Tim Gardner & Lorie Gardner t’s a fabulously spring-like Friday with more than a hint of Columbia’s famously hot weather on the way, and Mad Monkey’s Tim Gardner is in a sweat: he and Lorie Gardner, his business partner and wife, are in the midst of moving their office from the Lady Street site they’ve occupied since 2005 to a building on Main Street, on the edge of the golden quadrangle anchored by Tapps, the Columbia Museum of Art, Paradise Ice, and Mac’s on Main. Though the new location is on its way to being state of the film-production art, right now it reeks of polyurethane and the air-conditioning is off. Compounding the stress of the move is the fact that Mad Monkey has in thirteen years grown from three people with some editing equipment, and the crazy idea that Columbia would be a neat place to start a fullservice film-production company into one of the Southeast’s Creative Forces to be Reckoned With. To hell with Hollywood. “When we decided to do this, there were only a handful of people who thought it would work,” Tim says.“I think that handful was you and me,” Lorie adds. “Who would come to Columbia?” They would: Lorie from Philadelphia; Tim, who grew up in Columbia (Jim Thigpen was his drama teacher in high school), returning for family reasons from Los Angeles.
“I was a copywriter at an ad agency in Philadelphia and I was on set for several commercials I’d written and I thought, ‘Oh my God, that’s what I want to do,’” Lorie says. “I hated letting go of my idea and seeing the production company turn it into something that was not my vision. I decided, I’m leaving Philly and I want to be a producer. I started looking for jobs. A company here was crazy enough to hire someone who didn’t really know what they were doing. I came down and taught myself how to edit, how to produce. It was trial by fire I wound up managing a production company. I never thought I’d stay in Columbia, SC. I figured I’d leverage this.” Then, in 1999, she met Tim. Or, as she admits, pursued Tim. “I saw two things that Tim directed and thought who is this guy? I want to work with him. I asked him to direct something for me. It was such a huge departure to work with him, because he was so interested in the story. Not that other directors weren’t, but with Tim the story came first, versus jumping to actors and locations. I kept hiring him to direct things.” Which suited Tim just fine. While in LA, he completed a Master of Fine Arts at the UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television. “They were melding the film and television school with the theatre school. It was a cross-discipline approach. That was where I really started focusing on who I was going to be in the industry and what I was going to do. I wanted to work in all three industries. It was fate that Lorie and I met. There was nothing here like what we do till we started doing it.” Mad Monkey got its start in a parking lot on Friday the Thirteenth of October, 2000. Lorie was developing business plans for the production company she worked for, bouncing her ideas off Tim. “And Tim said, why are you so interested in making money for someone else—why don’t you open your own production company? I said, OK, if you do it with me. He said yeah. That was my first lesson: Don’t call Tim Gardner’s bluff, ever.” Their concept was a one-stop shop, a fullservice production setup where the three partners—the mix included a third partner, David Johnson, doing animation and motion graphics—did everything from scripting and design to live-action shoots to special effects. It was a model difficult to sustain. To up the challenge of founding a company, Lorie and Tim got married a few weeks later. “To be honest, that’s how it is with Tim,” Lorie says. “There is this energy force field around
him. You have to be careful about saying; I wish we could do this kind of project, because it’s in motion before you know it. I used to think I was crazy till I married Tim.” Apparently, everything is relative. “She’s the reasonable one,” Tim says. “I mean that in the best way.” Marriage being the tricky thing that it is even without figuring in twenty-four-hour togetherness, it is de rigueur, if not a little rude, to ask how they do it. “There’s a rule that Tim was smart enough to establish,” Lorie says. “Leave the work here—don’t talk about it at home. That’s still hard for me. I want to problemsolve throughout the weekend, the vacation, whatever. That’s the hardest thing for me and the best thing. Tim knows how to separate work and personal life much better than I do. I’m a work in progress.” So boundaries, yes. But also, says Tim, communication and flexibility and a mutual passion for good work that so far has led to a trophy case of awards: dozens of national Gold and Silver ADDYs from the American Advertising Federation, plus thirteen Best in Broadcast and seven local Best in Show honors, plus twenty Regional Gold Addys. In addition, the group holds fifty-five In-Show awards and a Certificate of Merit at the International One Show Awards in New York City. There’s a blessing that goes “May you move from success to success,” and Tim and Lorie aim to do just that. The new Mad Monkey space at 1631 Main Street has been customized for the way the Gardners work, from draw-on-me walls to offices separated by sliding doors (facilitating both collaboration and private creative time) to an edit suite hardwired for real-time client input. In a follow-up email, Lorie admits, “While Tim and I dared each other to start Mad Monkey and were brazen enough to get married at the same time, perhaps the bravest soul was David, who had known us for about eighteen months and took the leap with newlyweds and entrepreneurial neophytes. I remember him saying something like, ‘I hear fifty percent of all businesses fail in the first five years and think it’s the same odds for marriage, so ... let’s roll the dice.’ Some thirteen years later, we’ve beaten the odds and then some. I’d like to believe that’s more than just luck.” //SLW
Vol. 002 No. 006