Damaged Mine Costs Climb in U.K. Strike

(World Mining Equipment. Excerpt)

The real costs of Britain’s miners’ strike can be measured in mines and jobs lost forever due to flooding, fires, collapsed supports, or the influx of dangerous methane gas. When the strike ended, 53 coal faces and 13 salvage faces had been lost. Another 85 faces and 60 roadways were in danger.

The floods, fires, and unworkable faces often occurred because striking miners refused to let maintenance supervisors into the pits to complete necessary safety work. Lost jobs, which could number in the thousands, provide an ironic note, since the main issue of the strike was the union’s demand to keep uneconomical pits open to preserve employment.

No formal strike vote was ever taken among union members. Even before the end of the action, about 51% of all miners returned to work, attracted by wage bonuses and the realization that the walkout was not achieving its goals.

Working mines were largely in the Midlands, leaving pits in pickets guarded the entrances – particularly in Wales and Yorkshire – at greatest risk.

Geology Not on Strike
Miners may strike, but nature does not. Geological conditions that are inherently dangerous during operations continue to need attention during a strike. Supervisors are in charge of safety conditions in the collieries. This includes watching for methane gas buildup and flooding, checking ventilation, insuring that roof supports are functioning properly, and monitoring the conditions of roadways and coal faces.

National Union of Miners (NUM) officials, however, encouraged picketing members to prevent supervisors from crossing their lines. The degree to which supervisors could keep a mine in good repair during the strike depended in part on the conditions of each mine, which varied considerably. Outside the pit, getting NUM approval to enter a strike-bound mine depended on the strength and sympathies of local union members toward the walkout. Safety inspections and repair work unusually followed intense lobbying by supervisors and management, according to Ralph Rawlinson, the Technical Director of Britain’s National Coal Board.

“One by one, people pressed away at the NUM officials and local workmen and suggested that the work should be done. It was an ever-changing pattern of support and cooperation, Rawlinson said.

Geologic pressures caused many of the problems. “Simply put, the roof starts to lower and the ground starts to lift up,” said Rawlinson. “The hydraulically powered roof supports used in long-wall coal faces can offer support to only a limited height.” The supports are cantilevered between working areas of coal faces and are not designed to sit idly and resist the earth’s forced for an indefinite time. Much of the equipment is currently stressed beyond its design. “The supports bend and split because they can’t handle the weight.”

There was little that safety teams could do where rood supports were concerned, other than inspect the equipment and chart its deterioration. Even when the NUM allowed the supervisors to take action, the only real insurance against deterioration of hydraulic equipment was to use it.

“The essence of success for a long-wall face is to keep moving,” Rawlinson explained. “Once a face is exhausted, you must move the equipment out of the mine or onto a new coal face. Maintaining a powered roof support when it is standing still is meaningless. The real answer is to work some coal and get the coal face to move forward.”

Flooding Closes Pits
While the conditions of roof supports were a matter of concern everywhere, flooding was a more localized problem. It was a particular concern in South Wales, according to Peter McNestry, the General Secretary of the National Association of Overmen, Deputies, and Shotfirers (NACODS). “Thirteen pits could be lost in South Wales,” he said. “We aren’t even sure of the full extent of the damage because there was a total strike in South Wales and our people haven’t been able to get into the mines.”

The damage flooding can cause is considerable. Rising water levels can interrupt ventilation, which must move down one shaft, through the underground workings, and up another shaft. Pumps must be operated and maintained as pipelines, removing water from coal faces. Regaining access to a flooded shaft implies setting up an auxiliary ventilation system. Small fans and tubing must be brought in and the roadway degassed by length, and then a new pump must be installed.

Based on the past history of a mine, the supervisors anticipated which coal faces could be flooded. The task then was convincing the NUM to allow them into the pit to take corrective action. Such was the case at the Askern Main Colliery in Yorkshire.

“We anticipated flooding because of changing patterns of ventilation we detected,” explained Rawlinson. “In that case, the NUM allowed the supervisors to inspect, and they found the flooding we had anticipated.” Even so, the pit is still in jeopardy.

Before the supervisors could enter Askern Main, the NUM had to allow capping work at the pit head. British law requires that the winding rope of the pit cage be renewed every two years and recapped every six months. At no less than 15 mines, that capping procedure has not been done because of the length of the strike, so no one can legally enter the mines for whatever reason.

Distinct Features: Moving from Commercial Video to Feature Films

Originally published in Avid Pronet

Forget Hollywood. The new hot spot for feature films is…
Ottawa, Canada?

That’s the master plan for Distinct Features, a production house that’s starting to get serious attention for its low-budget, high-quality feature films. With two features completed and three more in post-production, it’s moving towards realizing the dream of many small production houses – that of becoming a feature film studio.

Like many independent film studios, Distinct Features began life producing corporate and commercial videos. Derrick Diorio set up shop in Ottawa six years ago with an Avid Media Composer 8000 with the film option, a small staff, and a lot of ambition.

One of the staff was a 20-year-old film editor fresh out of college, Garry Tutte. Like his boss, Tutte wanted to work on feature films, but getting any sort of editing job satisfied him.

“When I first started, corporate videos were great. I was just happy to be working in my field and doing my thing.” Five years later, he’s Distinct Feature’s senior editor\designer. The designer part comes in because “I do a lot of the graphic design work as well as the editing.”

Ottawa is Canada’s capital city. Being a government town, there was a lot of work to be had. For five years, Diorio worked at building recognition with quality commercials and corporate and government work, until it raised the money for its first feature, a 16mm opus called “Two’s a Mob.” A parody of the Mafia movies popular at the time, it was – in Tutte’s words – “a great learning experience.”

Continue reading

Liverpool Project Built on Reclaimed Land

(Excerpt from piece originally published in World Construction)

An international garden festival exhibition grounds recently built on a 46-ha site was a flat wasteland of industrial landfill, disused oil tank depot, and a silted-up shipyard.

In 1982, when Liverpool, England won approval to hold an international festival, Europeans scoffed. The Germans and Dutch each spent at least five years and $90-million on their festivals held the preceding two years. Liverpool planned to open in less than half the time and with a budget of only $17-million. That the festival opened on time and within 2% of the budget is largely due to skillful site reclamation and to a triad of on-site management firms that provided control of scheduling and construction, design integrity, and costs on a daily basis.

Reclamation

Site reclamation was the first priority. Merseyside Development Corp., a local governmental agency, provided a $13.5-million grant to remove the storage tanks and shipyard structures. This work was planned before the festival was proposed. Once Liverpool won approval for the show, additional work began. At its peak, 35 subcontractors were involved in the reclamation.

One of the first tasks was the removal of silt from the shipyard. Westminster Dredging, a U.K. subsidiary of the Dutch Bos-Kalis Corp., used two C.Z. Eeem cutter-suction dredges to pump silt from the site. The dredges removed an average 10,000 tons of silt a day for eight weeks; 600,000 tones of silt was pumped into an adjacent dock for storage and eventual disposal at sea.

Continue reading

Something to Remember us by: Marketing Crafts to Corporate Clients

Originally published in Niche Magazine

Of course, you value your customers. And of course, they are the key to your gallery’s success. But if you are looking for added revenue streams to bulk up your gallery’s bottom line, you really should look into corporate gifts.

To the uninitiated, ‘corporate gifts’ conjure up the image of a wood-and-brass engraved plaques handed out to attendees at company events. To savvy retailers and sophisticated businesses and associations, corporate gifts go hand-in-hand with the words “special,” “handcrafted,” and “unique.” In other words, what you sell in your gallery and what the artists you work with create are exactly what businesses are looking for – often in large quantities – to give as gifts for special occasions and company events.

Corporations and associations, for example, may need anywhere from a dozen to a few hundred gifts to honor outstanding employees or to thank volunteers, fund-raisers, and clients. Usually engraved, the gifts are purchased with the intention that they will be displayed in an office or at home, and companies are waking up to the fact that handcrafted wins out every time over manufactured and mass-produced.

The trick for gallery owners is to extend your reach and make the initial business-to-business connection. A quick survey of retailers across the country shows that many galleries have already done so, with appreciable success.

Charles Reinhardt, co-owner with Sami Harawi of Mostly Glass in Englewood, NJ, offers corporate gifts as part of his menu of customer services and says that his corporate clients often buy more than a hundred gifts at a time.

“Our clientele is looking for something unique. They can afford Tiffany-priced objects, but they often find that Tiffany’s little blue boxes just aren’t distinctive enough. And that’s when they come to us.”

Functionality is often a prerequisite, says Reinhardt. Corporate gift givers want to know that the firsts they give will be used and displayed. Mostly Glass works to march the artist with the giver’s intentions.

“One customer, for example, wanted to send gifts to all the Asian embassies and consulates in New York and Washington,” Reinhardt recalls. “We worked with him through the available options, and he decided on stacked plates by Kurt McVay. They were sculptural and functional at the same time. Each gift ended up being about $500.”

Each company has different needs. “A local real estate agency may want a small item to give each new homeowner, which is going to be totally different from what a large local corporation may want to hand out at its annual stockholders’ dinner,” says Jill Daunno of Timothy’s Gallery in Winter Park, FL. She says that requests her gallery has fielded from corporate clients can also be quite personal, such as the special pieces of jewelry created by a gallery artist under a client’s direction given as sales awards. “There is an enormous range of possibilities under the corporate gifts umbrella,” she says.

“It depends on the purpose of the gift and the quantity,” echoes gallery owner and artist Seranda Vesperman of Vesperman Glass Gallery in Atlanta, GA. “Are they honoring an employee? Is the CEO retiring? It’s like any other gift shopping. It depends on the need. And we work to satisfy whatever need a company brings to the table.”

According to Linda Finley, assistant manager of Seekers Glass Gallery in Cambria, CA, another gallery that offers corporate gift services, paperweights are very popular with business clients. “As are handcrafted candlesticks,” she says, “with sales of often half a dozen pairs at a time.”

Ted Ney of Gallery 7 in Portland, Maine, recommends office-related gifts that can be personalized to his corporate clients. “At Christmas, for instance, we’ll get orders for 20 to 100 business-card cases.”

Smaller handcrafted objects are one side of the corporate gift equation. The other runs to limited edition or one-of-a-kind commissions. These are artworks intended as gifts for retiring CEOs , seminar speakers, or special dignitaries. “Many high-level clients are getting more than a little bored with calculators and clocks and that kind of thing,” says Joanne Zaytoun-Penny, owner of Jazmines, Inc., a marketing and corporate gift business in Raleigh, NC. “Crafts open up a whole new world of unique options.”

Yet a third type of corporate buying involves purchasing artwork for corporate offices. This type of sales is the focus at Gallery 7. Ney draws on 20 years as a furniture maker as well as his position as a gallery owner to make contacts with designers and decorators that turn into business leads. “There are offices in town that we decorate with three-and two-dimensional pieces,” he says. “For example, we did the entrance to a lawyer’s office. They purchased the art, but we also provide some changing artworks that carry our Gallery 7 tag. The rotating art keeps the office fresh, and we get to advertise where it comes from.” Ney also runs ads in the local newspapers advertising his corporate services.

For some galleries, though, corporate business “walks in through the door and through word of mouth,” according to Seekers’ Finley. For Reinhardt, most corporate business comes from customers who have already frequented Mostly Glass to make purchases for themselves. “I have good customers who come in asking for help in making gift purchases for their special clients at work,” he says. That’s the pattern for most galleries.

One gallery that consciously goes after corporate business is Phoenix Rising Gallery in Seattle, WA. Steve Dickinson and his brother, David, who took over the gallery from former owner Maureen Pierre, have a long-term plan for capturing that market.

“I decided that sitting and waiting for people to show up at my front door is not the way to approach it,” says Steve. “I’ve hired a full-time outside salesperson whose job is to create relationships with designers and architects and to sell to corporate accounts.”

The strategy includes cross-selling with other suppliers who have different product lines. “I hope that the whole program combined over a five-year period will generate as much sales as we now generate from the gallery alone.”

Having a plan is important in developing a corporate clientele, according to Roberta Nadler. Her firm, R.L. Nadler and Associates in Pasadena, CA, provides business consulting for women-owned businesses. She suggests starting locally. “Assess the businesses in your area. Go through a company and its different departments,” says Nadler. “Find out what sorts of programs within the company lend themselves to gifts. The marketing department may have one set of programs; human resources may have another. A mid-sized company could have 20 or 30 different programs.”

But before making those calls, understand the corporate structure. “I review organizational structure with my clients,” says Nadler, “to make sure they know the corporate vocabulary.”

Phoenix Risings’ Steve Dickinson agrees. He has 15 years of experience as a corporate attorney, and his new salesperson has 20 as an architect and construction salesman. “Corporate people may initially feel uncomfortable with artists and other non-business types,” he says. “I think that’s what has prevented this market from really going anywhere.”

Most galleries are too small to afford hiring a separate salesperson just to cultivate accounts in the corporate world. At Timothy’s Daunno says, “there is a lot of footwork that often needs to be done before you can offer the service. We have seven employees. When you have three associates on the floor trying to help customers and you take one of them off the floor for three or four hours to do research, you have to balance the potential return.”

She sees other means of attracting corporate business in smaller, less time-consuming ways. “Most galleries, if they are very customer- and service-oriented, know their clients,” explains Daunno. “When it’s holiday time or you remember somebody coming in for a gift or you have something that might work for a sales meeting, you can get on the phone and call them directly with your ideas.”

At Mostly Glass, Reinhardt does some direct marketing. “We do a couple of corporate mailings in September and October. The mailings help, but mostly, the corporate clients come to us.” He also promotes the gallery’s client services on the Mostly Glass website (www.mostly-glass.com) with a page dedicated to corporate gifts.

Not all galleries show artists whose work is suitable for corporate gifts, and not all artists want to become involved in that sort of order. For galleries, the key element is knowing your artists. “Once placed, you want to make absolutely certain that you and the artist can complete the order,” advised David Dickinson. “Make sure your infrastructure is in place. Take stock of your artists and look at what they specialize in.”

Daunno also keeps track of artists interested in corporate work. “If artists tell us what their capabilities are and what they are willing to do to customize a piece, it makes it very easy for us to go to them first when an order comes in.”

At Mostly Glass, “we build relationships with artist to get extra bowls or pieces on short notice if we need them,” says Reinhardt, who notes that corporate sales account for about 20% of the gallery’s business. Most galleries peg the figures at less than 10%. Like Daunno, they know the profits are just waiting to be made. “There’s an enormous opportunity there,’ says Reinhardt, “an untapped one, I have to say, that we don’t fully take advantage of.”
-0-

Beyond the Coffee Mug

First published in Business Start-Ups Magazine

Al Urban loves mice. Well, mouse pads, anyway. He hands them out to everybody who visits Computer Masters, his retail computer store in Vermillion, Ohio. Urban credits the custom pads, imprinted with the store’s name and phone number, with generating 25% of the sales at his 2½ year old store.
“I use them like I’d use a business card. We give them out to everybody, even if they’re just looking. That lets them know I’m interested in them, and that brings them back to my store.”
Urban says the pads are like the Eveready Rabbit – they just keep goin’ and goin’ to promote his business. “I like the idea that people have them on their desk beside their computer. When they’re showing off their new computer, there’s the mouse pad with my name on it right there, and they tell their friends, ‘this is where I got it.’ When they need an upgrade or repairs or anything about computers, they’ve got my name right in front of them.”
The mouse pads, which cost Urban $1.75 each, show what promotional products and advertising specialties – the giveaways imprinted with a business’ name and phone number – can do. But while Urban boasts about his success, most businesses don’t see that kind of result.
That’s because most people don’t do it right, says Don Anderson of award-winning Printed Designs of Houston. “They flip through a catalog dropped off by a distributor and pick out something that’s cheap and familiar. If that’s your strategy, you’re wasting your cash. To be effective, you’ve got to give away something worth giving away.” Urban, for example, really thought about what his customers would actually use before deciding on the mouse pads. A refrigerator magnet, bumper sticker, or ball cap wouldn’t have done him any good.
The real advantage of promotional products is that you can target exactly who gets the stuff. You can spend $1000 on a newspaper ad that might not be noticed, $1000 for something you hand out at random, or $1000 to a small group that’s already thinking about giving you their business. The promo item just reinforces their thinking and pushes them closer to the sale.
Handled that way, ad specialties outdo regular advertising by up to 19%, according to the Promotional Products Association, the industry association. Used in direct mail, they boost response by as much as 75%.
The Association says that goodies generate repeat sales, too. They outperform coupons or no promotion at all by up to 12.9% and, in terms of order frequency, by as much as 16.2%. Not bad for tote bags and flashlights.
Most businesspeople aren’t creative geniuses, so for the handouts to work, you’ve got to find a distributor who is. Anderson says you should interview prospective promotional partners just like you would any other new employee. “Find someone who’s curious about your business and your customers. Check out other promotions they’ve put together.” See what kind of things they do for their own business. If they can’t be dynamic when promoting themselves, what kind of job can they do for you?
Few industries are quite as fad-conscious as promotional products. Knock-off Beanie BabiesÔ were the rage a year ago. Cigar accessories are smokin’ right now. A good distributor knows what the next hot giveaway will be and who should get it. Today’s technology means anything can be customized – from crystal goblets to a football-shaped salami. If all a distributor suggests is a bulk buy of coffee mugs from a catalog, call somebody else. Chances are, you’ve got a pen with the name of another firm on it somewhere on your desk.

SIDEBAR: Promotional Products: some facts, figures, and things to think about before deciding what to buy

Ten most popular

1> Wearables (biggest segment)
2> Writing implements
3> Calendars
4> Measuring devices
5> Personal care products (pop-top can openers, junk food clips, sunblock, fingernail protectors)
6> Senior-oriented products (rain hats, pill boxes)
7> Computer accessories
8> Imagination (holiday-tie items)
9> Coffee mugs
10> Fad items (cigars right now. Rubik’s cubes a couple of years ago, mood rings)

What do you want the product to do?
Name recognition.
Solidify customer base
Continual advertisement/awareness
Increase sales

15-thousand different items
Gives you:
Targetability
Exposure
Longevity
Goodwill
Motivation

Customer loyalty up as much as 12% when items are used.

13,000 distributors. Some simply sell from the catalog. Others are as interested in finding new products as you are. They work to build package with you.

A Banner Year

First published in Baltimore Magazine

Cathy Gathmann’s clients just love a good traffic jam.
The owner of Phoenix Air Ads, a banner-towing outfit based at Baltimore Air Park, says business is up even during the week these days, with her pilots being paid to track down what she calls “captive audiences.” Her banner-towing planes fly the beltway loop during rush hour with orders to circle traffic jams. “Those people aren’t going anywhere,” says Gathmann. “It’s perfect.”
But airlifting her media messages to the masses hasn’t always been so easy. Gathmann remembers Preakness 1996 all too well. Phoenix Air Ads was in its first year and she had a full schedule of customers who had hired her to fly banners over the racetrack.
The trouble was, the weather wouldn’t cooperate. She watched her day’s profits dissolve in the drizzle and fog.
Happily, business has taken off since that inauspicious beginning. Now in its fourth year, Phoenix Air Ads has doubled its sales each year to about $110,000 in 1998. On a good day, the fleet of four planes flies as many as 20 different messages; each plane slowly performs an airborne ballet over an event for an hour before returning to Baltimore Air Park (adjacent to I-95) to drop the old message and to snag a new one.
Much of Phoenix Air’s business is tied to the baseball and football schedules. The dates of the Oriole’s home games are highlighted on the large, wall-mounted calendar in the office, and the clients are already booked: restaurants, radio stations, Internet providers, and others.
“The Preakness, Artscape, county fairs all mean business for us,” says Gathmann, who owns the business with her husband Jay. “Last year, the Bay Bridge Walk was the same day as the start of the Whitbread Race. That was a really big day for us.”
For customers, it’s also affordable. Prices for a one-hour tow of a simple message start at $350. Tally the number of stationary truck drivers stuck at Security Boulevard on a Friday afternoon, and that’s pennies per person to deliver the message.
There’s no banner-towers’ association, but Phoenix Air, Condor Aviation, and other smaller operators keep in touch and sometimes share equipment.
“There are two types of people who get into banner-towing. One is a company like us that runs as a full-time business,” says Gathmann. “The other is the guy who figures that this is a great way to pay for his flying hobby. He doesn’t realize everything that’s involved and usually doesn’t last very long.”
One factor is the inventory. A hangar at the airport is filled with the equipment Gathmann’s staff needs to build and tow the banners. Racks of nylon letters five and seven feet tall stand 20 deep along one wall. Tow ropes are coiled in buckets. “Billboards” made of rip-stop nylon are stacked in neat rolls on the floor. The letters alone are worth a combined $30,000.
While most of the messages are flying commercials, about 7 percent of Phoenix Air Ads’ missions are personal messages.
And recently, she tried to pull a political message, too, but ran into some unexpected flak. Gathmann’s firm was hired by Cuban-American opponents of Fidel Castro to pull three anti-Castro banners over Camden Yards during the recent visit by the Cuban baseball team. But when air traffic controllers learned what the banners said (“Cuba Si; Castro No”), the ordered the plane out of the airspace. Banner-towing firms that faced similar problems the same day say it was an unconstitutional effort to censure divisive political statements during the game.
“I don’t blame the controllers,” Gathmann told a newspaper at the time. “Somebody was pulling the strings.”
-0-

Distinct Features: Moving from Commercial Video to Feature Films

First Published in Avid Pronet

Forget Hollywood. The new hot spot for feature films is…
Ottawa, Canada?

That’s the master plan for Distinct Features, a production house that’s starting to get serious attention for its low-budget, high-quality feature films. With two features completed and three more in post-production, it’s moving towards realizing the dream of many small production houses – that of becoming a feature film studio.

Like many independent film studios, Distinct Features began life producing corporate and commercial videos. Derrick Diorio set up shop in Ottawa six years ago with an Avid Media Composer 8000 with the film option, a small staff, and a lot of ambition.

One of the staff was a 20-year-old film editor fresh out of college, Garry Tutte. Like his boss, Tutte wanted to work on feature films, but getting any sort of editing job satisfied him.

“When I first started, corporate videos were great. I was just happy to be working in my field and doing my thing.” Five years later, he’s Distinct Feature’s senior editor\designer. The designer part comes in because “I do a lot of the graphic design work as well as the editing.”

Ottawa is Canada’s capital city. Being a government town, there was a lot of work to be had. For five years, Diorio worked at building recognition with quality commercials and corporate and government work, until it raised the money for its first feature, a 16mm opus called “Two’s a Mob.” A parody of the Mafia movies popular at the time, it was – in Tutte’s words – “a great learning experience.”

It was back to the commercial realm then, but the emphasis was shifting. Diorio Productions changed its name to Distinct Features, moved to bigger facilities, and “changed our mindset as much as anything else.”

Using “Two’s a Mob” for entry, the studio pulled together financing for a three-picture deal. The first was “House of Luk,” a 35mm feature starring Pat Morita (“Karate Kid”) and Michael Moriarity (“Law & Order”). It was accepted into the Montreal and Palm Springs International Film Festivals. The second of the three, “A Taste of Jupiter” with Terri Garr (“Mr. Mom”) and Eli Wallach (“The Magnificent Seven”) has been submitted to those festivals and the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals as well. Tutte’s starting to edit the third, “House of Death.” He’s looking at completing all of them by the end of the year.

Although features are everyone’s heart’s desire, Distinct Features continues to solicit and produce corporate and commercial work. While it’s a largely economic decision, Tutte says it’s also a good creative move.

“You are editing for a different end in a lot of respects, which does take a bit of shifting gears. You spend a month or two months doing a first cut on a feature, whereas a commercial is in and out in two days.”

The commercial work often walks through the door while Tutte is in the middle of editing the feature. But he discovered while editing “A Taste of Jupiter” that those interruptions are often good.

“You really get into the movie when you are editing it. My biggest fear would be that all that thought would be gone and you’d have to start from scratch to get back into the groove.

“Oddly enough, it worked out really well because you got this forced break. There’s always one scene that you’ve had trouble with, and after the corporate gig, you’d find – not that the corporate inspired you so much as you’d had a break from the feature. You’d come back and watch the scene and see how to get around the problem.

“Editing is a career that involves a small, dark room with a bunch of monitors and a life of white, pasty, untanned skin. If you are going to be working in a career that really draws you in like that, it’s nice to have a variety that lets you shift gears and lets you work differently so you get to come back fresh on both sides.”

Tutte finds the technical differences between corporate and feature work are as significant as the creative differences.

“What we’ve had to do is up our game a lot on the video and industrial side. For our corporate videos, we’ve ramped up with dropping in facilities for more graphics and more compositing and faster speeds for rendering 3-D effects or multi-layered effects. We’re using other products, like Adobe Affecteffects to do some typography work and that type of thing. We’ve had to get uncompressed options to continue keeping up with what people expect.

“But with the film side, we haven’t changed a thing and we probably won’t change a thing. The Film Composer works great. It’s solid. We’ve gone the matchback route out of it. We’ve gone straight to working essentially in 24 frames per second progressive editing.”

In addition to the Media Composer 8000 with the film option, purchased when Diorio first started 6 years ago, Distinct Features depends on the entire Adobe After-Effects Suite for in-house editing work. They give Tutte a solid editing suite. But no matter how advanced the equipment, the basics are never out of vogue.

“There are all kinds of new, incredible products for editing, for video, for composing, and that type of thing, but as far as film goes, it’s almost history repeating itself. If you go back to the traditional days of film, you’ve got a neg cutter and editors, and they are basically hacking away at the movie and building it. When you are editing a movie on a computer, you’re always just off-lining on a computer system. You’re piecing it together, and the film composer is allowing you to make all these changes and try these scenarios out, and when you are done, you output a cut list and it goes back to the traditional neg cutter assembling the movie.”

The 35mm abilities used for the feature films are also used for Distinct Feature’s commercial products. Since they own a 16mm and 35mm camera package and a basic lighting rig for 35mm, they pitch their commercial presentations on the fact that it will be shot on film. That translates into another asset for the house. Since Ottawa has a limited crew, every commercial means more film experience for everyone involved.

The other major technical consideration is moving into the HD realm. “House of Luk” was recently mastered to high definition from the film print. That was not done in-house, but by Eyes Post, a post-production house in Toronto.

“The guys in Toronto did all our color correcting and transferred our film to a digital domain. We did all the color correcting electronically there and then mastered it to a HD cam tape and that’s where the movie lives.”

Eventually, purchasing HD equipment and doing that work in-house is possible, but right now, it’s more practical to out-source it.

“If you are doing enough volume, it makes more sense to do it yourself. But right now, with HD gear, they are still kind of fluttering around different formats. A lot of it is starting to get nailed down, and Sony’s doing quite well at cornering off that end of the market with their Beta SP formats and digital Beta formats, but there are other people who have taken the risk of that gear. For the amount of volume we are doing, it makes sense to let them deal with it.”

Both “A Taste of Jupiter” and “House of Death” will also be mastered to HD. The three films slated to be shot in 2002 might also be shot HD. It’s another case of technical abilities matching economic possibilities. A new, small, independent production company needs to sell its product. While critics and moviegoers have liked what they’ve seen so far, praise doesn’t pay the bills or finance the next production. Distribution and paying customers do.

“People are going to need HD product shortly, especially from the film end. What we are getting from the film and TV markets around the world is that people ask about HD and they’re told that nobody is buying that stuff right now. It’s an incredibly practical way to master a movie. It’s a perfect place to make copies from and to duplicate for TV sales or what have you. And you’re also in the position of having HD product available for that kind of market.”

DVDs also interest Distinct Features. They’ve dropped in TV Studio Pro on a Macintosh G-4 and are going down the road of authoring their own DVDs. It’s a case of trying to anticipate future demand.

“I’ve never seen where anyone has used the interactive part of the DVDs except for the Director’s Commentary or to show outtakes. We’re heading down a road where we can experiment a little more.”

One of those experiments may involve “House of Luk.” The film is set in a Chinese restaurant where three characters see their fates changed based on the fortune in their fortune cookies. It’s essentially three stories blended together.

“We realized that this movie would lend itself to being re-cut and do each story on its own. We can do a scenario so that you can watch just a separate story. It would be only 30 minutes long, but that’s a more interesting thing to do with a DVD. From an editing standpoint, you get to have some fun with the DVD allowing you to re-cut three mini-movies out of this bigger movie. It’s doing something on a second level at the DVD stage.”

Low-budget for Distinct Features means a full-length, 35mm film produced for under $1-million. That rules out elaborate special effects and mega-stars mega-salaries. That’s not the sort of film the company wants to make, anyway.

“Overall, we are a story-based company. Even in our industrials and that sort of thing, we always have a story line, and we always have a flow through everything, because that makes it more interesting.

“I’ve seen what other people are cranking out and what some of the major people pass off got entertainment. We’re making an entire feature for probably their catering budget.”

-0-