How the Loveridge family of filmmakers survived the pandemic.
Even though there might be light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, my sense of time still seems warped. That’s probably why it feels like a century since I last saw Perry and Sari Loveridge in person. (Come on, David, it wasn’t that long ago you were shooting on their sound stage … or was it?)
Portland’s intrepid film & video couple founded Picture This Production Services in 1985 and have been going strong ever since — so strong, in fact, that their sons Hunter (24) and Carson (27) are now key players in their operation. They weren’t even a twinkle in their parent’s eyes when the Pix-This adventure began. I hooked up with them on Zoom the other day to check in on their status:
From Perry’s viewpoint, the pandemic put a “pretty good-sized hole in the boat.” But after he described the situation to me, it sounded more like a Titanic-sized hole. Live events are a huge chunk of their business. Until COVID, Perry and his team travelled all over the world with their staging equipment, camera gear and LED video walls, providing live video presentation and entertainment services for major corporate events. These kinds of projects are booked far in advance. So at first, Hunter thought, “A lot can change in a few weeks, we can wait it out.” But within two months, the entire year had been cancelled.
“I don’t like challenges where I have no time to prepare, you know, like getting hit by a train and then having to react afterwards,” Carson said. “It was frustrating. And scary.”
Ah, the metaphors. Sinking boats, runaway trains, rugs pulled out from under. We all know the feeling. Perry said, “Forget the rug, it was like a trap door.”
Earlier in the conversation, I had asked Perry about the pressures of doing live event work and he joked, “There ain’t no take two. You damn well better make sure that take one will be gold.” That’s why Perry and his team insist that their event clients rehearse from cue-to-cue before going live. Well, it seems to me there was no way any of us could have rehearsed for COVID. But as it turns out, Take Two is possible after all:
The next generation to the rescue. Yep, that’s a double entendre. It was the next generation, Hunter and Carson, who came up with a plan, and that plan was next generation tech — in-camera VFX and extended reality (XR) production. You know, the stuff the Mandalorian is made of.
The point of this technology, at least for this story is that you don’t have to go on location. You can travel to multiple locations while standing in place — on one COVID-proof, controlled stage. Here’s an example of Picture This’ amazing VFX work:
Like the proud father he is, Perry said, “Carson and Hunter came up with this pivot for VFX that not a lot of people in the country were doing. We’ve already had great success with it, and that pulled us right out of the dumpster.” (I know, I know. Metaphors abound. I love ‘em!)
Utilizing large-scale LED backdrops and camera tracking tied to 3D rendering software, this cutting-edge tech enables filmmakers to create the illusion of a subject in a virtual environment. XR differs from green screen by allowing you to make changes on the fly, see the content before it’s produced, and walk away with finished footage in the can. No green screen, no foreground and background layers, no compositing. Man, that stuff is almost old school already.
Anyway, Picture This was well-positioned for this pivot. In the first place, they are well-versed in green screen tech, own the largest portable green screen in the Northwest, and have been producing real-time live-event green-screen content for years. Then came LED screen technology. They got their feet wet early and they were soon building 70-foot-wide LED video walls for presenting live and pre-recorded content for their event clients. So when it came to capturing live action on video with LED screens providing the backgrounds, Picture This was already half-way there.
It was Hunter and his Project Manager Justin Rapp who first thought of pivoting to the VFX-XR platforms. “When we started looking into this, we realized we have the wall and the computers,“ Hunter said. “Now, all we have to do is put the rigging and the computers together and get the software figured out.” Being in the business they’re in with its constantly changing technology — and deeply experienced in learning and utilizing new niche/specialized technology — Hunter and Justin were undaunted by the challenges of adapting Unreal Engine gaming technology to their challenge. So they took the idea to Carson. Carson signed on, and the three of them took it up the ladder to Sari and Perry. And the rest is history.
Oh yeah, are we on a metaphorical roll or what?!
As the story goes, Picture This COO and CMO Sari Loveridge had the last word. “Go for it.”
But one last thing. Even with the financial challenges brought on by the pandemic and the risks involved in pivoting to a new and expensive technology, it was the loss of human connection with staff, crews and clients that hit the Loveridge’s the hardest when the pandemic took hold. “We knew when things started going south and we were going to invest in technology, we also knew we had to invest in our people,” Perry said. “You can buy all the new technology you want, but in the end, if we’re not all on the same page together, working and having fun together, what’s the point?”
You can bet that the next generation feels the same way. When I asked Carson if he had any encouraging words for fellow OMPA members, he said, ”It was a tough year for everybody and I know this has been said a million times, but we really are all in it together, and together we’ll make it through it all. “
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Send me an accurate list of all the metaphors in this column and I’ll buy you a cup of socially-distanced coffee. First come first served. — D
ABOUT THE AUTHOR | DAVID POULSHOCK
David Poulshock is a writer/director based in the Northwest whose preferred genre is magical realism. davidpoulshock.com
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