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Reel West Covers Sim Video Beginnings

Reel West Magazine Article by: Ian Cadell
September 01, 2010

Rob Sim - Sim Video

Although I was born in Michigan where my father was attending university, I grew up on a farm in the Ottawa Valley. I learned about hard work from my parents who, in addition to running a large farm, were educators and sociologists. I attended Sir George Williams University for two years where I was first introduced to television production. But I couldn’t resist joining a friend in San Francisco during the “summers of love” there. I made new friends in California and somehow we came up with the idea of going to Amsterdam. There we undertook an impossible dream....the building of a 55’ schooner. Along with a small crew, I lived the hippie life on a barge and at the same time organized the construction of The Stone Maiden.  I spent much of the 70’s sailing the Mediterranean and when it was time to wind down, we took her across the Atlantic. It was now the late 70’s and my partner and I decided to sell our boat. It was the proceeds from this enterprise that financed the purchase of my first camera. It was around this time that I met my wife Peggy, while on a shoot in New York City. I remember that I was in the process of incorporating a company and trying to decide on a name. Peggy said, “Why not, simply, Sim Video Productions?” And so it was.

Freelancing was tough and we were expecting the first of our two sons.  I remember Peggy’s disappointment when I came home from a job interview at the CBC with the news that they would not hire me. But, as time would prove, we made the best of it!  Our first “office” was a walk up over a Roti shop in a run-down neighborhood of Toronto. Then it was the basement of a small house in the West End.

Right from the beginning, I was privileged to work with many up and coming television producers and high profile corporate clients.  It was apparent that there was a growing demand for broadcast video equipment rentals and most rental houses were still focusing on film. I took my small nest egg and purchased the Ikegami HL-79 which was the “hot” camera at that time. I quickly spread word to let all my contacts know I had a camera available for rent. The response was amazing and we found steady work for it almost instantly.

For the first while, Peggy and I handled everything ourselves, operating the company right from our home.  Peggy would take bookings and handle client calls while I would check equipment and make sure it was ready for the next job.  I also continued to work as freelancer going out on jobs with our camera packages, using any extra income to invest in more cameras, lenses and accessories.   

By 1989, our business was growing.  At this point, we had 2 full time employees, 4 camera packages and we were physically outgrowing the confines of our basement operation.  We knew we had to seek out a more functional office space for our staff and one that would allow us to increase our inventory. 

Making the move to secure a more suitable location and taking on a lease, overhead and all the costs associated was a tough decision to make.  The 80’s were a difficult time for many small businesses and interest rates were at an all time high at 18%!  As trying as these times were, we knew that we couldn’t hold off on making the move but we were very careful to not overextend ourselves.  We found a small office in downtown Toronto where we decided to set up our first shop and it felt incredible to put our sign above that door.

Once we moved in we were able to better service our clients.  With a lot of hard work we were able to secure contracts with many of Canada’s leading broadcasters, cameramen and production companies by this time like CBC, CTV, Global, Alliance Atlantis, Insight, Shaftesbury and Barna Alper Productions (all of whom we are still doing business with today).  Our clients were extremely loyal and it was these relationships that helped us weather through the recession and still grow in the process.  We continued to acquire more equipment, more staff and more clients than any other video equipment rental house in the city.

By 1991, we were approached with our first expansion opportunity. Production was booming in British Columbia and we decided that it would make an ideal location for another Sim Video office. From there, we expanded our inventory to include Avid post technologies, offering the first non-linear editing systems available for rent in Western Canada. Our first post project was Far From Home: The Adventures of Yellow Dog, which was sadly the late Phillip Borsos’ last feature production.  In 1994, Sim Video West capitalized on the increased demand for specialized playback services by securing multiple season contracts with high profile shows like X-Files and went on to claim its place as a leading provider of playback services in Vancouver.

More and more Hollywood projects began shooting in Vancouver and using our services. With our LA based client list growing, our next logical step lead us to open an office in Hollywood and by 1999, we were officially operating three of the world’s busiest production centers.

Around that time, the introduction of high definition cameras actually represented our most pivotal moment as a company.  The technology was innovative and the picture quality was like nothing we’d experienced in the video world before. We knew that HD would definitely change the landscape of production it and, that we had a small window of opportunity to become leaders in this area - if we could master the equipment quickly enough.  

Sony’s first digital high-definition camera, the HDW-700, carried a steep price tag but we wanted to be at the forefront of this digital revolution.  We invested immediately and became the first rental house in Canada to offer these cameras, providing two 700’s for the world’s first HD television series, Lexx for Salter Street Films in Halifax. Even though there was a huge learning curve we knew our early adoption would pay off.  We had two very skilled engineers working for us (who still work with us today) and we knew that their work would be pivotal in ensuring clients felt comfortable using the new technology.  Sony was also very supportive when it came to ensuring that clients using their cameras were well taken care of.

Sim Video then went on to provide Sony F900 camera packages to shoot Earth Final Conflict; the world’s first 24P HD production. After that, we were seen as leaders when it came to HD equipment - that’s when our real growth began!  Both shows received a lot of press coverage for using ground breaking technology and as their service provider our name quickly spread through the industry.

Beyond our inventory which was second to none when it came to both SD and HD products, clients came to us more so for the level of service we offered and our knowledge in supporting digital technology. Our expertise landed us gigs on complicated and highly technical productions including live multi-cam productions like, Canadian Alpine Ski Championships, Canadian Idol and James Cameron’s: Last Mysteries of the Titanic, the first ever live-to-air broadcast from the middle of the Atlantic ocean.  The work was challenging but we reveled at the opportunity to show off our technical talents.

We continued to stay ahead of our competitors by closely following and evaluating new products and opportunities.  As the technology continued to evolve, cameras like the Sony F900R, F23 and F35, Phantom HD and RED ONE convinced producers who traditionally shot film to make the switch to digital faster than we ever anticipated. This ultimately pushed our move to even bigger offices in Toronto, Vancouver and Los Angeles and led us to open two more Sim Video offices, in Halifax and Beijing to keep up with demand.

In 2009, we discovered a small company while we were on-set providing 57 RED ONE cameras for a Nike commercial shoot. The company, Bling Digital, reminded us of how we started our own company many years ago.  They had found a niche market providing digital and tapeless workflow solutions for RED camera productions and they were really making a good name for themselves in the industry.  We found that Bling’s on-set data management and digital dailies services were highly developed and accurately addressed the needs of today’s producers.  We also recognized that their services complemented our core business and filled the grey area that existed between our camera and post rentals. With all of this in mind, we approached Bling about the possibility of combining our services and finally made our plans to merge official in November last year. 

Now, with over 28 years of industry experience behind us, we’d say that Sim Video’s success has been based on a lot of hard work and preparation, following our gut instincts and building a team that shares our passion for technology and service.  A little luck and happy clients didn’t hurt either!