Right before graduating college, Red Sanders was faced with a choice: Move to Los Angeles or New York to pursue the film and video production industry, or stay in Fort Worth and North Texas where he was raised.

He picked Fort Worth — but didn’t abandon his dreams. 

When he first started his film production company, Red Productions, people were skeptical. 

“I felt like half my job the first year there, with the first three people on staff, it was like just convincing their parents like, no, this is a real business,” Sanders said. 

Now, Sanders is a leader in Fort Worth’s creative scene. 

His business expanded into Red Entertainment, which creates original content like TV shows and Backlot Studio & Workspaces, which lends office space to creatives. 

In 2015, he was a founding member of the Fort Worth Film Commission — which has attracted film productions such as “12 Mighty Orphans” and Taylor Sheridan’s “1883.” The film industry in Fort Worth has brought countless jobs and millions in economic impact, according to previous Fort Worth Report reporting. 

Backyard beginnings 

From a young age, Sanders would imagine and record adventures with his friends in Grapevine, Texas, using the video recorder his father got from Japan. His mother is an artist, and she always encouraged him to come up with ideas. 

They had an airplane made of wood suspended by trees, and Sanders and his friend would pretend they were traveling around the world. They’d plan their own stunts, too. 

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“One of us got thrown out of the tree house,” Sanders said. 

His interest in technology and storytelling followed him as he grew up. During college, Sanders owned a DJ company and would work as a disk jockey on the weekends. He also would produce videos for local businesses and nonprofits on the side while juggling classes. 

After he graduated, Sanders decided he would do video production as a full-time job. His first big job was producing a video for a local division of Coca-Cola. After doing multiple videos, he was asked to do a video for Coca-Cola enterprises worldwide. 

Staying in Cowtown

Leaving for New York or Los Angeles to pursue a production career was an option for Sanders. After all, his friends were leaving for the two destinations to pursue the film industry. 

But when he spoke with his mentor David Minor, president of Minor & Associates and founder of the Neeley Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Texas Christian University, he was convinced to stay. 

“I said, ‘Why can’t you just do that here? Somehow, some way.’ And that’s what he decided to do,” Minor said.

Sanders is a good person, Minor said, which helps his business – people who treat others well tend to go farther, faster as leaders. 

For Paul Steele, executive partner at Triple 8 Management,  Sanders can be described in one word: generous.

Steele bonded with Sanders during their junior and senior year together at Texas Christian University. They both were connected by their desire to be in a creative industry: Steele in the music industry and Sanders in the video production industry. Eventually, they worked across the hall from each other at Tech Fort Worth.

He recalls one time when Sanders called jails all night trying to find Steele when he was arrested and put in jail for throwing water balloons at cars. Sanders bailed him out of jail.

When he couldn’t afford flights to Greece to see his friends get married, Sanders paid for the trip. When a mentor of Steele’s ended up in a coma from an accident, Sanders got a plane ticket for Steele to see him.

At Sanders’ root, he genuinely loves people and wants to help them, Steele said. 

“There’s 100 stories like that with Red where, for no reason other than his own curiosity and care for people that he grants time,” Steele said. “For those that don’t even ask it.”

Sanders said his grandfather, who was a photographer and a school superintendent, was a big influence on him. He taught Sanders how to shoot photographs on a film camera and how to build things in his backyard woodshop. The way his grandfather interacted with his community with love and genuine interest left a mark, too, Sanders said. 

Sanders acts as a trumpet for small businesses, the entertainment industry and Fort Worth, Steele said. 

His production company has led him to countries around the world. Sanders traveled to China in 2014 with then-mayors Betsy Price of Fort Worth and Mike Rawlings of Dallas on an economic development mission. Soon after, he helped establish the Fort Worth Film Commission. 

About 12 years ago, Sanders was working on a documentary about Coltan mining and a group called Falling Whistles when he was arrested and interrogated by Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The crew was held for eight days in a secret police house where men with large guns asked them questions. Eventually, they were deported. They were accused of trying to assassinate the country’s president, and Sanders said it took U.S. Rep. Kay Granger and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to clear their names with the Congo’s president. Some good came from the experience, though, he said.

“We always said we would never use that story to pick up a girl at a bar, but I used it to get my now wife to come to a bar and hear the story,” Sanders said. “And that was our first kind of date. Now, we’ve been married 10 years.” 

Sanders said he loves editing the videos with his kids — his son brings a GoPro camera everywhere and makes his own adventure videos. 

He’s excited to see what’s to come as his business and Fort Worth grows and changes. His advice for people who want to be leaders in the area: Don’t think you have everything figured out. 

“Lean on the people in this town and the talented voices around you,” Sanders said, “because there’s so much more that we can accomplish together here.” 

Red Sanders bio

Birthplace: Grapevine 

Moved to Fort Worth: 2001 to attend Texas Christian University 

Family: Celebrating 10 years of marriage to Jenny Sanders who is a marketing professional currently taking time off to do the best kind of leadership – raising their three young kids who are 6, 4 and 1.

Education: TCU Film, TV & Digital Media major and studied in the Neeley Institute for Entrepreneurship 

Work experience: Started his first successful entertainment company at the ripe age of 12. Since then, his entrepreneurial spirit, media expertise and love of visual storytelling have created one of the leading media production companies in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Volunteer experience: Beyond his own business ventures, Sanders enjoys helping to grow the creative class in Texas. After attending an economic development mission to China in 2014 with Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and Dallas Mayor Rawlings, Sanders worked to found the first-ever Fort Worth Film Commission. He is also a volunteer board member of the Texas Media Picture Alliance (TXMPA), which represents producers across the state. Most recently, he has been developing a film fund called the Gone to Texas Fund, a public non-profit that will promote the importance of storytelling within our state while also supporting an economically competitive creative industry in Texas. 

First job: Disc jockey

Advice for someone learning to be a leader: It’s a continual journey in life and one that is best taken with great leaders by your side who build up other leaders on your team and in your community. 

Best advice ever received: “A job worth doing is worth doing right” – my papa.

 Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at seth.bodine@fortworthreport.org and follow on Twitter at @sbodine120.

Editor’s note: This posted has updated May 18 to reflect that Red Sanders was “a” founding member of the Fort Worth Film Commission.

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Seth Bodine is the business reporter for the Fort Worth Report. He previously covered agriculture and rural issues in Oklahoma for the public radio station, KOSU, as a Report for America corps member....