Spotlight on Grace McKay (edited to make me look good, or at least OK, and to update it)

Editor’s Note:  Anyone who knows Grace McKay knows her as one of the hardest working, can-do people in our industry.  If you need something to work, bring it to Grace and she’ll figure it out.  Grace is also extremely generous with her time, serving on many industry association boards to help others get started and succeed.  She has traveled a unique and interesting path and keeps reinventing her business as times change and continues to the lead the ways for others.  I’ll reference a number of websites in this article that Grace has created. She has developed an expertise in creating websites with Joomla and is a great resource to build a quality website quickly, at a reasonable cost.

Film Transfer Services: Telecine

OCS:    Give us some sense of all the services that you have and continue to provide as Electric Pictures TV.
Grace McKay:    My business is divided up into segments.  Certainly one of those businesses is film to tape transfer of material that is primarily archival.   Transfers include feature films down to home movies.  We have some unique telecines that can scan regular 8mm movies, Super 8mm, super 16,  35mm,  the whole range of available of film formats.  So it’s kind of unusual to have broadcast quality Telecine for the time-span range of film we convert so we get really good results.  We have this equipment because we got involved with the film collection of about three to four hundred thousand feet of 16mm film.  So part of the business is herding that film collection from film to tape to web to stock footage sales.  To market these products we have websites under development.

Film and Videotape Libraries

Grace McKay: One of the libraries we are converting will be available at www.FrancisLine.com,  There’s no footage on there right now but there are a bunch of stories posted about Francis Line who was a documentary filmmaker, travelogue documentary filmmaker and  there are a bunch of interesting stories on that website.  (Note from Grace: Our plan now is to host the Francis Line Films right here on VintageFilmChannel.)
OCS:    Will that primarily be a celebration of his life and his work, for sale, or a combination?
Grace McKay:    Other than the footage that is available for stock footage for productions, we’ve already had a number of sales to broadcast documentaries of that footage, both in the US, Europe and Asia.  We bought the collections and own the footage.  We own the copyright.

Another collaboration we have is with John Coleman and his partners in the Performance Plus Television Show and several others shows they own.  I have the rights to their library to market that and are currently developing a website for that library called  www.PerformanceplusTV.com We’re currently on at beta on that site.  I’ve got a couple of other stock footage websites that are in development with various different types of footage.  (Note from Grace: current plans are to house the Performance Plus programs here on VintageFilmChannel.com)

OCS:    It that separate from the collection of dramas you have?
Grace McKay:    Yes, we have another collection of approximately 3,000 to 3,500 feature films, television shows from the 20s to the 60s, public domain television shows.  We’re currently working through that collection and publishing them here on www.vintagefilmchannel.com from that collection.  We’ve digitized about 1000 titles and have about 2500 to go.  This is the core of our collection, but not everything. We have untold thousands of school films, and many industrial films and commercials as well.

OCS:    You’ve been doing this for a while.  What did you reinvent yourself from?
Grace McKay:   I started in the video business.  For a year I worked on weddings, and found out what a grueling hell that was but I got an opportunity to do a short-term edit project for the Boeing Corporation, at that time McDonnell Douglas.  I was given a box of Betacam tapes and told to make a program and was given 3 days to turn 40 tapes into a three-minute program for them.  It was an OK video and they loved it and I proceeded to work for them for about 10 years as a shooter and editor and did hundreds of programs.  That’s mostly my production life.  I was doing that kind of stuff and then lots of other production jobs for a bunch of different companies, mostly industrial film kinds of projects.

When we found the 16mm film collection I think everything changed because you can actually see the pictures on film, you can hold it up to the light and see the pictures.  That was very cool.  We decided we should do this so we got started getting into the Film / Telecine business.

Websites and Video Distribution

OCS:    You are obviously building expertise in video oriented websites.
Grace McKay:    We’re getting into building websites that are video and archive related, both the new paywall kind of sites and streaming sites that are free or freemium.  So part of the ongoing efforts here are how to move video to the web effectively in terms of quality and user experience and usability of the sites.  From video producer’s point of view it’s important to figure out how to monetize a library so that’s a focus that we’ve been spending a lot of time on.  I’m probably an expert on that but I’m not really sure yet.

OCS:    I’ll be quite honest, the reason I find you so impressive is that for the time since I’ve known you, besides the fact that you are incredibly smart and can solve all sorts of problems that might just frustrate others and have them give up, is that you always seem to have time to help people, without a price tag on it, because you just like to help people, almost like a built in pay it forward.
Grace McKay:    It’s selfish, it just feels good to help people.  That’s all.

OCS:    Was there an aha! moment when you knew you were going to be in this business?
Grace McKay:    (laughter with great gusto)  Years back, I took a job-training test and one of the choices was producer/director and I thought that would be a good thing so I decided  I’ll do that.  Anyway, I took the two year course at Saddleback College and got their degree and realized that I just had to go out and do things and teach myself from there on out.  I have strong technical and problem solving skills, an engineering background but also a creative bent you don’t get to play with using engineering technical stuff so it was sort of the way to explore the creative side.

OCS:    So when taking these courses in film school you knew you really enjoyed this stuff.
Grace McKay:    It was big fun.

The Boeing Years

grace300px-c17_aircraft_altOCS:    Of all the projects you’ve been involved with, are there one or two that stand out?
Grace McKay:    Not specific projects, but groups of things.   I loved working with Boeing.  Being around those massive airplanes.  I spent a huge amount of time with the C-17.  That airplane is huge and is so cool and was the subject of some of the most fun shoots.  For instance, when they deliver them to the Air Force, they are incredibly expensive piece of equipment, $159 million or so, they often have a ceremony as part of the delivery.  They often have a video of the ceremony and we would shoot 3-4 camera videos.   And as soon at that was done, the Air Force guys accepting the airplane would fly off to whatever airbases they were going to, so we would jump in a van and race down the runway at Long Beach Airport and park in the middle of the airport next to the runway.  We would shoot the takeoffs of the delivery, so these airplanes rush by at 200 miles an hour on the ground and just jump into the air.  You’re standing right next to it and photographing it, that’s pretty cool. My favorite person at Boeing is my friend Ross Mishima, who first hired me. Thanks, Ross.

There was a lot of fun stuff at Boeing and I remember one project that was way back that I did that was fun and it was that they had this experimental prototype of plane they called the BWB, blended wing body airframe.  Basically it’s a flying wing.  The full-scale plane has never been built.  The prototype was a 17 foot, to-scale, mock-up of the real plane and they used it for flight test and simulation.  They custom-built computers and wrote custom software to fly this airplane and had two prop motors on it.  In the airplane business they have this thing called first flight which is the first official time the airplane goes in the air.  This is when they learn whether it’s a winner or a loser, so Boeing rented or got control of El Mirage Dry Lake near Mohave and I went out there for a week with a Betacam and shot the week of preparations and the ceremony of the first flight.  I got beautiful shots of this very unusual airplane and it was a great week and I did a bunch of editing and put a bunch of programs together based on the footage and they never went to the next step for the project.  They were looking for $100 million from the Air Force to build the fighter prototype concept and then the other version was an 800 passenger commercial airliner.  They were working on two tracks that never happened.  But I think there’s still some engineering work being done on it and I occasionally see on Discovery, or The History channel, footage I shot that week when they talk about what’s coming in airplane design, that’s fun. (note from Grace: The BWB technology found it’s way into many of the later developed drones that are flying today. The lead engineer on this project is a guy named Abe Karem, who developed the original Predator drone back in the early 1990’s)

Francis Line’s Lost Film Footage

I guess the other thing is the when I discovered this lost library of 16mm film.  Basically this film was going to be thrown away when we acquired it from a guy who rescued it from a dumpster when the estate sale happened for Francis Line.  His daughter was concerned because the film had an odor like vinegar due to the film starting to deteriorate, the way film does.  She was had heard of stories of nitrate fires and explosions and thought perhaps the film was dangerous.  An antiques dealer who was there saw they were throwing it away and knew that it shouldn’t be destroyed, so we rescued it.  We made the purchase and it stank up our house for a month as we sorted through it, aired it out, and then we found eight sound productions that he had made for educational and some one of them, actually the very first one, was really a highly acclaimed piece of work.  It was considered lost and we found it and resurrected it and for the next couple years, Emmett (ED: Kesel, her husband) spent an awful lot of time splicing it together.  He made it into a film we could actually have a look at, project, or transfer and so we worked on that for a long time, and Emmett gets a lot of credit for his perseverance and doing that hard work of putting it together.

Stock Footage

We met a great guy Adrian Wood at the BBC who was working with KCTS public television (Seattle PBS).  They were producing a program about World War II.  This guy was the specialist in World War II In Color.   He worked on the series for Granada television with BBC that was aired in Europe and he was doing a show resurrecting color footage from WWII   He came and paid us a visit and he and Emmet spent a lot of time looking at our footage and cataloging making notes and even wound up doing some consulting for him.

Subsequently we sold footage to six or eight other programs, a couple in Japan, Germany, France, and Canada of all out of the Francis Line collection.  Probably the most unusual shots were from Shanghai in 1940.  There’s color footage of Japan in 1940, color film didn’t exist in Asia at that time.  This is the only color footage shot in Japan, Singapore, and the Philippines in 1940.  There’s some interesting stuff from pre-War II.  Japanese soldiers in occupied Shanghai, in color, really unusual.

Source: Thanks to Art Kirsch and  OCShowBiz  Art’s latest venture with John Coleman is CelebratingAct2.com