Asheville filmmaker, photographer Chris Cassels celebrates his 30th year

“Play it Sam. Play, ‘As Time Goes By.’”
– Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund, Casablanca (1942)

Rick's Cafe American, Warner Bros, "Casablanca"

Rick's, courtesy of Warner Bros

May 10, 2011  (Asheville, NC) – To understand Chris Cassels, a good place to start is the classic film, Casablanca.

On just about everyone’s “Top Movies of all Time” list, Casablanca is hard to top. And for Chris, who prides himself on being a storyteller,Casablanca is about as good as storytelling gets.  And it’s why Chris named his company what he did.

Cassels, celebrating his 30th year as an internationally award-winning producer in photography, film, video, music and creative writing, up until recently, Casablanca Digital Media was Casablanca “Film” Works.  He doesn’t knock digital. In fact, he embraces it. And his experience gives him an advantage in understanding the information his camera now captures automatically.

Of the 200 film guys Chris estimates who work in the Asheville as videographers or filmmakers, few make a good living at it. And, as Chris says with his self-effacing good nature,  “Few have worked with as many celebrities.”

Chris Cassels and Jack Nicklaus, (c)Casablanca Digital Media

Celebrities such as Jeff Gordon, Sheryl Crow, Eddie Van Halen, Nick Faldo,
Hale Irwin, Eddie Money, Brian May (Queen), Ted Nugent and the True Home Run
King Hank Aaron. He can count Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus as guys who
knew him on a first name basis: they designed golf courses, Chris shot their sales videos.
He worked with Tiger Woods before, you know,  that whole thing blew up.

as guys who knew him on a first name basis: they designed golf courses, Chris shot their sales videos.

He worked with Tiger Woods before, you know,  that whole thing blew up.

In the last eight months, he finished an important documentary, shooting for Dave Bragg of Flying Pig Studios, Asheville, on the International Mental Health Association featuring Glenn Close and Dwight Yoakam; Made a four-day documentary on Warren Haynes while he was in Asheville for the ‘Christmas Jam’ and hanging out with Steve Miller and Greg Allman; Shot a Sales and Marketing film on Balsam Mountain Preserve starring Andie MacDowell; and found himself as a camera operator and first camera assistant, second unit for Sony Pictures Lifetime network production of Marry Me, starring Lucy Liu, filmed on the Biltmore Estate.

Originally from Easley, SC, Chris’s career began in audio production, running sound and lights for his brother Rob’s band (Rob Cassels Band) in the late 70s.

Flatiron Building, Battery Park, Asheville NC

Flatiron Building, Battery Park, Asheville NC (c)Casablanca Digital Media

In 1980, along with his brother and Rick Sandridge, they opened Sandcastle Recording Studios in his brother’s basement.

In 1983, he produced an album for Sonny Turner, formally of “the Platters,” on his own label, Christopher Records, capturing a Best Album and Best Male Vocalist nominations from the Beach Music Awards. He also, released a 45RPM record on the Original Drifters featuring Bill Pickney.

Later, Chris bought another studio and record label called Mark 5, and Mark5 Sandcastle evolved into South Carolina’s first all-digital 24-track recording studio in 1990. They produced Southern Gospel, and in 1992, the Song of the Year, “Somebody Touched the Lord,” by Perfect Heart, which went to number one in six months, and for two months in a row, becoming the fastest number one song by a new group in that category  – a record that still holds today.

Chris became hooked on making rock videos and in 1994 formed an especially close collaboration with Scott Dobbins, who operated A New Light Productions in Asheville. At the real estate peak in 2007, they had one of their best years ever. Tragically, in that same year, Scott, at the age of 43, died unexpectedly. Chris now was scrambling to manage all facets of the production while reeling from the emotional blow of having lost a good friend and colleague of 12 years.

Asheville at Dusk (c)Casablanca Digital Media

Chris’s work has taken him to seven countries; he has filmed for some of the world’s largest corporations and resorts. His photographs have graced covers of Newsweek, Homes & Land and even the National Enquirer; and, he has shot some of the most ubiquitous photographs in and around Asheville, with photos currently in the Asheville Visitor’s Guide and featured on the new Chamber of Commerce website.

Even though Asheville’s home base, because he spent much of his time shooting out of town,  a lot of people don’t know who he is. It’s time they did

Here’s looking at you, Kid.


dream. create. inspire.

Chris Cassels, and Casablanca Digital Media, Asheville, NC, can be found online at; You can reach him at 828-243-4343 when he’s not out shooting.

Gary S. James, works as a publicist, copywriter and creative person and lives in Asheville, NC.

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