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FREEDOM FILM

Professionalism, friendliness, good contacts make this Rogue Valley stock footage company one of the most visible ones around, with bits in films as varied as 'Vanilla Sky' and 'Armageddon'

Stories by GREG STILES

If you watch television or the silver screen, chances are you've seen Calvin Kennedy's work.

The 57-year-old Medford photographer and producer's stock footage finds its way into everything from promotional pieces and network commercials to Tom Cruise films. Recently, his work became part of a video that naturalized citizens view when they become U.S. citizens.

You never know where you are going to see his stuff. It appears everywhere says Phil Bates, president of Artbeats Inc., a major distributor of 35mm stock footage, including Kennedy's work. Southern Oregonians might recognize a scene shot from the top of Soda Mountain cut into the movie Vanilla Sky, or an explosive clip filmed near Myrtle Creek for a Monday Night Football introduction. But they probably wouldn't recognize the man behind the camera.

Anonymity is the bedfellow of stock footage's ubiquity. In many ways it overshadows Kennedy's all-around filming and digital video skills ' from scene-setting to special effects ' that put him in high demand.

Kennedy and his Freedom Film and Video staff spent July 4, 2000, filming fireworks displays in five surrounding New York boroughs from the 109th floor of the World Trade Center.

— More recently, his crew was perched above the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Constellation in San Diego Bay. He's plied his trade from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Venezuela and took four trips to Hawaii last year putting together a travel series for syndication.

Wes Houle, who owns Clarity Entertainment, based in Las Vegas, and WH Pictures of Portland, has collaborated with Kennedy on projects for the past 10 years.

The gist of how he gets recommended is in how amiable he is and easy to get along with, Houle says. That's half of the battle when you're around people for long hours ' weeks and sometimes months. You are looking for people with a sense of humor, who are paying attention and doing good stuff.

Houle has produced a variety of music videos from country-western stars to rockers such as Bon Jovi and pop idols like Prince. Hence his appreciation spills over into Kennedy's musical talents that give him an edge over other photo directors.

Calvin has great camera timing because of his musical ability, Houle said. A lot of people want to be shooting, but they don't have good timing. Calvin has the blessings of a critical eye for lighting and timing.

Artbeats' digital and high-definition footage, selling for as much as &

36;899 per title via CD-ROM or the Web, is edited into everything from movie trailers such as Pirates of the Caribbean/The Secret of the Black Pearl to Spy Kids 2. The Bruce Willis movie Armageddon featured some of Kennedy's fire shots. On television his work runs the gamut from American Idol to the History Channel. And don't forget those flame-broiled Burger King Whoppers, where Kennedy's fire shots are edited into commercials.

Bates says Kennedy's stuff is everywhere in television and film.

More than a dozen fire scenes were shot on the property of a fire captain in the Myrtle Creek area using propane mortars. A 20-foot high scaffold with a boom extending 15 feet was used to suspend a camera platform. The camera was mounted on so it faced straight down, with viewing through a Plexiglas-covered hole.

A ball of flame would go 30 to 40 feet in the air, right around the (platform) and camera, says Rocky Garrotto, a Freedom Film crew member. The flames would go at least 10 feet above the camera.

The high-speed video camera modified for high-definition production runs at 2,000 digital frames per second, compared to about 30 frames at normal speed. The camera was triggered by remote control from a computer.

We've done the same with high-speed film cameras, Garrotto says. High-speed film is very expensive. You can burn through a thousand-foot roll of film very quickly. You then have to have it converted into something you can use in the computer.

One of the commercial scenes Freedom Film did for a facial mist company recently involved a fireman misting himself while flames lit the night sky behind him.

That was shot along the railroad tracks behind Land Mind Productions on downtown Medford's South Fir Street.

The Medford Fire Department declined to participate in the shoot, but Fire District No. 5 was more accommodating, allowing one of its trucks to be used. Ironically, once the flames were launched for the scene, a call went out to the Medford Fire Department.

Although he has shot more than 150 fire and explosion scenes, Kennedy is not simply a pyromaniac with a &

36;100,000 camera.

He has the artistic tools to match his rigging abilities and a skilled crew to match the vision he shares with clients.

I've seen his company grow and grow and grow, says Ashland's Jerry Hirschfeld, the photography director for films such as Young Frankenstein and Fail-Safe who later taught cinematography at Southern Oregon University.

In this area, there are very few people who have the knowledge of cinematography, Hirschfeld says. Cal does in video and film cameras. He does the filming and editing and now the producing and directing.

It's an all-around situation. And that's one of the better things for him, because there are limited opportunities for just one classification.

The expensive nature of film production requires planning, but also flexibility when creative minds don't meet.

We go over a shot list ahead of time, Bates says. We do all the pre-planning we can do; it's so important that I spend time talking with Calvin so there are not a lot of adjustments when we get behind a camera.

But it seems like nobody is totally perfect. Calvin sometimes has ideas for shots I don't care for. It's not unusual for us to change our minds on set and he's OK with that. I'm a picky director and nobody thinks exactly like I do. But Calvin is very good at what he does and has a good eye for composition.

Kennedy acquired his business from Gold Hill resident Steve Hardie, a member of the family that owns media giant Freedom Communications.

He joined Hardie's Freedom Productions in 1988, handling the production, grip and lighting duties. When Hardie retired about 10 years ago, Kennedy bought the equipment and the name for about &

36;50,000.

It was during Kennedy's association with Trilobyte 'a Medford video game and film company whose mercurial rise in the 1990s was followed by an equally rapid decline ' that his long-term contributions to his art came into focus.

Houle says Kennedy pioneered shooting film action for video games, such as Trilobyte's 7th Guest. Today, firms such as Electronic Arts Sports (commonly known as EA Sports) does the same with its John Madden Football video game series.

You can match the action of film, take it into the computer and animate from the basis of film, Houle says. Calvin was a proponent of that and helped that industry grow quicker than most people would think.

Kennedy's journey into the world of film began two decades ago when the Long Beach, Calif., native moved inland from Coos Bay to the Rogue Valley. His brother-in-law worked for Sandler Films Inc. of Ashland, and soon Kennedy was involved in production of educational and training films.

It was a good training ground, whether you were making promotional or educational films, you learned to follow the rules of film, Kennedy says. There are basic food groups of feature films: Shooting the master scene and coverage (the over-the-shoulder angles) so when you cut it together, it makes sense. You can only learn by getting out and doing it. Now, it's an instinct to me.

The film industry is built on relationships as much as it is on artistic skill. Rubbing shoulders and impressing the right people on one assignment swings open doors for more opportunities.

They see how you work and that you understand what you're doing, Kennedy says.

Kennedy was the key-grip for photo director Gordon Lonsdale in the 1989 film A Girl of the Limberlost, part of a PBS anthology series called WonderWorks. The film was shot in Jacksonville, which was given a 1920s look with dirt streets.

He considers the contacts he made working alongside Lonsdale among the most important in his career. It led to being director of photography in an interactive educational project called ReadMe.

He was the key grip and line producer, providing equipment, for a film called Martial Marshal, also shot in Jacksonville with a story line set in the South.

Kennedy recalls that the city of Jacksonville made the motion picture company making the film deposit &

36;400,000 into a Jacksonville bank, use all the available bed-and-breakfast space in town, have meals catered by Jacksonville restaurants and use the town's police and fire departments for any kind of crowd control.

Plus they had to buy five memberships in the chamber of commerce, Kennedy says. It was a pretty terrible movie.

Today, Kennedy operates out of a two-story house in west Medford that belies the quality of his work and vision.

He has a wealth of talent and he's a giver, Houle says. I think a lot of people take advantage of givers. It's good to see somebody so strong, who continues to give and give, knowing some time the harvest will come.

Calvin Kennedy, owner of Freedom Film and Video, edits an allergy medicine commercial in his Medford studio. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven