March 16, 2023

In Focus

In Focus: United States Tennis Association

For this month’s In Focus interview, we’re exited to feature the United States Tennis Association! We spoke with Matt Guerra, Executive Producer at USTA, about their Telly Award-winning video featuring Karin Korb for their series “Wheelchair Tennis – Pillars of Success.” We spoke with Guerra about how the concept for this video originated, the importance of impactful video content for USTA, and what winning a Telly Award means to them.

Watch “Wheelchair Tennis – Pillars of Success,” and read our interview with Matt Guerra, below! 

How did the concept for this video  originate? Why did you decide to focus on Karin Korb? Wheelchair tennis touches the essence of our sport – a desire to play and compete that rises above any circumstance. For wheelchair athletes, simply being on the court is a victory. We felt Karin was an essential subject because she is a bridge between the earliest days of the sport, to where we are today. Her mentors were literally the founding mothers and fathers of wheelchair tennis, and she remains active today – bringing a lifetime of experience to the next great generation of players.

What challenges did you encounter while creating this piece? How did you overcome them? Filming 6 subjects spread across the country within a couple of weeks was a challenge. It can be hard enough to make sure all of your footage “belongs in the same movie” when you are working with a tight-knit team. Expanding our production to include 5 teams meanto the direction, style and what needed to be conveyed was crystal clear. I credit our director and editor, Kenn Bell, for providing excellent guidance to our teams in the field. This enabled us to create a cohesive whole from many different sources.

How did the concept for this piece evolve over time? The original idea was to present of history of wheelchair tennis. As we began with our pre-interviews it became clear that the most interesting part of these stories was not how they fit into a timeline, but how certain themes repeated themselves in everyone’s story. Despair, defeat, resilience, curiosity, obsession, community, competition, joy. This and more, but what was clear is that discovering and falling in love with wheelchair tennis is a journey. And that while each athlete has a unique origin, the waypoints along the route seem universal.

What part of this piece are you most proud of? Our hope is that we were able to capture a unique moment in time for this sport, and to do it justice. Wheelchair tennis may be entering a newfound era a mainstream appeal. As exciting as this is, it creates even more urgency for documenting the foundations that have taken us this far.

What did you learn from making this video? Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this project went from concept to completion in under a month. That would not have been possible without each and every person involved being fully committed to telling this story. Every request we made was met with a “yes”. Every door we needed opened, was opened (graciously). And everyone who contributed brought their a-game from the creative team, to the sponsors who made it possible.

What role does video content play at the United States Tennis Association? How does this piece represent the company’s overall creative vision? It’s a piece of the whole. The USTA’s mission statement is “The promote and develop the growth of tennis.”. We have outstanding teams working in unison to fulfill this mission. Social Media, Creative Services and Editorial combine with our Video team to make sure the whole story of tennis in America is told well. That goes for grassroots efforts, league play, high school and collegiate programs – all the way up to the US Open. The real trick is figuring out the best way to communicate any given piece of information. Sometimes that may be posting the 1984 Women’s Final on our YouTube Channel, sometimes a quote graphic, sometimes an article. Operating as one team with a variety of positions enables us to produce a vast amount of content tailored specifically to the audiences who most want it.

What does winning a Telly Award mean to you? We have a team that is very proud of the work we do. That said, receiving acknowledgement from the Telly Awards lets us know we’re not the only ones that think it’s good! Funny but true. When you work in a world as focused as ours is, it’s essential to seek a broader perspective on the quality and relevance of the work you create. That’s what the Telly Awards gives us. A chance to not only gague our own performance, but to be exposed to world-class creators across the industry.

January 10, 2023

In Focus

In Focus: PBS Digital Studios

For this month’s In Focus interview, we’re exited to feature PBS Digital Studios! PBS Digital Studios is a YouTube channel and network through which PBS distributes original educational web video content. It comprises both original series and partnerships with existing YouTube channels. Currently, PBSDS includes a YouTube network of  14 active channels, including three multi-series themed channels, with 26.5 million subscribers, and over 3.1 billion lifetime views.

We sat down with Head of PBS Digital Studios, Maribel Lopez, to discuss the creative process at PBS Digital Studios and how they create entertaining content that is also educational and informative. As Head of PBS Digital Studios, Maribel serves as the executive producer of PBS’s original digital programming, oversees publishing operations and manages relationships with PBS member stations on behalf of PBS Digital Studios. She is responsible for identifying opportunities to expand reach and implement strategies to advance the legacy of PBS to the next generation of fans and supporters of public media.

How does your team define creative success?

Creative success at PBS Digital Studios is closely tied to the mission of public media. We aim to connect and inspire audiences through original programming that is both entertaining and educational, and one of the things I really love about what Digital Studios does is build communities around different subject matter areas. Our ability to respond to the needs of viewers helps us understand how to be innovative with our storytelling while ensuring that we’re still telling the stories that need to be told. 

We do an annual survey with our audience every year at Digital Studios, and that really helps us in our programming decision-making. We don’t let the data inform everything we do, of course, but it’s helpful to really, truly be listening to our audience and be responsive and take into consideration what they have to say so we can best serve them. And we’re going through a lot of that data right now to help us plan for the future.

What is the creative process at PBS Digital Studios like? Does it differ from project to project? If so, how?

Our creative process starts with thinking about how we can find and serve a unique niche in the different subject areas we specialize in. The subject areas — history, science, arts and humanities — helps us narrow in on the types of shows we’d like to bring into the creative process. PBS Digital Studios has a pitch portal that producers can use to submit their ideas and through our streamlined operations process, we’re able to pick and choose the projects we’re most excited about, and work with creators and producers to define the format, style and branding, which is different for every show. 

What is your favorite piece of work you created in the past year? Tell us the story behind it

There are countless pieces of work I could list off as PBS Digital Studios has so many creative and talented creators—so hard to pick a favorite!

A standout initiative from this past year has been building up our science-themed channel, PBS Terra. Thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation, PBS Digital Studios has a bunch of new science-themed series coming to that channel. 

One of those new shows is Why Am I Like This?, produced by STEMedia and hosted by biological anthropologist Dr. Tina Lasisi. The series explores how and why our bodies do what they do—like why we smell and where skin color comes from, etc. One goal for the producers of the show is to broaden participation from traditionally underrepresented racial and ethnic groups in STEM fields. The writing team is led by women of color and this representation is reflected in the voice and tone of the series. They lead with skits and humor, making the content approachable, relatable and fun, which is a unique approach for us on this channel.

How do you balance creating content that is both educational and entertaining?

Since the start of PBS Digital Studios in 2012, we’ve launched over 70 original video series and two podcasts—and through collaboration with our producing partnerships, we’ve built highly engaged communities across multiple platforms that value content that informs and inspires. We believe that we should reflect the audiences that we want to serve and over the last ten years, we’ve brought many new faces, personalities and talented individuals into the fold of public media that reflect the diversity of the audiences we hope to engage. 

We also pride ourselves in creating content that allows us to be responsive and learn in real time what the sweet spots are for balancing education with entertainment. If we have a 10-episode run of a show, we can develop the first few episodes, and use audience data to help inform future episodes. We want to keep people watching the whole way through and value listening to our audience. If people are really into science, what kind of science do they want to hear more about? Do they want to learn more about psychology? Then, we can try to build something around that and best serve them. 

What is the biggest creative risk you took recently? What was the outcome? 

This past year we launched a history-themed channel called PBS Origins. This channel was originally a show channel for our history series, The Origin of Everything, hosted by Dr. Danielle Bainbridge. When we made the strategic decision to relaunch the show channel into a history-themed channel, we weren’t sure how the audience would respond. Danielle was not only the host of Origin of Everything, but she was the voice of the show, the existing channel and the accompanying social media accounts—and this was something we were sensitive to and needed to carefully consider and navigate as we relaunched the channel. With Danielle’s help and support, we were able to successfully make the shift with little disruption and launched the tentpole series for PBS Origins, Historian’s Take.

Whose work inspires you the most? Shout out some work that you feel deserves more attention!

Every show on the PBS Digital Studios network is inspiring in some way, shape or form. Whether it’s the subject matter, the format, the approach—each series delivers on our mission to inspire audiences. 

Our personal finance show, Two Cents, has been around for several seasons and continues to be a stand-out series. Our primary audiences are young adults and we know that generation has experienced adulthood with a lot of economic volatility. Not to mention, understanding finances and money can be intimidating! Something Two Cents does extremely well is breaking financial concepts down in a very approachable and accessible way. It’s inspiring knowing that viewers are learning valuable lessons that can directly help them navigate their finances and even help them reach their personal finance goals.

Subcultured, a series on our PBS Voices YouTube channel, sheds a well-deserved light on the lesser-known subcultures that inspire and influence mainstream culture today. One episode this season I found especially inspiring explored the virtual reality chat community, a community I knew nothing about. The series host, Josef Lorenzo, went as far as working with a VR chat creator to have their own avatar created so they could attend a nightclub in VR, and they hosted a virtual watch party for the episode in VR. It was cool and innovative and the response from the VR chat community was so positive. 

I was inspired by the creative, deep and highly inclusive approach the producers took to share more about this community with viewers (full disclosure, I used to work with them at Twin Cities PBS). The focus on creating understanding and empathy about lesser-known communities drives the work and it shows. They also have provided descriptive audio tracks for all of the episodes of Subcultured, making the program accessible to more audiences.

What does winning Telly Awards mean to you? 

It is an honor! Winning Telly Awards demonstrates to our team, colleagues and the world that we can stand out in a field that is becoming both increasingly saturated and competitive. We are truly humbled to be in the company of so many incredible creators and globally recognized organizations trailblazing the future of media. 

October 18, 2022

In Focus

In Focus: The Innocence Project “Happiest Moments”

For this month’s In Focus Interview, we’re honored to talk to Alicia Maule, Digital Engagement Director of The Innocence Project, about their Telly Award winning video “Happiest Moments.” Watch the video below, then read our interview with Alicia to learn more about how it was made and how it fits into The Innocence Project’s overall mission to free those who are wrongfully convicted.

Watch “Happiest Moments,” from The Innocence Project, a Gold Winner in Campaigns – Branded Content


This is such a simple yet impactful video; What originally inspired the concept for it?

As an organization we fight endlessly to free wrongly convicted people and help restore their freedom. But there are some things, no matter how hard we try, we’ll never be able to return to our clients, their families, and their loved ones. And that’s what we wanted to highlight with this video. We wanted to drive home that while we work to free innocent people, we also work to prevent wrongful convictions in the first place and that is just as important because people miss out on these moments and milestones in life due to wrongful conviction, they can’t be replaced. Those injustices can’t be corrected, so we have to work to make sure they don’t happen to start with.

What challenges did you encounter while creating this piece? How did you overcome them?

Since 1992, the Innocence Project has helped free over 200 people from prison and over 3,000 have been exonerated in total in the U.S. Over 60,000 people have written to us for assistance. How do you choose just a few stories to represent the range of those experiences? Selecting stories is always tough because each story is powerful and because so many of our clients spend so many years — often several decades — in prison, they often don’t have a lot of photos of themselves over the years or mementos periods of their lives where other people would have lots of photos and keepsakes. We had to be creative in gathering these photos and footage especially because we are highlighting moments that our clients never got to experience, and by the very nature of that, no footage of those moments exists.

What part of this piece are you most proud of?

The team we assembled was fantastic and delivered two unforgettable pieces. This was our first piece of media produced in two languages — English and Spanish. And we’re really proud of having been able to do that, not only to reach a wider audience, particularly Spanish speakers who may be impacted by wrongful conviction, but also to acknowledge and honor our many Latinx clients.

How did the concept for this video evolve through the process of making it?

Since we were in the middle of a pandemic, we gathered existing footage for the production team and the director Ariel Ellis conducted Zoom interviews with our clients Rosa Jimenez, Termaine Hicks, and Huwe Burton. Ultimately, it was brought together by mostly archival footage of dozens of our clients and their families. That helped paint an authentic picture of their journeys. 

What did you learn from making this video?

Letting our clients’ stories and voices be front and center is really the most powerful way we can highlight wrongful conviction and its wide-ranging impacts.

What role does creating video content play for the Innocence Project? How does this piece represent your overall mission?

Video allows us to reach so many more people than any other medium. It also most effectively connects our clients’ stories to supporters and future supporters. The Innocence Project and media have always gone hand in hand. In the last few years we invested in producing more of our story through the Netflix series The Innocence Files to our Tiktok account. With one viral low production video on Tiktok, we can reach millions of people, young ones too!  

What does winning a Telly Award mean to you?

My goal when I started running digital for the Innocence Project in 2015 was to build an external and internal digital ecosystem, and a top notch program at that just like I was taught working on President Obama’s 2012 reelection and at Winning awards has been a cherry on top in terms of affirming our cause and quality of our work. It’s crucial to me that the Innocence Project digital help put the organization in the room with the best in the industry. Our clients deserve it, the organization needs it, and nonprofits like ours should be innovating in tech and digital as central to accelerating justice. 

August 8, 2022

In Focus

In Focus: Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

For this month’s In Focus Interview, we’re excited to feature the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), the world’s largest museum dedicated to preserving the history and culture of African-Americans. 

We sat down with Teddy Reeves, Ph.D., Curator of Religion at NMAAHC. In this role, Reeves has created innovative projects that highlight the influence of digital technologies in preserving Black spiritual and religious life in the Americas. In 2018, Teddy created and executive produced the web-based series, “gOD-Talk: A Black Millennials & Faith Conversation” to explore the dynamic ways Black millennials engage with faith and spirituality in the 21st century. The project continues to garner critical acclaim, and has received more than 24 Telly Awards.

Read our interview with Teddy below to learn more about the Smithsonian’s creative process and their innovative approach to preserving Black culture and history. 

How does your team define creative success?

For the Center for the Study of African American Religious Life (CSAARL) team—Donna Braxton, Bacarri Byrd, Janine Hinton, Kim Moir, Eric Williams, Ph.D., and myself—at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture (NMAAHC), creative success is defined by our ability to engage multiple publics in innovative and diverse ways on the topic of African American religious and spiritual life. We are in a unique position being a religion center housed at a museum. Typically, centers like ours are housed at colleges and universities. The foresight of our founding Museum director and now secretary of the Smithsonian, Dr. Lonnie Bunch, and other curatorial staff at NMAAHC to envision a center for religion to explore Black religiosity pluralistically was creative ingenuity at its finest! 

In measuring our creative success, we ask ourselves several questions internally: have we engaged with the latest forms of digital technology to reach our audiences; have we centered the lived experiences of marginalized voices (Black women, LGBTQIA+, differently abled individuals, etc.) in the preservation and study of Black religion; and how can we make what we do better. The creative process for us is ever evolving, which means the determiners of success are not stagnant.

What does the creative process look like at the Smithsonian? Does it differ from project to project? If so, how?

The creative process for us is collaborative in the CSAARL. From administrators to curators, we seek to create space for all voices and experiences to be heard during our creative process. Realizing that creativity is not produced in a vacuum, we have sought out to collaborate with both internal and external partners in hopes of creating robust projects. From public programs to exhibitions, the internal departments we co-create with may change, yet the ethic of partnership is sealed into the foundation of our creative process. Internally, the creative process begins with an idea. From there, it is the responsibility of the project lead to reach out to all the internal stakeholders for the project. For instance, for the gOD-Talk series, these internal stakeholders have been The Office of External Affairs, the Center for Digitization and Curation of African American History, The Office of Strategic Partnerships, and other curatorial departments.  

External partnerships have been essential to our success as well. Since 2016, we have partnered with more than 30 external organizations to produce innovative projects, including Pew Research Center, Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia, Howard University School of Divinity in Washington, D.C., Spelman College in Atlanta, GA, Princeton Theological Seminary, American Academy of Religion, and Pharrell Williams Something in the Water Music Festival to name a few. 

What are you working on currently?

Our team is working on several projects right now: a new episode of gOD-Talk, an exhibition, and forthcoming publication. We are excited about the upcoming premiere of the next episode, gOD-Talk 2.0: Hip-Hop & #BlackFaith. Since the Dallas episode, the series has expanded to explore the various social and cultural realities impacting Black millennial faith practice: music festivals, intercultural and intergenerational influences and conflicts, digital innovation (social networks, algorithms, apps, mobile devices, and technologies, etc.), and now hip-hop. 

gOD-Talk 2.0: Hip-Hop & #BlackFaith is the seventh episode of the series airing Sunday, August 14, 2022. In collaboration with the release of the Smithsonian Anthology of Hip Hop and Rap, this conversation explores the relationship between hip-hop music and culture and Black expressions of faith and spirituality. Panelists include Big Freedia, Neelam Hakim, Brandon BMike Odums, Sa-Roc, Dee-1, and many more. Shot in New Orleans, LA at Studio Be, we are working with team at Production Rockstars (gOD-Talk Atlanta, Chicago, Baltimore) again to bring this episode to life. We are excited to see audiences’ reaction to this important conversation! 

Trailer for gOD-Talk 2.0: Hip-Hop & #BlackFaith

Next up, we are working on CSAARL’s religion exhibition, curated by Dr. Eric L. Williams, scheduled to open Fall 2022. This exhibition will feature photographs from the recently joint acquired Johnson Publishing Company Archive . Johnson Publishing Company publications, namely Ebony and Jet, have chronicled various aspects of African American life in the United States, reflecting the achievements, hopes, aspirations and in some ways the identities and models of success within the larger American cultural context. Religion, which has played a significant role within this journey, has been frequently reflected in the comments, stories and lives of the celebrities and noteworthy individuals featured. Through photographs and stories of notable individuals featured in Ebony and Jet magazines—including spiritual and political leaders, musicians, authors, athletes, activists, and educators—this exhibition will explore the ways in which these popular publications represented religion as part of the cultural fabric of the African American experience. The exhibition will be organized around three major thematic frames, which offer different lenses on the Black religious experience: Holy/Profane, Suffering/Hope, and Protest/Praise.

What is your favorite piece of work you created in the past year? Tell us the story behind it.

My favorite piece of work from this past year was our teams work on gOD-Talk Dallas episode. Initially filmed prior to the start of the global pandemic and subsequent shutdown in 2020, the episode was finally aired on November 6, 2021. While majority of the production was completed in 2020, we spent a considerable amount of time on reworking edits to the episode to ensure that the material remained relevant and sensitive to the global realities that we all faced over the past two years. We were even more thrilled in learning we garnered nine Telly Awards for the episode! 

gOD-Talk Dallas was an intergenerational—Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z—conversation over dinner, where panelist explored the intersections of Black religion and spirituality, race, gentrification, sexuality, gender, and more. Panelists included individuals from diverse religious groups:  Spiritualist, Buddhist, Christian, Yoruba, Baha’iAtheist, and Muslim. 

For the Dallas episode, we decided to do something different. We shot the conversation with no audience and over dinner.  This presented new creative challenges for us in producing this episode; chief among them, how do you film 16 people around a dinner table talking? Thanks to the great production team at The Redelynn Group, we were able to bring the vision of dinner amongst 16 friends to reality! 

We were very intentional about filming the conversation over dinner. Within African American culture, particularly religious and spiritual, the sharing of communal meals is essential for building and fostering relationships in passing of norms and customs. With that in mind, we created a safe-space for intergenerational dialogue across religious and spiritual beliefs to transpire over a three course-meal and libations: appetizer, main course, and dessert. In selecting the cuisine for the conversation, we felt it was important to go with traditional Black culinary cuisine from the Caribbean islands.  

Additionally, we created the conversation to be around a table filled with African American quotes and literature. With seating panelist around a table, we sought out to create shared common space—reminiscent of family dinner. Regarding the size of the table, we desired it to be large to push against the notions of scarcity and lack of space. By choosing an extended table, we wanted panelist and viewers to know that there was enough room at the table for all voices, identities, beliefs, and cultures. One of the challenges of filming the conversation over dinner we anticipated was the noise associated with eating. To help alleviate some of this, panelists shared their first two courses communally prior to filming. While staged versions of the meals were placed on the table for effects, the only items partaken live on camera were dessert, drinks, and libations.

We are extremely proud of the outcome of this episode! Though initially delayed, we all learned several valuable lessons through the production of gOD-Talk Dallas. Many of these lessons were helpful in the production of the gOD-Talk Hip-Hop & #BlackFaith, which was also filmed over dinner.

Whose work inspires you the most? Shout out some work that you feel deserves more attention!

Being in the field of Black religion and spirituality, I am inspired by all the digital content creators who are creating, as Dr. Melva Sampson states, “digital hush harbors” for the practice and engagement of Black religion and spirituality in the digital realm. Individuals and institutions such as Pink Robe Chronicles, Kev on Stage, Young and Muslim Podcast, The Over Flo, Rashid Hughes, City Point Church in Chicago, Faith City Music, Red Lip Theology, Inner Success Movement, The Nap Ministry, Angelica Lindsey Ali “Village Auntie,” Girl + God, Jude 3 Project, Devi Brown, and so many more.

What are your creative goals for this coming year?

Our team has several creative goals we are working towards this coming year. Chief among them is the completion of our first featured film. We will be wrapping up filming for the Museums first film, gOD-Talk, this fall. This film is a culmination of the gOD-Talk web series we have produced over the past five years. The documentary will explore Black millennial faith and spirituality in the 21st century through the lives of six millennials of varying religious and spiritual identities: Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Spiritualist, Atheist, and Yoruba. Weaving in footage from the seven web-series episodes, the film uncovers the personal challenges and discoveries each millennial experiences on their journey with faith and spirituality—both within the U.S. borders and abroad. The film is scheduled to be released Summer 2023. 

What are some of the strategies The Smithsonian team is using to stand out, creatively or otherwise in the film and video community?

For our team, it is about fulfilling our mission, telling the American story through an African American lens. Understanding that not everyone will be able to visit NMAAHC in D.C., film and video become one way we extend the Museums reach both domestically and internationally. In this saturated and decentralized market of content production, strategic thinking is necessary to reach and cultivate new and old audiences. Again, working collaboratively, this means working with our Visitors Services department to better understand the data behind those who are experiencing the Museum in-person. While simultaneously, working with our Office of Public Affairs to understand the analytics behind social media engaging with our content. 

Afterwards, we combine the data received along with subject matter analysis, larger demographic data, and begin to construct programmatic concepts based on what we believe our audiences are desiring from us. Lastly, to remain creatively ahead, the CSAARL has leaned heavily into investing in quality production: sound, videography, editing, graphics, etc. We understand that audiences have many options when it comes to content today; therefore, we desire for the look, feel, and professionalism to be on par with major production studios. Lastly, we know the importance of cultivating old and recruiting new audiences. We continue to do this by addressing social and cultural issues that are relevant to a wide range of publics the CSAARL serves.  

Watch Teddy talk more about the creative journey of gOD-Talk, and the importance of his team’s Telly Awards wins, in the video below! 

June 2, 2022

In Focus

In Focus: Moffitt Cancer Center

For this month’s In Focus Interview, we’re honored to feature Moffitt Cancer Center, a leading cancer treatment and research center located in Tampa, Florida. 

We sat down with Sarah E. Hoffe, Senior Member of Radiation Oncology at Moffitt. In addition to being a physician, Hoffe is an experienced creative writer who has written and produced several Telly Award winning videos. This includes the script she wrote for a 360 video that showcased the new patient journey through Moffitt’s GI clinic, which received two bronze Telly Awards. More recently, Hoffe wrote an educational video explaining the complexity of the patient journey on the MRI linear accelerator, which won 7 Telly awards including a gold award. This past year, Moffitt embarked on an exciting new project using virtual reality to improve patient experience. In collaboration with Ringling College of Art and Design, Hoffe and her colleagues developed a VR prototype to aid their patients undergoing treatment in the MRI linear accelerator. The virtual reality experience allows patients to prepare for being inside the MRI and practice the necessary breathing techniques. This project took home 13 Telly Awards this year. Hoffe and her husband are also working on a VR children’s book with important health messages for children. 

Hoffe’s work is a shining example of how creative thinking, powerful storytelling, and experiments with new technologies can move the medical field forward and ensure that every patient feels knowledgeable and comfortable as they undergo cancer treatment. We’re so excited for you to read our Q&A with her below!

How does your team define creative success?

Our mission at Moffitt Cancer Center is to “contribute to the prevention and cure of cancer”. When we are able to create content that our patients feel is helpful and can make them less afraid and anxious, we consider that a home run.

How do you balance creating content that is both educational and engaging?

We are always focused on connecting with our patients.  As a physician, I find that my patients really relate to story driven educational content.  I feel it connects with them better and helps them remember the specific elements we are trying to explain.  By integrating a patient storyline with important visuals, I feel that our patients really respond.  We review these videos and VR experiences with our patients in the clinic and have received immediate positive feedback which has been very helpful.  

What is your approach to video creation, especially as a non-profit focused on health? Has this had to change at all throughout the last year?  

Our approach at Moffitt is to leverage the experience of a very diverse team.  We storyboard ideas with doctors/nurses/patients/radiation therapists and researchers. We have an accomplished group of PR/Marketing colleagues who are very active in our projects as well.  This way, we try to get the 360 perspective of everyone involved.  During the pandemic, we have had to curtail some in person video shoots and reschedule when the local disease burden was low. 

Whose work inspires you the most? Shout out some work that you feel deserves more attention!

I am a big fan of innovators in the medical space.  In fact, I first heard of the Telly Awards after Peggie Sherry (CEO of Faces of Courage) won an award for her video depicting cancer patients post mastectomy who were body painted.  She is a tireless advocate for improving the lives of cancer patients and creating awareness of health, wellness and cancer prevention.  Her work is always truly inspirational.

What is your favorite piece of work you created in the past year? Tell us the story behind it.

By far my favorite this year was our Virtual Reality Introduction to the MRI Linac.  This came about due to Moffitt’s collaboration with the Ringling College of Art and Design (RCAD) in Sarasota, Florida and has been greatly supported by Moffitt’s CEO Dr. Patrick Hwu.  RCAD was the first undergraduate institution in the US  to have a VR major for students.  This work was truly special due to the amazing innovation of a remarkable student named Joseph Janssen who just graduated and will be working on VR for General Motors.  Joe worked with his professors (Morgan Woolverton and Marty Murphy) as well as our industry colleague and VR thought leader Jeff Hazelton (Captain VR).  This team worked closely with our Moffitt team which included Edmondo Robinson (Chief Digital Officer at Moffitt), physicians, physicists, researchers, patients  and even a Moffitt Board Member (Ted Schilowitz) who is also a Hollywood futurist.  To see how well this team flowed ideas and brainstormed creatively was a true highlight for me and to have Ted part of our team was inspiring.  We are currently testing this novel tool with our patients to see how much it can help them.  The MRI Linac is a game changer of a radiation delivery unit but at the price of having patients cooperate:  laying still for 1.5 hours, holding their breath intermittently, and being in a narrow aperture for treatment.  To think that now we can have our patients experience this virtually first and we can train their breathing is transformative.  Our patients who have used it so far relate that it really helps them understand what to expect and practice their breathing.  On a personal note, my husband and I just got the demo of  our VR children’s book back and are currently integrating the audio tracks.  We collaborated on this personal project with Jeff Hazelton and are so pleased with the book that we plan on developing a whole series.  The books are written with fun characters and subliminal medical messages regarding health topics.

What is Moffitt looking forward to this year? 

Our next project is to create a video that explains the portfolio of research going on in our department.  Visual communication is essential due to the complexity of information we need to translate to non-medical audiences.  We have a dynamic leadership team in our department who are very supportive of the vision to create an edutainment piece that will hopefully explain what some of our cutting edge research work is and where we think the future is.  This will be a complex project that will require us to use animations and lots of graphics so we definitely feel it will challenge our team.  I am also working on a VR grant project with Dr. Lee Green and Dr. Issam El Naqa.   Dr. Green has been a steadfast supporter of VR and co-led the Moffitt/RCAD collaboration with me.  Our proposed grant will use VR/AR in a novel way to enhance diversity representation in clinical trials. 

What does winning a Telly Award mean to you?

For me personally it means validation. In high school, I won a national writing award and knew I loved creativity but that I also wanted to pursue medicine as a career.   When I was a freshman at Brown University years ago, I was told by my physician course instructor that “medicine is not creative” and if I enjoyed creativity I should pick another field.  The 27 Telly Awards our team has won over the last few years mean the world to me as they validate the choice I made to become a physician and not abandon creative projects. I have been thrilled to find kindred creative spirits in medicine such as my former Department Chair and co-founder of MyCareGorithm, Dr. Louis Harrison.  Dr. Harrison’s passion for visual creativity in medicine mirrors my own and I am happy that I found my “place”.   I am beyond thrilled I am surrounded by creative talented colleagues at Moffitt and Ringling College of Art and Design and humbled that the Telly Award  judges have recognized our efforts.

April 5, 2022

In Focus

In Focus: MCM Creative

For this month’s In Focus Interview, we are proud to feature full-service production and post-production company, MCM Creative. With over twenty years experience in the New York creative market, the company has established itself as a high-tech playground for content creators, as well as a solid production partner, with a fully built studio in Chelsea, New York available for rent, as well as high end camera packages, full G&E trucks, and a full staff of editors, colorists, and re-recording sound mixers.

MCM Creative also produces narrative features, documentaries, music videos, tv/web series, promos, commercials, and corporate communications projects, offering podcast recording, sound studio and gear rentals and VR/360 experiences. 

This month, we sat down with MCM’s Founder and CEO, Michael Canzaoniero. Born and raised in Shoreham, NY, Canzoniero is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the New York University Graduate Film Program. His explosive short film Hyper played in the Centerpiece of the 2002 New York Film Festival where it opened for PT Anderson’s “Punch Drunk Love.” In 2009, his first feature The Marconi Bros premiered at the SXSW Film Festival. In 2011, Canzoniero directed the award winning documentary Shelter Island. In 2013, he created Mindshift, a consciousness raising talk show starring Daniel Pinchbeck. Canzoniero’s 2014 film Don Peyote featured Dan Fogler, Anne Hathaway and Josh Duhamel. Canzoniero’s latest feature, Making The Day, a charming and often funny film about making an indie film in NYC and never giving up, will have its worldwide premiere this Friday, April 8, at NYC’s Village East Cinema followed by a two week run ending April 21.

What are the creative goals for MCM Creative in 2022? 

MCM is excited that we are now being repped by Rick Dorfman at Authentic Management.  Our hope is that our collaborations with the amazing talent at Authentic will lead to some very cool work in the television and film space. Recently we produced a talk show series for JB smoove (also repped by Rick Dorfman) with guests such as Tina Fey and Roy Wood Jr. and see that as indicative of the type of projects we’d work on together.

If at all, has the pandemic affected the way you produce content? Have you had to change your strategy, creative or logistically?

We actually built out a contactless stage during the pandemic that kept our facilities and team very busy. We certainly hope that this type of precaution will be less and less necessary as we move farther away from the pandemic peak.

Can you tell me a bit about what the past year has looked like for MCM in terms of growth? How has your strategy for business changed/been affected?

MCM actually doubled in size on several fronts in the last year (real estate, staff, and gross income) so we are very excited to see that production needs in NYC have never been greater.

What is your team working on at the moment?

We are really excited to be launching the distribution of our feature film, Making The Day, with a two week theatrical run at Village East Cinema. This will be followed by an aggressive marketing push by our internal digital marketing department. After using traditional distribution methods on three other features, we are really excited to take matters into our own hands and control the process and campaign 100%.

We are also about to launch a new casting division with seasoned casting director Mary Clay Boland (Sopranos, Welcome to Smallville) taking the lead in this new space for MCM.

What does the creative process look like at MCM Creative? Does it differ from project to project? If so, how?

MCM has dedicated hours every day where we work with writers to develop new content.  This usually occurs at the end of the day around 4-6pm after we’ve “eaten our vegetables,” so to speak, and then get to have some fun creating new ideas for “dessert.”

What does MCM believe are the most important qualities to have on a creative team? Has this changed as you’ve scaled?

An “MCM-type,” if you will, is someone who lives and breathes filmmaking. If you don’t love being on set, creating, and all aspects of the business, this isn’t the place for you.

What are you looking forward to this year? Project wise, industry wise, etc. 

After three years of construction and build outs (including the recent addition of a 5.1 mix suite), we are really looking forward to just “greasing the wheels” of our operation and finding ways to streamline workflow and build processes that make MCM a smoother operation.

If you could give advice to creatives today, what would it be?

Work your ass off, don’t give up, and keep an open mind about what you are and what you really want as that may change as you grow and get to know yourself. For me, I’ve come a long way from my childhood dream of being Steven Spielberg to preferring to be the type of filmmaker and business person I now see myself as.


MCM has created a special offer for the Telly Awards community! 

THIS FRIDAY, April 8, at Village East Cinema in NYC! Attend the Making The Day 7PM World Premiere + following open bar Red Carpet Gala at half off the listed ticket price. 

Go to to purchase tickets and use the code: TELLY


March 18, 2022

In Focus

In Focus: PlayStation Studios, Creative Arts, “Returnal – Breaking Down The Cycle”

For our newest In Focus interview, we speak with Playstation Studios Creative Arts and game developer Housemarque to discuss how they created their Telly Award Winning video “Returnal – Breaking Down the Cycle.” Read the full interview below to learn how they executed their innovative take on the typical “Development Diary” for a video game, eschewing talking heads and instead putting the game director in a strange world that mimics the universe of Returnal, a highly popular third-person-shooter video game. 


How did the concept for this video, and its unique structure, originate? Was there anything in particular that inspired it? 

PlayStation Studios Creative Arts:

The primary inspiration for ‘Breaking down the Cycle’ came from a simple but sometimes overlooked writing technique, ‘show don’t tell’. Taking influence from Russian novelist Anton Chekhov, who said “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass,” we really wanted to make something that spoke directly to this method. When generating concepts for this project, we wanted to move away from the typical video style, where developers are interviewed about the game and footage of people working is cut together with gameplay to support the interview narrative. Instead, we looked to find a way to take the audience on a journey and ‘show’ them the themes and mechanics of the game, as opposed to just telling them. With a location-based shoot available to us, we got to work writing a structure, which allowed Housemarque to talk about the game, all while a fictional story played out underneath, engaging the audience along the way.


The story and structure of Returnal was the main inspiration for the concept. The idea was to create a semi-realistic version of a mysterious time loop in the Finnish woods. Grounded in reality and then later shifting to a more of a haunting piece was the aim, bringing the unusual to a video format that tends to be quite straight forward. A huge thanks to all the creative partners at Sony for the project, pre and post production.

What challenges did you encounter while creating this piece? How did you overcome them?

PlayStation Studios Creative Arts:

Our first challenge was to identify the key themes and mechanics that needed to be communicated within the story. We did this by diving deep into all of Housemarque’s documentation and literature, understanding the game’s story itself, along with the themes, aesthetics and inspirations that helped build this unique world. Once we had a clear idea of what we needed to communicate to the audience, we began to write these into our scripts. Covid 19 restrictions also proved challenging at the time. As we were unable to travel to Finland, we put together an amazing local crew, headed by the talented director Jarno Elonen. Working closely with Jarno allowed us to align our vision, ensuring we could obtain the performance and coverage needed for the edit to work. Jarno carried this out brilliantly and it was such a great collaboration to be part of.


The setup was very basic, a usual location scouting for a typical Finnish forest and a dilapidated cabin. Plenty to choose from. After deciding on two days of filming, the first day started off as any other “behind the scenes” video. The second day was clearly like entering a time warp. All the props were in place and the actors just took things slower. Towards the end, everyone was simply in the zone and spaced out in a way that would appear off putting and unnatural. The day ended with a strict schedule and everyone snapped out of the funk, but it just reminded us that we all can immerse ourselves into the mood of the piece.

How did the concept for this piece evolve over time? 

PlayStation Studios Creative Arts:

We went through several revisions before locking the script ahead of filming. The initial narrative was purposely over the top. We wanted to throw everything at the wall to see what resonated with Housemarque and PlayStation’s XDEV and marketing teams. In one draft we even had creepy night-time car sequences on winding lake-side roads. This exercise allowed us to get a great steer on what the key messages really were, as opposed to the things that might be more superficial. From here we stripped our story back to its simplest form to create a clear narrative. It was quite a transformation.


Those two days [of filming] were all about getting lost. Spending time in the middle of the woods was at first a bonding experience, but then deliberately turned unnerving. Eating packed lunches with hot cocoa in the snow-covered nature was a warm experience. Everyone was excited and the filming was fun and filled with humour. The next day needed to be the opposite, so there was much less conversation and comradery. Not that we didn’t want a nice shoot environment, but rather realizing that it would be harder for the actors to switch back and forth from the edge of despair to normal social interactions. 

What part of this piece are you most proud of?

PlayStation Studios Creative Arts:

We love that we were able to create something that resonated so well with the audience. We didn’t feel the need to spoon-feed them and we weren’t afraid to make them work. They engaged with it and put the pieces together for themselves, as opposed to it being a purely passive experience. More subtly, there was a nod to ‘Checkov’s gun’ by introducing the alarm clock prop into each act, fulfilling a specific narrative purpose. We feel this worked perfectly and really tied the eerie journey together, from set-up to pay off.


The cabin shots in the end are the parts that are more “artsy” and feature all the cool props that we had; knitted Cthulhu toys, an old pocket watch, some books on the occult.

These scenes also demanded the most from the actors and the crew. Trying to convey a sense of dread with the crew filming in very small quarters, all while the prop people added dust to furniture and hit the smoke machine on cue. It was like a small haunted house that was only made for those few hours of filming.

What did you learn from making this video?

PlayStation Studios Creative Arts:

Making this video was tough but incredibly rewarding.

The first thing we learnt was how important collaboration is to a project like this. With multiple stakeholders involved it’s key to create a clear vision of what you’re trying to make with your partners. Housemarque, XDEV, Marketing, Jarno and all the teams involved really helped make this a brilliant piece and much better than something we could have produced in isolation.

We also learnt that it’s ok to take risks and experiment, especially in the ideation and development stage.


We learnt that a focused vision and a professional crew can achieve a great quality piece, regardless of scope or excessive ambition. Getting everyone in the right mood transfers to the screen and that can give much more depth than you might imagine.

March 11, 2022

In Focus

In Focus: Stept Studios

For this month’s In Focus Interview, we are proud to feature creative production studio, Stept Studios. A strong name of influence within the advertising community, Stept creates unique campaigns, commercials, and branded content for agencies, platforms, and brands with unmatched entertainment value. If their past work or list of previous clients leaves any room for doubt to their potential, it is quickly and easily mangled by an impressive roster of award-winning directors, including the double cinematographer+director threat Dana Romanoff, known for leading stunning campaigns for Google, Budweiser, and Best Buy (to name a few), as well as the Gold Telly Award Winner, Jess Colquhoun, famously credited with the fantastic visuals of the Times Up Foundation PSA in 2020, among others!  As their website claims, Stept Studios prides itself on being the home the next generation of storytellers, working across commercial and documentary genres and we couldn’t agree more.

Among the list of stirring directors at Stept Studios, is CEO and Founder, Nick Martini.

Nick fell in love with filmmaking while skiing professionally in remote corners of the globe. After a series of injuries, he quickly ended up behind the camera and found his true calling; Directing.  Bringing the vision and fearlessness further into film production, he opened Stept Studios alongside his brother Alex Martini and best friend Cam Riley who were also professional skiers with the mission to tell stories that explore what it means to be human, to inspire, and to influence. In 2022, Nick, Alex and Cam have expanded on Stept’s offerings of creative and production to include post production arm, Lockt Editorial and a development department. Vault Rentals, their cinema gear rental company has also expanded to include a facility and studio.

We caught up with Nick to discuss Stept’s massive and unexpected growth over the last year, how their creative ambitions are driving their craft forward into a post-pandemic industry, and what new technologies they are utilizing to advance their work to the next level.

Check our our In Focus Interview with Nick on Stept Studios below!


What does the creative process look like at Stept Studios? Does it differ from project to project? If so, how?

Creative is at the heart of everything we do at Stept. Stept Studios consists of three divisions; Creative, Production, and Post. Our work with brand partners begins with developing the creative and then overseeing the project through final delivery.  Our projects with ad agencies typically land with creative concepts in place and we manage production and/or post. Our post division, Lockt Editorial, services Stept’s projects, but also works with countless other production companies to provide support across editorial, visual effects, and sound. 

You’ve experienced such a tremendous amount of growth over the past year. Can you tell me a bit about what that growth looks like? Has scaling up changed your strategy for business?

It’s been a wild ride for the past few years. The company that was originally based in the founders’ apartment, has now grown to a family of almost 80 full time staff in LA and Jackson. We’ve evolved our approach as we have scaled adding new capabilities and creative talent – we’re always looking for new ways to meet the needs of our clients. And despite our recent growth, we’ve been fortunate to keep the same culture and obsession with the craft.  It’s still as strong as it was when we got started, it’s a big priority. The new resources at Stept have also allowed us to work with more types of partners, and more types of content. We used to partner primarily with agencies and brands, but now we also work with publishers, movie studios, streamers, and other production companies. We also continue to explore new formats outside of commercials – anything from 15s social ads, to 90 minute feature films.

What does Stept believe are the most important qualities to have on a creative team? Has this changed as you’ve scaled?

We like our creative team and directors to think big, and to not be afraid to push the vision as far as it can go. We have a highly collaborative team across Stept that can take that creative vision and just as creatively work together to figure out how to execute it with our production and post capabilities. We know it’s a really crowded space out there, so we want our work to stand out, and show how we can execute creatively as well.

Has your work structure had to change given the volatility of the industry due to coronavirus? (Has your process had to change due to covid-19 restrictions?)

The first couple months were difficult for everyone, including Stept. We were very proactive in being solution-oriented with our partners, and we came up with new ways to get them the marketing assets they needed. In the early days, we focused a lot on repurposing existing assets, creating new content digitally with CGI and animation, and exploring the limits of remote and virtual production. We were able to rebound quite fast, and ended up growing our team and revenue over 100% during the pandemic. 

What are the creative goals for Stept Studios in 2022? 

We want to continue working with our directors to tell stories that are impactful to the audience – regardless of where and how the stories live. In addition to our commercial work, longer form entertainment projects will be a big priority for us. It’s been great to see the interest in the work we are doing so far.

We are also really excited to embrace new technologies to create visual work that feels fresh and new. With the advent of XR stages, UnReal Engine, camera tech and even the metaverse, we are now able to build across worlds, environments and augmented practical spaces. It’s a really exciting time for the industry and Stept Studios. 

What are you looking forward to this year? Project wise, industry wise, etc. 

We see lots of opportunities in the next year to build on our creative vision and continue to look at new technologies that expand our capabilities. On the commercial side, we are really excited to see many of our directors break into top-tier opportunities and expand Stept’s work with an even deeper roster of agencies in the US and internationally. Our new Entertainment Division will be a top priority for us in 2022 and beyond. We have a passion for and are deeply rooted in authentic storytelling and we want to find ways with brand partners, media companies and platforms to bring those to life.

What does winning a Telly Award mean to your team? 

The Telly Awards have always been special to the Stept team, and we have been participating for years in the show. There is nothing quite like that feeling when the physical awards arrive at the office and we get to share that and celebrate with the team that brought those projects to life. It’s a real honor.

If you could give advice to creatives today, what would it be?

So many people will tell you there is a “right” way to do it, because that’s how all successful people in the industry have always done it. Do your best to not listen to that voice – it’s alright to make up your own approach and follow your gut. The world needs more disruptors who bring something new to the table.

February 8, 2022

In Focus

In Focus: Nice Shoes

For this month’s In Focus Interview, we’re excited to feature Telly Award Winner Nice Shoes. Founded 25 years ago as a post-production studio, they have since expanded into providing creative, production, and post-production services to some of the world’s top brands, such as Pepsi, Target, Crest, and the NFL.

We talked to Ninaad Kulkarni, Creative Director of Nice Shoes, about the company’s creative ethos and inspirations, their work on a promo for Abbot Elementary, and their Telly Award-winning immersive content. 

Read our interview with Nice Shoes below! 

The Nice Shoes team works on an impressively diverse range of work. What is the overall creative mission of Nice Shoes, and how do you define creative success?

Nice Shoes has always been about creating stories and experiences that move people.  WIth the onslaught of media being consumed in many new ways, it’s a challenging but exciting time for creatives to make engaging content.  How do you get an emotional response from a participant?  If someone can come to you and say that the experience moved them, that’s success.

    What is one of the biggest creative risks you took recently? What was the outcome? 

    Finding ways to implement AI as a brainstorming and visioning tool.  There will always be a human eye and creative mind behind these processes, and that’s the key to these platforms becoming a widely adopted approach.  We’ve found they’re a great starting point for creative teams to get behind, and wrap their heads around, complex visual ideas.

    What is your favorite piece of work you created in the past year? Tell us the story behind it.

    We had the opportunity to work on a promo for the Emmy award winning tv show Abbott Elementary.  This project was packed with creative and technical challenges and stood out as one of my favorite projects of the year. Through the use of Advanced Production Techniques (APT) and game-engine based workflows, we were able to build a CG interactive street in Philadelphia.  This became the center stage for the live-action filmed cast from the show to augment into. We adopted a combination of techniques which we like to call hybrid virtual production.  This is where the live-action shoot takes place on a green screen stage, and the interactive CG background is compiled in a Game Engine such as Unreal.


    Check out Nice Shoes’ promo for Abbot Elementary! 

    Whose work inspires you the most? Shout out some work that you feel deserves more attention. 

    William Faucher – he’s a YouTuber/ Artist/ Educator who specializes in working in CG Game engine workflows. As part of his tireless service to the larger community of artists and explorers, he manages to capture all of the good – as well as the bad – of the various challenges that he tackles in the production process.  He is building a community of people who work in complex technical worlds, inspiring them to be fearless and share their successes and failures in an ever-changing creative industry.

    You work on a lot of immersive content, including the Telly Award-winning “Audi E-Tron Showroom,” what excites you about the future possibilities of immersive video?

    The future looks extremely promising as we expect the big tech giants start joining the races and create a large marketplace for immersive activations. As more devices and platforms continue to improve and build products that can deeply immerse the viewer, I believe there will be an exponential increase in the need for exploration in creative production in the immersive industry. This will necessitate the creation of novel solutions that venture into the space of trial and error, resulting in exciting outputs. I look forward to the constantly changing immersive landscape and embrace the endless creative possibilities afforded by the open spatial boundaries.

    What does winning a Telly Award mean to you?

    It is an honor to be recognized by the Telly Awards for our innovative work for the Audi E-Tron Virtual Showroom project. I am happy to see more and more Immersive work being recognized at the top level and getting a stage like the Telly Awards to showcase our work is a humbling experience.

    October 18, 2021

    From The Tellys

    In Focus: British Broadcasting Corporation

    Melissa Hogenboom is a multi award-winning science journalist, film-maker and editor at the BBC where she launched and leads the documentary site BBC Reel. She is writing her first book, The Motherhood Complex – it was released in May 2021 by Piatkus, Little, Brown (Hachette). She has written hundreds of articles, made short and long-form films for broadcast and digital, and has reported for radio and TV.

    What motivates the BBC to create?

    In short, our audience – making great content that our audience enjoys. I think we do this by telling stories that matter, either by intriguing them to find out a fascinating new historical or scientific insight, or giving solutions that can make a real difference, say in climate change. I also think it’s important to be able to tell inspiration and informative stories that take our readers away from what can be quite a negative news cycle. Of course people come to our pages for News, which is important, but if they can stay and also see something heart-warming or learn something new, then as creators we have done our job. 

    How do you find inspiration for your work? 

    This is always a tricky question to answer because honestly, everywhere. Overhearing conversations on the train, letting your mind wonder while you run, but I think most of all from talking to people. Brainstorms with colleagues can lead to such wonderful ideas, as can speaking to experts and freelancers. Often we are so busy we find it hard to really listen, we put on headphones, we immerse ourselves in our creative projects, but when we listen with an open-mind, that’s when ideas come to us. 

    What are some of the challenges the BBC faced when creating content this past year? How did you overcome those challenges?

    Working remotely has been taxing on everyone. It’s hard to have spontaneous creative discussions when we are all at home, but we made sure to keep in regular contact and have ideas sessions without strict agendas, which always leads to more collaborative discussions. We remotely directed films before the pandemic, working with a range of talented freelancers from around the world, so aside from the strictest lockdowns, we have actually been filming in person throughout the pandemic. We also experimented more with personal narrated mixed-media film-making ourselves, as well as working more closely with animators to bring content to life in new ways. 

    What is your favorite memory of creating content this past year?

    For me it was working on a TV and digital documentary called A Mother’s Brain – which was a personal journey into my understanding of what it means to become a mother and how our identity changes in the process. I spent a year researching this topic for a book ‘The Motherhood Complex’, so it was such a brilliant experience to turn all that research into a visual format. I combined my personal experience with scientific expertise, and brought (and filmed) my family along the way for the journey, even speaking to my own mother about her experiences. We worked with five different film-makers in five different locations, with a director/editor and post production team in yet another location, a true collaborative and international project. 

    What is your secret to creating insightful, successful documentaries?

    Collaboration and continually working with people with different skill sets – as we can all learn from each other. It ties into my earlier answer on listening. Also – hiring good people and giving everyone a chance to experiment with projects they can take full ownership of end to end – with guidance where needed of course. I benefited from that kind of trust early on, and it’s something I think is vital when working with creatives (but a gentle deadline always helps – because we can always keep tinkering).

    What would your advice be for creatives looking to explore the boundaries of human relationships and science in their work? Are there any specific challenges that face that kind of subject matter? If so, how do you tackle these challenges?

    When it comes to science, pick up the phone and speak to as many experts as you can – to find threads that make a compelling story. A challenge can be distilling the one idea into an engaging narrative because there always seems too much to include, which is when talking to others helps – a little bit of outside perspective can help us find the story that works. I think keeping an open mind can also help, we all have an idea of how a piece of content will turn out, but once we dive into a particular topic we may learn things that change the intended story and potentially make it even better. 

    What, if any, are your goals for the upcoming year, creative, professional, or otherwise?

    Write another book! I’m (half) serious – it was such a huge undertaking that I need a break from it, but it was also something that gave me a lot of creative satisfaction. Combining that with a full time job was challenging to say the least, but I found the writing process quite mindful and more rewarding in the evenings than, say, binge-watching TV shows. 

    Professionally I’ve been super proud of some of the content coming out of our team – such as The Seven Sins – led by Anna Bressanin in our New York office, and Spiritual Awakening, originated by Griesham Taan. There’s too many good pieces to mention 


    Congratulations on winning multiple Telly Awards this year, including a Gold Telly Award for the piece “How To Hack Your Health!” What does this recognition mean to you?

    Deputy Editor and series commissioner Dan John said: It was great to win a Gold Telly Award for ‘How To Hack Your Health’ because it was such a collaborative project. It brought together the editorial teams of BBC Reel and BBC Ideas to develop a series together from conception to execution where each producer brought something to the project. It also represents how we had to completely rethink our approach to the project following the Covid restrictions, forcing us to come up with a new graphics led style that would enable us to use Zoom interviews in a creative way that felt totally in keeping with the overall aesthetic of the piece. For me it shows how we all had to adapt to the changing circumstances in order to still be able to tell compelling stories in a creative way, and so it was awesome to see that get this recognition.

    December 2, 2020

    In Focus

    Defying the Limits: Relativity Communications

    Throughout this season, we will be spotlighting past winners who have defied the limits. Defied the limits of lockdowndefied the limits of geography as well as shining a light on those producing award-winning work from diverse and minority communities.

    We spoke with Millie Elston, CEO, Executive Producer of Relativity Communications. A veteran of advertising and marketing industries: From award-winning creative director, to executive accounts director, to producer/entrepreneur, Millie Elston has the ability lead her team and thrive under the pressure cooker of the industry. In the industry for over 30 years, and CEO of Relativity Communications, a woman-owned marketing communications firm since 2015.

    With her diversified background and a variety of interests to draw inspiration from, Millie has expertise in Retail, Consumer Packaging Goods, Healthcare and Hospitality and Non-Profit sectors. From working on a major luxury hotel brand and all their projects from their identity and graphics to marketing materials to branding their lobby bar, to enhancing visual experiences, she operated with a solid grasp of Brand Aesthetic.

    How did your creative process change given all of the unexpected turns of 2020?

    I must say we were pretty fortunate. We have a great creative team, and a big part of being creative is being open to new ideas and making the most of new circumstances.  And we’ve always been accustomed to working lean, to delivering On Time, On Budget.

     We also understood that it wasn’t just us–that our clients have also been experiencing the “unexpected turns of 2020”.  So, more than ever, we needed to communicate, be flexible, improvise, and hope that they too understood that we were all in this together. That everything had changed, except our commitment to them and to delivering good work, On Time, On Budget.  They have given us every confidence that they will continue to partner with us.

     What do you think is the secret to having a successful creative team?

    Winning awards, for one thing!  And, while we have always shown that we value our creative team, the pandemic has given us yet another, if unwelcome, opportunity to prove it.  By suspending studio filming for as long as their safety depended upon it.  By following official medical guidelines and instituting strict health precautions for them and for all of our show participants.  By looking after their mental as well as physical well-being, as we have all been taught to do through the many years of producing our show together. 

    Our team has always been fueled by mutual energy and our ability to brainstorm and bring ideas to life. Luckily, we’ve still been able to do this remotely throughout the pandemic. Though nothing is quite like being in a room together, working “together” separately has forced new challenges–and new perspectives–on all of us.  And, as in many families, we appreciate one another even more now that we are all back together again.

     What’s the most important lesson you learned while needing to adapt to an unpredictable world environment?

     This crisis has demanded flexibility, quick thinking and, above all, communication.  As a communications business, we were prepared for this to a very great extent.  But this crisis has reinforced those principles and brought them into even sharper focus as we implemented them in new and unforeseen ways.  So the big lesson is that, while the tried and true philosophies and methods have held up, they’ve also become the foundation for working in this current, new reality and solidly positioned us for the future, whatever that may hold.

     What was the biggest hurdle you faced and what surprised you about creating during a lockdown?

    These new constraints became a springboard to seeking alternate approaches to the way we do business. We are delivering work that acknowledges and responds to the challenges of this pandemic while nurturing creativity under quarantine. From existing footage, we’ve crafting new, culturally relevant ads that reflect current developments and feelings; abandoning creative executions that don’t represent this new environment; seeking to strike the right tone during this crisis; responding to changing client needs in innovative ways. But what surprised me the most was how well and how quickly our team adapted to these new rules and to thrive in what may well be the conditions for some time to come.   

     What do your Telly wins mean to you?

    It’s an honor, it is humbling.  It’s our abiding wish to develop and create work that is as good as or better than the work that won us our past Telly Awards.

    These awards allow us to spread stories of hope and to help eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness. Our slogan, “Let’s Talk About It!” is an everyday reminder to each of us that the work we do is truly important in promoting the conversation, support and acceptance that is so critical to the one in five Americans suffering from some form of mental illness.

    And it’s an honor for our entire organization. Not only is it our goal to provide our clients quality collaboration and solutions, but we know how important it is to provide our employees with an environment that encourages creativity and offers them recognition. These awards validate RELATIVITY Communication’s reputation and commitment to our clients, community and team.

    This could never have been possible without the dedicated work of our Team and Crew through everything we’ve faced this year.  For this I thank them all, as well as those brave heroes who have continued to share on our show their stories of triumph over the most unimaginable odds.