In 2005, the idea of a full-service media production company that also developed feature-film projects located in Fort Worth seemed like a stretch for a city that saw most Texas media attention turn to Austin.
But now 10 years later, Red Productions is a bustling firm, with a small studio on hip Foch Street, a list of select area and national clients, a potential short film series and a new feature film in the planning stages.
At the center of it all is Justin “Red” Sanders, a 2004 Texas Christian University graduate, who had started his first media company at 14.
While Sanders majored in Radio, Television and Film at TCU, he also studied in the in the Neeley Entrepreneurship Program.
Two mentors he still looks up to are David Minor, then head of TCU’s Entrepreneurship Center and Joey King, who taught a class at TCU in technology and entrepreneurship.
It was Minor who helped convince Sanders to stay in Fort Worth instead of heading to media centers like Austin or Los Angeles.
“David Minor said, ‘Why don’t you stay in Fort Worth and grow, be a bigger fish in smaller pond, then you can go to LA on your own terms.’”
The company now has.
“In October 2014, we opened an office in Los Angeles to grow our slate of film and TV projects that we can hopefully bring back to Texas to shoot,” said Sanders. “Our next feature film project is called King of North Dakota, which we hope to shoot here in the city that has been so good to us over the years.”
Sanders noted the irony of shooting a film about North Dakota in Texas. “Maybe that will help make up for all the times Texas films were shot in Louisiana.”
The Los Angeles office is led by a development executive who will look for scripts and projects.
“We’ll then package those scripts with actors and directors and bring them back here,” said Sanders.
Minor also gave Sanders advice to form a strong relationship with a local bank. Sanders did, first working with Summit Bank, then continuing with Frost Bank, after it acquired Summit. “Advice like that was really helpful,” Sanders said.
After graduating TCU, Sanders’ young company then became part of TECH Fort Worth incubator program where he shared ideas – and frustrations – with other start-ups.
“They were here when I got here eight and one-half years ago,” said Darlene M. Boudreaux, executive director of TECH Fort Worth. “They were a little different from some of our other start-ups that are more likely to be medical device companies, but the idea here is to have a community of these entrepreneurs.”
Sanders recalled one of his scariest moments as a young company, hiring the first full-time team member. “That was the scariest decision, committing yourself to someone’s full-time salary,” he said.
In 2008, after growing to four full-time employees and with early clients like Coca-Cola, TCU and the Dallas Cowboys, president and owner Red Sanders became the first graduate of TECH Fort Worth’s Acceleration Program. The company then located to Foch Street as one of the first tenants of the now burgeoning West Seventh neighborhood—which was then primarily an industrial complex.
“As the area has thrived over the past seven years, our company has also seen remarkable growth,” said Sanders. “We are fortunate to have planted roots in a vibrant city that supports high-caliber creative work, and we’ve steadily grown our client relationships, team and revenue by consistently challenging ourselves to tell stories in new and innovative ways.”
Along the way have come a fair share of awards, not just for their work, but also for their business. Red Productions was a winner of the 2013 Small Business of the Year award from the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s been great seeing how this area supports businesses,” Sanders said. A trip to China with the chamber and other area leaders allowed Sanders to view firsthand how the area works to bring business here.
“That includes being proponents of getting more film work here,” he said. “You don’t notice all that until you step back and get the big picture.”
Red Productions has done its part to draw film production here. Searching for Sonny and Intramural, are feature-length comedy films directed by Fort Worth native Andrew Disney and filmed in Texas. Intramural will be released by a major Hollywood studio later this year in select theaters. Melville, a narrative short film shot entirely in Fort Worth, was written and directed by James Johnston, another talent from Fort Worth. Melville premiered to a sold-out audience at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival and will play April 10 and 11 at the Dallas International Film Festival.
Sanders notes that some of the work he’s done with those feature films couldn’t have been done anyplace but Texas, particularly Fort Worth.
“We’ve been fortunate with people getting behind projects here, whether it’s by investing, contributing to a Kickstarter project or letting us film somewhere,” he said. “I remember during the filming of Searching for Sonny, we needed a private jet and we were able to do that at Spinks Airport. It happened so fast and they just opened the doors for us.”
That wouldn’t have happened in Los Angeles. “It’s that can-do attitude,” he said. “That’s helped make a lot of things possible.”