Craig Bentley is president of Imageworks, a video production company he founded in San Diego in 1986.  

He earned a film and television degree from San Diego State University, where he graduated with distinction in his major field. While at SDSU, he was chosen by the American Cinema Editors as one of the top three student editors in the nation. In the 80s, Craig managed one of the first interactive video networks in the industry for a national home center chain. Since founding Imageworks, he has written, produced and directed a wide variety of videos for clients such as Coca-Cola, VISA and IBM. Industry recognition includes Tellys, Auroras and Communicator awards.

He grew up in Orange County, graduating from Troy High in Fullerton.  As a kid, he was a big movie and TV fan, and even helped a friend's older brother with some Super 8 films for a class he had at Cal State Fullerton.  But he never considered it as a career and started college at what is now Claremont McKenna College as a pre-law major.  Bored with pre-law classes, and encouraged by another student, he took a film class and started making short films.  Claremont didn't offer a film major, so he ended up in the film dept. at San Diego State University.  While there, he ended up being nominated for the A.C.E. Eddy Student Editing award.

His senior project professor at SDSU encouraged him to shoot for the moon, so he and his partners wrote a 40-minute sci-fi epic.  They didn't even finish shooting it before graduation day came!  (More on that later.)  While at SDSU, he interned in the video dept. for a national home center chain - Handyman.  Very advanced stuff for a corporate video dept. in the late 70s - every store had a Betamax-based video kiosk with a random access controller provided by Videodetics in Anaheim.  They could do menu-style point-of-sale playback for customers, as well as employee training, with a testing and feedback function built into the video!

Upon finishing classes at SDSU, he ended up freelancing as a PA and a Grip for various production companies in San Diego, as well as for Handyman.  When Handyman had a staff job open up, he took it, and ended up managing the video dept a couple of years later.  On the very day they finished upgrading and rebuilding the edit suite and duplication center, including re-wiring everything from scratch, the company announced it was going out of business.  Somehow, to himself and the friend who worked for him in the department (who was also a partner on the senior project film at SDSU), it sounded easier to start their own production company than to find new staff jobs elsewhere, not realizing that running their own production company meant essentially finding a new job/client every few weeks.

Imageworks came to life in 1986 (for the record, way before Sony Pictures' Imageworks), with the first few years being very lean.  But in 1988, they had several weeks of steady work on dealer footage for a company out of Detroit, and could afford to take a couple of months off.  They got permission from their film professor at SDSU to edit their film on video, had all the selects transferred to 3/4", and spent those two months editing and adding all the rotoscoping-type effects the film needed.  After having an incomplete for 9 years, they finally got their film degrees!  At the time, they were told it was a school record, but a good friend Bill Holshevnikoff eventually broke that record, getting his degree twenty-some years after leaving the school.

After five years of lean living, just when their client base got to the point where they had a steady income, his partner tired of the industry and Craig bought him out.  For the last twenty years he has kept Imageworks going, with 1-3 employees helping out, working on a wide variety of mostly corporate and government video.

His clients are too numerous to list in this article but a sample, yes, just a sample, includes: American Express, Coca-Cola Enterprises, Delta Airlines, DIC Group, digital OutPost, Dimension One Spas, Discover Financial Services, Fisher Scientific, HP/Convex Technology, Hughes Network Systems, IBM/Lotus, ITT Hartford, Intrepid Museum, Irvine Police Department, KPBS-TV, MasterCard Int'l, MCA Records, MTV, Merck Pharmaceuticals, New York Life Insurance, San Diego People First, Schumacher, Scott, Foresman, Sharp HealthCare, SmithKline Beecham, Sony, University of California, San Diego, Visa USA, and the list goes on.

In 2007, he hired a young kid named Kevin Tostado who had recently graduated from, of all places, a Boston engineering college.  Craig quickly realized what a genius Kevin was, and when Kevin began talking about a documentary on the board game Monopoly he was starting on the side, Craig paid close attention.  Being a big fan of competition docs like Spellbound, Wordplay and King of Kong, Craig was intrigued by the project.

Craig initially came on board only as a consulting producer, figuring he had built up some industry connections over the years that could help Kevin out.  He soon elevated to a co-producer, then a producer.  He ended up also being a co-writer and co-editor, putting in more hours than he ever imagined.  Most of those hours, though, were in 2009 and early 2010, in the middle of the recession, so it was perfect timing since his regular business was down by almost 50%.

They completed the film Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story ( in Fall of 2010, and won the Audience Award at their first festival in Anaheim.  They're currently in the middle of booking it in theaters across the nation, having completed runs in San Diego, New York, Apple Valley, Anaheim, and Tempe, AZ.  They've signed a home video distribution deal with New Video, one of the top companies for documentaries, with release in those markets set for this fall.

Producing a feature-length doc for theatrical  home video distribution has been one of the great rollercoaster rides of his life - something he had always wanted to do and hopes to keep doing.

Interview with Craig Bentley
OCS:    What was the time between finishing SDSU and getting your degree?
Craig:    Well, actually for a while, I was told I held the record for clearing up the incomplete I had on my final project film class.  It took me nine years because it took that long to finish my senior project film.  

OCS:    Why the delay?
Craig:    I was working in the industry and getting freelance jobs and time slipped away until my partner on the film and I got some time to take a couple of months off and finish the film.  

OCS:    What possessed you to hire Kevin Tostado, your eventual partner in Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story,  given his non-film training?
Craig:    I met Kevin at a San Diego MCAI meeting and got to know him, knew he was looking for a job.  At that time I was in a mode of hiring two to three candidates as crew members and see who did the best work and then pick that person to hire on staff.  I had a sense Kevin would be the guy I’d hire and he has proven to be all I had hoped for and more.  I guess it proves the value of networking.

OCS:    How significant was your work at Handyman?
Craig:    Handyman was actually a great opportunity for me.  I started there as an intern while I was in college, then started working there freelance, and eventually was hired on staff.  I rose to managing the video department.  Not only was it a great experience, I took to the corporate lifestyle, paid off my student debts and might have stayed there a long time had they not gone out of business.  

OCS:    You got to do everything.
Craig:    Basically it was only a two to three person video department so we wore many hats.   

OCS:    Besides Monopoly, what are some of the highlights of your career so far?
Craig:    Getting to direct some very well know celebrities in Police training videos where they were connected to a cause we were doing a video about.   People like Kathleen Quinlan, Lindsey Wagner, Robert Conrad, and people like that.  More recently people like Jim Belushi on a K-9 project, and working pretty early on in some genres that were sort of experimental and ahead of their time like video conferencing.  At Handyman it was a random access controller of video in early 1980s, things like that.  Thinking generally, I suppose the main highlight is being able to work in a creative capacity while also raising a family with my wife Peggy.

OCS:    What was the worst problem you encountered in running a production company and how did you overcome it?
Craig:    Generally the biggest problem has been finding the next client, especially in a market like San Diego where there aren't a lot of corporate clients.  At a certain point you don’t have problems, just decisions to make so it just becomes a case of finding out the best way around things.  

OCS:    What are your future plans?
Craig:    That’s a good question.  I certainly have enjoyed my limited experience in the feature film world and would love to continue that and am currently deciding what projects to pursue, but in the meantime I still have my client base in the corporate and training video world and plan to continue that.  

OCS:    What advice would you give a young person entering the business today?
Craig:    First of all, network like crazy.  Get involved in any kind of associations or organizations just to meet people.  Always show professionalism and confidence.

For more information about Craig Bentley's company or to contact him, click on the logo below.


Monday, April 22, 2024