Educating the World, One Video at at Time
Written by Ann Jackman | Posted by: Anonymous
Twenty-seven years ago, an elementary school teacher in Fitchburg, Massachusetts decided he wanted to enlarge his classroom. But he wouldn’t be using a sledgehammer or drawing up architectural blueprints. His only tool would be a video camera. That was when Chip Taylor decided to take his passion for education beyond the schoolyard and into an even bigger classroom: the world. Taylor wanted to make films that educated — films that opened eyes and challenged minds.
Using money he had saved, Taylor bought a ¾" Beta camera and made his first film — a documentary about the Puerto Rican community in Central Massachusetts where he grew up. It was to be the first of many that reflected Taylor’s interest in themes of multiculturalism and tolerance, themes that continue to influence his company’s philosophy.
Today, Taylor has produced 125 short films and owns Chip Taylor Communications (CTC), a distribution and production company that sells primarily educational videos and documentaries of all lengths, formats, and subject matter. Based in Derry, New Hampshire and started in 1985, CTC offers over 1,500 titles in its catalogue on just about every subject imaginable. "We do documentaries, educational videos, and PBS programs that we sell to schools, colleges, libraries, museums, and some home video," says Taylor, who has won two CINE Golden Eagle Awards and been nominated for an Emmy. Ever wanted to discover the inner workings of Finnish saunas? Or watch a dramatization of an Appalachian folktale? Looking for a biography of Andrew Wyeth to accompany an art exhibit? Teaching a class on the deforestation of Papua New Guinea or the current political problems in Zimbabwe? CTC offers glimpses into a wide array of cultures, personal stories, and important social issues, with the goal of raising awareness about the world in which we live.
Many of its films are packaged into "series" about such topics as AIDS, Science and Technology, Holistic Health, and Global Awareness with approximately 50 percent of the titles geared towards school-age children and curriculum-based programs. Taylor sees video as an important instrument in making the world accessible to everyone, particularly to young minds as they develop the skills and knowledge they will need in order to make informed decisions as they enter adulthood. CTC’s videos teach children everything from sign language, to healthcare, to world cultures through its "Children of the World" Series, which profiles the lives of children from eleven different countries.
Taylor chose to be a broad-based distribution company rather than specializing in one subject for several reasons. Not being an expert in any one particular field, he didn’t feel he could compete with the specialized distributors already out there. And from a financial standpoint, the broader the subjects offered, the wider the potential audience. But primarily, his decision to diversify was based on his belief that learning is not confined to one specific area, and that the more we learn and the more we teach, the more open and tolerant our society will become.
"The most serious answer to our problems is education," says Taylor. "Lip service is no good. You have to educate people. Education is what helps people overcome prejudice." And his clients seem to agree wholeheartedly with his philosophy. In just the last five years, CTC has seen its catalogue more than double from 600 to 1,500 titles, with a worldwide customer base. While primary and secondary schools are his biggest clients, Taylor has noticed an increase in the number of museums and organizations that use videos to supplement special exhibits or programs
Taylor acquires his videos in various ways. He attends festivals and film markets and is also approached by producers themselves. In addition, CTC will commission work based on feedback from its clients. One of the keys to CTC’s success is Taylor’s willingness to listen to the needs of customers and translate that into product, particularly for specific school curricula. Recently, in response to an expressed desire for dramatizations of Aesop’s Fables, Taylor hired an animator to create a series for schools. Taylor himself continues to produce films with the money he earns from distribution.
Taylor’s background as a filmmaker explains CTC’s producer-friendly attitude. Unlike warehouse companies that merely distribute tapes without licensing agreements, CTC acquires films on an exclusive basis, signing producers to a contract. In return for this exclusivity, CTC offers a variety of support services, including guidance through the early stages of the production process and a list of funding resources for first-time producers.
"We do marketing and package design, we do study guides. We meet with the producers and listen to what they have to say. We represent them so that it frees them up to actually produce." It’s all part of Taylor’s commitment to encouraging worthwhile projects that might not get made otherwise because the filmmakers are unaware that there is a market for their ideas.
As such, Taylor has built up a loyal base of producers nationwide. "We have about 200-300 producers we work with and we try to use local people as much as possible," says Taylor, who composes his own music for his films. He takes pride in the fact that CTC encourages first-time producers who might not have a lot of experience, but who have a passion for a particular subject matter and a desire to share it with others. "Many up-and-coming filmmakers think they have to immediately do an independent feature, and they don’t realize that sometimes you can do just as well making a 15-minute film."
Some of CTC’s most popular titles right now reflect the current world situation. For example, as part of its "War on Terrorism" series there is a video about Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities, and there is a new series on the daily life of India. While most of the films are documentary or educational in nature, Taylor is open to all kinds of film, from animated shorts to full-length features, as long as they adhere to his company’s guiding principle: To educate and open minds. "I have a passion for all kinds of learning," says Taylor.
He has carried this passion beyond one Massachusetts classroom and into classrooms all over the world, in the hopes of inspiring similar passions in curious minds, both young and old. Twenty-seven years ago it might have seemed that Chip Taylor’s decision to become a filmmaker was taking him on a path completely divergent from teaching. But Taylor is still a teacher. Only now his classroom is a little bigger, videos have replaced textbooks, and he has an endless supply of subject matter.
For more information about CTC and its video catalogue, check out the website at www.chiptaylor.com.