St. Louis Business Journal Character Profile

January 23, 2017

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Mark Halski has been fascinated with art and film since the sixth grade. At age 43, he has worked for top advertising agencies in St. Louis as an art director and has gone on to start his own photography and video studio where he works with his wife Meg Halski. Now, Halski Studio is creating photography and video production work for international clients as well as local St. Louis businesses and startups. In 2017, Halski will begin rolling out original content including a web series on inspirational leaders, a comedy series and a rock documentary about one of his favorite bands.

Halski has a reputation for bringing positive energy to every thing he takes on, according to Jake Edinger, creative director with Rogers Townsend. Edinger has collaborated with Halski on many projects.

“He can find potential in projects that others may see as routine. When an assignment comes to Mark, he looks for an upside and lo and behold he always finds it. He’s got a little Tom Sawyer in him, for sure,” Edinger said.

How did you get involved in the ad business? After graduating from McCluer North high school, I had been awarded two scholarships, one to Washington University and one to the Kansas City Art Institute. I decided to go to Florissant Valley Community College for my first two years and then transfer. I was quite familiar with the faculty as my uncle had taught there and my friend’s father, Kim Mosley, ran the photography department. I was aware of their reputation of having a strong foundations program. After those two years, I was awarded a summer internship with D’arcy St. Louis. Almost immediately I became aware of the learning opportunity there. I was surrounded by some of the best talent doing the best broadcast advertising in the country and some of the best in the world. The opportunity to walk through those doors every day and learn from that talent was incredible. After that internship, I was offered the opportunity to stay as an employee and that was a no-brainer. It was a great time to get into the industry. Mac computers were just starting to show up.

How did you end up doing photography and film? I always loved film and photography. As far back as sixth grade, my dream job was to work at Industrial Light and Magic. As an advertising art director working with agencies in town, the path was to hire a commercial photographer when it came time to shoot photos or a production company and director when we needed to do a commercial. Twelve years ago, I started shooting commercial photography myself for my clients at the agency I was working at, which was Arnold Worldwide in St. Louis, where I was senior art director on the Jack Daniels and Klipsch Audio Technologies accounts. I had the opportunity to shoot the photography for the Klipsch campaign that I had developed with my copywriter partner. So I became an art director who had added photography to my toolbox.

Why open your own studio? I had been working for advertising agencies in St. Louis for more than 17 years and had wanted to put my name on the door of my own studio for a while and it just felt like the right time to do it. By the time I was ready to open up my own place, the opportunity to focus on photography and video was very much a driving factor for me. We haven’t looked back. Our focus now is clearly on video production. Due to my background in advertising agencies as a creative, we are very good at concept development. We apply that to video and photography. From day one, my aspiration has been to tell authentic stories for clients who we can believe in and be passionate about. It’s always been about working with people whom we respect and who are doing things that we admire in some way, especially clients who we feel have a product or service that motivates positive behavior in others. In starting the studio, it was not hard going from an artistic director to providing video and photography services. In our first two or three years, we offered a lot of branding services for our clients. Video production and photography were just part of our toolbox. We developed full branded campaigns just like any other agency in town. As we started to have some real success in video production, we made the decision to focus on video production and photography.

Your wife Meg is part of Halski Studio. How did that come about? I have known Meg for 20 years from when I was an agency art director and she was my client with Metropolis, St. Louis. We reconnected about two years ago because Meg is trained as a filmmaker and she had a project she thought I would be perfect for. I was very interested in it and also had some opportunities to collaborate with her on projects at Halski Studio. Very quickly, she decided she wanted to be part of the business and I knew I wanted her to be here. It was out of our working relationship that we ended up falling in love and getting married. I really enjoy working together and I think I can say she does too. Working as husband and wife may not be for everybody, but it’s definitely for us. It’s a core part of our relationship. I think it’s really special.

Who are some of your clients? We have some awesome agency partners that we love to work with. We just completed a project for Rogers Townsend and their client The Hartford featuring Mariano Rivera. We produced part of the project in Panama and part of it in New York. We have worked with AT&T through Rogers Townsend and have worked with HLK, most recently for their Hospital Sisters Health Systems client. We also work directly with clients. Just a few of the clients we have done projects for are the St. Louis Cardinals, Klipsch and Post Cereals. We love working with global brands but also love startups. This year we worked with the Watering Bowl.

How is business? 2016 has been our best year yet and we are already excited about how 2017 is shaping up. Our minimum engagement is $20,000. But we also produce with budgets up into the six figures. We love pro bono, as most creative agencies do. We love working with products that don’t have the same types of budgets. Currently, our staff at the studio is Meg, myself and we have added a production intern. We’re looking to add a couple more positions soon.

What is life like for you and Meg outside the business? We have a blended family of six kids. They are all either 12 or 10. Two of them are in seventh grade the other four are in fourth grade. It’s a very Brady-type of situation for them. They get along great, it’s like a big party.

What are your favorite St. Louis bands? Sleepy Kitty and El Monstero. We are actually in postproduction on a rock documentary about El Monstero (a Pink Floyd tribute band). Those guys are fantastic. They are a real gem for the city to have. They are all home-grown guys, but they sellout six nights every November at the Pageant. And every summer, they do a huge show at the Hollywood Casino Amphitheater.

What other projects are you working on? Along with our studio work, we are excited to be pursuing original content this year. We have three big projects currently underway. As I mentioned, we are in postproduction on El Montstero, which will be a feature-length rock documentary we hope to take to festivals. We have a web series starting production this month called “The Envoy.” Each episode will profile a different artist, activist or ally. That will release second or third quarter of this year. With “The Envoy,” we wanted to do our part to tell stories that we thought were important. We think there are people doing amazing things and contributing to society in amazing ways who don’t have a platform and people would like to hear their stories. The stories will hopefully inspire people to act or respond in a way that’s positive.