I have been working with film and video production in one way or another since 1974. Two partners (Gerry Cook and Chris Venne) and I spent many years making documentaries and television commercials in Spokane in the mid- to late-‘70s. We would work in small format (1/2” open reel) video and 35mm film (for the television commercials).
Around 1981 we started making Corporate Information programs, as the market for documentary projects significantly diminished with the election of Ronald Reagan! It was at that same time that video tools started to become more and more useful, and complicated. Where we used to edit video by putting two video tape recorders on a table and rolling each one back five seconds from the “in point” of an edit—and then very adeptly starting both of them at the same time, while running a stop watch, and being sure to push the “edit” button at exactly the right spot—we started to see computers that would do all of that for us. (In the early days, the computers worked about as well as our error-prone manual approach to editing.)
Around this time, a fellow named Rich Woltjer showed up in Spokane wanting to know what we were up to, and how production could be going on “over here.” He was developing a way to catalogue and categorize all media production going on in the State of Washington. We gave him our information and looked forward to being involved in a very early version of networking. And having contact with the “West Side.”
By the early ‘80s we had become “Pinnacle Productions” and started to draw significant clients from the west side of the state, including Boeing, banks, insurance companies, even Rainier Beer for a “down market” remake of the “Running of the Rainiers.”
A talented and growing group of artists and production people joined Pinnacle in our corporate production and special effects group. Our reach was national (we created opens for Monday Night Football and NBC Nightly News) and the content was wonderfully creative. We mostly had great fun, and got a lot of satisfaction out of creating high quality work.
This level of production required increasingly sophisticated equipment, and our own production couldn’t keep it busy enough, so it was finally decided to move this very talented group of people and skills to Seattle (the company was owned by Cowles Publishing Company in Spokane), and open a brand new production and post production facility in the Belltown area. The idea was to service other clients as well as our own efforts. Seattle and Los Angeles people joined the team from Spokane, and a very capable post production facility was created. The effects and corporate production group were also part of the mix.
By the time we opened in Seattle, Rich Woltjer’s project was now called Media Inc. and was a monthly newspaper that featured a big story about the opening of Pinnacle Productions’ new facility in the early fall of 1990. (See Cover to Cover, page 80). The facility was carefully designed to provide the very best equipment and people in a perfect environment for film transfer, complex editing, and special effects creation. Clients came from around the region and the U.S.
Pinnacle provided all kinds of technical and creative services over the next 10 years, providing production and post production services for many Seattle projects. We hosted the infamous Frugal Gourmet production on our stages for two years, and were involved in editing and developing special effects for Bill Nye the Science Guy. Nike came to town almost weekly from Portland to transfer and color correct film. Most of the local bands going national in the mid-‘90s music videos were worked on in various parts of the facility. And about 50 very talented and dedicated people worked there.
I left Pinnacle in 1997, 23 years after I helped start it. I moved on to work for a few years in the dot com industry, developing ways to stream video on demand and participating in Seattle’s version of the “Dutch Tulip Bubble.” I then moved to Alpha Cine, Seattle’s highly regarded motion picture lab, where I am approaching my 10th year working with independent filmmakers from all over the U.S., and another wonderfully talented group of people.
And during this time, Media Inc., now under the leadership of Jim Baker, has played a significant role in reporting on and developing the industry in the State of Washington. Without Jim and Media Inc.’s support and leadership, the effort to develop film incentives and promote production in the State of Washington would certainly have been more difficult.
Don Jensen is president of Alpha Cine in Seattle. Visit www.alphacine.com for more information.