We had the good fortune of connecting with Lola Lott and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lola, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
In 1989 Jack Waldrip–a very talented video editor–and I developed a postproduction process that became the model for modern editorial facilities by integrating all facets of the workflow. Combining AVID (one of the first non-linear computer-based editing systems), online editing, graphic design, and audio under one roof we created an optimal postproduction environment. The dream was to bring together the best talent for each discipline and thus create a team of specialists–all working together for the best possible results. The system proved phenomenally successful, and by 1995, we knew it was time to open our own place. We named it charlieuniformtango…CUT, the military radio call letters for charlieuniformtango (editing is called cutting, hence CUT).
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
There’s so much to share here so I’ll focus on our 25th anniversary. This is no small accomplishment in an industry that is driven by technology and talent. We started before the digital revolution: there were no desktop systems, no fax machines, there was no internet; business was conducted one-on-one or on the phone. When we opened our doors, there were at least six very large, healthy advertising agencies in Dallas alone. Now the business is fractured into small agencies and individuals. At big and small corporations alike, work is often done internally. We didn’t survive because of hard work, perseverance, creativity, luck, relationships, love, family, or amazing clients…although all of these were critically important. We made it to 25 years because of our talented people. I know that may sound cliche, but in this case it really is true. The majority of tango employees have grown up in our company. Most of our 40 employees have been with us for more than 15 years. Our people don’t just stay for the benefits or great lunches, they stay because we created a culture of creativity, accountability, respect, bonding, opportunity, and lots and lots of fun. This is especially meaningful in an industry that sees very high turnover due to talent poaching, burn out, lack of recognition, etc. I’m also very proud of having created a successful woman owned and run business in a very male dominated industry. And now, as we celebrate the past quarter of a century, we’re moving into the next phase of tango growth with three new partners: editors Deedle LaCour and James Rayburn, and Flame Artist Joey Waldrip. They all started their careers here at tango years ago. And I know they are the right leadership to take charlieuniformtango into the future.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Dallas has become a destination city; I’ll be honest, I don’t know that I could have said that 30 years ago, but our city has grown in so many ways… with much more focus on culture; live music, dance, museums, theater, galleries, events, and performances of all kinds. I’d definitely bring visitors to the charlieuniformtango studios because it’s such a cool place, with interesting big brand commercials being edited in every suite, and some actor or famous athlete in an audio suite recording lines for a commercial, and of course I’d take them to a production set. We would definitely be eating out… Mexican, Thai and some amazing little Vietnamese dive would definitely be on the circuit. White Rock Lake for a long walk, a tennis match in Lakewood, Samuell Grand or Tokalon would be a must. We would have to go the Nasher sculpture museum for art and live music under the stars and the Dallas Museum of Art. (Our offices are located in the heart of the Dallas Arts District–the largest urban arts district in the country.) Along the way there would be some serious margarita drinking with Texas country music playing in the background (Lyle Lovett or Los Lonely Boys) while hanging out in shorts and flip flops. The Kessler and the Granada for different local live music and, last but not least, Arts Mission Oak Cliff for a live local, avant-garde original theatrical show that you definitely wouldn’t get anywhere else. Shall I continue? There is so much to do here. Can you tell how much I love my hometown?
Risk taking: how do you think about risk, what role has taking risks played in your life/career?
Risk-taking has definitely played important roles in my life–in two very different ways:
My parents took a huge risk when I was very young. Fearing for the safety of their family in an increasingly unstable Egypt, they decided to leave their comfortable lives, pack up their four daughters, ages 3 (me), 2, 1, and 2 months, and move to the United States to pursue graduate degrees. My dad and mom both got scholarships from the University of Florida; my dad to get his PhD in nuclear chemistry and my mom, her master’s in fine art. They didn’t know anyone here in the US. My mom spoke only French and Arabic, my dad English and Arabic. Creating new lives for themselves and their family was a life-changing risk. But I am so thankful for the sacrifices they made for me and my sisters. Business owners face risks every day, and we’ve had our share. charlieuniformtango’s 25th anniversary is next month, and as I look back on those 25 years, I’m grateful for the many, many good years we’ve had. But I’m also mindful of the challenges we’ve faced and the risks we took to get us through them. For example, as talent union boycotts lead to production and post work moving to other countries, our work dwindled. When the economy hit the skids in 2008, our whole industry slowed down. And when a large agency left town, we lost a significant client. In each of these situations, we doubled down and invested in new technologies, upgraded our equipment, moved into new studios, and, in some cases, re-branded or expanded aspects of our creative services. This was a lesson I remembered very well from one of my economics classes: When times are slow or hard that’s when you step up, re-invest, and go big. (My words, not the exact ones I heard in class, but you get the idea.)
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I’d like to give a shoutout to Jack Waldrip, senior editor and my partner in charlieuniformtango for 25 years. Jack and I have worked together since 1986. Our friendship started when I was working as an accountant and first “computer expert on the very first Apple Mac, LOL” for a production firm in Dallas and Jack was freelancing for the firm. Over the years clients would seek us out to work together for our combined talents. I put out a business plan and proposed it to Jack and he agreed to it immediately. Editing is quite literally part of Jack Waldrip’s DNA. His father was the Lighting Director at Dallas public TV station KERA and also taught TV production at Jack’s high school, Skyline. His talents have earned him a Cannes Lion, ADDYs, CLIOs, an AICP, and ‘Best Editor’ nomination at the International Monitor Awards three years in a row. With his 6th sense for finding the right take to make a story succinct, Jack always seems to know exactly how to help make a story relevant and interesting. Whether he’s using effects or simply letting the film’s action play out, Jack is universally regarded as one of the best editors in our industry and I’m eternally grateful to have him as my friend and business partner.