30 Years of Northwest Production

Thirty years of Media Inc.! Wow, it’s been a while. As I recall, the magazine began life as POV. I began working in film in Seattle in 1974, so I had 6-plus years of experience by 1981! There are only a handful of us working today who were working in Washington back then. Off the top of my head, Conrad Denke, Don Jensen, Bob Marts, Bobby Beaumont (or back then, Gribble). Not many others.

In 1981, we were renting Arriflex 2C and Cinema Products CP16 cameras. I was still operating out of my house on Capitol Hill. Our only competition in the region was Glazer’s… back when they were on 3rd Avenue, near The Bon Marche. In 1981, most serious production companies owned some kind of 16mm (not Super 16) camera, but few owned 35mm and many didn’t own a sync sound 16mm package. Two exceptions I recall were Pal Productions and Filmsmiths, who each had a 35mm camera. Kaye-Smith was the hot production company in town. Down in Portland, Homer Groening (Matt’s dad) owned an Arri 2B, which he sometimes lent to up-and-coming filmmakers.

In addition to renting my cameras and working as an AC, I worked on video shoots but they were usually shot with Ikegami 79 or Sony 300 cameras and recorded onto 1” Sony reel-to-reel tape. Or we worked with Loy and Bonnie Norrix’s truck. Betacam hadn’t come to market (any market, as we were the first, with Phil Mudgett and his new company Modular Video) yet. 
There weren’t any serious lighting and grip companies back then. Bob Beaumont and Bill Baum each had a bread truck lighting and grip package. Mike Van Ackeren had a small truck. But no one had a 5-ton package.
Those were exciting times in the Pacific Northwest. Crews moved between Seattle, Portland and Spokane as the jobs dictated. Most of our work was either commercials or industrials. Sometimes there were national commercials or industrials, particularly with Boeing airplanes or our great locations. There were a few local features happening, as well as a few coming in from L.A. I’d worked as 2nd AC on Joyride back in 1976 (Eugene Mazzola was the PM), and then as 1st AC on Bruce Wilson’s Doubles in 1977. In 1981 (that is 30 years ago!), I was still working as a 1st and hadn’t moved up to DP… that change occurred in 1982.
There were three film labs in the region… Alpha Cine and Forde in Seattle and Technifilm in Portland. And telecine was a brand new art, with the first system in the region a Bosch at Alpha Cine, and then one at Telemation. Much of our telecine work went to Salt Lake City or Vancouver.
Thirty years ago, we still had “The Motion Picture Seminar of the Northwest,” which had just changed (or was about to change) its name to “The Film and Video Seminar of the Northwest.” Alpha Cine drove the seminar and what a gem it was for the region. In this case, by “region” I mean Northern California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Alaska, British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The Seminar brought together hundreds of filmmakers, crew, and vendors for a two-plus-day event in Seattle. It had begun in 1967 and ran until 1985. It was educational and fun, as well as a chance to meet people like James Wong Howe, Robert Wise, Vilmos Zigmund, and many other
And about 30 years ago, both the Oregon Media Production Association and the Washington Film and Video Association were formed. The OMPA is still vibrant today, but the WFVA folded after about 10 to 12 years. Associations are tough to keep running!
Thirty years of changes. Changes in technology, style, crew sizes, union/non-union, types of work originating in the market or coming into the market. What hasn’t changed? But we’re still here, still renting, still selling and now manufacturing gear!

Marty Oppenheimer is managing director of Oppenheimer Cine Rental and Oppenheimer Camera Products.

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