I love the synchronicity of the universe at particular times, and one of those times is during the creation of this publication. I was on the phone talking to Dan Shulters of Dan’s Shoe Repair in Ashland. Somewhere along the line I heard he was moving to Malawi, Africa, so I wrote him and told him I wanted to do an interview. I wanted to get LocalsGuide behind him in order to support his mission.
The next day we were on the phone talking. Dan tells me about his non-profit. I commit LocalsGuide to helping share his story and raise resources to support his humanitarian goal. Near the end of our phone call I get an incoming call. The caller ID says its Steve Brown of Media 14 Productions. Steve runs a top of the line video production and duplication company here in Ashland. He’s done it for many years and has been the final touch on thousands of media projects that are shared around the world. With thirty years in the business he is one of the best at what he does.
“Dan, let me call you back… I’ve got to take this call.” “Hi Steve, how’s it going?” “Shields, I want to do one of those interviews with you and re-introduce myself to the community. When can I do one?” “Hmm … well Steve it’s your lucky day! I just had a cancelation. Steve, can you do me a favor? I’ve got Dan Shulters on the line. He’s moving to Africa to do humanitarian work and needs a promotional video for his non-profit. Can you do that for him?” “Consider it done my friend!” And that’s how it works. The win-win-win. Dan will now have a professional video produced about his non-profit, I filled this interview spot and Steve gets to re-introduce himself to the community!
We work together. We help one another. We go above and beyond to support the success of each other and this directly describes the relationships that Steve Brown has formed with his production company Media 14 here in Ashland.
Steve, great timing and thanks for being here today.
I love the synchronicity that you speak of. I start my day and a thought pops into my head to call someone that I have not talked to in 5 years. This is exactly what happened with you Shields. Over the years I have learned to trust this process. It can be stressful running an independent business in a small community, but I seem to stay busy so I guess my trust is well placed.
I started playing drums in a band when I was 12. We played high school soc-hops in the Chicago suburbs. This was my introduction to the world of entertainment. I recently got in touch with the band’s guitarist and he sent me 50-year-old recordings of our band. To my surprise we were not half bad. After high school I traveled and eventually landed in Ashland. I enrolled at SOSC and found myself in college. It was a great school for me because of the radio station housed on the campus. I practically lived at the station on weekends and really enjoyed learning the ropes from people like Howard LeMere and Ron Kramer. Eventually I graduated Cum Laude and moved to Los Angeles to gain experience in media. The next 15 years I spent working on primarily A list projects – starting as an extra, and then becoming a stand-in and a SAG contract player. I worked on a series of Stallone features among others, and episodics like Cagney and Lacy, Moonlighting, and Hunter. I watched carefully how the pros did production – it was very educational. In 1988 I started a production company in LA and used the generous facilities of various public access studios in the LA area to produce shows about what people did for a living. I also became an editor for a duplication house. I moved back to Ashland in 1999 at the behest of a fellow who owns a company here to produce his product videos. Eventually I became an independent video producer and duplicator here in Ashland.
What were some early lessons you learned, or witnessed, in your career that stay true to this day?
A big lesson is to be decent to anyone you meet. In LA you could be rude to a waiter one day and three weeks later they appear as an assistant casting director for a part you are up for. I also have learned to not misrepresent myself or my abilities. If I can do the job – great, if I can’t, I let people know immediately.
As a “stand-in” you spent a lot of your free time just hanging around the sets even if you were not working. What did this lead to?
As a stand-in, you are “camera crew”. Having good communications with the Assistant Director is important as a member of “second team”, which is how stand-ins are referred to. On a major motion picture set, there is plenty to observe and learn from whether you are involved in a particular set-up or not. It is important that you know what is on the schedule for the day. Paying attention lends to job security.
I worked on a feature film about gangs, directed by Dennis Hopper called “Colors”. I was Robert Duvall’s stand-in. The cinematographer was an academy award-winning guy named Haskell Wexler. He had a great work ethic. We stayed on schedule because of him. With Dennis Hopper as our fearless leader we set up shop, shooting for 11 weeks, mostly in Watts, an area that is famous for gang violence. I saw how most of the shots were composed. His techniques included rack-focusing, outdoor lighting using 12×12 foot silk squares placed between the sun and the actor and capturing low-light night shots. We also made frequent use of a camera car, and cameras mounted on a car. I spent a lot of time in a car with Sean Penn, who did his own stunt driving being Duvall’s stunt-double. After the feature came out, it was a great lesson seeing the footage all put together.
Locally, I have been working with cinematographers like Calvin Kennedy of Freedom Films and Ed Keller of Edify Productions. We have worked together for many years on projects and together we have gone through the learning curves with new equipment and editing software. These guys have saved me more times than I can count. “How do I …?” is a common phone conversation with them over the last 30 years.
You’ve now been in business for more than 30 years. What have been some of the secrets to your success?
When I think back about how I re-created a production/duplication company in Ashland after LA, I think I used the golden rule. You know, do unto others. Don’t make false promises and deliver product in a timely fashion. I saw a need in the video/duplication marketplace and I set out to fill that need. It also helped that I had advisers that steered me to the correct professional equipment to buy. When I started duplicating DVD’s and CD’s in 2003 I was nervous that I was ahead of my time. I had invested almost $10,000 in duplication equipment and hoped that the market was ready to make the change from VHS tapes. It turns out my timing was good.
Details have always been important to you.
When you shoot live-event video you have to get it right the first time. Ed Keller and I have shot 30-day seminars for Neale Donald Walsch with 3 cameras. If you are not detail oriented, you quickly accumulate boxes of tapes that become an organizational nightmare. Ed was very helpful in helping me to create a system so we knew what was on each tape. When you are dealing with editing hundreds of tapes, you have to have a system or you become lost. The same thing goes for my duplication business. After making a duplication mistake, you quickly get inspired to develop a system that insures you put the correct material on a disc. Part of the learning curve is making mistakes and dealing with angry customers. What I do in duplication I used to call the learning curve of 100 stomach aches. In the beginning, I would discover that I just made 100 discs that all stop playing on the 40th minute of a 60 minute DVD. Trust me, that creates stomachaches. The problem has been identified, but then you have to come up with the solution. Sure glad those days are long gone.
I haven’t counted them in quite a while, but I seem to have turned into an archivist.
Clients come and go but their masters usually stay with me. I have a hard time throwing any master away. Once a decade I do manage to go through my masters, and if I have not heard from the owner in 5 years, they get recycled. One thing I do know is that DVDs, when properly stored, last quite a long time. I have masters that were created around 2003 that I still use. It is a much better storage system than VHS tape.
Your job requires you pay attention to so many details. How do you do it? What systems have you developed to prevent errors?
It all starts with creating a file for each client. Each client folder has all of their art inside. At one point, I had my girlfriend organize my thousands of master DVDs and CDs. It took her 3 days. But I still use the system she created so I can quickly find the disc I need. My computer file system gets backed up regularly and is organized with a system created by Ed Keller. I just add a new client to my clients’ master list and I can keep track of all of my data. It is embarrassing to call a client and say that I have lost their art or their master disc. I quickly learned that keeping organized helps with peace of mind.
Steve, please give us an overview of the full scope of services that Media 14 provides.
My production company does 3 camera HD event recording and editing. I have gotten to the point that I run three cameras from different angles by myself, though sometimes I hire an assistant. I am then able to offer this service at an affordable price. This weekend for example, I am shooting a memorial service on a farm in Gold Hill. I shoot bands, weddings, theater events and performances at SOU and the Craterian Theater. My services include editing, color correction, and sweetening the audio for the footage I shoot. It makes a big difference to have a colorist such as myself go over each shot. I also provide these services to area producers who bring their projects to me.
I author DVD’s and BluRay discs. For example, this week I got a call from CNS Productions in Medford. The owner, Paul Steinbroner, has created a new offering at Pilot Rock Productions with the very talented graphic artist/editor Pete Bedell. Pete sent me the project, and when I reviewed it, I noticed it was missing an element. Paul thanked me for noticing. That is a key part of what I do … get material ready for public consumption. He wants me to author his DVD and make 100duplicates. So Pete will send me a revised file next week and I will build a master. I have been doing this with CNS and Pilot Rock for at least 15 years. Paul’s company creates educational books and videos about addiction and recovery. He uses me for his duplication.
I also just got a call from Brian Lansburgh, a pilot and filmmaker who lives in Bend. He has created a series of audio short stories that he wants me to create the sleeve and disc art for. He then wants me to create a master CD for duplication. So, I will send his 15 audio tracks to James Abdo of Brokenworks Productions here in Ashland. He has a beautiful audio studio and does a great job of mastering CD’s. Once he makes a master for me I will duplicate 100 discs for Brian.
I also shoot court depositions. They usually take place in a conference room of a hotel or a lawyer’s office. The video that I shoot is then sent to the court reporting company and they synch up the video with the transcript for playback in court.
Finally, I duplicate around 40,000 discs each year. I use the client’s art or create the art myself for the packaging and the discs. I then produce retail ready products. I also take video people bring me and create web ready files. In addition, I transfer VHS and cassette tapes to DVD’s and CD’s and create copy-protected thumb drives. My latest thing is to shoot auditions for actors that are submitting for roles using the sound stage in my house.
Customers who choose to work with you have specific goals. Will you please talk about this?
The video and audio products I help create and duplicate all have some goal in mind. A music video I recently created, Voodoo Holiday for Greg Tressel, a Grants Pass musician, just got over 60,000 views. This helps to promote his CD sales on various platforms such as CD Baby. Most of my customers are selling education or entertainment via their DVD’s and CD’s.
Who are your ideal clients?
My favorite clients are educators. They usually hold workshops where they sell their DVD’s and CD’s and have a series of titles that I author and then duplicate. Recently an educator named Hugh Milne from the Milne Institute asked me to shoot all of the power point presentations in his multiday workshop held at the Lithia Springs Hotel. I spent 4 days shooting and then 6 days editing all of these presentations and then creating DVD’s. He has over 50 titles I duplicated for his Institute.
Steve, I am always impressed with your great memory.
It makes my life easier to know where elements of a project live among my 20 terabytes of files.
I guess I have trained myself to remember what I need to know. My work is like a mental gym. It is helpful to remember where you put that disc 8 months ago. My filing system helps me quite a bit.
You must be a great finisher.
I am honored that people trust me to do the final authoring before their hard work goes to market.
Many times, I catch problems. I have been doing this for a long time so I have my methods of checking for problems. I also insist on a rigorous proofing process. This is especially important when I am creating let’s say, 20,000 copies of a title. For those large jobs, I use a factory that I trust.
What are some examples of recent projects that you have worked on?
I have a customer base that I duplicate for. This usually keeps me busy. I also noticed that another video I posted in February on Youtube has over 100,000 views on it, “If There’s a Barstool She’s on It,” by Greg Tressel.” I just finished authoring 4 new titles for an educator in Boston. I have shot 4 depositions in the last few weeks and have duplicated over 600 discs for clients in Boston and New Mexico.
Media delivery systems and recording systems are continually changing. How do you keep up? Are people still using CD’s and DVD’s?
Discs are definitely on the wane. A telling example is Netflix. Do you order a DVD by mail or do you just stream the show? Many of the people I work with are educators. They like DVDs because they can create 30 – 50 chapter points for quick reference by a student. You can’t do that with downloads. I also make CD’s for local bands. They call one day and order, then pick them up for a show the next night. In fact, Frankie Hernandez, a popular local musician, just ordered 60 CD units today for his show tomorrow. My vendor tells me I have ordered around 40,000 discs from them in the last year. So, I guess discs are still a viable medium, though the cloud will eventually make discs obsolete. I have anticipated this decline for some time now which is why I have invested in good HD cameras and state-of-the-art editing gear.
What advantage do you see that you can offer local customers choosing to work with your production company?
My charges for 3-camera event video are very reasonable. Clients are also welcome to sit-in on editing sessions. It is all part of creating their vision. I see my client as my navigator and I am the driver. My mission is to get them to their destination. I also offer cool deals in duplication. Order 300 sleeves from a local factory I use, and then just get 100 discs. When you run low on discs – order more. Same day service is usually available for discs. Finally, I guarantee everything that goes out of my shop. If it is not right, I will do my best to make it right. One extreme example: a lady kept having problems with the playback of a disc I made. Her laptop refused to play it. After trying several different duplication methods, I finally bought her a DVD player from Amazon. When that didn’t work, we realized that her software must be the problem. I try my best to fix anything that doesn’t work. Rarely do I have to these days.
Oftentimes media production can be very expensive. Your rates are very reasonable and you enjoy working with locals no matter what the size of the project.
I do try to be fair to myself and do a realistic evaluation of the time and effort of a project. But my key to having affordable pricing is that I do most everything myself – my equipment, my editing, and the knowledge of how to use it all. I like to think of myself as a service to the community.
What is the best way for customers to learn more about your work and to reach you?
My website is: media14.net
My phone number is: 541- 601- 3202
My e-mail: email@example.com
Steve, thanks for speaking with us today and thanks for helping Dan!
Thanks Shields. I will get together with Dan soon.