06 Mar Steady Does It
The enduring credo for Jack Bridges is that innovation and happiness, not money, should be the guiding principles in life. That is what brought him and his family to the high desert two years ago, away from the golden lights of Hollywood and its busy hubbub.
The Bridgeses seem like an ordinary farm family, with chickens, horses, vegetable gardens and nearly half a dozen dogs. But to those in Hollywood and the film industry, Jack Bridges is the main man behind steady videography. On a small warehouse located on his farm, he runs his business, assembling GPI Pro Systems camera stabilization gear, more commonly known as the “steady cam.” Each body harness is custom-fit to each camera man, ensuring they can maintain rock-steady cinematography while on the move.
“Probably 90 percent of all cinema productions you see on the global market are using our Pro line gear,” says Bridges, 45, who points out movie posters of blockbusters like Star Trek and Avatar that line his workshop’s walls. “They also use our gear for shows like American Idol and Dancing with the Stars, as well as NFL (National Football League) productions.”
Bridges chose to move his wife, Michelle, and his high school-aged son to the farm for fresh air and “real living,” and hasn’t once looked back. Bridges not only fulfills international steadycam orders at home (his manufacturing lines are still based in California), but also took the farming life to heart—a pastime he says he wishes he had more time for.
The couple named their property Story Hill Farm. “We named it Story Hill Farm because Jack always has so many stories,” jokes Michelle, who works as vice-president for GPI Pro Systems. “But really we named it Story Hill Farm because it’s quite a story on how we got here.”
When Bridges was a little boy, and even in his Army days, he pored over Rand McNally Atlas maps and dreamt about living in Oregon. “I grew up dirt poor in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina, and I only got to attend school to the eighth grade, because I had to work to help support the family,” he explains. “I couldn’t wait to get out of there, so when I was 17, I joined the Army and served all over the world.”
Bridges loved the Army, and if weren’t for a battlefied injury, he said he’d still be in. After landing a Hollywood union job loading film into video cameras, he met George Paddock, inventor and founder of GPI Pro Systems. Paddock took Bridges under his wing as an apprentice—someone to pass the reputable company onto—and Bridges has been at it ever since, improving and optimizing the camera mount system, including the move from film to digital.
His work gets him invited to a lot of Hollywood awards ceremonies, but he rarely attends them. “I’d much rather tend to my farm, or go to Bend’s Veteran’s Day parade.” Bridges’ happiness is literally in his own five-acre desert backyard, usually starting around 6 a.m. with feeding the chickens.
Both he and Michelle put a lot of sweat equity into the family farm, clearing out more than 50 juniper trees, building three luxurious chicken coops, and doing general landscaping and irrigation. One of the more recent additions, an enormous greenhouse, allows Bridges to grow more produce than he can use. Much of their excess is sold to Locavore, who encouraged him last year to raise ducks in order to fill a local duck-egg demand from restaurateurs.
Michelle’s passion lies in breeding DRUM horses, a hybrid between a Gypsy and Clydesdale that was first introduced to America about ten years ago. She loves that she and Jack can work from home because she can tend to her equines at any time—they’re just a few steps from her office. In Los Angeles, it was a half-hour commute to the stables where her horses were boarded.
While mostly a hobby, the Bridgeses’ farm also serves a purpose for business operations: luxurious rural accommodations for international clients who are visiting. “The customers who come out here love our farm and Central Oregon,” says Jack proudly.
Bridges understands the visitors’ sentiments. “You either work to live, or live to work,” he explains, looking out over his farm from his big office desk. “We chose to have our family time. That’s why we live here now. I couldn’t be happier.”
Photos from above: Jack and Michelle Bridges on the steps of their high desert farmhouse. | Bridges’s chickens have it good; their henhouses look fit for human habitation. | The GPI Pro System (known more colloquially as the steady-cam) helps camera operators maintain steady video while on the move. | One of Michelle’s many Drum horses.