Homegrown Production: Local Companies Making Waves in the NW

While the large-budget feature films and star-studded television projects might make the headlines, the Northwest region is chock full of local production companies doing award-winning work right in our own backyard. Read on…

 

gary noltonGary Nolton
Limbo Films
www.limbofilms.com
How did you get into the industry?
I studied film at the Art Center in Pasadena, then found work in L.A. as a 2nd Assistant Cameraman via a friend who was on a TV show and was moving up from 2nd to 1st.
Are you now doing the kind of work you originally set out to do or has that changed?
I am fortunate enough to be doing exactly what I always wanted to, working as a Director/DP on narrative films, documentary and commercials.
What would you consider your best piece of work and why?
Of late, it would be a web video I shot for Bulleit Bourbon. There was total creative freedom, with no client or agency present, plus I got to edit it as well. It was as close as I have ever come to full authorship while getting paid… a rare combination!limbo films logo
What is your favorite piece of equipment and why?
Without a doubt it’s my personal ARRI Alexa, which we bought 4 years ago and it’s never disappointed me yet. It’s an HD camera built like the film cameras I shot with for 15 years, and provides a film-like image with all the advantages of digital medium.

Production QA - red jetJeff Erwin
red jet films
www.redjetfilms.com
How did you get into the industry?
I worked in television news for many years—the last thirteen in Seattle at KING 5. In the mid-90s, the first non-linear edit systems began to appear and with the demise of real storytelling in the news world, it seemed like a good time to try something else. I first started a production company with a fellow KING employee. He became an AVID Certified Trainer and I ran the production side of the business. For three years we were actually in the KING TV building, but in 1998 we moved to our current location on lower Queen Anne. A few years later, Sue and I went into the production world on our own and red jet films began.
Are you now doing the kind of work you originally set out to do or has that changed?
I think you do the work that comes through your door. You might say you do commercials or features but pretty much everyone I know in this business does a wide variety of projects. I have gained a lot of chops shooting in developing countries so I would say we are more of a documentary style company. I enjoy telling stories that matter or have a call to action. Basically being able to do something positive for someone somewhere—anywhere—in this world we live in.
What would you consider your best piece of work and why?
That’s impossible to answer. There are just too many movies now to count. Many projects are memorable because of the locations they were shot in, some for the hardship and many for the joy. Who you work with makes a big difference as well. As I was answering these questions, I received a call from an old friend that I have traveled with all over Africa, India and South America shooting stories for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She has a new project in Africa and I would jump at the chance to work with her again. There is something about the idea that your life’s best work is still in front of you that keeps it interesting.redjet logo
What is your favorite piece of equipment and why?
I can’t stop buying tools because they keep changing. This past year we purchased a MōVI M10 and a Sony F-55. The MōVI for dynamic moves and the F-55 for 4K cine production. Both are beautiful and for the time being, my two favorites.

Production QA - guentherKelly Guenther
Guenther Group, Inc.
www.guenthergroup.com
How did you get into the industry?
I was originally a TV news guy. I served as an on-air reporter, photographer, anchor and producer, so I really got to know all aspects of production both in front of the camera and behind it. And those skill sets really help with overall marketing for private clients today.
Are you now doing the kind of work you originally set out to do or has that changed?
Well, originally I was going to pursue being a doctor, then got convinced by my high school English teacher not to do that and finally ended up in TV. Once there, I wanted to be a foreign TV correspondent some day. But I was always a hard news guy and that was not the direction TV news was heading. The TV industry changed to the point that I thought I would have a much more interesting life telling meaningful visual stories outside of a newsroom.
Now my earlier understanding of science, math and biology, coupled with years of communications work, have me telling really interesting stories for tech clients, the medical industry and others. So what I set out to do has changed but in a really compelling way.
What would you consider your best piece of work and why?
It was a piece for a tech client where we had budget for the first time in a long time and were able to pull off something very difficult but very beautiful because of the incredible skills of a team of creatives, and the risk-taking of a creative director from the client side.
My workload was heavy at the time, so I collaborated more than usual: Scotty Mac and I figured out a way to shoot HDR video with DSLRs, Beth Craig and Mary Daisey were instrumental in getting the project off the ground when I couldn’t be there, and the creative director, Ben Hawken, fought for my idea of a more radical look and hard-hitting script even with a lot of pushback from his company. Then Todd Soliday used his wicked graphic design and editorial skills to get this technically-demanding project over the finish line.
I think I consider it one of our best because I had some really good production people collaborating on it, because the client embraced the piece and uses the presentation years later, and when I watch it now I still get tingles and love the look.guenther group logo
What is your favorite piece of equipment and why?
No real favorites. The gear is changing too fast these days. If anything, I dabble in lens purchases. That’s the one piece of gear I don’t sell off because I know I’ll be able to use that glass in one way or another in the years to come.

Peter Barnes_2010_colorPeter Barnes
Clatter&Din, Inc.
www.clatterdin.com
How did you get into the industry?
I was a musician, independent engineer and record producer for several years and got offered a job in a post audio house doing commercial music and post.
Are you now doing the kind of work you originally set out to do or has that changed?
Of course the industry has changed dramatically. I personally am now running operations and business development for my company. I do occasionally engineer sessions or produce music for clients that I like. So my official answer is yes and no, depending on the day.
What would you consider your best piece of work and why?
I suppose this would be our Emmy Award-winning team providing ADR for Northern Exposure for almost 9 years. Or it could have been my collaboration with Jim Copacino on the hit country song “He Drove His Eighteen Wheeler Through the Truckstop of My Heart.”ClatterDin_Logo
What is your favorite piece of equipment and why?
My brain. Seriously I guess it would be our Black Magic 4k Cinema camera. Easy to use, incredible quality, makes our work look great.

Production QA - Latino NW mario_cropMario Zavaleta
Latino Northwest Communications
www.latinonorthwest.com
How did you get into the industry?
My work in media started during the late ‘70s in a recording studio at one of the largest radio networks in Mexico City, where I am from. I worked there as a soundboard person for a couple of years until I was invited to work for a multimedia production company where I began my work as a still photographer, mainly for advertising projects. My interest in storytelling drove me to explore the television industry and I found the opportunity at one government TV station just outside Mexico City. It was there where I met Martha, my wife.
During the late ‘80s I was invited to explore the commercial fishing industry in Alaska. While working there I was contacted by a reporter from Univision Network in Miami who needed help to produce some stories about Latinos living in Alaska. It was then that Martha and I started producing news and feature stories for Univision Network. In 1996 we moved to Seattle and continued covering Washington, Oregon and other areas of the Pacific Northwest for Univision. This experience helped us acquire a strong understanding of the issues affecting Latinos in the Northwest. Trying to respond to that need and to the lack of Spanish local content that existed at the time, led us to create Latino Northwest Communications.
Are you now doing the kind of work you originally set out to do or has that changed?
It has definitely changed. My work has evolved over the years from working as a soundboard person, to still photographer, photojournalist, news producer and directing my own projects and business.
What would you consider your best piece of work and why?
I really enjoy producing documentaries and historical pieces, however I consider that our educational productions have been the most successful. One example is “Silenciosa y Peligrosa: La Diabetes en Nuestros Hijos” a special program we produced for Seattle Children’s Hospital to educate the Latino community about the silent danger of diabetes in children.latinonw_finallogo
What is your favorite piece of equipment and why?
Definitely the camera, because with it I can capture the images to document the facts and testimonies for news, a feature story or to preserve what can become a historical moment.

Production QA - Galaxy SailorMartin Vavra
Galaxy Sailor Productions
www.galaxysailor.com
How did you get into the industry?
I had left a government job, working as an ecologist, and went back to get my Masters in Teaching. Before school started, I went to live in the Caribbean for six months. I decided to buy a consumer grade camera and film my trip. When I returned, someone asked if I would film their wedding. Within a year, I was filming weddings for fun and extra money. I grew very bored of that, and with the discovery of Video Copilot online, I started to see what could be done with a little imagination. In 2008, frustrated with my life and out of a job, I moved to Portland with a camera, a computer, my futon, and my dog. I was determined to get into making movies or die trying.
Are you now doing the kind of work you originally set out to do or has that changed?
I am not doing anything at all what I thought I would do. I thought I was going to become a camera guy and an editor. To be honest, I was not good at either one, and had no clue how much I didn’t know. Due to having no money, I was calling in my friends on weekends to shoot a web series about a zombie apocalypse. When the process was done, I realized my strength was finding the right people and orchestrating the entire project. From that day, I set out to get the right people, who were infinitely better at most of this than me, get them jobs and interesting projects, and direct once the project was in place. To be honest, I never thought I would own a company that is actually working and employing people.
What would you consider your best piece of work and why?
I am working on my best project to date. I am a giant sci-fi fan. When I was approached with this project as a possible TV show, I saw what it could be. The whole of it needed a steady course and a good heading. We just shot the proof of concept pieces, and it is better than I had imagined. While I realize we all love our baby, I am really excited and have the utmost faith that my baby is going to grow up to be something amazing.
What is your favorite piece of equipment and why?GS_logo_FIN_Working
This is going to be abstract, but I think the person is the best ‘equipment.’ A tool is a tool, and no amount of RED footage will save your bad story. No jib will save a bad event. No dolly will make the dialogue better. It’s the people that come together. I know that the question is not meant to be marginalizing to the human aspect, but it’s the first place my heart went to. A person is versatile, creative, instinctive, flawed and irritable. Just like a lot of equipment, but the difference is that a person can turn that around and make the day better. When your dolly breaks, it’s the person that will turn that around and make the shot work. No piece of equipment could replace the people.

chris donaldson hand crankChris Donaldson
Hand Crank Films
www.handcrankfilms.com
How did you get into the industry?
An old girlfriend of mine was a filmmaker in Los Angeles and asked me to lend her a hand on a documentary she was making. The rest is history.
Are you now doing the kind of work you originally set out to do or has that changed?
I originally set out to do narrative and feature film work, which I’ve done a fair amount of. But when I moved to the Pacific Northwest, I became involved in Hand Crank Films, which is predominantly a commercial production company (though we have a few narrative projects in the works). So now we do that to support our filmmaking habit.
What would you consider your best piece of work and why?
Tough question. We’ve done a lot of pretty decent work, from zombies to emotional fundraising pieces. So it’s hard to say for sure. What’s interesting about commercial work is the fact you need to balance commerce against art, i.e. you need to hit some real specific marketing objectives in a creative way. So maybe I’d say the fundraising piece called ‘The Letter’ that we did for Overlake Hospital, which helped raise $600,000-plus. You can view it here.Hand Crank Films logo
What is your favorite piece of equipment and why?
My favorite piece of equipment is still the pencil. All the fancy gear cannot replace a well-written story. But yeah, we like the RED Epic, too.

Production QA - Deep SkyJared Hobbs
Deep Sky Studios
www.deepskystudios.com
How did you get into the industry?
I originally went to Full Sail University back in 2000 for film, visual effects and entertainment business and law. I started out working in live TV productions and later found my calling with motion graphics and 3D visualization. Design, audio, video and visual effects I still love to do and get to often.
Are you now doing the kind of work you originally set out to do or has that changed?
I went to college to get into visual effects field, but having decided not to move to L.A., I started out working in Eugene, Oregon, at KVAL and Chambers Productions. Later freelanced in Portland doing motion graphics and video production.
What would you consider your best piece of work and why?
That’s tough to say since we do so many types of multimedia. We rarely get the same projects and always pitching for something new. Recently we shot and animated an Innovation video for Cambia Health. It was very complex and we made it look pretty elegant and beautiful.
What is your favorite piece of equipment and why?Oregon Film Ad 012814
We are more software-based here and primarily use After Effects. We do have a Cintiq 24” touch display we use for matte paintings, animation and storyboarding. I personally don’t have the time to use it often, but we absolutely love it.

Production QA - Red DoorDavid Poulshock
Red Door Films
www.reddoorfilms.com
How did you get into the industry?
Through the back door. I was a keyboardist in the cult band Upepo (now in the Oregon Music Hall of Fame) and needed to “get a real job” because I was getting married and we planned to have kids. Not a great idea on a musician’s wages. So I responded to a classified ad for a copywriter/TV spot producer, thinking my liberal arts degree would help. But after the interview, I realized I knew nothing and told them I wasn’t qualified. They said, “Let us decide that,” and gave me an assignment to write some TV spots over the weekend, featuring Ed McMahon as a spokesperson for a local S&L. I checked out a couple of books on how to write ad copy from the library, wrote the spots, delivered them Monday, and they hired me on the spot. Four months later I was producing “Check King, the King of Checking Accounts” commercials for Lincoln Savings & Loan, starring Ed McMahon. And the rest is history.
Are you now doing the kind of work you originally set out to do or has that changed?
Yes and no. I always saw (and still do) advertising as a way to keep my creative juices flowing. Along the way, I did a stint as a copy chief for an apparel manufacturer and another as an account executive for an events-oriented ad agency. Then I went out on my own and discovered long form video. We started doing industrials and corporate pieces, back when you could do Noir mysteries and sci-fi spin-offs and comedy spoofs, yet still sell product. Then we went on to produce the Wee Sing kiddies for Universal Home Video, The Head Table TV pilot about sustainable cooking, a series on American History and another on higher mathematics for public television, and on it goes. Now our work is a mix of commercials, docs, web videos, feature films—even iBooks.
What would you consider your best piece of work and why?
That’s not an easy question.
In the can, currently: the documentary Raw Materials. Well, it’s sort of in the can. We’ve decided to shoot some more footage. The film is a rich and heartfelt look into the lives of three rugged Americans, and asks the question, “Is the American dream still worth dreaming?” Why my best work? Just the joy of starting with a raw idea and crafting it into something beautiful.
On the page: my screenplays The Fix and Turbulence — both award-winners, yet very different from each other. Why? Same as above. The craft.red door films logo
What is your favorite piece of equipment and why?
My ears. How can you write a good script, direct a good film or play a good song without knowing how to listen?

Oliver TuthillOliver Tuthill
Blue Wood Films, LLC
www.bluewoodfilms.com
How did you get into the industry?
I started out as an extra in movies by registering with the unemployment office in Hollywood, California. After I worked in about 50 movies as an extra and stand-in, I got hired by a director to say one line in a film so I could join the Screen Actors Guild. On the first day on the set the lead actor got angry with the director and quit, and they asked me to step into the lead role, which I was eager to do. The film turned out terrible, but I still made it into SAG and then found agency representation and a personal manager also. After meeting and working with Academy Award-winning director Jonathan Demme, I decided I wanted to concentrate on producing and directing. TV star James Arness of Gunsmoke fame and MovieMaker Magazine publisher Tim Rhys both encouraged me to pursue my dream of being a director, which I did, and in 2002 I won the Washington State Governor’s Award in Media for educational documentaries I directed.
Are you now doing the kind of work you originally set out to do or has that changed?
I started out doing production primarily, but now work more as an executive producer, helping other producers and filmmakers find financing to get their features funded.
What would you consider your best piece of work and why?
I would consider my best piece of work my documentary Questions For Crazy Horse because I filmed it while living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and I had the opportunity to work with the late Lakota Indian actor and activist Russell Means. My skills at that time were pretty finely honed, and I already had one award-winning documentary on the Lakota and life on Pine Ridge being distributed by Entertainment 7 internationally and Passion River Films domestically. I captured a time and a people in transition that no longer exists. My production manager was Celeste Olds and a real trooper. We had some close calls with certain folks who were not happy to see us on the reservation and one incident where we were surrounded by a buffalo herd, but we made it out okay. The film still is blue wood films logoa steady seller, and I fill purchase orders on it every week through Amazon Advantage.
What is your favorite piece of equipment and why?
Final Cut Pro 7 because it is so user-friendly.

Production QA - FurmanNikia Furman
Furman Pictures
www.furmanpictures.com
How did you get into the industry?
I started young. I was literally raised in a barn out in the sticks, and there wasn’t much in the way of consumer video technology. Even so, in grade school, I started a school newspaper and sold subscriptions, recorded fake radio dramas and staged plays. Then I started getting my hands on video cameras, and that changed everything. That’s when I decided to go to school for media.
Are you now doing the kind of work you originally set out to do or has that changed?
Yes, I am doing what I love: telling stories. I’m lucky because I get quite a variety of projects coming my way—reality television, commercials, indie films, music videos, fundraising tools for non-profits, etc. My goal is to head in the direction of more creative and collaborative storytelling. I think having an outlet like that, where you can be really creative and push yourself, is important.
What would you consider your best piece of work and why?
One of the projects I am most proud of is Beyond Adventure, a reality series that aired on Outside Television. Each episode is an introspective journey with an outdoor sports enthusiast who challenges themselves in a new way. We filmed in some of the most spectacularly scenic areas of the U.S. and even an episode in Patagonia. I experienced some life-changing moments for sure.
What is your favorite piece of equipment and why?
I love a good camera, but I don’t really get attached to them anymore. I did get attached to the Canon XL1 back in the day. It was such a Adobe Photoshop PDFsweet, sexy design. I could spend all day and night just caressing her curves… which may explain why I didn’t date much back then. Now camera technology changes so fast, and is so utilitarian in design, that I like to spend less time with a specific camera and more time focusing on how a camera will help me tell a story better. And for me, using composition, motion and color to capture and convey vivid human emotions in a way that allows the viewer to see life through new eyes… that’s where the magic happens.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJon Nigbor
Media272, Inc.
www.media272.com
How did you get into the industry?
I have always been a technology geek and amateur photographer. So, it was only natural to consider videography. At the same time, I knew my business skills were better than my video artistry skills. In 2006, I hired a couple of videographers. Soon thereafter we established a nationwide network of videographers and an operations center in Los Angeles. In 2009, we merged with Lush Productions, the producers of the TV series This Week in Real Estate. Today, we’ve created over 80,000 videos.
Are you now doing the kind of work you originally set out to do or has that changed?
The industry is constantly changing and we try to change with it. Most of our work is for small- to medium-size businesses featuring an overview of what makes them successful. Occasionally, we develop some cool 3D imagery and motion graphics. We are doing exactly what I had hoped to do. It’s really fun to work with a business and make their vision come to life. It’s so rewarding to make someone else look great, especially when they aren’t sure even where to start. We’ve got some pretty simple systems that make it possible for us to create a great video for any business or individual.
What would you consider your best piece of work and why?
Our best piece of work is where we take a story with a complex subject and we turn it into an entertaining and informative 1-2 minute video. We blend the client’s story into b-roll content we collect on site, stock footage we purchase or have, a terrific voice over and upbeat music. In this example, the client does not want to be on camera, nor has staff who can carry the story. We need to build the video while making them look great even when they aren’t even on camera. Here’s an example.
What is your favorite piece of equipment and why?media 272 logo
I don’t have a favorite piece of equipment because I’m not the guy shooting the videos, nor editing the content. The equipment is always changing and my guys are on top of the latest. If I were to pick something as an observer versus a user, I’d pick the Jib. It’s amazing how such a simple tool can make a relatively boring scene come to life and wow viewers.

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