FEATURE

Multivision:
Post Production House For All Reasons

by Judy Kermis Blotnick


Jay Heard (center) and Don O'Sullivan
(right) shooting in Teheran, Iran for BBC / 1979.

When Jay Heard and Don Sullivan were kids, chasing each other around summers on the Cape some 40 years ago, they had no idea that "stringers" would define another word besides the place where you hang the fish you caught. With Jay off at Suffolk University studying political science and Don at Northeastern majoring in journalism, the two did not meet again until many years later when Jay answered an ad for a roommate, placed by Don. The result of the reunion would become Multivision, a premier post-production facility recently acclaimed among the top in the country for video streamed over the Internet, the others being MTV and CNBC.

Two very cool looking guys in their early 50's, Don and Jay are relaxed in the conference room of their huge facility in Cambridge. Clearly respectful of each other, they don't interrupt or finish each other's sentences, a sign of a deep and lasting friendship. Both now settled and married, one would never guess at their history, one that bespeaks a none-too-small addiction to danger and adventure.

The two started out as "stringers," after college. They bought a 16mm film camera and "chased fires," for $25 a story. It wasn't until the early '70's, as Boston's busing crisis erupted, and with their services in full demand, since the stations couldn't cover all the action with their own crews, that Don and Jay began to take their careers seriously. In 1975 they bought a video-based news cam, traveled all over the world for BBC and ABC, and set up a production facility in Needham. They were hired to cover presidential elections, NBA playoffs, and made documentaries.

Don O'Sullivan shooting for
CNN in Nicaragua / 1980.
"We were assigned to cover the Pope's trip to Mexico by ITNA when the Ayatollah defied the Shah of Iran and returned home," said Don. "We were told to get on a plane to Teheran and because we were able to edit in camera and satellite it back, we became quite valuable. Sure it was dangerous. We alternated being cameraman and sound person because the action was so fascinating that it became perilous to just keep filming."

Once safely back in the States, their addiction to danger switched to a passion for all the new technology that was coming out. They were among the first to create films for corporations and Don designed a process to transfer _" to 1" and offer a better quality product.

"Digital Equipment was our first corporate client," said Jay. "Followed by United Brands Fruit and the Sheraton Hotel chain."

He described the documentaries they made for United Brands, educating their in-house staff about how bananas are grown in Honduras and Costa Rica. For Sheraton, they traveled all over the world, producing, directing, casting, and animating sales tapes. Digital Equipment's need was for a sales tape that Multivision created in a news format.

"I guess you could say that we became a crossroads of services, offering graphics, duplication, audio and studio facilities," nodded Don.

In addition to their corporate work, Multivision also serves as a facility and technical advisors to independent filmmakers, offering a full-range of services from shooting, offline/online editing, distribution and internet streaming among many others.

"What we are most proud of is our 30 years of expertise accumulated by an unparalleled staff of two dozen people who work together as one creative entity," Jay chimed in.

Don O'Sullivan (left) and
Jay Heard (right) / 2001.

Among the independent filmmakers who Multivision has worked with are David Sutherland who produced the 7-hour miniseries for PBS, THE FARMER'S WIFE. They also worked with Linda Harrar on SIX BILLION AND BEYOND. Other names on their client list for post-production are Blackside, Thomas Ott, Charlie Stuart, Alice Bouvrie, Joshua Seftel, Gail Ferraro, and Joel Olliker.

"One of our favorite projects was working with Juanita Anderson of Legacy Productions in a joint venture with the Smithsonian," said Don. "In honoring Robert Pinsky, the poet laureate of the United States, we filmed Americans from all walks of life reading their favorite poems and explaining why it had special meaning to them. People like a construction worker from South Boston, for example. It was very touching."

The only major setback to they suffered was when their landlord in Needham decided, after 18 years, to ask them to vacate in 90 days. It was a facility that the two had built piece by piece and it took 180 days to dismantle and relocate to their present premises, which took 6 months to find. While it distracted them from their core business at the time, in retrospect, both are aware that their present site is far superior to the one in Needham.

"This place is an engineer's dream come true," said Don. "It was designed from the ground up, state of the art, with input from all our professional people. I guess getting it up and running would be our greatest triumph. To be able to offer all these services under one roof, to offer one point of accountability is unique."

A throwback to their early days as daredevil stringers, the two maintain an attitude of "Make It Happen" in their approach to their business and it is a mantra recited by their staff as well. Any hour of the day, whatever it takes. Their plans for the future include increased emphasis on Internet streaming, production of small feature films and documentaries and continuing to grow their sales video business. They also see growth potential in educational publishing and distance learning.

"This is a broad business," said Jay, in conclusion. " But it is still all about story telling and communicating. And we are here to make it happen."


Judy Kermis Blotnick is a fee-lance writer and former executive director of Women In Film and Video, New England. She attends the Museum School fulltime.