Early in their Key West careers, Chad Newman and Steve Panariello often were known simply as "those guys in kilts."
The filmmakers spent months capturing Key West's history and personality for the "Key West City of Colors" documentary whose release coincided with the unfurling of a 1.25-mile-long rainbow flag along Duval Street during Key West's Pridefest.
Now, a decade later, as the town readies for the 10th anniversary of that color-drenched day in June 2003, Panariello and Newman are as local as a Cuban coffee shop tucked inside a laundromat.
The film crew's trademark kilts have been retired, but the high-tech media production equipment remains as semi-permanent appendages on their hips and shoulders.
Once the documentary wrapped and premiered to a red-carpet audience at the San Carlos Institute, Panariello and Newman teamed up to form Digital Island Media, a local boutique media production company that offers full-service location scouting, shooting, editing, voice overs, post-production, you name it.
"Once the documentary wrapped, Steve and I teamed up and realized that people down here wanted more when it came to video production, and we realized that a cameraman and an editor can be a full-service production company," Newman said.
"We're local because we choose to live here, but we really work globally," said Panariello, adding that in the case of Digital Island, local doesn't mean limited in either ability or equipment. "Because of our connections with production crews and equipment rental houses in Miami, we can do any size job."
The Emmy award-winning company is comfortably ensconced inside a high-tech studio at Conch Harbor, where the digital duo overlooks Key West Harbor and the admittedly distracting pool at Dante's.
Digital Island Media produces scenic videos for the Monroe County Tourist Development Council that have boasted more than 5 million online hits. Panariello, Newman and their freelance "shooter" Presley Adamson also produce television commercials for businesses all over the world, often finding themselves leaning out of a helicopter or descending in dive gear to "get the shot."
"We pride ourselves on providing aerial and underwater footage," Panariello said. "And more and more often people are asking to buy stock footage, like for fishing shows and even television series."
Digital Island also produces live news coverage for Miami-based television networks that don't have the time or the budget to send a crew from the mainland.
"During that anthrax scare at the post office a few weeks ago, I headed down and ended up selling the footage to the networks," Panariello said.
He and Newman also cover events such as Fantasy Fest, Hemingway Days and other events for the TDC.
"We shoot all the events that happen down here," Newman said. "If we shoot and produce something for the TDC, they often give it to the networks to use for free, and we get paid by the TDC," Newman said.
The company has had a contract with the TDC for the past six or seven years. Other clients include television networks such as ESPN, CNN, The Travel Channel, Food Network, Discovery Channel and National Geographic.
"From the PR perspective, we're really fortunate to have people with their skill levels and the caliber of work to take care of our needs," said Andy Newman, of Newman PR (no relation to Chad), which handles public relations for the Florida Keys. "A lot of folks shoot video out there, but to have someone who understands it and can produce it is crucial. The visual is so important today. Visual content is what it's all about and top quality video is what it's all about."
And Digital Island Media has been producing top quality video for a decade now.
Newman came to Key West from Los Angeles, where he was acting and "always drawn to the post-production side of things."
Panariello came from New York after working for CBS as a "cameraman, audio guy and lighting guy."
Ten years ago, Key West received the benefits of video production guys from California and New York who came for a documentary job and stayed when the location became home.