By Wendi Reardon Price
Clarkston News Staff Writer
Inspired is how Ryan Koral felt after finishing a documentary about Garth Pleasant, former Rochester University men’s basketball coach.
Koral, a Clarkston resident and founder of Tell Studios in Lake Orion, became inspired to start a sub brand with his video production studio.
“I became focused on higher education storytelling so stories in higher education like coaches, professors or alumni whose lives were changed by somebody in higher ed,” he said. “It’s hard for them to market themselves. Telling those stories is the best way to market themselves. I was inspired.
“From the research I have done, you would be surprised how many are not telling their stories. Here’s the school and it’s beautiful. But why did you choose this place? Why did you work here for over 30 years? What did this place do for you? I am fired up to be in this arena. It doesn’t even feel like selling.”
Koral knows because he has his own story.
He shared it was because Pleasant ended up going to Rochester University, which at the time was Rochester College. He had just graduated from Oxford High School in 1996 and was hanging out with Pleasant’s son, John.
“I met Garth and he is drilling me with all these questions,” Koral said. “He’s like ‘I need you to meet my boss, the president of Rochester College.’ I go to his office and in my mind is I don’t have money to go to a private school. With this new found faith, I would love to be at a small Christian school and take classes. I have been turned on to this new world, and I just want to absorb it.”
He sat down with the late Dr. Ken Johnson and shared he had a very different background than most going to the school.
“I didn’t grow up going to church. I don’t have all these stigmas most people who go to church have,” Koral said. “Leadership was changing and they wanted to do some new things at the school. He saw some things in me. He said ‘I think we need somebody like you – a fresh perspective.’”
Koral was invited to orientation and with the opportunity to meet new people he took it. He showed up a few days later and was handed a lanyard and a manila envelope with a key.
Instantly he asked what it was. Then, he was informed it was the key to his dormitory room.
“I live in Oxford I am just commuting for the next couple of days. I came to meet people. I don’t need a room,” he said. “They said, ‘that’s your room. Didn’t you hear? You got the president’s scholarship. Your school for the next four years is paid for. If you want to go to school here.’ I just didn’t know what to say. It was unbelievable.”
Everything changed at that moment – he was down a new path which led him to video production and meeting his wife, Andrea.
After graduating, he started working in the enrollment services department and asked his boss to buy a video camera and computer.
“They bought me these tools and I start shooting and editing video to promote the events,” Ryan said. “It’s the things I was hosting or helping for the school. Then, eventually I was like I need to do this full time – just video. I love my job. I love this school, but I am ready to go out in the world and make a dent.”
His film venture after leaving included doing anything.
“I had a video camera and was ready to work,” Ryan said. “Six months in doing everything, I had a friend who was a wedding photographer and said this couple needs a videographer. I could shoot a wedding. Filming that first wedding was amazing. It was so fun to be at this event. My dad had passed away six months after Andrea and I got married so the importance of a wedding and different voices and different people meant a lot. It was a lot different for me. So, to sit down with the couple and say if you don’t hire us, hire someone. This is a day you will have your favorite people – capture their voice.”
Ryan wanted Tell Studios to grow and start telling stories for businesses about 11 years ago. Now the production company creates marketing and sales pieces with 3-5 minutes of storytelling.
“Our tag line is video with soul,” Ryan said, adding it is documentary storytelling but shorter. “I think if you create an emotional connection it doesn’t feel like selling. It just makes people want to do business with the brand.
“From our business perspective we always go back to trying to tell better stories. If we can do that, refine our messaging or our approach then good stories live on forever.”
He added over the years Tell Studios has done at least four 20-40-minute documentaries.
“Those are pretty special,” Ryan shared. “Every time you do them, you just spend so much more time digging into the story. You are more invested and want them to be so good.”
Then, Rochester University came to him and said there was a donor who loves and respects Garth and would like a documentary done about Garth.
Ryan was asked if he and his team would want to film it. The answer came instantly.
“Are you kidding me,” Ryan said. “I wouldn’t be doing this job today if he didn’t see something in me and made the introduction to the president. He has been a very influential person in my life. To get the opportunity to tell that story, come on, it’s so good. It came full circle. “
Ryan has been to two screenings for the documentary about Garth. He shared the reception has been great including saying how folks said it exceeded many people’s expectations.
“With the Garth piece, my eyes have been opened to a passion I really didn’t know that was there or has been dormant because I have been busy focusing on building a business instead of remembering why I got into this – to tell stories – stories that invoke emotion,” he said. “I created this piece I get emotional watching. I feel so alive in my work today. I am excited to find stories like mine. Somebody saw something in them and made them feel this is my calling.
“Doing this piece I am falling back in love with the production process. I watched all these sports documentaries and I am like there is so much opportunity to do so much stuff.”
Ryan and Andrea have lived in Clarkston since 2013 with their children, Charlotte, Evan and Hazel. They moved here to be closer to friends and the families could raise their kids together.
“Intentionally build a small community of friends where kids will be loved and also have influential people in their lives,” he said, adding the Clarkston community has helped continue to build the importance of community for him.
PHOTO: Ryan Koral