FRAMING ED: Learning more about Ed Joyce, Ed Searles, and their Frame Shop

by Elisa Lenssen

At first, the shop scene seems like Hollywood. A Los Angeles address, film memorabilia, long lists of film credits. But zoom in and the coast closer to home is revealed. From 25 Los Angeles Street in Newton, Mass., Ed Joyce and Ed Searles operate The Frame Shop, a motion control camera company. Joyce says motion control camera work is a “niche business”; its clientele says The Frame Shop’s particular niche is a sizeable chunk of northeastern and national filmmaking.

“Our clientele,” Joyce says, “goes from students to commercial work, with the bulk of it being documentaries.” Documenting The Frame Shop’s life would need film in bulk: it’s a place filled with history and stories, a video animation stand, a double-column Oxberry film animation stand, a multi-axis motion control rig, a giant schnauzer named Mitchell, and two men named Ed who have rolled camera on hundreds of projects for over 20 years.

Award-winning documentary filmmaker Ken Burns is a client of Joyce and Searles, and has been on over half a dozen projects. Ric Burns uses their services. So does Nova. Frontline. The American Experience. Fox Cable. Olive Jar Animation. Warner Brothers. The Discovery Channel. Local filmmakers like John O’Brien and Marlene Booth.

Ed Joyce himself started locally, doing odd jobs at the Education Development Center when he was 14. When EDC acquired its first animation stand, Joyce says “they said okay, you’re the operator.” And he was, soon operating his own business. His clients often turned out to also be BU Film School graduate Ed Searles’s clients, and the two Eds soon joined their talents. In the early years, Joyce says, “the talent pool in Boston was not that great. This is, of course, no longer at all true. It’s kind of like we all grew up together.”

Yet it was often The Frame Shop’s guidance that smoothed growing pains. “He’s been a wonderful teacher,” filmmaker Marlene Booth says of Joyce. They first worked together in 1980 in the EDC basement, after which Booth says she “thought he was a genius.” Also after which, she returned to the Frame Shop for her first big independent film and continued to do so with each subsequent project, most recently 1999’s YIDL IN THE MIDDLE: GROWING UP JEWISH IN IOWA.

“I don’t know anybody who hasn’t worked with Eddie, or Eddie and Eddie, and done so happily,” says Booth. “I might have moved toward history just so I could word with them.”

And so it’s not surprising that Joyce says “One of our key jobs is to understand who we’re working for, to ask ‘what are you saying?’” Both he and Searles say this understanding can come from only a few hours’ worth of shooting. “All I’m trying to do is make the person think, so it becomes his or her framing,” Joyce says.

“It gives you a chance to look at it together,” Searles says. “By the second time you shoot with somebody, you can tell … one person’s fast is not another’s fast.” To further emphasize individual stylistic idiosyncrasies, Joyce says that “People tend to think with Ken and Ric, there’s a sameness there. There’s not.”

These ‘Ken and Ric’ are the ones with the Burns surname, the two award-winning documentary filmmakers who do share at least another additional thing -- the Frame Shop in their credits.

From the very beginning Joyce and Searles understood what Ken Burns was saying. After seeing Ken’s Brooklyn Bridge work, Joyce wanted to collaborate but failed to find any mutual acquaintance. Then one day Ken called from New Hampshire, asking about moves on photographs. “I could tell he wasn’t very happy with the work he was getting,” Joyce says.

Joyce invited Ken to come down with some work and see what The Frame Shop could do. “If you like it, pay me. If you don’t like it, don’t pay me,” Joyce says he told Ken. Ken came down, liked it, and has continued as a paying client ever since. “We sort of got to know how he likes things framed,” Searles says. Sort of indeed.

Joyce and Searles agree that the different sorts of people who visit The Frame Shop bring constant rewards. “One of the things that’s special is to simply be able to see the photographs,” Searles says. “Some people bring collections from all over the world … It’s the opportunity to see images, to sometimes hear some of the stories.”

The opportunity to preserve film pioneer Eadweard Maybridge’s original negatives gave Searles an appreciation for his trade’s “ability to bring back to life something that was in danger of dying.” The trade can also give birth to feelings never before felt: Searles worked with materials for a Richard Nixon documentary and says “I felt compassion for the man for the first time, shooting his baby pictures.”

Babies have, in fact, been christened in honor of The Frame Shop. When Vermont filmmaker and sheepherder John O’Brien was onsite at the shop laboring on NOSEY PARKER, an ewe back at home was going through a difficult labor; upon her safe delivery of twins and The Frame Shop’s safe delivery of film clips, O’Brien announced he’d named the lambs ‘The Eds.’

“A lot of our clients have become our friends,” Joyce says, not species-specific. “As much as the art is rich, the people we meet are rich.” These varied riches allow Joyce and Searles to always appreciate their fluctuating workplace. “Even though we’re doing moves on photographs for so many different people, it’s because they’re all different people,” Joyce says. “Some say ‘oh, you do the same thing everyday,’ But we really don’t.”

They claim that what they do usually do is creative problem-solving, deciding how to “best get around things” that could otherwise prevent progress. “It’s like music,” Searles says of using century-old camera techniques in new ways. “It’s all the same notes but rearranged.”

Not to be one left hanging, Joyce chimes in with “Or like men’s ties.”

His trope is appropriate. Ties have long been the staple of a professional wardrobe and of gift giving. The Frame Shop has long been the staple of New England’s professional filmmaking, always giving assistance. “In a business that’s very competitive, they help everybody,” says Booth, “And with equal concern, which isn’t something everybody would do.”

Everybody associates Los Angeles and California with Hollywood and the movies. Not everybody associates the Frame Shop with its clients. They say they don’t advertise much, relying instead on word-of-mouth. Still, as Joyce considers the shop’s lot, he says “being in the film and camera industry, it’s a good address.” Word-of-mouth says that being in the film and camera industry, it’s a good thing to have Ed and Ed at The Frame Shop.

Elisa Lenssen is currently working for Cambridge Community Television, though for most of the year she is writing and studying in Iowa at Grinnell College. Elisa is in love with words, film, and bad puns.