By Kevin Collins
Carrboro Commons Co-Editor
Nobody does hidden gems quite like Carrboro. From longtime residents with primetime stories to small companies that do big things, the community is full of treasures that manage to fly under the radar.
Take Figure 8 Films for example. The small production house located right in the heart of downtown Carrboro (307 W. Weaver St. to be exact) has been pumping out hit television shows for years, yet maintains an extremely low-key presence in town. President and founder Bill Hayes wouldn’t have it any other way.
“When you’re a documentary filmmaker, [anonymity] is sort of your job,” Hayes says. “The stories aren’t about us. It’s all about our subjects, so we try to have a small footprint.”
Figure 8’s credentials are staggering. The staff is small in numbers but colossal in talent, and the company has been behind hugely popular TLC shows “Jon & Kate Plus 8,” “19 Kids and Counting” and “Sister Wives.” The studio has also produced documentaries about Tourette syndrome, autism, fetal alcohol syndrome and conjoined twins, not to mention the late Carrboro landscaper Marty Ravellette, who was born without arms.
The stories are often poignant, always thorough and famous worldwide. Figure 8 has been honored by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for producing “television with a conscience,” and has been featured in Time and Slate magazines. But despite their long list of accomplishments, the studio’s employees, from top to bottom, maintain the humble attitude and community-oriented philosophy that have made the company and Carrboro a perfect match.
“We’re not a mom-and-pop business, but we are a family-friend business,” Hayes says. “We’ve always had that philosophy; Carrboro was just a place that enabled us to be ourselves and to live a life where we felt comfortable. Our little small film house is very homelike.”
One only has to pay a quick visit to the staff section of Figure 8’s website, which features in-depth bios of employees, alongside profiles of office dogs, to understand how deep that attitude runs within the studio. The personal touch is a fundamental pillar of the company’s culture, and the staff’s love for the community it calls home is palpable.
“My favorite thing about working in Carrboro is the relaxed atmosphere,” says Jordan Swaim, assistant production coordinator. “There’s always friendly people around with their dogs. You can tell people are just happy to be here.”
The tight-knit community and laid-back atmosphere have proven to be the recipe for success for Figure 8, and the result is an intensely loyal and satisfied staff. That attitude starts at the top, and Bill Hayes does not see that changing any time soon.
“It’s a wonderful community. It’s the hipper part of Chapel Hill,” he says. “My insurance guy is the guy behind me, and he’s fantastic. We love being able to walk down to the farmers’ market. We love being able to just walk around the streets.”
Hayes may not have any plans for relocation, but his vision and the culture he has instilled have the company on the fast track to even greater heights. Figure 8 recently received a green light from the DIY Network on a series about people who salvage materials from houses that will soon be demolished and use them to make furniture. The studio is also working on a number of other projects, including a history series that takes place in taverns across the United States, dubbed “History Under the Influence.”
There is little doubt Figure 8 will continue to excel. They will likely do it in the same low-key manner that has proven so very successful. In a place like Carrboro, it’s hard to imagine doing things any other way.
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