Astor Place: Heading Uptown!
by Nancy LaMar Rodgers/photos by A. Vincent Scarano
Astor Place is a subway stop in Manhattan; and the place still holds a sentimental feel for Ralph Belfiglio, the founder and creative director of Astor Place, an audio-video-digital production and marketing company in New London. Belfiglio has brought the buzz, excitement, and creativity that one readily associates with Manhattan to the company’s loft space on State Street in New London.
On an early winter evening, I meet Belfiglio and his associates, Peter Walsh and Curt Ramm in the penthouse office space where a heavy bag dangles from an open beam and the shelves are lined with various pieces of artwork, as well as prestigious awards earned over the course of their collective careers. It reminds me of an artist’s loft in Manhattan, although Belfiglio explains he wasn’t sure if setting up shop in New London would work. Initiallyboth Belfiglio and Walsh admit to feeling that they would undoubtedly have to pull talent from the city; and while they have on occasion, he says that he has been pleasantly surprised by the incredible pool of talent in Southeastern Connecticut.“What we have discovered,” says Walsh, “is that there is enormous talent locally:writers, animators, and other artists.” Belfiglio adds that,“my first reaction to getting talent was that we would have to pull people out of New York, and we did in the beginning; but we have found that we are able to hire great people right here in Connecticut.”
Belfiglio explains how the idea for Astor Place evolved. “I started my career with Sony music designing album covers, but I was really interested in graphic art and animation,so I started a company of my own called Fish Media. I didn’t realize it would explode the way it did. We were servicing many of the advertising agencies in both NY and LA.” Belfiglio’s company was becoming quite successful just as his personal life was becoming more of a priority.“We had a summer home in Connecticut and started spending more and more time here because I wanted my kids to grow up outside the city. Eventually we moved here full time, and I took a job with a company in the area.”
After a few years of working for this company, Belfiglio was once again ready to branch out on his own. New London seemed like the most likely place for a small start up;and since Belfiglio had access to much of the major talent in the area, he knew that with a few phone calls he could undoubtedly land a few accounts. One of the first phone calls he made was to a former partner at his old company, Peter Walsh. Walsh was in semi-retirement, but admits he couldn’t resist being lured back into the work he loved. Walsh has been in marketing and advertising for over thirty years with an impeccable record of finding exciting new products and services and then getting them out to the clients that would most benefit. “I really thought I was in retirement; however there is only so much one can do around the house, so when Ralph called, I knew that this was what I wanted to do. He told me that he had started up this company and wanted to talk about business consulting work. I have been involved in growing various businesses, so when Ralph called, I knew that this was what would get me out of retirement.”
After just a couple of lunch meetings, Belfiglio and Walsh realized they should become business partners, and in doing so they have grown Astor Place exponentially. “My job,” Walsh points out, “is to go out and get the clients; and let Ralph and Curt do what they do, which is the creative direction and production.”
Walsh is referring to Curt Ramm, Astor Place’s sound man. Down the hall from the main studio office sits the audio room. Inside this acoustic haven, Ramm sits surrounded by his audio board, a keyboard, various other instruments, and Ramm’s beloved trumpet. Ramm and Belfiglio also worked together in another life; and while Ramm spends a significant time touring with various bands (Nile Rodgers, They Might Be Giants, and Springsteen, to name a few), when working with Astor Place he can only be described as an architect of sound. I sit down at the soundboard as Ramm brings up a recent client’s video with all the sound off. The video is beautiful in structure and composition, but it isn’t until Ramm builds the sound in step by step that I realize the extent to which the unconscious experiences sound. It seems that in most cases when an audience member or consumer is watching an ad or any video, the visual is the dominant feature. However, as I learn this evening, the sound-or the structure of the sound-can be the make or break of any great experience in both the advertising and art world. When the sound man is exceptional, the audience doesn’t experience the sound consciously, but rather it becomes a mood, or an experience that only adds to the overall content of the visuals. This is quite the daunting task, but Ramm is fluent in the art of seamless structure and authentic experiences for the ear.
Astor Place’s clientele is growing, but more importantly their brand and style are becoming noticed and something that potential clients are seeking out. A recent project for Connecticut Innovations used a well-known comedian Billy Senia, coupled with CEOs of various Connecticut start up companies. The comedian was unleashed as the improvising limo driver; and in a Cash Cab sort of montage of questions and responses, the client’s service and message were not only accessible, but more importantly memorable. In advertising, it’s what stays with the viewer that counts. Astor Place’s innovative approach using humor, top-notch production, and stylized editing made this ad campaign for Connecticut Innovations a huge success. As Amy Hourigan, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Connecticut Innovations enthuses, “Working with Astor Place was collaborative, educational, and best of all, fun. They really took the time to understand our business and took our fuzzy concept and concrete goal and turned it into a fantastic video that has been viewed on our website close to 5,000 times. Connecticut Innovations is a driving force in the state’s startup scene, but not many outside the entrepreneurial community have heard of us, so one goal was to build awareness for CI. We also wanted to show the value we bring to startups. Rather than list the ways, the audience gets to go on a fun ride with a goofy, charming limo driver who asks offbeat questions. The video drives home the same point we could have made with email or an ad, but in a much more memorable way. We’ve received numerous comments from viewers, from “great” and “fun” to “You folks need to do more video work!”
Hourigan’s sentiment is what Astor Place is all about. These days there are a ton of video production companies vying for the same accounts. New web-based businesses pop up daily, and each one wants to be viewed. Astor Place has made it its business to get these clients the traffic they need to push the services and the products; and they do this with the tried and true elements that have worked for decades: a fresh approach, a creative edge, humor, and an insight into what the client needs-even when the client isn’t quite sure. Recently Astor Place designed a video for Newport Harbor Corp. Now while the visuals of Narragansett Bay are going to be easy on the eye, no matter what, according to Josh Brown, Creative Director of Newport Harbor Corp., “these guys are just great visual storytellers. But more importantly, it was always about getting the great shot.”
Future plans include a presence back in Belfiglio’s beloved NYC, as well as perhaps another New England office in Newport. In this world of virtual agencies and cyber connections, Astor Place is in a perfect spot to continue to bring the best in innovative production and web content presence to its growing clientele.
Astor Place, 165 State Street, New London
(860) 574-9009 www.astorplaceinc.com