Cheryl King's Creative Journey and the Evolution of Promos
With 19 years of experience creating network promo campaigns and sponsored and short-form content, Cheryl King is a freelance writer/director and a creative director for 2C 2.0 in Miami.
She began her career at CMT fresh out of college at Middle Tennessee State. She went freelance in 2017, when she began to write and creative direct remotely from Costa Rica for 2C Media—now 2C 2.0, a creative collective agency.
Today, she continues to write and creative direct for 2C 2.0, as well as direct live-action for Riverside Entertainment and Running4Cover, both out of Nashville. Cheryl is based out of Tamarindo C.R., Miami, and Nashville.
We spoke with Cheryl for our Backstory series, where we chat with folks in the entertainment industry about their creative inspirations and more.
Cheryl, tell us...
Where you were born, and where you live now.
I was born and grew up in a small rural town in West Tennessee called McKenzie. It's a typical small Southern town. I grew up on a farm—no animals, just crops and hundreds of acres of woods, or what some of you call forests. I spent most of my childhood in those woods trying desperately to win over the wild animals. That didn't work out for me. I left when I was 18 and moved to Nashville, where I lived for about 18 years. About four years ago, I decided to leave the U.S. to explore the expat life. So, for three years, I was living primarily in Tamarindo, Costa Rica, travelling between Nashville and Miami as the projects and shoots called for. However, when Covid-19 hit, I was in the U.S. working on a few different projects and the border to Costa Rica closed to Americans. Thinking I was headed right back, I had only packed a single suitcase and, thankfully, my dog/child, Finnegan. So, since I work in Miami often for 2C, I decided to ride this pandemic out here in Miami because, well … the beach.
Your first job in the industry.
My first job in the industry was at CMT in Nashville. I had worked as an intern in the promos department and loved it. To be honest, I didn't even know what a promo or promo department was at the time. I just saw an opening, was offered the opportunity and said, "I don't know what this is but I'm in!"
After my internship, I was offered a role as the assistant to the art director. Again, at the time, I had no idea how to even open Photoshop, much less do anything in it, but I might have said I did. I decided I would learn as I go, and if I didn't know, I would just ask. So that's what I did, and I ended up staying at CMT for almost 16 years.
A breakthrough moment in your career.
My career was a fairly common story, you know, start at the bottom and work your way up. I stayed at CMT and moved from the graphics department to promos as soon as they had an opening. So I started as a PA, then coordinator … but then a new VP of creative was coming in from New York and he needed an assistant. I decided I was tired of labeling tapes every day—yes, we still had tapes—and making spreadsheets, so I applied and I got the job.
However, as it would turn out, with honestly no great surprise to me … I'm not a great assistant. In fact, I was terrible. But I had formed a great relationship with this new VP, and one day he sat me down and, with a grim look on his face, said, "I don't want to fire you. Is there anything else you are good at?" To which I said, "I think I can write. I watch what the writer/producers do here and I think I can do it." So, he said, "Great. Let's see what you've got. Pitch on this next campaign." So I did and he loved it! At that point, I became a writer/producer (well, not immediately, but in network time—you know if you know). So, if it weren't for that VP taking that one moment out of his day to ask what else I was good at, I would not be where I am today. That VP was Michael Engleman. So big shout-out to you, Michael! (And also, you're welcome.)
It's amazing what can happen when people are given the opportunity to discover and cultivate the talents they didn't realize they had within them. Defining moments like this have continued to happen throughout my career because I have been fortunate enough to work with talented and kind people were are unafraid to let someone beneath them shine. Jeff Nichols, who at the time was creative director at CMT, thought I would be a great director, and allowed me to step in for him on a simple country artist green screen shoot. I think I was around 24 or 25 at the time. And if it weren't for that moment of him seeing that I could be—and do—more, and offering me the chance to step into his place, I would not be a director now.
Each and every breakthrough moment I have had in my career thus far is because I work hard and I surround myself with people who are talented in ways that I am not, but it's more so because of all these incredible people along this path who gave me opportunities to be more than I thought I was, to do more than I thought I could, and to push the limits of my own perception of possibility.
Three movies you couldn't do without.
I feel like I'm going to be judged for these choices, but this is about being honest, right? I'm sure it is so … let's do this! I love comedy and romance and the combination of the two. I only watch movies with happy endings, ever.
So, with that said, my No. 1 is Clueless. I can quote this entire movie and I'm not ashamed. It brings me back to a happy place.
No. 2 would be Grosse Pointe Blank. I think what I connect to most in this is the writing. It's strange and dark but funny and sarcastic and, of course, John Cusack is brilliant in general.
No. 3 is Sabrina. Not to be mistaken with the teenage witch, which no offense, but no, thank you. This 1954 film is my favorite love story of all time. (Sorry, Jack … if you hadn't have died, I would've picked you.)
Your favorite movie quote.
"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." —Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride.
I feel like I don't need to explain this. It speaks for itself.
Your favorite movie trailer or poster.
I don't have a favorite trailer, but I love the trailer for Where the Wild Things Are. It's so simple, really, but powerful. One soundbite sets up the entire premise with, "I didn't want to wake you up, but I really want to show you something," and then allows the visuals and the music to move you. That's the kind of trailer I connect to … the ones that make me feel something.
A classic TV show and a recent TV show that you loved.
Classic TV: The Golden Girls. I am a diehard Golden Girls fan. Everything about this show is wonderfully perfect … the characters, the actors, the writing is remarkable. It's so hilariously dirty but somehow comes off as innocent and playful when delivered by "old ladies." Brilliant!
A semi-recent show that I've loved, and I'm sure I'm not alone on this, is The Handmaid's Tale. The 2C team actually had the opportunity to create promos for a few seasons, so we had the privilege of previewing raw footage, and the cinematography of this series is the most beautiful and powerful use of light, and lack thereof, and color I've ever seen.
A recent project you're proud of.
As a writer/creative director for 2C 2.0, I would say I'm very proud of everything we do, but lately I was very proud of our entire team's work on ESPN's MLB Fall Frenzy for the Wild Card Series. The client presented the idea of using a Raconteurs song and said, "Show us what a Frenzy looks like." I love Jack White, and having lived in Nashville for most of my adult life living in that music scene, I really loved the idea of taking '90s rock poster art and creating a grungy music video out of baseball clips. And that is what we did. It was a day-and-night Frenzy of quickly changing and graphically treating new players as teams would rise, fall or be eliminated, but it was worth it. We love how it turned out!
Another recent project I am proud to have worked on was Cracker Barrel's Sounds of the Season featuring Carrie Underwood, Maddie & Tae and Runaway June, as the director on this music special. I love the holiday season—the trees, the lights, the ornaments, the colors—and I also love Cracker Barrel (if you are from Tennessee, that is mandatory). But this came together so beautifully; the production team was on it in every way, and most importantly, it was the kind of project that made my mama proud … and there's nothing better than that.
Someone else's project that you admired recently.
Beats by Dr. Dre's "You Love Me." The choice to have talent stare directly into the lens was so bold, smart and captivating. You just FEEL the words of the poem written by Lena Waithe, who is an incredibly talented writer.
One thing about how entertainment marketing is evolving that you're excited about.
I'm excited about all of the sponsored content opportunities. Where most of my work previously consisted primarily of on-air launch campaigns, I would say at this point in time, sponsored content projects account for approximately 75 percent of my projects—both as a concept/script writer and as a director.
For the majority of my career in the promo world, there was this formulaic process to scripting, editing and even the design when working on network promos. And, of course, the limitations of telling a story in exactly 30 seconds with a 5-second open and an 8-second tag and, well, we all know the frustrations there. But with this shift to digital and streaming, the time constraints are lifting, allowing for a piece of content to really just be what it should be—unconstrained and unboxed. It's wonderful in that respect. It also opens up this world of creative exploration and expression where the sky is truly the limit (within budget, of course).
What would you be doing if you weren't in entertainment marketing.
I love entertainment marketing, but if I weren't in entertainment marketing, I would be … wait, in this hypothetical situation, am I wealthy? Because if so, that changes my answer. But let's assume I'm not because that's more realistic. If I weren't in this industry, I still think I would be writing. I have a book in my brain I have been planning to write for over six years but haven't had the time. I'm also a judge in a world boutique hotel awards competition. I could see myself doing that for the rest of my life as well.
But if we're talking dreams here, I would say I'd be exploring the world, sipping coffee on my various boutique hotel balconies overlooking every landscape that exists under our sun … and writing romance novels … and Hallmark Christmas movies. I have a ridiculous number of Christmas movie ideas, so maybe a few of those are in my future.