chris door

The CL in CLAi

CLAi started life in the UK as a business under the snappy name Chris Layhe Associates, Incorporated.

Whilst it was very precise we soon discovered that nobody could spell Layhe (pronounced Lay) and gave up trying to type soon after the first “y”.  So we became CLAi to make life easier for everyone.

CLAi and Chris Layhe – the two are interchangeable. Chris founded CLAi the San Francisco video production company, and handles the day to day design and execution of every project that we take on. He is joined by his wife Stephanie – who plays a big part as a “common sense consultant”, a general assistant, and a constantly changing team of like-minded and experienced film and video professionals.

So this little bit is about Chris Layhe (me), and the evolution of CLAi…

After many years at various UK universities studying architecture, film and photography, and 3D animation I was fortunate enough to get into the London BBC Chapel as a documentary feature director and editor. I then moved on to the London advertising agency scene with Saatchi & Saatchi/HP-ICM to include long form commercials in my portfolio, and finally set up my own production company to add feature narratives and higher end documentary and marketing corporate work.  In the late 90’s I sold my UK company. 

My Harley felt the call to come back to the States – so Stephanie and I packed our bags, put the cameras, the edit systems (and the Police Electra Glide) into a container, and left Europe behind us. We’ve been based in Santa Cruz for the past 11 years or so now, and love it here – even the constant drives to San Francisco, San Jose and Los Angeles!

Of course, like everything in our industry, nothing stays the same for more than 20 minutes and so I'm always evolving what CLAi are able to do as a company and what I am able to do personally.

This year I made another evolutionary step in changing the business to meet today’s client needs.  Stephanie brought me the twin concepts of “Lean Management” and “Just In Time Staffing” through her work as a the Director of Rehab and Wound Care at Community Hospital of Monterey Peninsula.  These were concepts which we studied in detail, combined with Steve Blank’s theories on “Lean Creativity”, simplified and then put in place to re-create CLAi as a rapid scaleable organization.

We retained all of our killer physical assets, the six post-production suites, the multiple 4k cameras, lighting packages, audio equipment and so on, and then reduced our full-time personnel to just myself and an assistant – so our daily overheads are now far lower than ever before.  This allows me to shoot a simple interview or edit an Indie film at a super affordable rate, while still bringing all my experience and top of the line equipment to the project… or just as easily call on a hand-picked twenty person crew precisely as they are needed to handle every aspect of a major project – and bring exactly the right people for each specific job, rather than full-time staff jack-of-all-trades and juniors.  

It translates into not having to worry too much about rates and time used – which is an inspirational and very different business perspective to come from!

I’ve been in the video and film business for several decades now - about 35% of that work has been documentary based feature films and short or episodic pieces, 20% narrative pieces, and the other 45% split between corporate videos, non-profits and work for the arts.

Every year is a fresh start, and every year that company percentage changes – as does my personal split between producing and directing, DP and cinematographer work, and editing and fuller post-production.  

Nine years ago, when I bought my first RED camera, Charley Ward (CLAi’s first DIT and a really, really good guy) and myself were forced to create a post-production workflow from scratch as one didn’t exist.  This led to the discovery of RED digital film colorist work, and film color grading has become as big a part of my project vocabulary as editing now…

I seem to have a natural talent for fine film color grading and creating looks, and so color correction is an area which grows in importance each year for me (along with finished or online editing, audio finishing and mastering – all of which are part of our post-production finishing package).  

2016 saw my election into the very select Colorist Society International for film and entertainment industry colorists – an amazing honor that I value as much or more than our many other awards.