Interbay studio provides latest in high-def video

Movie magic goes on every day on 15th Avenue West at Victory Studios, a pioneer in high-definition video.

And with tens of millions of dollars' worth of equipment, nine editing rooms, a core staff of around 52 and hundreds of freelancers, the business keeps pretty busy, says Kurt Horn, director of operations. They do it all, too, from production to post-production, he said.

But the focus used to be narrower, said Mark MacDonald, president of the company. "We used to be purely post-production only."

Conrad Denke, who founded the company with his wife Laura, said he felt the community needed a place for post-production services where people requiring the services wouldn't have to worry about having their clients stolen by the post-production company, MacDonald said.

That was in the early 1980s, when video started to hit the scene. Denke was one of the first in Seattle to embrace the electronic medium in favor of film, MacDonald said. "He's a visionary."

It was an ahead-of-the-curve change for Denke, who originally started out in 1978 as a filmmaker in a small house in Ballard. The company, American Motion Pictures, was behind the award-winning "Tunnels Under Chicago" and an award-winning film on soil surveys commissioned by the Weyerhaeuser Corporation, according to the company's Web site.

The foray into video led to the formation of the American Video Laboratory, which moved to its present location in a building that used to be a military-induction center, MacDonald said. The company also has a large sound stage in Fremont, he said.

But as electronics have gotten cheaper, equipment that used to cost $180,000 to $200,000 now sells for around $3,000, MacDonald said. And that was a problem for the company, which was renamed Victory Studios a few years ago in a rebranding move. "As technology got less expensive, everybody thought, 'I'll buy my own system.'"

That led to more competition and the theft of clients by the new guys on the block, he said. "Post-production started to die." And there simply wasn't enough work to support the infrastructure, according to MacDonald. "So we knew we had to get into production."

Having all the post-production equipment helped. "It's the only facility in the Northwest to have every element for production and post-production work," he said.

Besides Weyerhaeuser, Victory Studios has such corporate clients as Safeco and it does production and post-production work for the Seahawks and the Huskies, he said.

The company also will videotape last wills and testaments, meetings and depositions, MacDonald said. In addition, the company produces commercials, movies, documentaries and broadcast television shows, he said of just some of the company's other services (see sidebar).

High-definition video capability was a welcome addition to Victory Studios in the late 1990s, according to director of operations Horn. High-definition video has six times the resolution of regular video. "It's like looking in a window," he said.

The company was on the cutting edge with the new technology, according to MacDonald. "We had the very first digital hi-def editing system in the United States," he said. It was a Sony system, and Victory Studios helped Sony work out some of the bugs, MacDonald added.

MacDonald said he firmly believes that high-definition video is the wave of the future. The goal of trying to make video look like film has largely been achieved, and video has an economic benefit because, unlike film, it doesn't need to be processed, he said.

MacDonald predicts fundamental changes in the movie industry because of high-definition video. "Eventually we'll get to the point where movie houses won't show films," he said. Instead, the movies will be projected digitally and from satellite downloads, MacDonald said. "The unions are going to hate it."

Victory Studios has an affiliate in Los Angeles where the movie industry is centered, at least by tradition. But Seattle has its points, MacDonald said.

"We actually used to do a lot of movies," he said of the city. But Hollywood changed its production focus to Toronto and Vancouver in Canada. "This place dried up, and post-production houses were dropping like flies," MacDonald grimaced.

But there's a core group of talented artists in Seattle who love the city, and the state finally has tax incentives for post-production companies, he added. "The whole industry is starting to grow again."

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at or 461-1309.[[In-content Ad]]