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Film company has stories to tell

If you remember the funny lottery ads on TV that featured Leslie Nielsen or you've seen the documentary about Charleston native Leon Sullivan, you have viewed the handiwork of Motion Masters.

The Charleston company, which produces videos, advertisements and multimedia products, marks its 25th anniversary in business today.

Although Motion Masters' headquarters is hidden at the end of a road ("Creative Way") in the NorthGate Business Park, its work has been and continues to be seen locally and around the world. For example, the Rev. Leon Sullivan documentary, "A Principled Man," will be shown at the Culture Center on Feb. 10 as part of Black History Month.

"It has not been shown for a while so I am excited about that," said Diana Sole Walko, Motion Masters' founder and chief executive officer. "I continue to educate people about Leon Sullivan and why he has a street in Charleston named after him.

"The naming of the street was a direct result of the video."

And that's what Motion Masters prides itself in doing: telling stories and getting results.

(For more on Motion Masters, click here.)

Motion Masters is primarily a projects-based business. A company or organization that wants to get out a message hires Motion Masters to tell its story.

"We have loyal customers, but some of them only need us every couple of months or maybe even just once a year," Walko said. "The gaps in between can make you feel like the lonely Maytag repairman."

To smooth the ups and downs, Motion Masters has produced a few documentaries and lots of videos.

In addition to the Leon Sullivan documentary, the company has produced a film about the state Capitol, "A Moving Monument"; a video biography of the late Sen. Robert Byrd, "The Soul of the Senate"; and a documentary about the state Supreme Court, "Foundation of Justice."

Motion Masters also has produced just fewer than 10 educational videos annually during the last three years.

"That has been one of the creative ways we've weathered the recession," Walko said.

"During a recession, a lot of businesses cut back on marketing, which they consider to be a 'soft' expenditure. Which is unfortunate because research shows that if you are the company pouring money into marketing during a recession, you will come out ahead of your competitors when the recession ends.

"But it is tough to make some companies understand that when they're worrying about making payroll. So we've accelerated the number of educational videos we produce. It helps build a stream of revenue for years to come."

One hit video is titled, "Deadly Driving Distractions: Texting, Cell Phones and Other Killers."

Walko said, "We saw interest in this topic peaking a few years ago so we researched it, interviewed Dr. David Strayer, a nationally recognized expert on distracted driving, and found a woman in Illinois who could talk about her Marine Corps son who died while texting. It's a powerful piece. It won national awards. It is selling well for us."

Another video is "MyPlate: Understanding the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans."

Walko said, "The U.S. Department of Agriculture said they were coming out with MyPlate to replace MyPyramid. We interviewed dieticians and other food experts and shot cover footage of breads, grains and people cooking food. When the USDA announced MyPlate, we quickly rolled out our video with those new food guidelines. We were first in the marketplace."

When it comes to educational videos, "we are generalists but there are certain areas we like to concentrate in - job skills, job training, job search," Walko said. "We do try to stay attuned to what's being written about in the news, like deadly distractions. We invest in the videos ourselves, have a distributor and receive royalties. We have 29 new titles in distribution."

The size of Motion Masters' staff has fluctuated between nine and 11 over the years, Walko said. The current staff includes Pat Legg, business manager; Doug Morris, production manager; Brian Peterson, executive director; p.k. Khoury, copywriter/producer; Diane Dimoff, producer; Wesley Poole, videographer/editor; Christa Hamra, director of marketing and sales; and an administrative assistant who asked not to have her name published.

"I definitely want to say I have a terrific staff," Walko said. "Some have been here 20 years. They are a dedicated and talented group of people who could work in major production facilities in New York or California or wherever but choose to practice their craft at Motion Masters and choose to be in West Virginia."

Motion Masters supplements its staff with freelancers as needed.

"We did a commercial for the Kanawha Valley Community and Technical College," Walko said. "We wanted a totally graphic look. There was nothing to shoot - it was all illustrations, motion graphics. The designer for that lives in Romania.

"We were able to deliver to our client a very unique look for their commercial, and we were able to deliver it at a budget that they could afford."

The Internet has made it possible for Motion Masters to work with talented people around the world, to work for clients anywhere, and to sell films and videos worldwide.

The company's three-story headquarters at NorthGate is a far cry from its first two-room, one-phone office. Motion Masters boasts the only freestanding production studio in West Virginia (All of the others are tied to TV stations). It was an early adopter of digital editing. It went tapeless several years ago.

"Nothing in business is ever static," Walko said. "It's particularly true on the technical side of our business. We continually invest in new software and hardware and are learning new processes to streamline the operation. The learning curve is ongoing. Just when you figure something out, it's time to shift gears again.

"It's a challenge to know when to adopt new technology and which manufacturer to work with. For us, the last big decision was, when do we move into high definition? We met internally every three or six months for a couple of years to discuss what that technology could do, what it would cost, whether we felt our current client base was ready to pay additional dollars for that, and whether demand was there for it. We made the transition to full HD three years ago.

"We've done HD Blu-ray for years. That's just another output for us. I don't see 3-D being an issue for us anytime soon. If you go to Best Buy and look, the only things available in 3-D are kids' movies and a few action flicks."

Walko thought running a small business would get easier over time.

"When first starting the business, I thought it was going to get easier because I would have analyzed the first round of health benefits for employees or learned how to structure a 401(k) or found the resources you need to do the productions," she said.

"But business isn't static. If you're doing the same thing today that you were doing five years ago, you're going to find yourself out of business. You have to keep up with new technology, keep your own skill sets updated. You have to keep delivering results for your clients, to keep them coming back in the door."

Walko said the master's in business administration she earned at Marshall University in 2004 has been a great help.

"The depth and breadth of that education filled in a lot of holes," she said. She can now analyze whether she should purchase or lease equipment, understand bankers' ratio analyses, and solve legal issues she previously may have had to hire a lawyer to answer.

Motion Masters will celebrate its 25th anniversary this evening with a dessert social for clients, friends and colleagues.

"We're really excited to be celebrating 25 years," Walko said. "It has gone quickly."

Contact writer George Hohmann at or 304-348-4836.


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