Tuesday Crew Day: Diana Sole-Walko

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Tuesday Crew Day: Diana Sole-Walko

Where are you from, where are you located now, and what are your ties to WV?

I grew up on a dirt road farm along Wylie Ridge, which snakes along the hilltops between Weirton and New Cumberland, WV.  My family roots run deep in West Virginia -- I have ancestors who carved out a life in these mountains and fought in the French and Indian War, which is long before the formation of our state.  I am a student of West Virginia history.  When I was in high school, I was a member of a music group that performed Mountain Heritage music, and we sometimes performed with Patrick Ward Gainer, a folklorist/musician who was passionate about recording the musical heritage of our state. Years later, I started producing documentaries about our state.  And there’s so many more I’d like to do! I am blessed to have crafted a career doing what I love, and living where I choose. 


What was your first job in the industry and what was the experience like?

My first job in the business was working at WOWK-TV as a news production assistant.  My job was to come in about 3 or 4 o’clock and pull slides to accompany the newscast, so that when an anchor was reading a copy story about a fire, for example, there was a slide chromakeyed off his/shoulder with a generic fire graphic.  I also had to check the film reels – that the individual stories were taped onto the A and B rolls in the order they would appear in the show.  Yes, I’ve actually worked with a real b-roll reel!

It wasn’t long before I was writing copy, and moved into producing the newscasts.  Since my primary shifts were weekends, there was a lot to do, and very few people on duty.  It was a great training ground.  You had to make a lot of decisions – about what went in to the newscast, what was cut, what warranted a copy story, what deserved sending your reporter out, what to do when your lead story was still in the edit room and the director was saying, “cue the talent.”  I’m still a news hound! My Twitter feed is full of news outlets. 


When did you join the production team at MotionMasters?

A little history first. I joined Charles Ryan Associates in 1984, as a public relations account executive. My undergrad is a split between broadcast news and public relations. Marshall University let me design it that way because at the time, there weren’t any college classes in the entire state in television production. In 1987, Charlie Ryan and his leadership team made the decision to form a separate subsidiary that did production. By that time, I had shifted from PR into producer.  When the subsidiary was launched, I was named a vice president. I wasn’t even 30 years old, but I knew how to tell a story, and I was good at winning the confidence of clients. The first couple of years were difficult, in part, because although we operated independently of CRA, we were wholly owned by the parent company --  so other advertising firms wouldn’t work with us. They saw it as a conflict. Our tie to CRA was an impediment to our growth. In the fall of 1988, I became president of the firm and in 1992, I bought the company from CRA and launched MotionMasters. I can’t believe 30 years have rolled by since the company started.


What project has challenged you the most, or are you most proud of?  And what were you responsible for?

There have been so many challenging and interesting projects over the years that it is impossible to answer this! Getting into documentary work would be one. I had to learn about how to structure the financing, become a fundraiser, and learn distribution. I had to push really hard to get that first one done, to earn credibility for our work. And it got a national airing on PBS. Another would be the challenge of self-publishing educational content – and securing international distribution. We have produced more than a hundred titles that are sold to schools, libraries, colleges, etc. across North America and beyond. Think about that for a moment. Our production company based in the Kanawha Valley is producing content that is being used in classrooms globally. And it’s generated terrific reviews and won a lot of awards. More recently, we took on the challenge of producing 12 episodes of a television show for a cable network. We shot in, I believe, 11 states. It was extraordinarily challenging and fun. We made a lot of new friends producing that show. And now it’s moving into international distribution, so our work is going to be seen in China and Russia initially, with more nations to follow.


What advice would you give someone wanting to work in the film industry?

Ask to shadow someone in the industry. Ask to sit down and pick their brain over a cup of coffee. Ask the veterans to tell you their story. And listen.  Genuinely listen. This industry is as much about building relationships as it is what “F-stop” you’re going to shoot with. It’s not about how much talent YOU have. Because this is not a business of solo operators. Producing great content is a collaborative process, and no one has a corner on great ideas. It’s also critically important that you understand it’s a business. To keep doing what you love, you need to know how to put a value on your work, and how to get the client to pay up when they are 60-days past due. Take an accounting course - or two!

I can’t imagine any other field as interesting as ours. It’s taken me places in this world I never dreamed I would see. Growing up on that dirt road, I didn’t know Ngorongoro Crater existed. I filmed a lioness there. I’ve interviewed incredibly interesting people. I’m working on a biography of Katherine Johnson, the NASA mathematician, and spent hours interviewing her about her incredible life, to name just one. I work alongside some wonderfully talented people. I would do it all again in a heartbeat. 

Live inspired.  Work inspired.  Meld the two.