By James Bash
For The Hollywood Star News
Tucked behind Franz Bakery, Cadillac of Portland and Willamette Valley Meat, sits a huge warehouse called the Bison Building. It’s easy to locate because it sports the replicas of buffalo heads at the top of each corner. Their watchfulness keeps guard over several businesses that make their home in the giant building, including a nationally known photo production company. We’re talking about Sandbox Studio, 420 N.E. 9th Ave., which specializes in commercial photography for a number of well-known brands such as Doc Martin, Bonfire, Nike and Bass.
It was a quiet day when I stopped in at Sandbox Studio (sandboxstudio.com) and talked with its studio director Shandrea Gilchrist. According to Gilchrist, Sandbox Studio has 14,000 square feet of leased space, which gives it plenty of room to accommodate multiple photo shooting scenarios. The spaciousness means that four photo shooting sets can run at the same time, and two additional sets can be shot under the 30-foot high ceiling that runs down the center of the building.
“The high ceiling allows clients to bring in a scissor lift,” noted Gilchrist. “Many clients like the natural light. We are one of the biggest studios in Portland with daylight access. Sometimes, there’s a lot going on here and we get to max capacity. That’s when it gets pretty friendly.”
Most of the photos that are shot at Sandbox Studio are used in e-commerce for advertising and lifestyle.
“We do our own productions as well as run out to the community of photographers who work here,” said Gilchrist. “So we can rent to them. The community in Portland is vast. It’s saturated.”
According to Gilchrist, the number of people involved in a photo shoot depends on the volume of what you are shooting as well as the amount of creative intensity needed.
“For example, if it is a room set and you are shooting bathroom sinks,” explained Gilchrist, “but you want to do it in an environment, then you need a lot of people to help construct the walls. If you are doing more than one shot that day, then the walls may need to be repainted or re-wallpapered. So the shoot will require a stylist, stylist assistant and merchandise handers.”
Gilchrist manages operations but she also is one of Sandbox Studio’s producers. Producers gather all of the information and help with the budget of the project and coordinate the freelancers needed to complete everything. She has been in Portland for more than three years. She hails from Southern California and has worked for Sandbox Studio off and on for many years, including stints in New York, Michigan and San Francisco.
Because Sandbox Studio is a national company with additional studio locations in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Memphis and Portland, it can access talent from all over the nation. For example, if a company wanted to shoot on location in New York, Gilchrist would make sure that one of the producers in New York would take the lead in that effort.
Photographer Tom Strollo and two colleagues founded Sandbox Studio in San Francisco in 1992. After shooting photos for the firm for 15 years, Strollo moved to the business development side of the firm, giving presentations to new customers.
“Our success is due to great producers,” remarked Strollo. “Customer service is a big part of it. Also, the internet has created a demand for more imagery and content. Those market forces have worked in our favor.”
Encouraged by the amount of work that they were doing in a Portland, Stollo and his colleagues decided to open a company location somewhere near downtown. They conducted a real-estate search, and the Bison Building popped up. It was constructed in 1938 and used during World War II for building ships for the war effort.
Besides the big areas that are used for photo shoots, Sandbox Studio has space for an equipment room, offices for development and a big dark room – called “the cave” – that is used for post-production re-touches.
“There’s a terrific enclave of talent here,” noted Gilchrist. “This building houses not only us but also Din Din supper club, Merrell-Wolverine and studios for the Pacific Northwest College of Art. The creative community is a big draw. People are moving from New York to live in Portland, and that includes this corner of the inner Northeast. It’s the place to be.”