JOE BEL BRUNO Staff Reporter
For seven years, Chris Speer worked out of a spare bedroom crammed with memory chips and mother boards.
When an order came into his fledgling computer company New Media Hollywood he’d request an advance payment to purchase the equipment needed to complete the order. He didn’t even pay himself a salary in some of those early, lean years.
“I never had a crispy financial plan,” said Speer. “There was a time where I could have taken a salary and rented a $2,000-a-month apartment, but it was never about that for me. All I cared about was taking care of my customers and making this company grow.”
And grow it did.
Speer’s 12-year-old firm was one of the first in Los Angeles to provide production and post-production companies with high-tech computer equipment used for desktop editing of video and audio programming. His first clients included George Harrison’s Handmade Films and Ron Howard’s Imagine Films.
Speer then went on to capture business from Los Angeles’ major broadcast networks, most film studios and scores of independent production companies. Among his clients are Warner Bros., Sony Pictures Entertainment, Capitol Records, Spelling Entertainment and Universal Studios Inc.
“We’re doing custom solutions for our clients, changing the way people work with technology,” said Speer. “We’re making it possible for production people to do their work easier, and faster.”
The company posted revenues of $13.5 million in 1996, up from $3.5 million just five years ago.
Recognizing the potential of computers as creative tools, Speer made an early entry into desktop video, multimedia and computer editing. His company was among the first to sell the Video Toaster, which produces graphics commonly used in television and motion pictures.
Four years ago, New Media Hollywood moved out of Speer’s apartment and into a 10,000-square-foot facility in Hollywood. There, the company’s 35 employees hold training seminars, and rent out an array of editing bays to production companies.
Since founding his company, Speer has pioneered other new technologies, including AVID non-linear editing systems, Digidesign digital audio workstations and DayStar muli-processor products.
“We (must) keep up with technology, because everything is always based on how efficiently and quickly something can be done,” said Blaine Williams, a post-production supervisor at Greystone Communications, which produces television documentaries for cable networks. “We deal with New Media because they are good, and offer us quality services. They give very good tech support and can help us out at any hour we need it.”
These systems cost anywhere from $4,000 to $60,000; New Media Hollywood also rents them out for between $600 and $8,000 per month. The company also provides financing, if needed, or helps its customers secure financing.
Speer said some of his best clients are small production companies that perform contract work for major studios.
“They are the ones really on the cutting edge,” he said. “So, I watch out for them and they are producing for some of the hottest people in Hollywood.”
He attributes his company’s growth to staying on top of the newest technologies. To survive in that market, he said, businesses that depend on technology must be constantly looking towards the future.
In addition, Speer said he depends heavily on word-of-mouth referrals.
“Technology changes really fast in this industry, so our job is to identify the video and audio that will be used tomorrow and begin testing them out today,” he said. “Our growth depends on word-of-mouth and just doing a good job.”
Keeping abreast of the latest post-production innovations is exactly what a small company like Table Rock Productions of Studio City needs, said owner John Williams. The company used to spend as much as $800 an hour to have some of its production work completed by outside vendors, he said.
Now, Table Rock saves money and time by renting equipment from New Media Hollywood and using it to perform all its editing work in-house, he said. The company is using New Media equipment to produce video promotions for a new theme park being built in Florida by Walt Disney Co.
“You can’t just walk into a computer store and find anyone who is knowlegeable about what our needs are they aren’t going to know about video editing,” said Williams. “New Media is always on the cutting edge and because of them, we were able to bring things in-house. That lets us push the buttons ourselves, instead of having someone else do it for a lot more money.”