April 15, 2020
NYU alumnus Carlos Andres Toro (STEINHARDT ’06), award-winning filmmaker and founder of the digital media production studio Steer, is passionate about weaving storytelling across digital mediums, from cinematic video production to interactive exhibits and design.
Read our interview with Carlos below to find out what inspired him to start his company, why NYU was pivotal in his career development, and how he’s using his team’s talents and Steer’s resources to assist local communities in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since launching in 2014, Steer has grown to 10 employees and two locations in Boston, MA and Providence, RI. According to Carlos, Steer’s goal is to “elevate stories, missions, and organizations that are working on inspiring projects.” The company’s expansive portfolio features work with major brands, government entities, and non-governmental organizations, including Discovery Channel, NASA, National Geographic, the United Nations Development Programme, and many others.
What influences drove you towards starting a company in the digital media production space?
The wild west nature of the digital media landscape perfectly suits my interests and personality. I’m entrepreneurial and drawn to create, so I continue to grow at a rate at which I'm interested in instead of one dictated to me by traditional hierarchy and tradition. The rules in digital media are always changing and it’s about bringing your best thinking, strategy, and intuition to the space.
When Steer emerged in 2014, the studio was formed as a digital marketing company that helped organizations communicate across the web. However, as soon as we began incorporating film and video into our services, we knew we had a special skill set for them.
From that point on, we poured more of our resources, time, and attention into becoming stronger filmmakers. By 2016, I had received the Blue Ocean Film Festival’s Best Emerging Filmmaker of the Year award for filming as underwater cinematographer for Discovery Channel and National Geographic. My short film was also featured on Oprah Winfrey’s SuperSoul Sunday. That’s the power and promise of digital media right there. Tell your stories through your lens, and it will find its way to your audience.
Steer now offers cinematic film and video production, interactive exhibit development, and sometimes dips into exotic tech, like creating in holographic mediums.
The entire process and journey—from developing an interest in directing to producing digital content—felt very intuitive. When I look back at my family history, I see the same love for and creative expressions through photography, illustrations, and technology. In a sense, I just listen to that natural impulse that exists within my family.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has upended the world as we know it. How has Steer responded to the crisis?
At Steer, our immediate reaction to the pandemic was to continue to create, and create safely. However, by mid March, our entire team was working remotely. We initially stripped down our production team to two people and, most recently, to one employee as the crisis has intensified.
Until a week ago, Steer’s Providence and Boston locations were providing free public service announcements (PSAs) to non-profit organizations that wanted to communicate messages of support to their communities. Our intent was to help these non-profits inform people that there were resources available to them and organizations working on their behalf, which would, hopefully, help reduce panic and send a positive message to the public.
That initial effort was what our team at Steer needed. Finding a way to contribute to these efforts gave us agency and a path forward.
As multimedia artists and communicators with purpose, we focus strongly on film and video. However, productions are now at a standstill (compared to where we were prior to the COVID-19 crisis). We must now pivot our focus to continue our work and contribute to a greater cause.
Fast-forwarding to today, we’ve found that things have developed quickly and needs are constantly changing. In response, we decided to form a partnership with Family Service of Rhode Island and donate both our time and newly purchased production van to distribute Be Safe Kits throughout our home base of Rhode Island.
Be Safe Kits will include available antibacterial soap, disinfecting wipes, alcohol-based hand sanitizers, food assistance, and other items in reusable bags for students and elderly citizens, and will be distributed in a largely contact-less process with very specific COVID-19 protocols in place.
How did you end up partnering with NYU alumna Maggie Slane (WAG ’00) to assist with Rhode Island’s efforts to help residents affected by the COVID-19 crisis?
Steer is headquartered in Providence, RI with a second location in Boston, MA. Currently, we’re developing our third location in Atlanta, GA. However, our COVID-19 efforts originated in Providence, which is where I was born and raised, and have always considered home.
Maggie Slane reached out to us in hopes of creating a PSA for her organization, Family Services of Rhode Island (FSRI) and their Be Safe Campaign, after reading about Steer’s efforts in the local press. Steer agreed to provide FSRI the free PSA while there was still a window to do it.
I mentioned to Maggie that we had a brand new production van that was probably going to sit idle in a parking lot for about five months given the halt on most productions. It didn’t take long to figure out we could put this van to good use to reach more families in Rhode Island and potentially save lives. With the backing of the Governor, FSRI and Steer have teamed up to use our production van to deliver Be Safe Kits to families throughout the state.
In addition to donating the use of our production van to increase FSRI’s logistical capacity, we’re also offering logistical support to the Rhode Island-based Ventilator Project, which is repurposing BIPAP and CPAP machines as ventilators for supply hospitals.
On Friday, April 3, our family lost my uncle, Nemi Toro, to COVID-19 at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. Most recently, we also lost a friend who was in his 30s and lived in the New York City area. Because this crisis has hit home, I’m even more focused on our mission during this pandemic. We know that families will be increasingly impacted in the coming months. Still, we hope to impact just a few of those families in a positive way.
What are some of the most memorable moments from your time at NYU?
My entire mini career at the NYU Stern School of Business. My Master of Arts program was housed at NYU Steinhardt, but there was an option to take lots of MBA courses at Stern and I maximized that opportunity.
At Stern, I was absolutely out of my element and comfort zone, but learned a tremendous amount. The course that always stuck with me was Brand Management with Professor Scott Galloway. In that course, I began to understand the complexities of brands and their relationship with customers.
Up to that point, my understanding of branding was having a nice business card and letterhead, so I’m grateful for that academic experience. I bring everything I learned at NYU to what I do today, and it informs both my creative and executive decisions.
What words of support would you give to current NYU students and soon-to-be graduates?
My words of support go something like this: You’ve invested in yourself and your ability to think critically. Now, it’s time to put an emphasis on application.
Getting out in the market and into your career can feel daunting—because it is. But, you have the capabilities to stand out if you get busy applying what you think you know, soberly understanding how much you don’t know, and making way for everything new that you must learn to find your lane.
How do you stay motivated creatively?
I remind myself that I get to wake up every day and create my own future, and that no one will live this unique combination of experiences. I’ve spent a good amount of time cultivating my inner compass on what's going to keep that fire going and follow that path. If that sounds terribly vague, it’s because it's a very personal alchemic process to figure out what’s going to work for you and your own unique makeup.