By Arthur Lightbourn
Eight-time Emmy Award winner Tonya Mantooth is carving an impressive niche for herself in the film and video world, just down the road a bit from Hollywood, in San Diego.
Mantooth, whose father was a Seminole, is the owner and executive producer of Mantooth Productions, a film and video production company which she launched in 2007, culminating 15 years in the business.
Show biz definitely runs in the family. Her two brothers, Randy and Don, were contract actors with Universal Studios. Older brother Randy starred in the hit 1970s TV series "Emergency" and, most recently, in the feature film "Bold Native."
Mantooth lives locally with her entrepreneur husband of five years Dale Strack, and her daughter, Stephanie, 19, and her son, Alex, 9.
Mantooth was born in El Campo, Texas. Her father was a pipeline construction worker in the '50s and '60s, so she and her two brothers and sister were "born all across the country — and I was the last one, born in Texas," she said.
"My oldest brother, by the time he went into high school, lived in, I think, 42 states."
The family eventually moved to Santa Barbara, where her mother decided that was the place she wanted to stay — Mantooth's parents subsequently divorced.
"But I was lucky and got to got to grow up in Santa Barbara and just be in one house. Even though it was far from Los Angeles, there were a lot of acting families there and both my brothers were in local and regional theater and I was too."
She was also drawn to music.
"My mom had a piano in the house and somebody needed to play it and everybody voted that would be me and I was the one who stayed with the lessons.
At San Diego State University, in 1981, she earned a B.A. in business administration and music.
Music, understandable, but why business?
"That's an interesting question," she said. "Actually my best friend's father, a very successful businessman, was a big influence of mine because (from age 3) I had grown up without a father. He encouraged me and spent a lot of time working me through career goals."
Asked what was the best advice he gave her, she said, "It was to treat others the way you want not only to be treated, but want to be remembered. That would definitely be one of my philosophies. I always try to keep that in mind when I hire people and people work for me."
After college, she sang and played professionally on the road for three years. Then, settling back in San Diego, she continued her singing and piano gigs while entering the business world via film and video as marketing manager for Learning Forum, where she oversaw the development and launch of an educational series for teenagers.
Finding her stride, she moved to CRM Films where she used her business savvy to manage the direct marketing of the company's inventory of 200 business films and to executive produce new corporate films.
In the mid-'90s, after serving as a producer with 4Square Productions, she co-founded The Dakota Group with partners, producing commercials, public service announcements, documentaries and corporate videos, followed by a stint with Aviatech, an Internet advertising agency in La Jolla.
Through the early 2000s, Mantooth collected Emmys for several public service spots she produced for United Way and YWCA, a TV spot for Red Cross, and an aviation documentary.
Mantooth and New Jersey-born Dale Strack met when she was assigned to produce commercials and marketing videos for his 'Help You Sell Real Estate' franchise company.
He was impressed by her professionalism and integrity.
"She was fun to work with and we laughed a lot," he said, "and I could trust her when she gave me advice."
"We worked together for about four months," he recalled, "and as soon as that job was over I asked her to marry me."
"And he did," Mantooth laughed. "On our first date."
Strack is currently writing a motivational book titled "Thought Sculpting" about "creating in life whatever you want using your thoughts to do it." The book initially will be marketed via the Internet.
In 2006, Mantooth formed her own company, Mantooth Productions, producing national and regional commercials and documentaries for ad agencies and corporations.
Most recently, she produced two large-scale animated computer-generated imagery (CGI) projects, a television spot for the Port of San Diego, and a film short on the dangers of chemical exposure to firefighters produced for the Orange County-based medical technology company Masimo Corp.
She is currently in preproduction for a psychological thriller feature film called "Killer Holiday," to be shot along historic Route 66.
She also has been busy collecting new Emmys for car commercials and a documentary on the history and heritage of San Diego Bay.
"I love bringing a fresh approach to things visually, but bringing it together with music really ties it together. The music is as big a part as the visuals."
She maintains a production studio and editing suite with a staff of four in the Golden Triangle.
"San Diego can be challenging for a filmmaker," she acknowledged, "because L.A. is such a hub for the industry."
So when she is specifically working on film projects, she spends time in L.A. where she works with her network of colleagues.
"The benefit of being in San Diego is you're so close to the industry hub in L.A., you can easily tap into it when necessary."