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.
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. 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. Soon there will be film that he shot, edited, and produced over a span of 30 years from 1937 1967.
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.
Grace McKay: The common word to describe his business is news stringer. We've created a partnership just beginning this year going forward to capture news footage live. His footage is sold to local television news operations. The larger goal is to develop a nationwide network of stringers, a system of collecting and organizing stock footage on a nationwide basis for both local, immediate local news distribution and long-term archival stock footage.
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. We have www.elksoup.com under development that is not yet populated but will be a place for public domain educational films going back to the 30s and up to the 70s. We've got a bunch of them so we will be working on that this year.
OCS: It that separate from the collection of dramas you have?
Grace McKay: Yes, we have another collection of approximately 1,000 to 1,500 feature films, television shows from the 20s to the 60s, public domain television shows. We’re currently working through that collection and publishing DVDs on another website, www.vintagefilmbuff.com from that collection. We’ve completed about 350 titles and have about 1,000 to go. Some of those will be available for live streaming for free from another website. All currently are under development
OCS: You’ve been doing this for the past 5 or 6 years. 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 a mediocre video but 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 cool. We decided we should do this so we got started getting into the film / Telecine business.
OCS: Will the free streaming site be advertiser supported?
Grace McKay: The sites where we stream for free will be advertiser supported, so we’ll be selling banner ads and video roll-ins
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 free-mium. 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 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 three years 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.
OCS: 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.
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, mockup 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.
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 afraid of the film as it had an odor like vinegar due to the film starting to deteriorate, the way film does. She was afraid of stories of nitric fires and explosions and thought 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, Emmet (Kessel, 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 Emmet gets a lot of credit for his perseverance and doing that hard work on that, of putting it together and is still working on a few stray reels.
We made contact with a guy 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 Phillipines in 1940. There's some interesting stuff from pre-War II. Japanese soldiers in occupied Shanghai, in color, really unusual.
OCS: You’ve been in the Orange County most of your career. Any ideas on where the business is going?
Grace McKay: I have no idea. The old pros are fighting with the children with cameras to get the last buck that remains in video production budgets and the old pros are on the way out.
OCS: And for people just entering the business, what advice would you offer?
Grace McKay: Probably one out of a 100 kids can actually do a job in this business. The competition is huge. You need to be super wildly creative, willing to work for nothing for 10 or 15 years. You need good survival skills. You need to be an entrepreneur on the level of Jack Welch or Donald Trump or somebody like that. It is a business of entrepreneurs, creative entrepreneurs. You need both.
OCS: One last thing, while I know Emmet is retired but still doing ‘freelance’ work for your projects, anyone who knows you, knows you as Grace and Emmet. You have both volunteered a lot of time for the good of the business. Can you share some information about how you two met and your public service activities?
Grace McKay: We’ve been together for some 15 years. I think we met at a PVN meeting or an MCAI meeting producing a swap meet. . I Think I Ended up being on the board of PVN and at some point I became president of MCAI-LA that was later combined with MCAI OC and I’ve remained active in that ever since. I was also on the board of MAOC for a while.