Every now and then, a production company comes along and sweeps me off my feet. Blue Chalk, launched publicly in Brooklyn just last week, is my newest source of inspiration. Their brand, product, mission, process-- all of it points to a new and optimistic era in the visual storytelling world. I can't help but think these guys are on to something, and could help lift this industry to grand new heights-- not just through talent and high-quality storytelling, but through their love of collaboration, passion for innovation, and determination to make fair wages the norm.
I recently had the privilege of interviewing Blue Chalk's CEO, Greg Moyer, about the challenges we face and his hopes for changing the game. The result is one of the most rewarding and insightful interviews I've ever had the pleasure to share. - Amy
TDN: Why Blue Chalk Media, and why now? What are you hoping to accomplish-- and contribute?
Moyer: Blue Chalk Media grew out of my personal passion to create and support documentary film and multimedia projects about subjects that matter. Our long-term goal is to help invent the business models that will sustain world-class visual storytelling at a time when the legacy media support systems are showing signs of collapse.
TDN: Your website states that "Blue Chalk arrives at a complicated time in the evolution of the visual media industries." I like how this acknowledges both the challenges and opportunities facing visual storytellers today... but it also sounds like you're on to something. How are you handling challenges like distribution, how much content to make viewable for free, and how to keep enough passion/advocacy projects in the mix?
Moyer: We can't claim to have a blueprint for how best to support either world-class photojournalism or documentary filmmaking. However, Blue Chalk is meant to be more than a production company that tells compelling stories through pictures and video. We want to enlarge the audience for visual storytelling and find ways to finance and support content creation.
Our strategies start with the belief that Blue Chalk can build new brands for visual content that serve the information and entertainment needs of targeted audiences. Brands are valuable to audiences because they offer the consistent delivery of curated content against a focused editorial promise. Over time, people who appreciate a branded service are more likely to pay for its delivery.
Members of the Blue Chalk team have extensive experience creating and nurturing media brands that today are recognized as household names. We intend to help clients and partners accomplish their communications needs and we intend to publish projects of our own choosing.
TDN: What would you say to cash-strapped nonprofit organizations with critical messages to broadcast?
Moyer: We'd argue that a prerequisite for generating donations is to tell a powerful story. If this is true, the first and most important dollar invested by nonprofits should be to hire the very best storytellers.
TDN: Why did you make the switch from network programming to independent visual storytelling? Do you see opportunities in this digital field now that weren't there before?
Moyer: I've enjoyed a terrific career in cable television and had a hand in launching brands such as Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet, and later introducing lifestyle channels Food Network and Travel Channel to audiences worldwide. These services all continue to prosper as both television and digital properties.
However, I personally enjoy designing and building new brands where you are free to experiment and innovate.
Never before has the technology existed to allow individual content creators to distribute their work to a potential audience worldwide. Nor has the technology to shoot and edit been more accessible. The challenge today is one of “discoverability.” With the distribution barriers so low, the winners are those who can market the existence of their work through effective communications strategies and social media.
The opportunity to engage in high-impact visual communications—whether as journalists or advocates—has never been better.
TDN: What lessons from your 25 years in cable television are you bringing with you to Blue Chalk?
Moyer: One of the most powerful resources required of a creative and dynamic organization is a quality culture. When I worked at Discovery Communications during its first 13 years of existence, the company was energized by the vision and collaborative “can do” attitude of its founder, John Hendricks.
Now, as a founder myself, I take the role of culture creator seriously. The most enjoyable aspect of building a business is collecting people who share a common set of dreams and want to work to realize collective ambitions. The more profoundly a culture is lived, the more certain that an organization will accomplish its mission.
TDN: Your bio mentions the "opportunity for Blue Chalk Media to incubate a new era of rich media storytelling as digital distribution pushes traditional and new media brands to 'go mobile.'" Are you counting on a significant number of people to see your work on Droids and iPads? What does that digital platform look like?
Moyer: One of our favorite buzz phrases at Blue Chalk is "press play." We believe that in a digital world, "video is the new black." The short-form, digital-first video is one of the richest expressions of story that we can supply. Short-form video is easy to share and fun to watch as the medium allows more immersive and emotional elements into the storytelling.
We believe that photojournalists need to think more about how to gather video along with stills. Sometimes this may require a shooting partner. By gathering more components of the story at the outset, it may improve chances for monetizing their photography down the road.
TDN: Who makes up Blue Chalk's staff, and how much are you planning to collaborate with other freelancers on your projects? Why that model?
Moyer: The core Blue Chalk team of six full-time staff brings together experience from the worlds of photojournalism, documentary film, cable television programming, digital communications, and business development gleaned from experiences with commercial entities and nonprofits alike. We'll add to staff as the volume of work requires.
However, we're already big users of freelance talent, having hired photographers, videographers, sound recordists, editors, composers, animators, and graphic designers to complete our assignments. None of our projects has been fully produced by staff.
We also intend to help build teams around individual creatives who are finding that their profession has evolved into a team sport. It was once enough to carry cameras and a proverbial toothbrush into the field. Now to get those pictures to market may require the help of a producer, video editor, marketer, and business affairs maven—all tasks we can accomplish in partnership with industry professionals.
Collaboration keeps everybody learning. I’ve never seen a creative company that prospered by relying totally on in-house talent.
TDN: I've read some really thought-provoking articles recently claiming that humanity's only chance at halting catastrophic climate change is to revolt. How does this make you feel as Blue Chalk's CEO? As a storyteller? As a human being? What is our collective role as visual storytellers in this scenario?
Moyer: Storytelling is the necessary first step to instigating societal change. While I’m not personally in favor of taking the law into our own hands as anarchists might propose, I do think that we suffer grave consequences if the marketplace of ideas is framed within boundaries acceptable to corporate interests.
I’m a firm believer that people as individual readers and viewers need to support quality storytelling. If we believe the mantra that “all content is meant to be free,” then we will be wildly over served with “free” content about issues that carry an advertising agenda. Having alternative funding models to tell and retell stories of climate change, for example, may be instrumental in saving the planet.
TDN: Thinking big-- what are your greatest hopes for visual storytelling, knowing the digital world and global connections we have access to now? Where do you hope to see this industry in 10 years? How do you hope it affects the world?
Moyer: First, I want the marketplace for visual storytellers to expand so that people can build careers and support families based on their talents and experience.
Second, I want visual storytelling to be an ascendant cultural force in the grand tradition of photojournalism—exposing viewers to stories that provoke public opinion and lead to collective action through better understanding of the larger world.
Third, I want to surround audiences with images and video that garners appreciation for its visual design. Great imagery in public places helps us all see better.
TDN: What story are you most excited to unveil with your public launch? Why?
Moyer: What makes me the most proud is that in our first six months, we've already produced a range of stories that can move you to tears or provoke a chuckle. We want to guard against becoming an editorial monoculture where one type of story defines our brand. Examples of our diverse projects are available at bluechalk.com.
TDN: Are you hiring?
Moyer: Not immediately, though people should follow us on social media and watch the website. We will post open positions as we grow.
About Blue Chalk Media
Blue Chalk Media a Brooklyn-based digital media company founded by people who believe in the power of nonfiction visual storytelling. With roots in photojournalism, documentary film, cable television and digital communications, the Blue Chalk team is equipped to serve third-party clients and partners as well as to publish independently.
Greg Moyer is an award-winning television and digital media executive with deep international experience and a track record of innovation in channel design, brand positioning, programming, marketing and global distribution. A creative and inspirational leader, Moyer has successfully operated across senior positions for Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet, VOOM HD and Food Network, among others. Moyer led Discovery in collecting five George Foster Peabody Awards for programming excellence.