CINECRAFT PRODUCTIONS, INC. is a film studio based in Cleveland. It was one among hundreds of film studios created during the middle decades of the twentieth century, specializing in producing non-theatrical, industrial, commercial, business, and SPONSORED FILMS. In Cleveland alone, there were at least 13 sponsored film studios.
Cinecraft was founded in 1939 by Betty and Ray Culley. It is thought to be the longest-surviving sponsored film studio in the U.S.
Betty Buehner Culley (1914-2016) started her film career in one of the few important film jobs open to women, film cutting (editing), first in Cleveland for TRI-STATE MOTION PICTURES, then in New York. Her foresight to adopt 16mm sound film, a relatively new format at the time, to produce economical industrial films allowed Cinecraft to win may significant clients, including WESTINGHOUSE ELECTRIC CORP. and GENERAL ELECTRIC.
Born in Norwalk, Ohio, Ray Culley (1904-1983) began his film career as an actor in Hollywood in 1931. He quickly moved to work behind the camera. The Internet Movie Database lists him as a production manager, assistant director, or second unit director for 23 movies in the 1931-1937 period. In 1937 he relocated to Cleveland to direct five General Electric films for Cleveland-based Tri-State Motion Pictures. Shortly after, Betty and Ray married and started Cinecraft.
The Culleys first ran Cinecraft out of a rental space in the Card Building at 118 St. Clair Ave. in Cleveland. Stationery and business documents for the studio used the slogan "Sound Business Pictures in Natural Color" and mention Betty and Ray's Hollywood and New York connections.
In 1947, the Culleys bought the Chamber of Industries building at 2515 Franklin Blvd. By the end of the year, the studio was operating from this new location.
Cinecraft has made hundreds of sponsored films and thousands of filmed TV commercials and serials. The studio’s film client's included DuPont, STANDARD OIL OF OHIO (SOHIO), Seiberling Rubber Company, Firestone Tire and Rubber, Goodyear Tire and Rubber, Bethlehem Steel, Owens-Corning, OHIO BELL TELEPHONE, General Electric, Westing House, AMERICAN GREETINGS, at least six brewing companies including CARLING and LEISY, and REPUBLIC STEEL. Much of the studio's film business came through advertising agencies, including Cleveland-based FULLER & SMITH & ROSS, INC. For a list of important Cinecraft films, see the end of the article.
Hundreds of Cinecraft feature-length and made-for-television films have been preserved and digitized, and are available on the Hagley Museum and Library website.
Cinecraft was also an important presence in early television. The studio was one of the first to use three cameras filming simultaneously in filming for TV. The film from the three cameras would be edited together to produce a program that would match the feel of a live TV broadcast.
In 1954, Cinecraft was the first to advertise the availability of three-camera synchronized filming with a Teleprompter. Cinecraft used the technique to film the 1953-1960 weekly television series, THE OHIO STORY (1953-1961) for the OHIO BELL TELEPHONE CO. A creation of author FRANK SIEDEL, The Ohio Story began as a three times a week radio series from 1947 to 1953. In 1953 it switched to two radio shows and one TV show a week. The radio series ended in 1955. Over 1,300 radio episodes were aired. The Ohio Story TV series first aired on October 4, 1953, and ran for nine years. 175 Ohio Story TV episodes were produced. A complete collection of the Ohio Story radio scripts and TV episodes is held in the Cleveland History Center of the WESTERN RESERVE HISTORICAL SOCIETY.
The first filmed TV infomercials ever produced were made by Cinecraft. The first featured William Grover “Papa” Barnard selling Vitamix blenders on a show called Home Miracles of the 1950s.
The studio made many early TV sewing, cooking, and craft films of Cleveland-based LOUISE WINSLOW, a pioneer in TV programming targeting women. Winslow became a nationally known home economist in 1950 when her Adventures in Sewing and Food is Fun TV series were nationally syndicated. The programs led to some print and TV appearances for national brands, including Krogers, Scotch Tape, SHERWIN WILLIAMS, Westinghouse, and Wear-ever Aluminum Foil.
Cinecraft used local talent drawn from the CLEVELAND PLAY HOUSE for many of their films and collaborated with the CLEVELAND SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA when a memorable music score was needed. K. ELMO LOWE, an actor and director of the Cleveland Play House, worked on many studio projects over the years.
Occasionally, at their client's request, the studio recruited famous Hollywood actors to appear in their films. Well-known celebrities who appeared in Cinecraft productions include singer, dancer, and movie star, Danny Kaye; Tim Conway, co-star of “The Carol Burnett Show;” ERNIE ANDERSON, "Ghoulardi" of Cleveland night time TV fame in the 1960s and the voice of ABC and announcer for the TV sitcom “The Love Boat"; Clevelander Joel Grey (born Joel David Katz) best known as the Master of Ceremonies in Cabaret on Broadway as well as in the 1972 film adaptation; Chet Huntley the co-anchor with David Brinkley of NBC's evening news for 14 years, and Basil Rathbone, best known for playing Sherlock Holmes in fourteen Hollywood films made between 1939 and 1946.
Paul Culley (1924-2016) took over ownership of the studio from Ray in 1970. Twenty years younger than his brother, Paul had served his country during the Second World War. A flight engineer on B-17s, his plane was shot down twice over Germany. Paul led the transition from film to video in the 1970s. For over 50 years, a member of the Culley family ran the studio, and many Culley family members worked there.
In 1976, Neil McCormick took a directing and editing job at Cinecraft. In 1985, Neil and his wife, Maria Keckan, a medical video producer, bought Cinecraft as 50-50 partners. Together they completed making the leap from film to broadcast quality video as industrial and commercial clients demanded faster and easier ways to make effective motion pictures.
In the 1990s, the studio started to transition to digital technology with interactive computer based medical training programs. These videos not only taught the learner but tracked their learning and gave instant feedback to the viewer on their answers. This early beginning of e-learning was improved upon through the years as Cinecraft Productions became known for excellence in e-learning, producing national and international projects for fortune 1000 companies.
Today, the studio is unique as an eLearning company with high end video capabilities and digital programming. In 2018, after 32 years of growth under Neil McCormick and Maria Keckan, the next generation of leadership was installed with Dan Keckan as CEO and Matt Walsh as Chief Operating officer.
Cinecraft is still privately owned and has had only three owners in its first 80 years of operation. As of 2023, it is still operating out of the JOHN EISENMANN designed CLEVELAND PUBLIC LIBRARY - West Side Branch building that Ray and Betty Culley purchased in 1947.
Noteworthy Cinecraft films include:
|Company||Film Title and (Year)|
|ARMCO||The Romance of Iron and Steel (1938)|
|B.F. Goodrich||Free Wheelin’ (1976)|
|Fostoria Glass||Crystal Clear (1946)|
|General Electric||Naturally - It’s FM (1947)|
|LAKE CARRIERS ASSN.||The Long Ships Passing (1960)|
|Standard Oil (Ohio)||Milestones of Motoring (1954), Where the River Enters the Sea (1982)|
|U.S. Air Force||C-5 Galaxy: World’s Largest Aircraft (1967)|
|UNITED STEELWORKERS OF AMERICA||Where’s Joe? (1972)|
Jim Culley and Kevin Martin
Last updated: 1/29/2023
Monaghan, Peter. "Hagley Library's Collection Tells How Industry Worked." 22, March, 2021.