Q&A: Trailblazer Studios’ Tom Waring on 20 years of “thinking differently”

Reflecting on 20 years in business, Trailblazer Studios CEO Tom Waring says his production company has become best known for its professional, collaborative work, completed by passionate and kind people. “We ...
January 19, 2022

Reflecting on 20 years in business, Trailblazer Studios CEO Tom Waring says his production company has become best known for its professional, collaborative work, completed by passionate and kind people.

“We wouldn’t be celebrating our pivotal 20-year anniversary without the talent, dedication and vision of each team member – both present and past,” Waring said of the anniversary.

“Our commitment to creative storytelling coupled with the company’s mastery and pioneering of remote post-production has driven our success and further mapped our trajectory.”

The Raleigh-based Emmy-winning entertainment, production, post and sound studio celebrates two decades in business this year, and throughout that run, the company has delivered nearly 1,000 hours of content. Its work has been featured at festivals such as Sundance, DOC NYC and Tribeca, and in 2021 alone, the studio delivered nearly 100 hours of programming across its original and post divisions.

Trailblazer has spent much of its 20 years producing reality programming, but has expanded into premium productions in recent years with titles such as the Emmy-winning TWICE BORN: Stories From The Special Delivery Unit (PBS), Rise Again: Tulsa and the Red Summer (National Geographic) and The Legacy of Black Wall Street (OWN). The team has also worked extensively in the unscripted genre with longtime client and friends Figure 8 Films to deliver multiple seasons of series like Jon & Kate Plus 8Sister Wives and 7 Little Johnstons.

The company boasts a 20,000-square-foot facility, including a soundstage, production offices, edit suites, picture finishing and sound-mixing services, and has become a one-stop shop for production, post-production, and music and sound work.

More recently, Trailblazer launched the digital series on YouTube The Housley Life, a podcast initiative with American Sport and announced an adaptation of Reuters investigative series The Body Trade.

Realscreen sat down with Waring to discuss Trailblazer’s first 20 years in the film and TV industry.

What are some of the benefits and challenges that have come with being based in Raleigh, outside of a major hub for the film/TV industry?

It forced us to think differently. We had to develop remote workflows for our post and sound teams many years before COVID made that a norm. That allowed us to break down a lot of artificial barriers.  From our development side, we could promote our location to find people and stories that resonate with the fly-over states.

What have been the biggest hurdles Trailblazer has faced in its 20 years?

Early on, the biggest hurdle was convincing the marketplace that there are passionate and creative people outside of the main entertainment hubs of New York and Los Angeles. We were able to leverage Raleigh, which is consistently ranked in “Top 5 Cities to Live” lists, to attract amazing talent to the area. Combined with all the artists and producers that have come from this state we’re most proud of that mix which has really solidified our culture.

What kind of advice would you offer to newer, similar studios about longevity in this industry?

This industry is not for the faint of heart. One has to be passionate, dedicated, have the ability to adapt to change and, most of all, continue to persevere. Above all, just be nice. Assume good intentions of others until proven otherwise.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.