Grasping the Big Picture
Video Specialist Chris Thibault is Focused on Growth
He kept coming back to the word ‘edgier,’ as in “some people think my style’s a little edgier than what you would get from a corporate video-production company. When they’re looking for something to connect and be sharable and be cool, for lack of a better word, people come to me.”
When pressed for more specific definitions of what amount to technical terms — ‘edgier’ and ‘cool’ — Thibault, founder and president of Chris Teebo Films (he says that spelling makes his name easier to pronounce and his company easier to find), struggled somewhat, as might be expected, because of the subjective nature of those words.
“Anyone can make a pretty picture,” he told BusinessWest before a lengthy pause as he searched for more words. “I just try to bring my own style into it and not base anything off a template.”
With that, he decided that the best way to get his points across was to play a shorter version of what eventually became a promotional video and television commercial he produced a few years ago for something called the Great Bull Run — a series of events that, as the name suggests, brings the Spanish tradition of running with the bulls to this country.
“I like to take risks — that’s what they teach you in art school starting on day one, to take risks when you can,” he said as he rolled the footage, which showed close, detailed shots of individuals running alongside 1,500-pound bulls, an effect created with several cameras, including one strapped to one of the runners (christeebo.com/portfolio/the-great-bull-run). “You can cover this like a news story, and there’s nothing wrong with news, but we wanted to get right into the mix and capture what this is about. People who run with bulls, or might run with bulls … they want something edgier.”
Teebo’s ability to create that intangible has helped him grow his now-Springfield-based company dramatically in recent years, with a 60% increase in revenues in 2014 alone, and add to his portfolio of work.
For example, it now includes several Big Y commercials featuring New England Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork, a promotional video for the Spirit of Springfield’s Bright Nights lighting display (produced for its 20th anniversary), television commercials for political candidates such as recently elected state Sen. Eric Lesser, and much more.
Some of these works are edgier than others — political office seekers, not to mention Big Y, tend to be fairly conservative, while the Bright Nights video was shot from the perspective of a young child and is thus quite compelling — but together, they have helped Thibault meet the ongoing challenges of gaining word-of-mouth referrals and generating business from that marketing tool known as the Internet.
And he hopes an upcoming project — a promotional video of Springfield being financed by its Economic Development Department with the goal of showcasing current initiatives and inspiring more of them — will create more momentum in efforts to build his brand and get involved in Springfield’s comeback.
“I’m really excited about this project,” he said. “I’m going to knock it out of the park with that one.”
Looking ahead, Thibault, as he said, wants to not only help promote Springfield through that video now in the planning stages, but be part of the city’s turnaround. He recently relocated to a office in 1350 Main St., and is conceptualizing plans to develop what he called “shared creative space” in the city.
Such a facility, a large studio, would become workspace for a host of creative professionals, including photographers, videographers, audio engineers, and even musicians, he explained, adding that there are models for such a development in New York and Boston that he hopes to emulate.
In the meantime, his more immediate goals are to expand the portfolio with more ‘edgy’ work, add additional employees, and grow Chris Teebo Films into a regional force within this industry.
For this issue and its emphasis on technology, BusinessWest talked at length with a young business owner focused (there’s another industry term) on creating images that get results, no matter how the client chooses to measure them.
Setting the Stage
Like most individuals in this business, Thibault can trace his interest back to his high-school years. In this case, it was a 10th-grade class in video production at Springfield’s Sci Tech that got him hooked.
“I thought this was the coolest thing ever,” he noted. “It combined all the aspects that I loved. I was always an artistic kid — I would always draw, mess around with music and sound — and I thought video combined all that, so I fell in love with it.”Finding ways to express this affection became more difficult when his family moved to West Springfield. The city’s high school didn’t have video production classes, so he created some.
He bought a Sony handycam, began filming the school’s sports teams, and created seasonal highlight videos that garnered both revenue and acclaim.
“They would play them at the year-end banquet, and the video would get a standing ovation,” he recalled. “These weren’t huge events, but everyone would stand up and clap, and that was a great feeling.”
Thibault was accepted at the prestigious School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York City, starting classes there just a few days before 9/11 — an event, like many others, that produced learning experiences far outside the classroom that have stayed with him to this day.
“New York City is a school unto itself,” he told BusinessWest, adding that, while attending SVA, he lived in Brooklyn Heights, in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, and watched tens of thousands of people stream over than span from lower Manhattan on the morning of the terrorist attacks, most all of them covered in a gray dust.
He didn’t know exactly what was going on, but his artistic tendencies compelled him to buy a small disposable camera and grab a seat on the only operating subway line still bringing people into Manhattan.
“I was probably 15 blocks from the towers,” he recalled, adding that when the American Express building, also known as Three World Trade Center, fell, the ground shook, and he knew something serious was going on. Perhaps the most unforgettable moment, though, involved a news reporter he remembered seeing on television.
“There was a woman coming back with a baby covered in soot, she was walking up the street,” he recalled. “This newswoman started yelling to the cameraman, ‘get her!’ She kicked over a trashcan, the cameraman got on top, filmed her, then jumped off, and the newswoman got the lady on camera to do a story.
“It was just a New York mentality — ‘let’s do it.’ There was no fear,” he went on, adding that this philosophy manifests itself in some of his current work.
But it would be awhile before Thibault could really start expressing himself artistically.
Indeed, he would soon leave SVA, in part for financial reasons — “New York is great, the school was great, but it’s very expensive out there” — but also because he felt a need, and desire, to get working.
That work, however, involved mostly wedding and event videography while he also drove a truck for his father.
“I did cheerleading events, dance competitions, anything like that; anything that had to do with video, I would take the job,” he said, adding that he did so to pay off the camera he purchased and build a name for himself.
“At the end of the day, my heart wasn’t really in it — filming weddings is not my passion,” he went on, adding that, as his skills improved and his reputation grew, he eventually started doing work for commercial clients and never looked back. “It’s tough to break into commercial video when you’re doing events, and at one point, I just said, ‘I’m finished with this,’ and stopped taking down payments for weddings, even though it was tough to do so, because I was trying to build a business.”
Thibault said his big break, if one could call it that, came when he pitched an idea to the owners of the Springfield Armor, the NBA Developmental League team that came to the city in 2009, to do a promotional video and build excitement for the team before it actually arrived in the City of Homes.
“I felt a buzz around Springfield when they were coming in, and I just wanted to do something great for the city as well as the team,” he recalled as he played that video, which showed people of all ages and persuasions playing hoops, a young man dribbling a basketball over the Memorial Bridge, the unveiling of the Armor name and logo, and other scenes designed to build interest in the Armor and the sport. “It was a commercial about the team, but without the team — they weren’t here yet — and it was cool.”
The spot was originally designed for the web, but it was so well-received, it started airing on area TV stations, said Thibault, adding that he was later approached by a marketing firm representing a Developmental League team in Texas to do something similar.
With the Armor video and other works now in his portfolio, Thibault had more to show marketing firms and prospective clients, and work started to come his way, as both director and producer of content through Chris Teebo Films and as a freelance director of photography.
Indeed, as the latter, he’s been involved with projects ranging from promotional shoots for office supplies giant Staples and motor oil maker Castrol to part of an episode for TLC network’s Sex Sent Me to the ER, a show that has actors re-enacting real-life accidents that occurred during sex.
“It’s a terrible show … but there was a couple in Connecticut, and they were looking for a studio closer than New York, and the producers out in L.A. hired me for that segment,” said Thibault, adding that it was shot in his studio in the cavernous Cabotville Industrial park in Chicopee.
He rarely does freelance work these days, primarily because Chris Teebo Films has secured enough work to keep him quite busy. And it comes from several sources.
For starters, there’s the commercials he’s shot for Big Y featuring Wilfork, the Springfield-based grocery chain’s main spokesperson. He’s now done five spots spotlighting the 350-pound lineman as pitchman for pizza and sandwiches, including one that aired during the recent Super Bowl.Thibault has also added a number of other commercial clients in recent years, including political candidates such as Lesser, who captured his seat last fall, and Mike Bissonnette, who served several terms as Chicopee’s mayor, as well as regional companies and nonprofits ranging from Doctor’s Express (a new client) to Spirit of Springfield; from United Way of Pioneer Valley to FastenMaster, a subsidiary of Agawam-based OMG Inc. that specializes in deck and trim screws and other products.
One wouldn’t expect deck screws to be the subject of video productions defined with the word ‘edgier,’ but Thibault said he’s managed to do just that.
To demonstrate, he went back to his computer and called up a video featuring Gary Daley, owner of America’s DeckBuilder, LLC, using FastenMaster products, one of several spots Teebo has produced in a series that has taken him all over the country.
“They’re showcasing pros that use their products, and it’s become a very effective way of promoting the brand,” he said, adding that he also creates “tips and tricks” videos for the company. “I think FastenMaster is brilliant in doing this; they’re creating content for this industry that doesn’t exist, and they’re giving people something to watch and something to aspire to.”
Overall, Thibault said his goal is to produce videos that, like the one for the Great Bull Run, get not only shares and likes on Facebook and YouTube (although those are important), but also results for the client.
In the case of the Great Bull Run, for example, his video was used by organizers of the event when they appeared on Shark Tank, and, Thibault believes, it helped them secure $1.75 million in funding from shark investor Mark Cuban.
“Barbara Corcoran [one of the show’s ‘sharks’] actually said, ‘what a great video’ right on the air, which is cool,” said Thibault, adding that he plans to put that footage and commentary on his revamped website.
To get results, Thibault says he has to trust his instincts, take risks when they’re appropriate (there are many times when they are not), and work with the client without being limited by its imagination.
“I try to create whatever I see in my mind without letting even a client hold me back,” he told BusinessWest. “Because, while I value clients’ opinions — they help me do my job better — sometimes they don’t know exactly what they want, and they’re using some kind of template as a model.”
That’s a Wrap
Looking ahead, Thibault said this industry moves too quickly and unpredictably for five-year plans, so he’s moving in much shorter increments.
His immediate goals are to continue building the portfolio, hiring additional staff (there is currently one full-time employee with others hired on a freelance basis), and advance those aforementioned plans for shared creative space.
“There’s some great creative talent in Western Mass., but people initially think they have to leave and go to New York or Boston to pursue a career,” he said. “My goal is to help keep some of that talent here.”
While doing that, he plans to go on taking risks, producing video with an edge to it, and focusing on the big picture, figuratively and quite literally.
George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]