circle is where we try to keep it pretty clean. And then we let the fall off come in. And that's what I told you too much now, because that's part of the cookbook. Oh, sorry, sorry. I didn't mean that guys. I know.
Alex Ferrari 33:59
He's joking. he's joking,
Les Zellan 34:00
I can't see anything. Anyway, so joke, the difference with the difference, the reason the scores got bigger, we're not only to solve mechanical problems that people wanted better scaling and better footage scales and all this other things. But it was also to increase the class diameter and get more getting better performance in the field. The pig parkrose in the pit. So the basic difference is panthro. The focus falls off as soon as you come off the axis. So the follow starts really, you move to fix those over and you're you're already losing focus is very gradual, and very flattering. But that's the main difference between the speed panic crawl and any of modern click lenses. Except we noticed this and we and there are only a finite number of old sweet aquas or old anything out there. They're all discolored. They're all in probably desperate needed mechanical, and optical parts that don't exist anymore now, and there are some companies that are trying to fix that, but we're not one of them. So we took a look at the old St. Pancras designs and said, let's just remake these mean, we can remake them, we can do two things, you can remake them in a new housing with new glass. But keep true to the old look and feel of the fall off. And we can increase the coverage is like the 2018 and the 25. I think the 32 didn't really cover Super 35 covered, original, solid 35. So we fixed all those issues, we added the metadata there our eyes system, which is evolving into an industry standard, and we put them out as the panco classics. And they are doing phenomenally well. And we know we really got it right, we've had some very big name DPS that almost shot exclusively on parkrose of the old speed macros. And the last two features that this one particular guy did, when he tested them against his love his old St Pancras and the new classics. And that abusing the classic, I mean, it takes the headache out of you get the look, you get the feel. But you don't need a different look up people for every lens, you can get parts you can get at they're much easier for an assistant to use was there you know, there are more f4 in mechanical, but pirkko classic paypro super cheap hair growing in look.
Alex Ferrari 36:35
That's amazing. So so you actually you guys actually took the old concepts of the vintage and what made it so beautiful, and then just redid them,
Les Zellan 36:43
And redid them. And what I like to tell people is the pickle classics probably look like the speed pack row did when they took it out of the box 60 years ago. But it was a clean glass and operational, you know, so and they've been extremely popular. And again, everything I make, including us wars we've never had for 21 years, we've never had stock. We've always we build the order, and we're on backorder in varying degrees on everything we make. And we've extended the belts a new factory, not the second factory. We've gone from 36 to 130 some people and we still can't make stuff we ask them.
Alex Ferrari 37:30
Wow, that's well that's a good problem to have. That's a good problem to have. That's good. Well now. Now what is cook doing to adapt to this new generation of mega resolution cameras out there the 8k 10k 25k 50k eventually, I'm sure you've seen it exactly the way I do I get up to a gazillion. I mean, like At what point do we just our eyes just can't comprehend? Can we get off Ks in a minute.
Les Zellan 37:52
But we've already we've pretty much passed that an H once we go past HD, depending on the size of the screen. Sure if you're if you're sitting in your living room watching a movie, and letting you know, you got to I don't know 60 to 65 inch sets. Unless you're sitting like a foot away you don't get the benefit of that you HD so all these resolutions like to tell people, how can your can your old speed Pancras handle all these new resolutions? Well, people are making movies with them every day. And I like what they say. So a lot of this is just marketing hype, of course. But are we dealing with it? Sure. I mean, we every time there's a new format, it causes us to say oh shit. On the other hand, it puts a big smile on my face is that on a ship? People are gonna have to buy new, more lenses isn't this right? Right when? When the industry when and you know, red is I think red is the big culprit here as far as changing formats. But then I think the whole manufac the whole camera manufacturing industry is the culprit here. The thing that annoys me about fullframe isn't that I don't love it. I love making money to support bar s sevens and our new full frame anamorphic 's are extremely popular. And we'll chat about that in a minute. But a full frame came about in my mind, it was nothing anybody was asking. Nobody was saying Gee, super 35 just isn't good enough. We really need we really need we really need to five more pixels format so I can I can watch. I can watch a movie on my phone, you know. It just makes no sense to me. As just me personally, me as a lens manufacturer, I say old boy. A new set of lenses. So with red and now the rest of the industry pushing the rest of the manufacturing bushing for frame of course, we developed the seminar lenses, and actually had them on the market. I think before the cameras, I think that's never happened before people think that the camera manufacturers and the lens guys are talking to each other all the time. And but for the old days when arion Zeiss were together in the works, they're not anymore. That's not true. We find out about it, just like everybody else does listen to rumors in the industry, and trying to get make the right guess, well, we made the right guess on the full frame. We came up with the seven, I think two, three years ago now just just as the cameras are starting to come out, they've been extremely successful. It is basically they're taking the eswar and scaling up. It's not just scaling up in a whole brand new design. But the look and feel of it when they were done looks like a cook well, so. So we did that well. And then last year, we announced the full frame AdoramaPix. Aha, which we will start delivering in about well, we'll we'll have last year at any IBC. Now some of IBC last year, we said we will have them by nav and we will have the first four lenses at nav this year, and start delivering thereafter. And there we've taken a bit of a flyer. Well, I shouldn't say that we've got tons of orders for them. So I know we nailed it. But one of the things we did is we instead of doing a 2x squeeze like we do in traditional 35, we did a 1.8 squeeze. And there was a lot of thought and care that went into that equation. And it looks like we really nailed it. And the 1.8 book is almost indistinguishable from to from except the most trained of eyes. And it's great, it looks good. The reason we want to, if we had done two and you wanted to do a 2.4 traditional 2.4 release, you lose about 25% of the excels and full frame. If you go if you want to flow, use the full three by two full frame, you It's a 1.6 weeks. Well the problem with the 1.6 wheezes, it's not really the anamorphic it's sort of maybe could be different. Maybe it it may not. It's really uninteresting. And in my mind, the only reason to shoot anamorphic is that you want to look at. And I know there's some companies making very clean out on Mars, that looks horrible. And I just have to scratch my head when I see these and think what the hell were they thinking? You know, why would I want to go to all the trouble of shooting anamorphic? Right? When I can just you know, I can just, you know, crop my frame and get widescreen and nobody's calling out for resolution, there's plenty of resolution. So anyway, so we so one point, if we do a 2x, please, you lose too many pixels. If you want to go the whole frame, it's 1.6. And that's not interesting. 1.8. Yeah, we're right in the middle, you lose about 10% of the pixels. But it looks like I've shown it to DPS they hear most of them can't tell whether it's the two or the 1.8. And as an added benefit. If you were doing a 2x squeeze and you wanted to go to full frame, you'd be at about I don't know 3.1 ratio, which is just not a very pleasing ratio, it's but but if you go from a 1.8, squeeze, and use the whole frame, you're at a 2.7. Well, 2.7 is just under 2.76, which was ultra panic. Sure. That's a really, you know, that's a pleasing range and ultra panavision that was shot with the 1.25 squeaks. So it was a little different. But the bottom line here is when I look at my look at tests, I mean, if you want to see some test shots, you can go to the Cooke Vimeo site. And there's a bunch of tests up there. I think this is the HP I can't remember. So if you go to the Vimeo site, it's the first test on the right. And it's it has all our lenses shooting the same thing over and over again but showing you and it's pretty impressive. Everybody that sees that, and I think what's gonna happen looking at this, we've done most of our testing obviously on the Sony menace. Great, great camera, by the way. I'm looking forward to seeing the new lF minning at the Venice is a great camera and look at it at the 2.4 lines. And then you look at at 2.7. You think, why wouldn't I release in 2.7? It's just really pretty. So I think in the long run at full frame 2.7 is going to become the ratio of choice to listen, but our time.
Alex Ferrari 45:21
Now, one other question I want to ask you, and we kind of touched on it before is the whole resolution in this kind of arms race with the resolution? it? Yeah, I want to ask you, in your opinion, are we going to get to a point because I think we're getting there. If we're not there already. That it just truly does not like you can't like, you know, the red 20k. Why, like, so what's the next gen and so what's what are these camera manufacturers in your opinion going to do to get us to buy new cameras? If it's not resolution? And your opinion?
Les Zellan 45:57
Yeah, but but. And this is the problem. I mean, again, look, when digital came in, what did people rush, they rushed for old speed cameras. Frankly, the reason we decided to do anamorphic speed we I've been asked to do anamorphic for 20 years, from the day I bought the company, we jump into anamorphic until digital is again the same reason people are looking to make digital interesting nanoparticles a great way to do that. I think we've already past the point of no return. And what you're asking what people have lost sight of this really annoys me with with a large part of the industry is they're letting the technology wag the dog. You know, it used to be the story would make the decisions. And frankly, the ultimate resolution does not make a picture that anybody wants to walk it up. And in fact, usually the more resolution you have, the worse it gets to say. But that's why people are using the old lenses. They're using them. They're anamorphic they're trying to do put character into what is becoming a more more and more sterile image. So I think, you know, as they said, I think this whole arms race that is a marketing bullshit, too for a 16 1,000,000k I know I know, there are engineers out there that will argue with me, but we're not engineers. At least I'm not an engineer. And, and my customers, my ultimate customers, the filmmakers, they're not engineers, they're storytellers. And they have to pick the right tool that will sell it tell their story and I'm sorry, it's hard for me to imagine that I want to tell a any kind of drama or romantic comedy or any kind of story in 20k resolution, or even an eight it's gonna look like shit. So
Alex Ferrari 47:58
Yeah, the actors aren't aren't super happy about it cuz I was looking at some some of these images that the DP did not know what they were doing. Some of these movies are shot in these high high resolutions and you start seeing every little thing on some aging actors or actresses that just don't work.
Les Zellan 48:14
I mean you're probably you're old enough to remember when HD took over
Alex Ferrari 48:19
Of course of course I was the I was there I was there when we Sony showed up we're on the cusp of I saw I saw I was at a workshop and I saw Sony show up with the first HD cameras like and they went out and we shot like you know like flowers and bumblebees and stuff but it can you imagine from the SD world to the age just straight up 1920 by 1080
Les Zellan 48:41
Remember everybody paddock them as they had to, you know the the plots you can see the scene with the flats, you could see
Alex Ferrari 48:51
The makeup, all the cake.
Les Zellan 48:55
Okay, so we got to HD an HD is still within sort of the human vision purview for the most part, but anything beyond that unless you're putting it out on you know, 900 foot screen is a way that is a waste of time. And as I said, you know we get all this resolution so I can watch the funnel. Watch the watch the movie on my phone. So I know
Alex Ferrari 49:18
it's brutal. It's brutal.
Les Zellan 49:19
And nobody was complaining that you know, the Alexa was the most popular. Yeah, it's probably still is the most popular camera, which is basically an HD camera on steroids. Right? It's not It's not for kidding. And I've seen Alexa images projected on you know, what big big like Leicester Square in England, you know, big downtown theater screens. And you're not sitting there saying Gee, I can see the space between the pixels. I wonder. I recently had 4k resolution. So
Alex Ferrari 49:52
I shot my I shot my last film on the Blackmagic Pocket 1080 p camera the whole feature I shot on that with some nice video. vintage glass and some nice new glass and I projected as on a theater, I was like, this looks beautiful. It was fine.
Les Zellan 50:08
You know, you get the right images, the right story.
Alex Ferrari 50:11
Les Zellan 50:12
And it works. And right.
Alex Ferrari 50:14
If you give me $200 million, I'm not shooting it on the 1080 p camera. Give me $200 million on product. Yeah.
Les Zellan 50:21
Yeah, you may you know, you say that. But again, the story should drive the story then drive your choices, not not the techniques. The last thing you should choose to me would be okay, this is my story, blah, blah, blah. The camera and the lens combination that will give me the look I'm looking for is this. Right now people say, oh, there's a new mini lf I have to shoot my next movie on the mini lf I must have it.
Alex Ferrari 50:48
I must have the next read. I must have the next Alexa.
Les Zellan 50:51
That's, I really think they said the tails wagging the dog. And I find that really? I find that really sort of abdication of responsibility of the DPS. Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 51:05
because I remember I was talking to a few of my friends who are in the ASC. And they were telling me back in the days, like producers are telling me what to shoot on now. Like, they're like, we need to shoot on red. We need to shoot on this camera. And they're like, but I'm the DP, I'm that's my job to choose that right? Well, your digital
Les Zellan 51:21
is, unfortunately, changed all of it. Yes. It really changed the roles of a lot of people. Yeah, without question. For me, they still need
Alex Ferrari 51:36
At the end of the day, you're still you're still coming up? still coming up? aces every time? I do try. So I'm gonna ask you a few questions. Ask all of my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker wanting to break into the business today? Wow, I'm not being a filmmaker myself. It's hard. But But you've known a couple in the in your day.
Les Zellan 51:55
I've known a few. You know, again, I go back to the old days when I started in the business. And I'm working with people like Tom Segal and Sandy sisal and, and most of the people I used to work with an icon have gone on to become ASE members. So I mean, but they all work, they all started. They all either went to film school, or they just went to a rental house. And they started by cleaning cases. And they wouldn't, you know, they would have they would literally apprentice, you know, they clean cases, they start working on the prep floor. Somebody would notice them and say, yeah, you can be the 900th assistant on my, this weekend when I'm doing something and they've worked their way up, they become a first then they become an operator, then they start making films and and along that way, which could be you know, depending on their talent could be, you know, at least years, if not many years, they would learn the craft. I think a lot of people get out of film school today and say, I'm leaving.
Alex Ferrari 52:59
Because Because I can afford to read I'm a dp all of a sudden,
Les Zellan 53:02
Yeah. So I would say and what I've seen is the most. So if you're a dp, you obviously need to know how to frame a shot. And I think, frankly, I think a lot of people like the full frame cameras, because it does it does allow you to be a little bit lazier. And digital obviously allows you to be much lazier, but full frame, you know, he didn't quite get it right. But I can pan and scan. And maybe that's the shot I should have. Is I'm still gonna release it in 35. So that's the Shall I should add. So you know, so I think it'd become people become a little bit less prepared. And I think digital did that in itself. Certainly in film, you couldn't do that you had to really know what you're all so but the real key, you know, when the real key besides having a good eye for framing is learning how to light unless the DPS is to tools or his tools or his cameras, lenses, lighting, and hopefully his talent to frame and people that know how to light could shoot super eight and make it really look good. And people that don't know how to light it looks good. It's completely by accident. So if you learn that you don't necessarily learn that in a couple of years in films. You learn that by watching you know the Masters by working on sets and watching the Masters do this every day. So I would what I would recommend to people is just find like some real get yourself in good with some really good DPS and work for them for a while and learn everything you can.
Alex Ferrari 54:51
Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?
Les Zellan 55:00
Longest to learn? Just about everything. I'm a slow learner. Yeah, that's a great question. I'm not sure I have an answer for it.
Alex Ferrari 55:15
No, no worries. No worries.
Les Zellan 55:17
I'm not I'm not gonna worry. That's one of the things I've learned. Don't worry about what you can't. You can't answer.
Alex Ferrari 55:23
Fair enough. Now, what are three of your favorite films of all time?
Les Zellan 55:26
Oh, that's unfair.
Alex Ferrari 55:28
I know. It is. Currently at this moment in time right now, three of your favorite films.
Les Zellan 55:35
Well, I gotta say, gee, it should be let's see all the phones shot on clock. Obviously.
Alex Ferrari 55:43
Yeah, you've got to be politically correct. Are you kidding me?
Les Zellan 55:47
I was one of those guys. That actually helped pull the upset off me Academy this year. I voted for the Green Book. I thought that was a great book. I thought it was I thought it was well done. I hate films that I really hate films that lecture to me or want to show me the way it should be. I thought the Green Book was just a nicely put together. Great story. Yes. And there was a message and all that but I just thought the performances
Alex Ferrari 56:19
Oh, the writing and the performances were brilliant.
Les Zellan 56:22
Yeah, my wife preferred Bohemian Rhapsody. I didn't. didn't do much for me.
Alex Ferrari 56:28
If you take the if you take the music out of that movie
Les Zellan 56:34
And then of course they should really want you know, Lady Gaga.
Alex Ferrari 56:44
Oh, stars born
Les Zellan 56:46
Stars born because that was shot. I Maddie with cook anamorphic.
Alex Ferrari 56:51
Yeah, so gorgeous. So beautiful.
Les Zellan 56:53
That should be my favorite sound. But I all time though. You know, one of my favorite films. This is really corny, but I'm an old guy. So my favorite films is also my mind is going to Jimmy Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy. Okay. white fluffy. I could watch that film probably 20 times and still enjoy it. Very cool. Now where where can people find more about cook and and more about you? Well, they don't need to know much about me but they can find more about cook on cook optics calm. Also, we just as of today, the US distributor for cook used to be a company called zgc which is company you see the cook America's as of today. So but you can go to cook optics.com and find out all you need to know.
Alex Ferrari 57:47
Very cool. Let's think it's been an absolute pleasure talking to you and geeking out on cook all things cooking lunches and stuff that I so I appreciate your time. I know you're busy man. Thank you so much.
Les Zellan 57:57
Thank you very much. As he said, I can only talk about cooking endlessly. You want to do this again for six or seven hours.
Alex Ferrari 58:04
I appreciate it.
Les Zellan 58:06
Alex Ferrari 58:08
I want to thank les so much for being on the show. Thank you for dropping knowledge bombs on knowledge bombs about lenses and all things glass. So thank you again less. If you want to get information on anything. We talked about links to cook glass and cook TV, head over to indiefilmhustle.com/333 for the show notes. And if you haven't already, please head over to filmmakingpodcast.com. subscribe and leave us a good review for the show. It really helps the show out and a lot. And if you haven't checked it out, check out my new podcast filmtrepreneur podcast where filmmakers and entrepreneurs meet. And that's at film biz podcast.com thank you so much for listening guys. That's the end of another episode of the indie film hustle podcast as always, keep that also going. Keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.
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WATCH A FREE 3 PART LOW-BUDGET FILM PRODUCING VIDEO SERIES
Taught by veteran award-winning film producer and author Suzanne Lyons. The filmmaker behind over a dozen profitable low-budget feature films.