Originally published in Business Digest, March 1997

Lights! Camera! Download!

by Craig C. Bailey

A lot of people can say they've worked hard to get where they are today. Bob Logsdon means it.

After spending a year in the Bellingham, Wash., area following an incomplete bid for a graduate degree, Logsdon decided he needed a change of scenery. "So I got on a 10-speed (bike), rode it all the way across the United States, and landed here in Burlington in 1977," he says. As if pedaling 150 days from Seattle to the Queen City wasn't hard enough, Logsdon took on another challenge 13 years later: establishing a professional video production company in a state that's known more for its quantity of cows than its Betacam contracts.

Surrounded by a bevy of cables, tripods, cameras and computers, Logsdon looks comfortably at home at Iris Multimedia & Television Co. After all, he lives just one flight down, on the first floor of this unassuming Victorian on North Willard Street, Burlington. But in an industry stereotypically populated by hip, 20-somethings, pounding away at keyboards to the dreary beat of esoteric rock, this particular Friday morning the sound coming from Logsdon's speakers is the folksy harmonies of the Highland Weavers. Seated at his terminal, he looks more like a thoughtful, middle-aged college professor than a bleeding-edge entrepreneur. Perhaps it's a shadow of what might have been.

"I had spent enormous hours in museums as a kid, and was intrigued by the early Paleo-Indian heritage that gave rise to North American Indian groups," Logsdon says. "That all intrigued me very much, and it still does today." That passion took him from his native Evansville, Ind., to an anthropology/archaeology degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1972, and graduate work at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and at Western Washington State College. Eventually, lack of funds forced him to give up his bid for an advanced degree in archaeology, which he hoped would lead to a tenured teaching position.

"Finally I decided the west coast there in the Bellingham area wasn't very attractive in terms of finding a decent job," he says. "I think the unemployment rate there at that time was 14 percent. Real bad news, no matter what kind of degree you had, unless you were a tenured faculty." So in May 1977, Logsdon strapped a pack to his back and began his bike trek to Burlington, a city he had lived in for a few months in 1972, while visiting his brother, a now-retired IBM engineer. Strangely, he says, "I really felt like I was coming home.

"The struggle to get here was tremendous," he continues. "The trip was taken with practically no cash. I honestly didn't think that it would be a big thing to ride a bicycle across the states, because I could already ride 100 miles easily. But what I found out is that you do have to eat, like everybody does."

Stopping at construction sites along his route, he was never denied the opportunity to work a few hours for meal money, a sign of patriotism lingering after the nation's bicentennial the previous year, according to Logsdon. He spent his nights wherever he could find a secluded spot to pitch his tent. Five months later, Halloween night, 1977, Logsdon rolled into the Essex, N.Y., ferry dock with 7 cents in his pocket -- not enough money to cross the lake to his brother's house, even 20 years ago.

"I really was in a quandary. I had to get across. It was extremely cold, and I didn’t have the gear for staying warm," he says. "At that point I was about ready to look for an inner tube, and I was going to paddle my way across that night. I really was that desperate."

Luckily, the ferry captain took exception to Logsdon's plight, not only letting him aboard, but handing him the wheel of the vessel for part of the journey. "Ray Pecor might be upset to hear about that," Logsdon chuckles. "I think that captain will never know that he might have saved a life! I sure would like to shake his hand today."

[photo of Bob Logsdon] Bob Logsdon put Iris Multimedia & Television Co. on the Web -- literally. A video camera uploads a snapshot of his office to his website each hour. (Photo: Jeff Clarke)

The following year, after a brief stint as a quality inspector at Rossignol, Logsdon landed an internship at the UVM Extension Service, through the Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA), a federal program devised to help the underemployed. With some photography experience from his grad school days, he became the first videographer for WCAX-TV's long-running "Across the Fence" program, as it made the transition from film to video.

Lyn Jarvis, producer of the show since 1975, had no reservations about Logsdon's lack of video experience. "He was free," Jarvis jokes. (CETA interns were paid by the government, not their employers.) But it wasn't long before Logsdon had acquired and exceeded the shooting and editing skills the job demanded. Within a year, the internship had turned into a full-time job, and Logsdon joined the extension service payroll.

"I feel very honestly that he was always a step ahead of the times," Jarvis says. "He was always looking for new technologies and new equipment." He adds that the extension service recently installed a state-of-the-art, non-linear editing system. "Bob was talking about these things years ago, and had a good grasp of what the future would be as far as video and presenting information via television. He's carried that through with his own business."

The genesis of that business, and the end of Logsdon's 12-year stint with UVM, was a contract for a dozen public service announcements (PSAs) for Vermont's bicentennial that UVM awarded him in 1990. He soon established Iris Multimedia & Television Co., and began a strategy of reinvesting in the company to build his inventory of pricey equipment. In 1995, he upgraded to Betacam SP, "the standard format for professional television production nationwide," according to Logsdon.

His strategy has been to concentrate on the front end -- cameras and mics -- and to outsource his editing. "If the material up front isn't right, post-production won't correct ... (it). Little does it matter where you go to edit, as long as you can bring in the raw footage that is right," he says. His approach has eliminated the cost of chasing rapidly advancing editing technology, and has converted his editing expenses to variable costs, by allowing him to choose an outside editing suite that matches the budget of each individual project.

Most of the company's work comes from within Vermont: PSAs for the Department of Agriculture, videos for the Vermont Aquaculture Association, a promotional video and website for Solar Barns in Richmond, to name a few. The process might include writing, storyboarding, shooting, editing and outputting material for broadcast, corporate communications or education. "It really is a matter of wearing many hats in this field," he says.

"More and more I'm getting called by major television stations nationwide." That work may involve shooting and shipping raw tape to be edited by the client, or "crewing on" to a visiting video team to assist during its Vermont shoot. "That can be extremely demanding, because there's no room for error when you work for major television stations," he adds.

While video production is the bread and butter of Iris Multimedia & Television Co., and a CD-ROM project with a local animator is in the planning stages, the Internet seems to be Logsdon's passion. He's maintained his own domain (vtnetvantage.com) on the Net for several months, but he's not making a big push for Web design work. "Anyone can do Web page design. I really don't think that at this level I want to get too involved with it," he says, "though I will be happy to take on major projects."

Logsdon is more interested in exploring the possibilities of placing video images on the World Wide Web. While so-called "webcams" have been criticized for being no more than high-bandwidth diversions, Logsdon believes they can become "a viable part of the business strategy." His best example is the contract a New York City ad agency awarded him, thanks in part to his ability to showcase his arsenal of audio equipment to the agency using the camera that uploads a snapshot of his office to his website every hour.

"In order to make people comfortable with technology and understand it, you have to be willing to share that technology," says Logsdon, "even if it comes in the guise of so-called public service." To that end, he spent Dec. 31 tinkering with his webcam in the bell tower of the Unitarian Church to upload video stills at 30 second intervals of the First Night celebration on Church Street. With a 30-below-zero wind-chill factor, his power supply eventually froze before the ball dropped, so he moved the set-up into the church to record the Woods Tea Company's performance. Still, he had proven he could provide remote, video updates using cellular technology. What's more, even if his power pack couldn't withstand the cold, at least his heat pack-laced polar bag could save his camera from the same fate.

Logsdon believes remote imaging has great potential for monitoring wildlife and enhancing educational settings. He hopes to build an underwater camera cage in the spring that might be used to monitor life and sediment in Lake Champlain. Combined with audio and text, he sees the webcam as the centerpiece of educational modules, available to classrooms via the Net. "I've got plenty of groundwork to do there," he says. "The ideas are certainly there, and the technology is now possible."

Addendum: Bob Logsdon died in Burlington on Saturday, June 6, 1998. He was 52.