Documentary producers win awards, kudos for vision

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 19, 2006

Natchez &8212; Natchez native Chesney Blankenstein Doyle set out to be a lawyer almost 25 years ago. So how did she end up as an award-winning producer of television documentaries with her husband, Marc Doyle?

&8220;I married into television,&8221; she said. She met her husband in Atlanta, and Natchez played a role in their romance.

With a B.A. in English from the University of Virginia and a law degree from Vanderbilt University, she went to Atlanta to work for the Atlanta-based firm Constangy, Brooks & Smith.

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Three years later, creative energy thrust her into a new endeavor, the founding and directing of &8220;The Institute for Southern Cultures.&8221; And in 1994, she became director of development for the College of Arts & Sciences at Georgia State University.

The way she describes it, however, is that &8220;nothing terribly exciting had ever happened to me. Then Marc bought a condo near me. I had a Christmas party, and the event of the party was making my grandmother&8217;s eggnog from scratch. This was a party I had had for 20 years. I invited Marc.&8221;

Marc Doyle sent a note of regret, &8220;so beautiful that it got my attention. When he came back in town, I invited him to have a cup of eggnog. The rest is history,&8221; Chesney said.

Marc responded, &8220;In fact, I fell in love with Chesney the first time I talked to her.&8221;

Marc Doyle, with an extensive background in television journalism with CBS News, including managing the Atlanta station, founded his own company, Doyle & Associates, now Echo Pictures Inc., in 1988.

Not long after he and Chesney were married in 1996, he suggested she work with him in the business.

&8220;It was Marc&8217;s idea,&8221; she said. &8220;I asked him, do you understand that I will be working? I am a working girl and passionate about things. If I can have an influence on shows that will be seen by millions of people, I&8217;m all over that.&8221;

Together they founded Echo Pictures. Marc explains, &8220;The name implies that what we make will reverberate all over the media.&8221;

In fact, that has been the case, as their peers and their audiences have showered them with both praise and awards.

The most recent award is the CINE Golden Eagle Award from the Fall 2005 international competition for a documentary on the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a segment in their now-renowned series, Great Museums.

The recent CINE award was the sixth one for Great Museums and the 29th television award for the ongoing series, which is the only national TV series devoted to America&8217;s museum world.

In 2006, Echo Pictures will produce a special program, &8220;100 Years of Museums in America: Riches, Rivals and Radicals,&8221; for the centennial celebration of the American Association of Museums.

Other 2006 Great Museum releases will feature The Museum of Modern Art, The Walker Art Center, Boston Children&8217;s Museum and the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Great Museums is now in its fourth year and is broadcast through public television stations throughout the country.

&8220;It has been a labor of love,&8221; Marc Doyle said. &8220;It&8217;s a concept Chesney came up with in carrying out the premise that our museums are repositories of the American experiences.&8221;

Museums included in the series to date are The Whale Museum, Library of Congress, National D-Day Museum, Charleston Museum, The Morris Museum of Art, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, New York City Fire Museum, National Museum of Racing and more.

Someday there will be a museums television channel, Chesney said. &8220;Marc is involved with those who are trying to do that. Hopefully, some of this content will become the basis for programming on the museum channel.&8221;

Marc said his and Chesney&8217;s vision is that Great Museums is a brand. &8220;What we&8217;ve been doing is building on that brand. Our immediate goal is to transfer that brand to mobile video and international distribution.&8221;

Skilled and knowledgeable in the technology side of communications, Marc throughout his career has explored ways to improve the quality of television through new breakthroughs in electronic technology. He has used those skills to create the high definition strategy for the Great Museum series.

Chesney Doyle sees the series as an important way to increase awareness of American museums. &8220;It&8217;s a public service, not just our business plan. The reality is that American museums are the repository of our DNA.&8221;

Marc agreed. &8220;To me, it&8217;s all about using the power of television for the public good.&8221;

In addition to and including the museum series, the company looks for content that will remain fresh for years to come. &8220;We are producing things with evergreen content that can be used up to maybe 12 years,&8221; Chesney said.

Echo Pictures creates other content-based documentaries, such as the popular &8220;Fly Fishing in Yellowstone,&8221; which premiered in April 2005.

The Great Museum series is underwritten by the Boston-based Eureka Foundation and distributed by American Public Television of Boston.

&8220;This has been the most rewarding work of my career,&8221; Marc Doyle said of Great Museums. &8220;We&8217;ve raised more than $3 million to create these programs, which allows us to distribute them to public television throughout America free of charge.&8221;