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San Diego: Perfecting Paradise, Copyright 1999 by Heritage Media Corporation


To quit a job and venture out on your own is daunting enough. For Jeff Freeman, that wasn't the half of it. During his years as a local TV news, documentary and production photographer, Freeman developed a working relationship with the Zoological Society of San Diego. Traversing brush and savanna in his spare time to document the zoo's international work, Freeman gained a reputation as an extraordinary wildlife photographer and documentarist. So deciding to leave the relative comfort of employment and start a video production company called Broadcast Images was easy. What followed immediately was not.

That first month in 1989 would bring Broadcast Images to the jungles of Papua New Guinea to shoot a documentary - no small task where the mercury routinely pegs 120 degrees and rains fall six hours each day. More uncomfortable still was the weight of the brand new Betacam - the bulk of company assets at the time on Freeman's sweaty shoulder. This was not a hospitable place for man or machine, especially a delicate electronic one.

Freeman and crew were traveling with zoo researchers. The objective of the video was to document the scientists' work and tell the story of this remote and isolated island north of Australia. The party visited places on earth where they thought no one had likely been before. One spot offered the ghostly remains of a B-17 bomber, crashed and permanently snarled in a jungle thicket. Freeman's footage of the wreck poignantly reminds us of the far reaches of World War II. But discovery wasn't the travelers' alone. After shooting a ceremonial dance in a remote village where mirrors were unknown, let alone electricity and television, Freeman played back his footage to the villagers' bewilderment and delight.

The Papua New Guinea project set the tone for much of Broadcast Images' future. The team of broadcast professionals Freeman put together has documented events all over the world. From China to Costa Rica, Australia to Guyana, New York to Los Angeles, and even here at home, Broadcast Images has become known for being able to work in any environment or circumstance and be ready to go at a moment's notice.

As its name would suggest, Broadcast Images is a regular contributor to the airwaves, be it in the form of a news magazine piece for the likes of ABC's '20/20' or a full-length program for public broadcasting. Do it well, and have it by deadline! It's a broadcast discipline this creative shop brings to each of its projects, TV and corporate alike. It boils down to an efficiency in better-quality video production Broadcast Images' competitors are hard-pressed to match. BI ranks in the top third of San Diego's video production companies by revenues and provides everything from production services billed hourly to complete long-form and live television production.

Freeman is joined by a small staff of creative, technical and support personnel with a combined broadcast history of over 100 years. Broadcast Images is a video boutique with an impact far beyond its size and place. ABC News was among the first of Broadcast Images' clients and remains an important one today. National networks from Italy, Australia, Japan and elsewhere call on BI to cover international events such as America's Cup yacht racing and the Academy Awards. BI even produces its own programming. One such program, 'Cooperstown: Baseball's Main Street', a half-hour program hosted by Joe Garagiola, was syndicated nationally and is now in the home-video market.

Not everything Broadcast Images does is so widely viewed, of course. When the San Diego Natural History Museum wanted to raise funds for expansion, BI produced a video with location footage, on-camera testimonials and a computer-generated "walking tour" through the proposed site. Although the video was shown to just a handful of potential donors, it raised $12 million for the organization.

Likewise, the Wild Animal Park was raising funds for a new animal hospital. With over 3,000 exotic animals in its care and inadequate facilities, the park's need was critical. Broadcast Images knew this firsthand. They had been to the park's cramped operating room many times before, documenting groundbreaking procedures: a gorilla appendectomy, setting the malformed leg of a baby rhino, the heroic efforts to save a lead-poisoned California Condor. BI's video wasn't just the centerpiece of the campaign, it was the only promotional material seen by many potential donors. On the strength of the video alone, one donor gave $1.25 million of the $14.6 million total raised for the project.

To tell their stories, nonprofit organizations are increasingly dependent on professionally produced videos. But the stories are like a tree in the woods. Without an audience they fall unheard. One way to get the message across cluttered media pathways is the video news release, or VNR. Like its print cousin, the VNR tells a succinct, digestible story that news outlets can consume. But where the print release might provide copy and still photos, the VNR provides all the elements for a complete TV news story. Broadcast Images created a VNR for the Girl Scouts about their trip to a center for the homeless. This occurred on a weekend when stations are short-staffed and unable to send crews of their own to this type of event. The story was picked up by San Diego's four major stations and aired on eight newscasts. BI has produced regional and national VNRs for major corporations as well as the smallest nonprofit groups.

The video production business in San Diego County is quite competitive. There were 78 production companies chasing an estimated $30 million of work at last count. BI expects this number to grow considerably in the next decade as the television universe continues to expand, electronic and digital media converge and more companies become media-aware.

Plans call for increased CD-Rom, DVD, HDTV and other digital production services in the near future. But if there is just one thing that defines the company's niche in the video marketplace, it's that broadcast discipline. Do it well, and have it by deadline!

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