How We Got Here: A Brief History of Cine Rent West

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As of January 8, Chris Crever will have owned the building at 2580 NW Upshur and Cine Rent West for 17 years. (Happy Anniversary to us! We will send ourselves a card.)

In light of that fact and because many people reading this don't know our origin story, we thought we'd give a you a brief history.

Like Hewlett-Packard, we can trace its origins to a garage.

Except our garage was bigger and nicer.

Our Humble Beginnings
In the early 1940s, Portland was booming. Because of the war (WWII for those of you who flunked History), steel manufacturers like Henry Kaiser built huge shipyards along the banks of the Willamette and Columbia. More than 150,000 workers came to fill those jobs, increasing the population of the city by around 60%.

Lots of those people bought cars, allowing them to crash into other people who already owned cars, which necessitated autobody and paint garages like the one built at 2580 NW Upshur St.

For the next thirty years or so the building operated as a garage, until it was purchased by a local music conservatory group. Then the din of sheet metal hammers was replaced by the lilt of classical music. Of course, if they had a lot of kids learning to play the trumpet, the metal hammering might have been preferable.

First Used For Production
In the 1980s local animator Will Vinton purchased the building and converted it into a studio where he could produce his signature Claymation.

The large area that’s now the soundstage is where Vinton and his team worked their magic, creating iconic TV spots, short films, and feature-length movies. Vinton would win numerous Clio Awards, several Emmys, and an Oscar for his work.

Not too bad for a guy born in McMinnville.

In 1994 Vinton sold the building to San Francisco filmmaker Gregg Snazelle. A director, camera operator, and Panavision dealer, Snazelle owned two Bay Area production locations under the name of Cine Rent West. With the purchase of the Upshur St. studio he was able to close his San Francisco facilities and move everything up to Portland.

Snazelle made further improvements to the building, including adding the noise insulation and other infrastructure needed to make it a true soundstage.

During the later 90s the studio was the site of many high end film productions, and Snazelle grew his reputation for shooting automobiles. He installed a 35mm editing bay, which had the distinction of being the place where major feature “Mr. Holland’s Opus” was cut together.

Passing The Baton
Also during the later 90s, an established Assistant Camerman worked many gigs at the soundstage. His name was Chris Crever. And in addition to knowing his way around a film gate, he had experience in commercial real estate.

In 1999, with Gregg Snazelle’s untimely death, the facility was taken over by his son Craig. But realizing that it was time to sell, Snazelle struck a deal with Crever, which included him continuing as a client resource (something he still does today in a stage manager role).

So on January 8, 2001, Crever took ownership of the building at 2580, including taking the reins at Cine Rent West.

“Gregg had the vision to make the facility a creative center,” says Crever. “He wanted to name the whole complex the Northwest Production Center.”

Crever continued to develop that vision with improvements to the studio, upgrading and expanding the available equipment, and opening up the facility to the production community. Today, Cine Rent West is just one business within the property, making a more stable and self-supporting business model.

Learning To Be Efficient
The early 2000s were good years for production in Portland. At the soundstage, clients like Bowflex would shoot long-form infomercials on film with budgets of up to $300,000.

But then the downturn came and soon everybody was scrambling for productions with budgets a fraction of that size. Those who survived those lean years learned to be nimble and efficient, including Cine Rent West.

Even as the economy rebounded, the pre-recession budgets did not come back, and so we’ve all had to figure out creative ways to do great work with less time and fewer resources.

Leveraging Technology
As Crever and Studio Manager Brynden McNew have continued to upgrade the soundstage, they’ve invested in gear that will help producers, directors and their crews get more done in a shooting day. For example the LED Skypanels not only allow much more accurate color, and the shadow-free look of a cloudy day—but because they can be controlled through the board, the lighting scheme can be changed with the flick of a switch. Additionally, they save hundreds of dollars a day in electricity.

When Crever took over, the local industry was experiencing the transition from film to video for most productions. In the 2000s they saw the transition from analog to digital. Now digital cameras are surpassing the resolution of 35mm, and most finished pieces are being made for distribution on the internet.

If we’ve learned one thing in our 17 years of running Cine Rent West, it’s that the latest technology is great, but it can never replace skilled creatives or adequate planning. And it’s all of our jobs to help educate clients on this.

The Future Of Production
Nobody can predict what our industry will look like in ten years. Other than the fact that we will all be riding around in flying cars.

So we’re going to keep doing the things that have helped us thrive during the past decade of change: Helping our clients do their best work, being a nexus for industry networking, and making sure Cine Rent West is the easiest, most cost-effective place to shoot.

And at some point we’ll probably need to reinforce the roof to add parking for all the flying cars.

So now you know a little of our history and hopefully can appreciate the legacy that's been handed down to us. (Filmmaking not autobody.)