“When I first joined the company, it was like a little clubhouse,” recalls Ed Phillips, President and CEO of Matthews Studio Equipment. “Legendary grips would hang around the shop discussing the different projects they were working on and the tools they needed to accomplish their jobs.”
At that time, grip equipment was built by each of the “major studios” to their own individual needs and design. It was often heavy, cumbersome and not intended for location work. Although some individual companies were beginning to manufacture a few pieces, for the most part grips were left to their own devices.
Ed Phillips, who began his career in the industry pulling cable all over the back lot of Universal (on a small project called Beau Geste), and working with the lights and burdensome lighting stands at MGM, CBS, Paramount and Desilu, began listening to the needs of the production community. Soon Matthews manufactured their first stand — a welded base 40″ Century stand with a 5/8″ male pin and two aluminum castings. The die was set, so to speak, and Matthews soon became known as a user friendly, equipment house for both grip and electric, a revolutionary concept at that time.
Over the years Matthews has been reqponsible for the introduction and production of many industry mainstay products such as, the first spring-loaded Century Stand, the Heavy Duty Combo Stand, Folding Roller stands, the Combination 4-1/2″ Grip Head and the USA introduction of scissor type folding dolly track.
“Today, the business is far different,” Phillips says somewhat sadly. “Grips don’t have time to hang around our clubhouse. They are working in Hollywood, China, Europe, Russia, South America, Mexico and many other new ‘production centers.’ Grips have become, for lack of a better word, the onsite engineers. At a moment’s notice, a director will turn to him/her and say ‘Do Something.’
“If we are the source of supply, they will often turn to us for an answer. Even though we are a step or two away from the productions of today, Matthews is still known for being there when our customers are in need. So, in a way, things really haven’t changed.” Phillips says proudly. “The clubhouse has just gotten a little larger.
“As the clubhouse has grown, so have our markets,” he adds. “Years ago we relied solely on the motion picture and television production industries. But now, we have a very large presence in the professional photo markets. These highly skilled photographers recognize that products designed for other creative disciplines are readily adaptable to the creation of quality images in all fields.
“We’re still manufacturing grip equipment that is simplistic, proven to be rugged, reliable, durable and portable. Take one of our newest tools, something that we call MAX, as an example,” Phillips says. “MAX has a persona of his own,” he laughs. “He carries his own weight as a member of the crew. He never calls in sick and he doesn’t spend a lot of time around the crafts service table. But he sure fills a need.”
MAX was brought to life as a result of conversatons with prominent key grip Richard Mall. For years grips have made ‘on set’ menace arms to position a light onto an area of a set where the POV does not allow a stand to be used. These arms were often assembled on set, were time consuming and not built to any standards – like the grip equipment of 35 years ago. Enter MAX; built to a standard of use, fast, reliable and now a world traveler. Since he was ‘born’ MAX has serviced productions in Europe, Asia, Mexico, Atlanta, New York and Hollywood.”
MAX is just one example of how Matthews has been able to keep that clubhouse sensibility, even with production going global. Over the past thirty five years Matthews has been there 24/7 for their clients, be it the individual grip, or the high end supplier. That commitment and reliability has been recognized by the industry twice – with awards for technical achievement from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for two products that pioneered new developments.
TULIP CRANE – The first commercially produced camera crane that folded up for compact transport and included extension accessories for remote camera heads.
CAM REMOTE – developed in conjunction with Robert Nettmann, the CAM REMOTE was the first commercially produced remote camera head.
Today there are dozens of companies manufacturing cranes and remote camera heads which have all grown out of these innovations.
Nothing will stop Matthews from fulfilling their client’s needs. Recently, they pulled together a huge compliment of equipment for the Japanese rental company supplying Spielberg’s location work on Memoirs of a Geisha. They worked through the Thanksgiving holiday weekend to fill the needs of another off-shore production that was backed up against the wall and when local O&O grip needed a leveling system for his Mathews doorway dolly, Matthews created the system and even named it after him – “The Lenny Levelers.” And, the company even finds time to continue developing new and improved products that will be released to the international production industries during this anniversary year.
“We may be bigger than we were thirty five years ago. We may be supplying tools to different markets all over the world. But we are still of the mind that ‘hands on’ is still the best.” Phillips says proudly. “We are 100% independently owned and operated, so we have no one to answer to except for ourselves and our clients. We sell into 51 different countries and we service the international motion picture, television, photographic and theatrical markets with innovative, high quality equipment – manufactured right here, in Burbank, California.
“We are extremely excited about celebrating this, our 35th year in the business,” Phillips adds. “New products are just a part of what we at Matthews have in store for our loyal clients in Hollywood and all over the world. We have just released the newest version of the Matthews catalog, Volume #35 and added product training videos to our website. With the continued support of our clients and the industry, we expect to keep supplying the international and domestic production industries with industry specialized hardware and lighting modification devices for many more years.”