Last year the Catawba Indian Nation purchased an established multi-media production company that has created feature-length films like the documentary “Running the Sahara,” executive-produced and narrated by Matt Damon, as well as hosted the pilot for the hugely popular SHOWTIME original series “Homeland.” Today the Fort Mill, South Carolina-based company is scoring work with major clients and contributing to the Catawba’s tribal economy. When the Catawba Indian Nation purchased C3 Studios from Chris Cates in January 2016, it hired him to run the company, rebranded as Red Heritage Media.
Red Heritage Media’s long-term vision involves spreading awareness of Catawba tribal culture through broadcasting and supporting the professional development of young Native American filmmakers.
At the time of the purchase, the tribe was in talks to partner with Williamsburg, Virginia-based Studio South to build a $350 million Catawba Studios project on 124 acres of tribal land in York County, South Carolina, over a 10-year period. The Catawbas and Red Heritage Media have “taken a step back” from that previous plan, Cates said. “The vision has been dialed back to something smaller in scale and more along the lines of a studio where we can do in-house production in a building that may also serve as a new cultural center.”
Plans call for the future on-reservation studio to offer daily news and information broadcasts by the tribe. “We want to be able to staff that endeavor with tribal members who would shadow professionals through the process, and to build a native-to-this-part-of-the-country and Native American crew base that we can utilize on projects moving ahead,” Cates said.
Many of Red Heritage Media's recent film and television credits are featured in the below video reel:
The tribally owned production company is also receiving its U.S. Small Business Administration 8(a) status at the end of this week. Cates is looking forward to chasing after federal and state work. “Through government contracting, we can build a revenue stream that will give us the freedom to be able to do more of the work that we like to do,” Cates said.
What Red Heritage Media would like to do is meaningful work. “We prefer to do media that has some impact — some edifying impact, some positive impact,” Cates said.
Red Heritage Media producers are collaborating with the Catawbas to produce content focused on the preservation of tribal culture, and providing educational tools “so that the local and national communities can actually discover the history of the Catawbas,” Cates said.
This past week, Red Heritage Media met with South Carolina Educational Television about creating a Catawba documentary and developing an educational curriculum that would be distributed through the public broadcasting systems and directly to schools.
Meanwhile, the Red Heritage Media team is staying busy. It produces numerous commercials, training videos and social media content for major corporate clients, such as Chevy MotorSports. Last week, Red Heritage interviewed multiple NASCAR drivers who will be driving Chevrolets in this year’s NASCAR series, including Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. “This week we’re breaking that down into content pieces that will be released over the course of the NASCAR season on their social media outlets as part of their publicity strategy,” Cates said.
Red Heritage Media also just wrapped up 20 days of shooting a feature film for FamilyLife Today, a nonprofit that has offered a popular teaching product called “The Art of Marriage” for decades. Red Heritage is in the process of producing the company’s new feature film, “The Art of Parenting,” as well as dividing that film into audio teaching segments for a curriculum-based program.
Live events are another focus of the Red Heritage Media team. Each December, they do the Bronko Nagurski Awards, a five-hour television event. Created in 1993 by the Football Writers Association of America, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy is awarded to the best defensive player in college football and is presented by the Charlotte Touchdown Club. The award was established to complement the Heisman Trophy Award, which at the time had never been presented to a defensive player.
“It’s a big event here in Charlotte – a black-tie dinner event with a lot of moving parts and components,” Cates said. Red Heritage Media stages a 35-foot by 14-foot LED screen as the backdrop. The live event is recorded with multiple cameras. “When players are announced, there’s a highlight package of stuff they’ve done that we’ve pre-produced, and that gets rolled in on the big LED screen as well as other screens that are in the room.” At the end of the night, Red Heritage Media edits its five hours of footage down to a half-hour segment, which airs on CBS Sports.
Beyond all of that, Red Heritage Media continues to try to secure more long-form programming — feature films or a television series. About a third of the states in the U.S. offer film incentives in the form of cash or tax credits. South Carolina offers a healthy 25 percent cash incentive.
South Carolina is also attractive to producers due to its wealth of locations for filming. “We’ve got beaches, we’ve got rivers, we’ve got lakes, we’ve got modern cities, and we’ve got old towns that have hardly changed a thing, and you think you’re in the 1930s or 1940s or 1950s,” Cates said.
Cates, a 30-year entertainment industry veteran, has a successful history of building studios. A Los Angeles native, Cates spent the first 15 years of his career in Hollywood. He helped build Glendale Studios, where he produced several sitcoms and game shows for Columbia Pictures Television, including “Tic-Tac-Dough,” “The Joker’s Wild,” “What’s Happening!,” and “What’s Happening Now!!” He later moved cross-country to work for Atlantic Video, when it was building the first set of sound stages and a large post-production operation — its current downtown Washington D.C. headquarters. Atlantic Video launched Black Entertainment Television (BET), Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, and several other smaller, regional networks. Cates later moved on to work for Charlotte, North Carolina-based Inspirational Network, landing the company a major contract with Speed Channel, the only 24-hour network devoted to the sport of NASCAR.
Cates thinks Red Heritage Media could similarly benefit from a tenant (like Speed Channel) to make a substantial, on-reservation production studio a reality. “If we could do something like that, where we’d have an anchor tenant to provide something of a guarantee in terms of revenue streams, we can revisit a larger-scale plan,” Cates said.
Cates has focused on independent filmmaking for the past 12 years through Red Heritage Media, C3 Studios, and ReelWorks. Cates and his team have done a number of films for the Hallmark Channel and several independent films. Among those films was the aforementioned documentary “Running the Sahara,” a Matt Damon collaboration. “It was a pretty epic project — three guys running across the Sahara Desert in 111 days,” Cates said.
A staff of three forms the base operations for Red Heritage Media. Collectively Cates and company have also lent their expertise to projects for notable media companies including Universal, Disney, Fox, MGM, PBS, Fox Sports, ABC, NBC and ESPN. Cates’ executive producer is Gerry Martin, who has helped develop video and film content for big brands like Shell, Pennzoil, Walmart, Red Bull, Lowe’s, Target, Budweiser, Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota, NASCAR, Fox Sports, the National Guard and many more. Benjamin McGuire serves as Red Heritage Media’s chief engineer; he has a knack for coding, fixing technological issues and color-grading, among other things. “Benjamin is one of these technical geniuses,” Cates said.
Cates has hopes of Red Heritage Media bolstering its core staff with Native employees, and boosting the amount and size of its projects, aided by its new 8(a) status. At that point, it might revisit plans for a larger-scale studio operation on the reservation, akin to the original $350 million plan. “The property is still there, the master plan is still there,” Cates said.