Chris and Toni Wheaton tell stories for a living. As owners of Heart Stone Films and Portico Pictures, these local filmmakers are on a mission to connect people through the art of storytelling. If you’ve seen their work, you know how passionate and talented they are. While we’ve known Chris for years, we recently met his wife, business partner, and the veteran filmmaker in the family, Toni. We sat down with Chris (Toni was unable to make it, as they are expecting a son in the near future!) to get a behind the scenes look at their story for our latest installment of Raleigh Hustles Hard.
Toni and Chris met in high school through their parents. At the time, Toni had already begun filmmaking. Growing up, she would accompany her parents on mission trips around the world, documenting the trip and creating short films to send back home. With her passion and talent growing, Toni had to decide whether to attend film school and develop her skills or jump right into the business and learn on the go. Like most entrepreneurs, she chose the latter. Instead of film school, Toni stayed in Raleigh where she and Chris reconnected during college. At the time, Toni was shooting and editing full time for Barton Creek Weddings and Chris was selling mortgages. After a couple of years, opportunity knocked. The owner was looking to transition out of wedding videography, and offered Toni a chance to buy the company. With Toni’s talent and passion, Chris’s business experience, and a shared entrepreneurial spirit, they were in.
They married in January 2008, and in October, closed the deal on Barton Creek Weddings, which would eventually become Heart Stone Films. Even with acquiring the equipment and some key existing relationships, developing their own identity within the company was a huge hurdle. “The previous owner had a very successful business at the time, and a lot of people knew the name Barton Creek. As 22 and 23 year olds, establishing credibility with veterans in the industry was a priority.” Business was slow at first but the timing was serendipitous. Around this time, social media was becoming a key platform for businesses, but was being grossly underutilized in their industry. Chris and Toni saw this as an opportunity to create awareness for Heart Stone Films. “Before, you would just send people a DVD of the wedding, but now we had a platform to start posting videos and getting a lot more attention.”
Early on, Toni was responsible for the filmmaking and Chris managed the business side of the company. “What I knew how to do was look at the business and jump right into sales, marketing, and development.” But for Chris, the love for filmmaking came quickly. “I kind of learned the filmmaking side of it on the job and after a couple of months I fell in love with the creative and artistic side of it.” After three or four years, Heart Stone Films grew past the threshold of what two people could handle. With over fifty weddings a year, Toni and Chris began training and deploying teams to shoot, edit, and deliver a final product. “We didn’t necessarily increase the number of weddings, but it lessened the burden on everyone in a big way.”
Chris says that the run and gun atmosphere of wedding videography sharpened their skills a lot and really helped them to transition to the commercial world. It was actually a direct catalyst for what would come next. “We always had this mentality when shooting weddings, that you never know who is watching, and you never know who will see the final product, so if we give everything we have, this will lead to something more. In 2013, we had a client who owned a sports travel company. We did this ridiculous same day edit, where we shot and edited a 4-minute short film the day of and played it at their wedding reception.” He loved it and hired Chris and Toni soon after. He sent them to cover the Kentucky Derby, Daytona 500, Superbowl, and The Masters, which Chris credits as his favorite experience as a filmmaker. “That spawned Portico Pictures, our commercial brand. We wanted to pursue the commercial world in the same way we did with weddings, but with a unique brand and identity outside of Heart Stone Films.”
Portico Pictures, which was founded in early 2013, gets its name from portico or “covered porch”. Chris tells me, “It’s a place where people gather together to tell and hear stories. It’s a sense of community between creative people. That’s the relationship we want with both our clients and team.” Chris and Toni hired their first full time employee in late 2014. After handling the load as a duo for so many years, they have a deep appreciation and respect for their team, which is a five-person mix of full and part time employees, contractors, and interns. “We’re close with our employees and we care about them as individuals. Work isn’t everything to us, so we want them to know that we support and care about them beyond the work that they do.” Nobody at Portico Pictures / Heart Stone Films is formally trained, but you would never know. They are all multi talented, with skill-sets ranging from shooting to sound mixing to editing, making interchangeability between projects, seamless.
Portico Pictures has worked with some serious clients including Ledbury, The Umstead Hotel & Spa, Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC, and Cotton University. Check out one of their newest videos below, for Sturdy Brothers, a clothing and leather goods company from Georgia.
Chris shared some exciting news about their vision for the future. “We want to expand our team and office space, and convert it into essentially an extension of our brand. We have this big dream of creating a hub for creative(s) to come together. We hope to have a soundstage for video production and photography as well as co-working spaces for collaboration with other companies. They see Raleigh as the perfect community to bring their dream to life. “Being in Raleigh is huge for our business because there’s so much going on. There’s this new wave of young small businesses with cool brands that people want to get on board with. I love seeing innovative businesses get big but still being able to reach out and sit down with the owner.” We totally agree.
Learn more about Portico Pictures / Heart Stone Films and some of their favorite small businesses in the area below:
Thanks for stopping by the porch,
Porch Fly Clothing