Founded in 1995 by Lola Lott, principal/CEO, and Jack Waldrip, senior editor, charlieuniformtango has broken new ground and become a longstanding comprehensive production solution. With bases of operation in Dallas and Austin, the company directs, produces, shoots, edits, scores, mixes, animates, designs, and provides color services, VFX, and finishing for commercials, short films, documentaries, music videos, and digital content for clients worldwide.
Now charlieuniformtango marks its 25th anniversary. Over that stretch, its long-form work has been screened at festivals from NXNE to SXSW and across both ponds to Melbourne and Leeds. The company has had a hand in commercials that have made their way to the Super Bowl seven times for six different clients ranging from GEICO to Fiat. And charlieuniformtango has seen its work gain recognition at the AICP Show, garner National ADDYs, ANDYs and a Cannes Lion.
Among varied breakthroughs, charlieuniformtango helped to pioneer the first virtual telecine and made an indelible mark early on as an all-inclusive creative editorial house with offline, sound design/mix, VFX and finish united under one roof.
SHOOT connected with Lott who reflected on how charlieuniformtango has evolved, the company reaching the silver anniversary milestone and its plans for the future.
Q: Provide some backstory. How did charlieuniformtango get started? What was your shared vision for the company? And how has that vision coincided with--and/or departed from--what you originally set out to do?
Lott: In 1989 Jack Waldrip, a very talented video editor, and I developed a postproduction process that became the model for modern editorial facilities by integrating all aspects of the process under one roof. By combining Avid, online editing, graphic design, and audio we created the ideal postproduction environment. The system proved so successful that by 1995, we knew it was time to open our own place. We named it charlieuniformtango...CUT, the military radio call letters for charlieuniformtango.
With that integrated workflow system as our foundation, we’ve built on our success year-after-year by adding the right people to our team. Our employees are our main recruiters--no one wants to let their friends down. Many of our people have spent their entire careers here. The average employee tenure is more than 15 years. That’s saying a lot in this industry.
Q: During charlieuniformtango’s 25 years, how has the industry evolved? And during that same stretch how has charlieuniformtango adapted and evolved to stay in tune and/or ahead of that industry curve?
Lott: We are continually adapting and evolving.
For example, when the pandemic began, we were able to work remotely at the flip of a switch. We’d invested in virtual editing and collaboration software very early on. Technology is an indispensable tool; but it’s still just a tool. It’s how we make it work that makes all the difference. Our clients may respond to tech, but it’s our team’s talent that gets the job done.
Q: What are your biggest takeaways and/or lessons learned over these past 25 years?
Lott: The importance of risk-taking. Risk-taking has definitely played important roles in my life–in two very different ways:
My parents took a huge risk when I was very young. Fearing for the safety of their family in an increasingly unstable Egypt, they decided to leave their comfortable lives, pack up their four daughters, ages 3 (me), 2, 1, and 2 months, and move to the United States to pursue graduate degrees. My dad got his PhD in nuclear chemistry and my mom, her master’s in fine art. They didn’t know anyone here in the US. Creating new lives for themselves and their family was a life-changing risk. But I’m so glad they took it.
Business owners face risks every day, and we’ve had our share. As I look back on the past 25 years, I’m grateful for the many great years we’ve had. But I’m also mindful of the challenges we’ve faced and the risks we took to get us through them. For example, as talent union boycotts lead to production and post work moving to other countries, our work dwindled. When the economy hit the skids in 2008, our whole industry slowed down. And when a large agency left town, we lost a significant client.
In each of these situations, we doubled down and invested in new technologies, upgraded our equipment, moved into new studios, and, in some cases, re-branded or expanded aspects of our creative services. This was a lesson I remembered very well from one of my economics classes: When times are slow or hard that’s when you step up, re-invest, and go big.
Q: Which of those lessons apply to the future and what do you see in store for charlieuniformtango? What will be the next evolution for the company?
Lott: We’ll continue to take risks. 2021 will be a challenge for everyone. We don’t really know what’s in store for us, but we do know we’ll get through it together. Jack, Joey (Flame artist Waldrip), James (editor Rayburn), Deedle (editor LaCour) and I are committed to carrying on the legacy of creativity, integrity, and industry leadership that has always defined charlieuniformtango.
Q: What, if anything, would you have done differently over the years at charlieuniformtango now that you have the benefit of hindsight?
Lott: Ah, hindsight, it’s always 20/20 right? There are always some regrets, some roads not taken, but all in all, I feel we’re right where we are supposed to be. We’re always looking forward, not backward. And I know we have a lot to look forward to.
Q: What have been the values, schools of thought, philosophical and business approaches that have yielded such a lengthy and ongoing tenure for charlieuniformtango?
Lott: Hire the best people, invest in the best technologies, create the best work environment, and only work with the best clients. Easy right? But seriously, we never settle for anything less than The Best. Not every budget has to be the biggest, and the best clients aren’t always the ones with household names, but whether it’s a Super Bowl spot or a Web banner campaign, we know every assignment is an opportunity to do something brilliant.
It was almost exactly a year ago this month that Jack Waldrip and I started planning what the future of our company should look like. The best talent has always kept us a step ahead, and we knew it would take talent to lead the way to our company’s next generation. So, late last year, editors Deedle LaCour and James Rayburn, and Flame artist Joey Waldrip – who have all been with the company for years – became partners.
Deedle, James, and Joey will continue with their work responsibilities. I’ll remain principal/CEO and Jack Waldrip will continue as senior editor/co-owner. During a three-year transitional phase, I’ll retain majority ownership of charlieuniformtango – which will continue as a woman-owned company – and its current team of executive producers, producers and artists will remain in place. But with Deedle, James, and Joey ready to take the wheel, I know the best is yet to come.