Charlie Corts is a bit of a renaissance man: A painter, a scholar, a business extraordinaire, an astute producer with a wicked sense of humor. He’s worked with Oscar winners, sports legends, and even master of horror Stephen King (a story for another time), and he’s built multiple media organizations from the ground up. He has brought that shrewd artistic insight and business acumen to Neon, even helping with last year’s rebrand. We caught up with Charlie to get the details about his fascinating career.
Did you always know you wanted to be in video production?
No, actually, I originally wanted to be an artist. I went to the University of Tennessee, was an art major with a focus in painting. But I saw pretty soon it wasn’t a great fit. I liked to make paintings that actually look like something. Like, you know, here’s a train station. (Laughs.) People would come into class with just crap smeared on a canvas, and they would all discuss it for hours. So I decided that was not the route for me.
How then did you get introduced into the video world?
It started with a filmmaking course in college. I just immediately fell in love with it. So I got an internship and spent a summer in New York, working for ABC News, and moved there once I graduated. My first real job was working for Murray Lerner. He was a documentary filmmaker, actually won an Oscar in 1980, known mostly for his work on music docs. His most famous film was called Festival, about the Newport Music Festival–and yes, he captured the moment Dylan went electric. I worked with Murray on a documentary about Miles Davis.
So you started in long-form storytelling?
That’s right. But that didn’t last long. I got hired by CBS Interactive and served as a producer for CBS Sports, where I got into producing live broadcasts. We were actually producing the first livestream sports coverage for the internet: fantasy football updates, post-game reports. We were pioneering a totally new form of digital media. After that, I launched a daily video series for Yahoo! Finance, then went to Simon & Schuster and built their in-house media division. So I guess I’ve always liked the challenge of building things from the ground up.
Just like your days as a painter–always attracted to the blank canvas, right?
Exactly! I eventually moved back to Nashville and was hired by a company called Rated Red in 2016 to create a media channel aimed at producing content for heartland millennials. I was tasked with turning nothing really, an idea, a thought, into a robust branded media enterprise. At our peak, we had about 35 to 40 employees, half editorial, half production. We produced tens of thousands of videos, cuts for different platforms, eventually growing to two-and-a-half million Facebook followers and over 100 million views a month for our original content. It was a massive undertaking, overwhelming at times, but a lot of fun.
I learned a lot about video strategy, activation, and distribution through that experience, which has been great for my work at Neon. Several key Neon employees were at Rated Red too. In fact, Mike had hired a couple of them before I was on board, so when I joined in January of 2019, it was a little bit of a homecoming.
And what has been a favorite project you’ve worked on here at Neon?
First thing that comes to mind is definitely the docuseries we are producing with Nashville Soccer Club, sponsored by Renasant Bank. It’s called Dream Together. All episodes released so far are here: https://www.nashvillesc.com/dreamtogether
This first season has taken some unexpected turns, but that’s kind of the fun of making a series like this in real time—not knowing what’s going to happen next and finding the story through the editing.
Do you enjoy that–the editing and post-production process?
It’s my favorite part of the process actually. It’s where you build the rhythm, the story. If I could only do one thing in video production, I think it would be that: editing. In fact, that makes me think of another project I’m proud of. Our edit for HCA Healthcare’s “Improving More Lives” promo.
It wasn’t an easy project–we had to pull archived and stock footage, then reconstruct it into something that felt original. But ultimately, the story we were able to tell through the edit, through the post-production and everything, was, I think, very effective. It really shows the power and potential of a smart, strong edit.