Recently, Michael Azevedo, host of Making Media Now, the FC podcast, chatted with FC members Tim O’Donnell and Jon Mercer from Pixela Pictura Films.
Tim and Jon are co-producers and co-directors of a new documentary called “Tougher Than a Tank.” The film’s executive producer is Casey Affleck. The film is currently available via video-on-demand and iTunes.
The film focuses on Noah Cass and Eddie Ryan, both Marines who sustained injuries while deployed in Iraq while Noah’s injuries are mostly invisible. Eddie was hit by two rounds in the head, rendering him immobile and with severe traumatic brain injury. In an attempt to relieve financial burdens and raise money for Eddie’s recovery, Noah embarks on a 145-mile run from his hometown in Somer, CT to Eddie’s in Lake George, New York.
This excerpt of the Making Media Now (MMN) podcast conversation has been edited for clarity. You can listen to the entire conversation wherever you listen to podcasts.
MMN: Give us a synopsis of what Tougher Than a Tank is all about?
JON: “Tougher Than a Tank” is a story of Noah Cass, a Marine veteran PTSD survivor who made ultra running a part of his recovery and transitioned back home. And throughout the process of the film, we see him take this journey from his home in Somers, Connecticut, all the way up to lake George New York, which was about a 145 mile run. And a he’s doing this in an effort to reconnect with someone that he served with, another Marine, by the name of Eddie Ryan, who was injured in a friendly fire incident in Iraq, and survived with serious physical and mental injuries.
In the film, and at this point in his life, Noah’s been doing pretty well on his transition. And this is kind of the first time that he’s really ready to come to grips with meeting Eddie, the new Eddie. And just kind of facing what they both went through.
And he’s using ultra running, and in particular, this three-day journey from his home to Eddie’s as a way of processing.
MMN: What was the timeframe of their deployments to Iraq?
JON: They both signed up a post 9/11 and did multiple tours in the early 2000s.
MMN: It’s so weird to say, but for so many people, the Iraq war now also feels like a long time ago, which is, which is crazy. And when you think back to those years of ’04, ’05, ’06, the levels of casualties were immense on pretty much on a daily basis.
JON: The Iraq war was a long time ago and certainly in people’s memories, you know, it’s probably a faded even further than that. And you know, that’s kind of the point, I think for both those who served and then also for a civilian’s who weren’t engaged in this conflict at all. It feels like so long ago. And yet people that were involved in it on all sides, you know, the injuries and the care that’s required afterwards, and it really remains so in and Eddie’s case, he’s stable in terms of his recovery, but it requires active upkeep.
So, you know, a lot of the issues that he’s facing in terms of getting support from the VA and trying to get the amount of therapy sessions he needs in order to maintain where he is right now, a lot of that was a jeopardy during the course of filming.
Noah sort of found out about this and was really, really upset about it. So there’s a lot of ways to reconnect with someone. He, I think he felt like he physically kind of had to suffer and earn it. But additionally, part of running this long distance was a making a statement about it, trying to attract a little bit of media coverage to this issue.
MMN: What do you guys know about how Eddie’s and Noah’s relationship developed?
TIM: I think they were like a lot of people that joined the military. You start to find a common people or a new connections, fresh connections that you otherwise wouldn’t have.
And I think from Noah’s perspective, Eddie had that exact same humor, where he was over the top; hilarious, but deep down, he had that sort of intensity of work ethic and focus. He’s very poetic, a deep, deep soul, and he can be funny and it can be a hilarious.
And so they hit it off and attended machine gun school a together. But it just like one of those things where you just don’t where each of you are going to end up. So you could have an instant best friend and not see them for years of duty, with different engagements and different tours.
Part of the film is sort of unraveling their relationship because it’s been 12 years since they’ve seen each other and it’s also been, like Jon said earlier, it’s like a different version of Eddie. So like Noah has yet to meet the post-injury Eddie.
MMN: If I understand correctly, you guys found Noah first somehow and he was actually a subject of another film that you had made, correct?
TIM: Yeah, we were lucky to be just in common circles. And we were friends on Facebook and this must’ve been about seven or eight years ago. And he was having a tough time transitioning home.
He had a challenges with drinking, relationship problems, anger, depression. Honestly, typical out of the lot of folks coming back from service. But he was finally in a place that he was settling, but he needed the next kind of mission. And so posted something that was really funny. It’s something like, I don’t know what I’m gonna do and want to do some creative, maybe make a film. And so I messaged him. And then he goes, I think I’m going to sign up for this 50-mile, like backwoods run.
And I get that; he was ready for that because once you’re in the healing process of any trauma, it’s like, you can go through that phase, but there’s the next step of what to do with all this? Because if you pause, it’s problematic, especially a lot of folks coming back from service.
So I started filming with Noah, and then me and John started following this, event and a week before the 50-mile race, he told me he’d never run more than a marathon. In fact, he’d only run one marathon! Which was really interesting, that’s the intensity of a Marine who says he’s going to do something and does it. That became a 22-minute short documentary called “The Last Time I Heard True Silence.” That title comes from NOAA’s ringing in his ears.
There was no intention to necessarily make a second version of a story or follow a character like, you know, five years later. But I think Noah maybe texted us was like, I’m going to go see my friend Eddie. And I’m gonna run 145 miles in three days. And I don’t think there was much a question for me and John a whether or not to film. And I don’t think the intention was to make a feature length documentary, but we knew we needed to cover it.
MMN: How did you guys vet assumptions you might have had around what is really making Eddie run, because the film than just the run.
JON: Noah is like such a dream subject because he just, and as a part of his own process, he was kind of doing these audio journals and he was driving a lot at the time for work.
And he would just just record and just talk to himself. He handed all of that over to us. And the other thing about Noah is he’s, very consistent in the ways that he talks about things and his motivation. I mean, we’ve, we’ve worked with a lot of athletes in the past, you know, both Tim and I kind of have pursued different sports at different times as well. So I think we kind of understand a little bit about that mindset, certainly a training mindset.
But I really think that part of Noah’s personality, and a part of his training and experience as a Marine, like, gave him kind the motivation to pursue the lows. To run for the lows, to kind of chase this feeling of like bottoming out in and keeping, keeping on. He said, “Hey, here’s what I’m going to do,” and he turned up in and he did it.
MMN: And how much time passed between that endeavor and his decision to set out on this a 145 mile run from Somer, Connecticut to Lake George, New York?
JON: Production for “Tougher Than a Tank” was 2017. And by that time Noah was able to face what had happened to him, what he had seen around him, but, you know, facing someone who had been injured, that he knew that he cared about, it brings all of the stuff back for you.
And then additionally, this other guilt about all these years that went by you not being there for that person, or you’re not even being deployed with that person, and you’re not being able to call them cause you were, you know, too lost in your own, whatever, when he got back home. So he got Eddie’s parents’ number at home and he cold called him. And it was like, “Hey, this is who I am.”
MMN: What are the physical challenges that Eddie is still dealing with?
TIM: The traumatic brain injury, severely wounded, multiple surgeries, you know, was pronounced dead multiple times. Nobody thought he was going to come back at all. The fact that, you know, he survived that initial surgery is a with surprising him coming out of a coma after months with was surprising.
And so what’s wild about Eddie is he’s always made progress over a decade long injury. He’s continues to make progress. So currently he’s in a wheelchair. He has the ability to move his arms, his left arm much more than its right. And so, you know, he can move his body in terms of cognition.
His conversation is delayed at times. Or if he’s out a crowd, he gets kinda overwhelmed because it’s a lot of sensory input. But he is so sharp. And throughout the course of filming, he had all these little jokes with us and he would hit you with a joke right away and a smirk.
MMN: One element that I found really compelling about the film was the fact that a Eddie’s dad is a former Marine. And he shows both obvious pride in his son’s decision to join the Marines but also great pain in seeing his suffer and deal with all the bureaucratic road blocks. Did you guys get any sense from either Noah, Eddie or Eddie’s dad, even of them questioning what happened to this covenant?
JON: You know, I think what’s interesting is there is an expectation that something should be done, especially for those who are injured. That’s the right thing to do. And fighting the VA is frustrating and it’s emotionally draining at best. But I also feel like the reasons that people serve they’re different from that expectation of what’s going to happen to you when you get back.
Eddie’s father, Chris, enlisted post-Vietnam. So, you know, he certainly was aware of the ways veterans are treated when they come back. And even the ways in which people who are actively serving in conflicts, which are not popularly accepted back home.
MMN: Neither of you have served in the military and you’ve made at least two films featuring military personnel, either active or a former, as the protagonist. Tell me about the process of winning credibility and winning the trust of these men and women.
JON: I feel like it’s the kind of a community that once you’re in, you’re in. But I’ll let Tim talk about that process a little bit.
TIM: Oh yeah, the military community is a tight knit community, alright. So for an outsider, for a civilian, to gain trust and to feel like you’re a part of that community and you’re welcomed is a process. And so we were very lucky though, you know, I, I happened to meet a veteran named Nick Palmisciano well, over 10 years ago, who’s from Massachusetts. He’s a veteran, he’s a producer of this film too. But my connection to with Nick, besides Massachusetts, was wrestling. I wrestled in high school and college and I coached for a while.
And I think it just the conversation, the camaraderie kind of went along with our connection to sports. And what’s neat about a lot of military folks is there is a process of training hand-to-hand combat, lot of that kind of falls back to wrestling. And so there’s a little bit of a respect in terms of a sport. But I’ll never compare myself to them. But there’s the shared spirit of saying you’re going to do something and doing it. There’s one interesting thread through all of these films and, particularly with “Tougher Than a Tank,” there’s this aspect where there is a physical manifestation of a commitment to something.
MMN: You guys are both credited as co-producers and co-directors on this film and you have an executive producer who I’m sure a lot of people are aware of. His name is Casey Affleck. Tell me about how this film came to the attention of Casey Affleck and what that means for the film.
TIM: We’re lucky that Casey jumped onto this project. You know, it obviously helps elevate the message of the film. Obviously he’s a well-known figure and he’s been quietly advocating for veterans for a while now. And he’s been working with a different organizations. For the last couple years he has worked a lot with Nick (Palmisciano) on telling accurate stories about veterans. He really loves Eddie and knows his story.
The timing was wonderful that he jumped on and is going to help promote the film, which came out August 3rd. It’s available on VOD, iTunes, Amazon. We’re so excited to get this film out there after working on it for over four years.
FILMMAKERS COLLABORATIVE IS SEEKING A BUSINESS MANAGER
About our organization: Founded in 1987, Filmmakers Collaborative (FC) is a nationally recognized 501(c)3 that encourages and supports the making of great films and media projects by people of all ages and experience levels. We offer fiscal sponsorship, mentoring and workshops to a diverse and national community that includes award-winning PBS documentarians, first-time producers and directors, and young people just discovering the power and potential of visual media. Our programming efforts include the Boston International Kids Film Festival and FC Academy, an after-school and summer filmmaking program in which we teach middle and high school students how to make short films. We are a small,
very ambitious office that is looking for someone who is passionate about helping independent filmmakers to be successful and eager for the opportunity to help expand our membership and our impact.
Position Overview: The role of the Business Manager is to work closely with the Executive Director and
falls into the two general categories of grants and member management.
This is a part time position: 20 hours per week and the office is in Melrose, MA. Working remotely is an option.
Qualifications: The successful candidate will demonstrate the following qualifications:
– Proficiency in Quickbooks Online software for entering incoming and outgoing grant funding,
tracking the operating budget, and generating financial status reports to members.
– Ability to track budgets and fulfill the detailed reporting requirements for all donors
– Excellent communication and writing skills
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accounts receivables), paying invoices, issuing invoices, and reconciling the books on a
– Track receipt of quarterly reports for all projects under fiscal sponsorship.
– Issue letters of acknowledgment and tax-deductible status of donations
– Monitor membership database and receipt of dues.
– Prepare financial reports for board meetings and others as requested.
– Process all grant application requests and monitor grant deliverables.
– Oversee drafting and execution of fiscal sponsorship agreements.
– Track budgets for general operations and all programming initiatives.
– Participate in preparation of books annual audit
– Manage day-to-day office operations including paying invoices, tracking the operating budget
and overseeing payroll.
– Provide excellent customer service to FC members, prospective members and community via
phone and email
To apply: Please send a cover letter, resume and references to:
Laura Azevedo, Executive Director
Recently, FC member Mickela Mallozzi, 4-time Emmy Award-winning host and executive producer of “Bare Feet with Mickela Mallozzi” joined Michael Azevedo on Making Media Now, the Filmmakers Collaborative podcast. During their wide-ranging chat Mickela told Michael all about how the idea for the series came to her, what she’s learned through 4 seasons of producing and hosting her own show, how she kept the spirit of “Bare Feet” thriving during COVID and what’s in store for season 5! What follows is an excerpted version of their full conversation.
MICHAEL: Joining me on this episode is Mickela Mallozzi, the four time Emmy Award winning Host and Executive Producer of Bare Feet with Mickela. Mallozzi a travel series highlighting the diversity of Dance, which airs on PBS stations nationwide and on Amazon Prime globally, a professional dancer and trained musician.
Mickela decided to start a journey around the world, taking her camera with her to follow dance in the lives of everyday people, wherever she went from, rediscovering her family’s heritage in Southern Italy to dancing tango on the main stage in Buenos Aires, the series covers Mickela his adventures. As she experiences the world. One dance at a time.
She’s been featured in the New York times, Oprah Magazine, Conde Nast, traveler, Dance Magazine, and Forbes. She’s also performed on various television shows, including Sesame Street and The Doctor Oz Show.
MICHAEL: So a big welcome from the Filmmakers Collaborative community where we couldn’t be more happy to, to have you.
MICKELA: Thank you so much. And I’m really honored to be part of a part of the family and part of the whole community. It’s been wonderful so far and it’s like you said, it just recently happened. So thank you again.
MICHAEL: So in preparing to chat with you, I have the pleasure of diving into as many of your episodes that didn’t make me cringe with jealousy. I’ll be upfront about that. I was watching a bunch of them a couple of days ago. I’m talking to you in mid to late April right now. And it happens to be a beautiful day in new England right now. But the day I was watching your episodes, it was about 45 degrees with driving snow, which was about 48 hours ago.
And I’m seeing you and Italy, and I’m seeing you in Buenos Aires and I’m seeing you in all of these warm, exotic, wonderful locations. So as I was kind of holding a grudge!
MICKELA: I am, too! I’m like holding a grudge towards myself sometimes. Yeah, oddly enough, since we can’t travel right now due to COVID. And so it’s been a wonderful way to like revisit these beautiful places.
MICHAEL: So for those who are not familiar with the concept of your series, give us a thumbnail sketch of what it’s all about.
MICKELA: Yeah. So Bare Feet, I travel and dance around the world. So in every destination I learned the dance and music from that place. I like to say, I make new friends by dancing with strangers. And I feel like it’s the best way to travel. There’s this immediate connection that happens through the universal language of dance and music. And what you see is real. There’s no rehearsal. I get very emotional in a lot of episodes. And I like to show that about what travel can do.
It’s very transformative. It’s not always pretty, there are moments in my episodes where I’m getting sick off the side of a boat while I’m fishing the Cook Islands, and I’m messing up dances and I fall flat on my butt. And it’s not about learning these dances and becoming a professional tango dancer, professional K-pop star, but it’s the interactions and the magical moments that happen. And the stories I pull from the people by learning their dances as part of their culture.
MICHAEL: And that comes across. There seems to be such an authenticity and an open-heartedness and a pride, on behalf of the people you engage with, in sharing the stories of their culture, the stories behind their dances. You seem to have such an openness to new experience and new people. Does that come naturally to you?
MICKELA: I think so. I talk about this a lot because I genuinely care about these dances that these people hold. So dear and that are precious to them. If I didn’t care so much, I think they wouldn’t feel so comfortable enough to share them with me. And I’m like a kid in a candy store when I see dances and I see people dancing, I have to jump in with them, whether the cameras are there and not. That’s where the premise of the show came from. It wasn’t me thinking, okay, “What’s a gimmick, or what’s a niche, I can fall into to create a travel show.”
It was rather, this is how I traveled for fun. I would travel and when I couldn’t speak the local language, I would jump in and dance with people in local festivals and holidays and celebrations and street fairs. And I found these magical moments of immediately connecting with people. And I thought, Wow, there’s something really special here.
I have enough of a dance vocabulary in my body and enough rhythm that it makes them feel comfortable enough to keep giving me more. And so that is my sort of special power: having the ability to communicate through dance enough that they feel comfortable with me enough to share more.
Where does it come from? How has it been passed down for so long? And what is it truly represent to them versus just a performance? Because I don’t go around these places and just watch people dance. The whole point of the show is to be immersive and really touch and hug and sweat with it. It’s a very intimate act respectfully. I think that’s where it gets really special. We’re sharing this together and they feel comfortable with me.
MICHAEL: What’s really interesting is your willingness to kind of be vulnerable and share this love of dance regardless of where you are.
MICKELA: Thank you. It’s interesting because I don’t have a hosting background. I don’t have any TV production background. And I think that was almost to my advantage: not learning how to be this detached host. The only way I know how to interact with people is to really jump in with them and just like get in there. And that’s what really draws people to the show is they feel like they know me, but they also feel like they’re having that experience with me versus this, like you said, at a very detached experience. And so I feel so honored.
MICHAEL: How did this come to be a television show? If I remember correctly, it actually started as a blog.
MICKELA: Yeah. So it kind of had this roundabout way. I used to work in entertainment, the music industry for years. And before that, I worked in management and I used to work for metal bands actually. This is a whole other life. But leading up to that, I went to school for music. I also danced my whole entire life. So when I went to university, decided to go from a music composition and in, at NYU, I eventually graduated and decided to go to the music industry, wanted to be a big time music manager. That was my ultimate goal. So I started working for a firm. Loved it, absolutely loved it. It was like the best training in life too, to be a, a perpetual problem solver.
But part of the job was also babysitting adults. And I didn’t like that part of the job. But I really love the business side of it. I worked in every aspect: promotion, marketing, merchandising, working with the record label, working on every aspect of the industry. And I learned so much from my old boss. He’s been a mentor of mine, but I just got burnt out and left the music industry and then found dance again in my life and started dancing and then started teaching dance and became a performer in New York City. It was like I sort of made this 180 jump of going to go back into dance.
And when I would travel for fun, I would start using dance as a means of traveling. So I would teach abroad in the summers and then kind of bop around from that. And I was teaching and kept finding that dance was this universal language. When I couldn’t speak the local language, I would make these immediate connections through dance. I’d be dancing with someone, but then I would be invited to their brother’s wedding in the next day. So we were in Mumbai India and we’re salsa dancing, and then we’re invited to a wedding, right?
So it wasn’t just let’s dance. It was these friendships and these other doors that open through dance being the key that opened the door.
And then back in 2010, I was still full time dance teacher. I had this aha moment. I literally woke myself up in the middle of the night, shot up and saw like a projection out of my eyeballs of what Bare Feet is today. I saw this show with me traveling the world, then dancing and dressing in costume and having a crew with me.
And I was like, I’m going to make a TV show where I travel and dance around the world. And that was the moment. And then I was like, okay, I need to figure this out.
So fast-forward to me pitching this. And because I worked in music, I also had friends who worked in TV. So I said to them, “Hey, I had this idea for show. What do you think?” And they’re like, “I have a friend who was an executive or a TV producer and you should pitch to them.” And I would always pitch to them. And they would say, this is an interesting idea, but you’re not going to be the host.
You just don’t fit the bill. We’re going to have to hire a model or an actress. And number two, you’ll be lucky if you get creator credit and good luck. And I kept getting the same as well. I mean, it was realistic to be honest. And I just kept getting the same answer over and over and over again. And I thought, well, screw that. I’m not doing this to give to someone else. Let me hire some friends. Because I went to NYU. Friends of mine were in the film school.
So we hired friends to go back to my family’s hometown. I come from a family of immigrants. And we stayed at my grandmother’s farm town farmhouse in Southern Italy. And we celebrated this wheat harvest festival. That’s our pilot episode. I spent my life savings and hired a crew to show up there. And we film it.
I had no idea what I was doing. I’d never been on camera. We come back and put together a sizzle reel and started pitching. It got signed to a third-party production company. They’re like, we have a great relationship with Travel Channel. This is back when Travel Channel used to air travel content, right?
And two weeks after I signed a year’s exclusive shopping agreement–which was a red flag right there– you should only sign what? 30 to 90 days, max?, Anyway, we find out Travel Channel signed an identical show called Dance Around the World. So this third party production company was like, well, our hands are tied; we can’t do anything with this. And I was like, well, let’s pitch it to someone else. And they are like, “Nope, sorry, we can’t pitch this again for one year!” So I said, can I have my footage back? And they’re like, you can wait your year’s agreement out which has only started two weeks ago. Or you can pay us $30,000. And I’d have to have had to buy back my own footage. So I waited a year. And in that year I was like, I’m not doing this to be on TV. I’m doing this to tell stories of dance and music. So I started a blog and that really built my skills of storytelling through dance. I launched the Bare Feet website. And I was living in the East village at the time in New York City. And so every night I would go out to live music events and dance classes every single night.
And I would write about it and write about the experience and the interactions I was having and the emotions I was feeling. And so it really helped me build that storytelling skill that I didn’t have.
I got my footage back eventually and realized I had to hire an editor. And we created these like short little YouTube videos. And I started building this small following and then eventually started shooting more videos by myself. And now today we’re on public television. We’re working on season five. I have four Emmy awards. And we’re on Amazon prime globally. It’s really amazing!
I got to make this show that no one thought I should make right. And there is a vetting process through public television, obviously. So it has to be educational, informational, and entertaining programming. There has to be some sort of standard of production. It has to be accepted by a majority of the PBS member stations. It’s a long process. It’s not just like, you can make a show and just pay and it gets on there.
However, I get to make my show. I don’t have an executive telling me, you know, what, Mickela, we need more drama here, or we need to show a little more skin here or are there has to be some conflict here? No, there’s none of that. I get to call all the shots. And 96% of the PBS market in the U.S. airs Bare Feet.
MICHAEL: I know you’re about to start shooting season 5. What can viewers expect?
MICKELA: So because of COVID, our season four was only a two-part special. It was a truncated season because of COVID and the Guadalupe Islands episodes were luckily filmed pre-COVID. And we were able to really extract these beautiful stories that we made it into a two part special. And I realized also by doing that, we were able to dig deeper into the stories. Because usually we have to truncate that into half of the amount of time.
During COVID we were already thinking of doing another season of Bare Feet in NYC. And we started revisiting that idea about a month ago because the city has put a lot of money into these arts initiatives for the recovery of New York. And I revisited the original treatment that I did for Bare Feet in NYC, in other seasons before COVID hit. And I thought, what if we approach this same way, same stories, but with the idea of New York’s on the mend, and let’s see how the arts are essential to a community, especially at a time like this.
And what’s amazing is we haven’t had to change what Bare Feet is about. Bare Feet has always been about highlighting entrepreneurs, highlighting small businesses and highlighting the arts as an essential part of a community. It just is more amplified now and more pertinent because now we’re seeing what happens when the arts had been taken away or when theaters are shut down or when we can’t go into a dance studio, people are drawn to these stories. Naturally they want them, they want to be able to move and dance.
MICHAEL: How have you kept viewers engaged during COVID?
MICKELA: Luckily we’ve been on the air a lot. It’s been amazing since COVID viewership on PBS has gone up by 20%. Our season three came out right when COVID hit. So viewers didn’t sense a lag. As far as they were concerned, there’s new, fresh content you’re going.
A month after the lockdown first hit, I thought, how can we stay connected through dance and music? Our mission is to stay connected with the world through dance and music, right? And I thought, well, we have the technology, right? We have access to people.
So I took it online for an entire year, every single week, it was called the Bare Feet live series. I would connect with a dancer from around the world. I do a short interview with them and they would teach me part of their culture through dance. And it was an interactive session so that all my viewers could learn dance. So we learned flamenco in Spain, we learned Irish shadow dance in Killarney Ireland. We learned Samba in Rio de Janeiro, and it was just the two of us on screen, but it was on streamed out on Facebook, on YouTube live and on Instagram as well.
So our, our viewers could interact with us and we had people come every single week. And it was a way for them to feel connected. It was a way for them to have to get up and move because we were so isolated and felt like we were sedentary and just staring at screens. And we did it for a year exactly a year. And I think two weeks ago was our last one. And I had a huge announcement and I was like, “Look, I know this is a really sad day. We can’t do Bare Feet live anymore. But the good news is we’re now working towards a new season!”
MICHAEL: And what brought you to Filmmakers Collaborative?
MICKELA: I was actually recommended the Filmmakers Collaborative through a through Hillary Buxton.
And so I was connected with Laura Azevedo. And she did a webinar about fiscal sponsorship and Filmmakers Collaborative and the resources that you guys have, and it was unbelievable and we’ve gotten so much great information. When Laura hosted the webinar, I learned so much.
Presenting a WEBINAR working with Editors Recorded: Wednesday, April 7, 2021
with Peter Rhodes, documentary film and video editor.
Presenting a WEBINAR with the Film Festival Alliance Recorded: Wednesday, March 17, 2021
with Executive Director Lela Meadow-Conner, Associate Director Barbara Twist and Director of Communications Gray Rodriquez.
What happens when former college roommates combine their artistic vision and show business acumen to make their debut narrative feature film? The women behind “Castaways,” a film depicting the story of a Massachusetts teen in a program for wayward youth are in the process of finding out! FC is proud to be among those helping to guide members Ciara Crocker and Katherine Hart along this journey.
is Boston based writer and director with a background in photography. Receiving a BFA in Photography & Imaging from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Ciara began her career as a documentary photographer. Her most notable documentary series, “And that’s the truth.” A Portrait of Irish Travellers, for which she spent months in Ireland living with the gypsies, has been exhibited in Ireland, China, Boston, and at Aperture Gallery in New York. In addition to documentary, she has spent the last few years shooting advertising content for notable retail brands in the fashion and sneaker worlds.
Katherine Hart is a novice filmmaker who is bringing her skills as a Reality TV producer to the silver screen. She understands how to manipulate story lines, budgets, schedules, and talent like a boss. Hopefully, the world of actors, closed sets, and long form narrative doesn’t throw her off. Katherine looks at each collaboration like a puzzle; it’s fun to work on finding the right fit for each piece, and everyone looks forward to seeing the final picture once it’s done. In this project, Katherine is excited to connect with her long time friend Ciara, and to be a part of a project that doesn’t require Housewives.
Ciara recently shared with us how the idea for the film originated and where things stand in her and Katherine’s journey to share it with the world.
How did you come to work together on this particular project?
Katherine and I were roommates during our freshman year in college. When the pandemic hit, both our careers in media shut down and we suddenly had plenty of time to reconnect with each other. Our conversations naturally turned to discussing the passion projects that we’ve always wanted to do, and we realized that if we team up we can combine our talents and make those projects happen. “Castaways” was one of those ideas. Given our shared love for New England, we’re excited to push this project forward and dive into the history of our home.
How did you come to choose this topic for your film?
Back in the summer of 2015, I was having lunch with my family at The Landfall restaurant in Wood’s Hole. We were seated near a window facing the water, and I noticed a ferry docked outside with a group of people waiting to board. When the waiter came by with our food, I asked him where this ferry went and he told me about the Elizabeth Islands. Now, I don’t know if its because my mother has the same name or if this new discovery was just an exciting novelty, but I was instantly enamored by this waiter’s description of the Elizabeth Islands. And my research only enhanced the romance of it all- a string of islands, each with an interesting story. The first island, a fishing island, was made famous twice over by two men, both named Charles. They each caught record worthy 73 pound striped bass, generations apart, in 1919 and 1967.
The largest island, Naushon, is owned by the Forbes family, and after that comes a cluster of three small islands: Weepecket, Weeweepecket, and Weeweeweepecket named in descending order of size. Weepecket, the largest, was used by the military for bomb, rocket, and machine gun practice.
And falling at the end of the line is Penikese Island. Once home to a leper colony and more recently a reformatory school for delinquent boys, the mission of this secluded rock is to contain societal outcasts. Without a doubt, Penikese Island had the most fascinating story of them all.
What issues/story points are you most hoping viewers will take away from the film?
I think everyone might take something a little bit different away from the film. I don’t want to manipulate the audience’s experience by talking about the themes before they see it. That being said, I’ve been researching The Penikese Island school for nearly 6 years now, and I find it to be a remarkably deep well of stories about human nature and social impact to explore. This operation of 38 years is such a unique moment in history- our own Massachusetts history- that hadn’t existed before and I don’t think will ever exist again. It impacted the lives of thousands of students, but this monumental effort largely goes unnoticed due to the internal nature of the work there. More than anything, we want to memorialize this experimental effort of The Penikese Island School and all of its complexities on film.
Can you share an update on where things stand with production and fundraising for the project?
“Castaways” is currently in pre-production. The script is under edit, and we are about to start the casting process. Last week former New England Patriots player, and current CBS Sports personality, Ted Johnson, joined the film as an Executive Producer. Fundraising is in its early stages and we really want to get the word out about this film to make sure all those that want to be involved are able to help. Any tax-deductible donations through the FC website are very much appreciated!
How are you approaching scripting and casting?
“Castaways” is a historical fiction piece largely based on true events. Last summer I met George Cadwalader, founder of The Penikese Island School, at his home in Wood’s Hole. We spoke at length about the school in that initial meeting, and he gave me a stack of old annual reports from the school to use in my writing process. They proved to be an invaluable resource, as they gave me years of stories about the students and faculty, daily life on the island, detailed environmental descriptions, and outlined the struggles the program and people faced within every level of the school’s operation. I continue to work in collaboration with George on the development of the script to make sure our story honors and reflects reality. I’m also workshopping the story with the Harvard Square Script Writers group.
We’ll be beginning our casting process this month! We are planning to film on Penikese Island. The historical weight and atmosphere felt on the island will be an invaluable asset to the tone and success of our film. We invite all who might be able to assist or facilitate this in any way!
Please reach out to Katherine Hart at firstname.lastname@example.org
if you would like to get involved in fundraising or production. And those interested in contributing to this project are encouraged to visit this page: https://filmmakerscollab.networkforgood.com/projects/53359-filmmakers-collaborative-castaways
“Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly” is a 56 minute narrated film, directed by FC member Kim Smith, that unfolds along the shores of Cape Ann and in the heart of Mexico’s forested volcanic mountains. Every stage of the butterfly’s life cycle is experienced in vibrant close-up, from mating to egg to caterpillar to adult, and set against the backdrop of sea and forest, sun and wind. “Beauty on the Wing” was recently screened as part of the 2020 New Haven Documentary Film Festival and will soon be distributed online and for educational use by American Public Television Worldwide.
Kim Smith is a documentary filmmaker, environmental conservationist, photojournalist, author, illustrator and an award winning landscape designer. We recently chatted with her about her path to becoming a filmmaker and her passion the natural beauty to be found on the northern coast of Massachusetts.
How did you come be a filmmaker?
I love writing and telling stories about people and about the wildlife found in my Cape Ann community and have for many years through books, photography, blogging, and illustrating. Filmmaking was a natural progression in a way. I am also a landscape designer and specialize in creating wildlife habitats for butterflies and birds. Through daily observation I am fortunate to witness some of the most beautiful creatures imaginable and have become spellbound by the wildlife that is found right here in our own backyards and along the shoreline, at the edge of the of the Atlantic Ocean.
How did the idea for “Beauty on the Wing” come about?
In 2006 I was photographing Monarch butterflies for a children’s book I was writing and illustrating. It was a phenomenal migration that year. The Monarchs were pouring across Massachusetts Bay and because of the wind conditions, they stayed and stayed and stayed; the butterfly’s numbers multiplied daily. I promised myself that if I were ever able to witness such an extraordinary event again, I was going to have the ability to document through film as well.
How did you go about teaching yourself to shoot and edit?
I purchased a Canon video camera and set about teaching myself how to operate the camera. I made many shorts, experimenting and learning along the way. I know how to compose shots from painting and photography and could write as well. Filmmaking combines all the things I care deeply about and love to do, which is conserving wildlife, protecting habitats, storytelling, cinematography, working with natural light, and then pulling it all together through editing.
Did you have any role models in the genre of nature documentary filmmakers?
Although not a filmmaker, I am very inspired by Rachel Carson. She was a true visionary and witness for nature. Despite great personal hardship, she wrote beautifully of our troubled environment and her work has profoundly influenced the environmental movement.
What were the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of making the film?
The most challenging aspect was fundraising. I find it very difficult to ask people and organizations for money. But I did learn that friends and followers want to be supportive and be a part of something beautiful and educational. People were very generous and gave what they could, from $5.00 to $10,000.00. I feel very fortunate to have had these kind, helping hands in making “Beauty on the Wing”.
The rewarding aspects are many. I love when the light is perfect and rich and you know you captured a scene beautifully. Or when you stand in a field for hours waiting for a butterfly to fly by in just the right direction, and it does (the opening scene, when a Monarch sails by the lighthouse). I loved especially the scenes with my ‘butterfly kids,’ and trying to capture their joy and excitement in seeing the butterflies emerge from their chrysalides. Traveling to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserves in Mexico, both trips, in 2014 and in 2019, each in their own way were memorable, rewarding, and made my film better beyond any expectation. I made life long connections and hope to return to the sanctuaries many times. Finishing Beauty on the Wing with Eric Masunaga at Modulus Studios was also deeply rewarding, to learn from his expertise, and to see the film coming together after years of documenting the Monarchs.
Do you have any particular plans for distribution?
Yes! I am very excited to share that I just signed an agreement with American Public Television World Wide for educational and online distribution, a dream come true for Beauty on the Wing!
How did you come to know about and work with FC and how has being a member benefited you as a filmmaker?
I learned about FC through my friend, fellow filmmaker, and FC member Nubar Alexanian.
Becoming a member of FC has probably been one of the greatest strokes of good fortune for my documentary. FC has handled the fiscal aspect of fundraising impeccably. I have called countless times asking Laura and Kathleen for advice and they always respond immediately. The workshops and webinars have been an invaluable aid in understanding filmmaking beyond creating the film and in learning how to launch a film out to your audience.
With our June 4 Webinar (12:30pm to 1:30pm, ET) on film distribution, featuring the insights of IndieFlix CEO Scilla Andreen, fast approaching, we caught up with Scilla to discuss IndieFlix and how she approaches her work! And, remember, there’s still time to sign up for the webinar.
Please share a bit about how your career as a creative led you to form IndieFlix.
To be clear I am not a super fan of indies like people think. Don’t get me wrong, I love indies but mostly I love well-crafted, engaging stories. I don’t care who is in them, I just never ever want to be bored. I was blessed to work on amazing TV shows like The Wonder Years, Party Of Five, Dawson’s Creek, Smallville and more. During my hiatus I would produce and direct short films and eventually feature films. I traveled the festival circuit and met talented filmmakers with movies no one could see. I knew that Hollywood had only so much bandwidth to pick up films from the festivals. So, I naïvely started IndieFlix with my producing partner thinking it would be as simple as hanging a shingle and an “OPEN” sign in the window of the Internet. I spent the next 10 years learning about raising money, running teams, marketing, reports, royalties, costs, spend etc.. At one point we had over 12K titles with worldwide rights but I didn’t feel like watching anything other than my favorites. So, I pivoted to content for a purpose. I also didn’t see the point in trying to compete with the Netflix, Amazon and Hulu’s of the world. I love those services and support them all wholeheartedly.
How did the mission of IndieFlix evolve?
Movies and TV shaped my life. It is the medium I use to express myself and filmmakers are my people. I wanted to help all filmmakers which is hard to do. IndieFlix started out as your source for independent film and then evolved into connecting people through movies. Carlo, my producing partner, and I started the company together but he stepped back about 6 months in. He handed me the keys with 6 weeks of funding and wished me the best. From that moment forward I became a sponge, learning everything I could on every level. Over the years the mission has always been pretty much the same. We want to do good in the world with stories. We want to connect people through movies and that’s exactly what we do. I recently scrubbed 7000 titles from our library in order to focus the company on content for a purpose. It’s what I care about.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic produced challenges and opportunities for IndieFlix?
IndieFlix is a subscription based streaming service and an off-line community screening service that books screenings in schools and corporations. The streaming side of the business is growing. With the community screening side, prior to the pandemic our trilogy of mental health films have had over 10,000 screenings in school auditoriums, corporate screening rooms, community centers and private theatres spanning 90 countries – hosted by a moderated panel of experts, students, parents and educators. We talked about mental health from all angles. The conversation flowed! It was community therapy. On March 15, 2020, it came to a complete halt. Fortunately, we were quick to pivot and have been perfecting our live webinar screening events since the quarantine, and have found that people are adapting to this new normal. We are now able to share, almost as well, through online community events as we did in person.
What do you think independent filmmakers need to know about IndieFlix and why?
We started IndieFlix back in 2005 as a DVD on demand service to help filmmakers get their films to market. It required working together to market. Over the years so much has changed. We’ve had to pivot to stay in the game and to keep it interesting. We have made some really great decisions and some not so great ones, like every platform, but we are still standing. We are a small team of 9 people. We are honest. We work hard. We answer our phones. We want all filmmakers to make money and we keep working at how to make that happen. What I really want filmmakers to know is that we are now a platform of content of a purpose. We focus on edutainment. I turned the brand around to be content for independent thinkers. We want to connect people through movies and make the world a better place.
What are your thoughts, broadly, on greater competition among streaming services and how IndieFlix distinguishes itself?
It is a great time for filmmakers as the demand is high. And with so many players in the space there will have to be some merging and acquiring that will take place. I’m positioning IndieFlix to be complementary to the Netflix, Amazon and Hulu’s of the world. We now stream over 5000 titles (shorts, features, docs and TV). We focus on edutainment. Soon we will be launching curated collections focusing on such topics as climate change, empowerment, mental health etc.. I am so excited to grow our library of content and watch it all.
Sheila Curran Bernard is an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning writer and filmmaker with credits on nearly 50 hours of prime time broadcast and theatrical programming, work that is often leveraged to serve as the centerpiece of public engagement and education efforts. She produced, directed and wrote two films for the acclaimed civil rights history, Eyes on the Prize; was series writer on the six-hour history I’ll Make Me a World; series development writer on the six-hour This Far by Faith; and writer of the four-hour series School: The Story of American Public Education. Bernard also wrote the feature documentary Slavery by Another Name, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Douglas A. Blackmon.
Kenn Rabin is an internationally recognized expert on the use of archival materials in film storytelling. His credits include the dramatic features Milk, directed by Gus Van Sant; Good Night, and Good Luck, directed by George Clooney; and The Good German, directed by Steven Soderbergh, in addition to a number of acclaimed archival television series, including the 13-hour Vietnam: A Television History and the 14-hour Eyes on the Prize, for which he was nominated for an Emmy.
Together, Sheila and Kenn, authored the book Archival Storytelling, which examines the challenges media makers face in finding and licensing third-party visuals and music — with a second edition to be published Spring 2020. On May 7, both filmmakers will be hosting a Filmmakers Collaborative webinar covering an array of issues pertaining to Archival Storytelling.
We recently chatted with Sheila (SCB) and Kenn (KR) about their work in this vital aspect of filmmaking.
How did the idea for the book “Archival Storytelling” come about?
SCB: As a filmmaker, I was involved in the production of a number of archival documentaries, and I’d written a different book, Documentary Storytelling, for which I’m now preparing a fifth edition. Kenn and I had both worked at Blackside, which was rigorous in its use of archival materials as evidence of the past, subject to fact checking, and Kenn had previously worked on Vietnam: A Television History (1983). And so it seemed natural to turn to him to see if we could help filmmakers navigate not only the complexity of rights and licenses, but also the creative, ethical, and at times journalistic issues involved in their use. The first edition of our book came out in 2008, and of course a lot has changed since then.
KR: I had been thinking for a long time about writing a book about what I do, partly as a way of “giving back” to young filmmakers all the knowledge and experience that I had acquired over the years. My original concept was more anecdotal, less meant as a textbook and more a general-purpose book for filmmakers. Sheila brought in the (very necessary) academic rigors that make the book valuable in undergraduate and graduate film, history, and sometimes even law school classes. As a result, it covered a wider canvas but in detail, and yet we were still able to retain some of the anecdotal quality I was hoping for.
As you look at the various ways that third-party materials are used by professional and amateur filmmakers, how do you think they might benefit from the insights your book and work as a filmmaker provides?
SCB: There are so many ways that media makers, working in fiction and nonfiction, rely on third-party materials, which simply means images, music, sounds, etc. that they themselves did not create. Sometimes these films or series strive to tell historical stories; sometimes they’re present day stories that just want to use a soundtrack of current hits or rely on contemporary media for verisimilitude. It’s a really, really complicated landscape, and hopefully the book helps people to navigate it.
KR: And not only traditional filmmakers, whether fiction or nonfiction, but also experimental filmmakers, media mash-up makers and others increasingly use pre-existing material, sometimes in a meta-historical or meta-cultural way that probably dates back to David Holtzman’s Diary and other such films. In documentary, it dates back almost to the beginnings of film, with archival users such as Esfir Schub in the Soviet Union. Culture is formed by the culture that came before it, and archival is an increasingly important part of that, in our digital, audiovisual age.
Can you share a bit about how the process of researching and obtaining rights to archival visuals and music has changed throughout your filmmaking careers?
KR: So much has changed that it’s almost an overwhelming question. When researching the Vietnam series, of course, there was no internet, so no searching online for material. The internet has changed the lives of every filmmaker, every researcher– everyone.
Another big change is that archival materials are now considered “assets,” with big corporations buying up archives as an investment. It used to be that archives were run by people (usually middle-aged men, in fact!) who knew their collection intimately and loved old film. Researchers like me would visit an archive in person, screen reels and reels of film on a Moviola or Steenbeck, and “cord off” in and out cues for sections of a film to be duplicated by an optical film lab. Those long-gone archivists were essential; often they would say, “How about this?” and pull some long-lost gem off the shelves. They taught me everything I know about film stocks, winds, sound elements—all those film-based things that have become irrelevant now, except to the actual archives that are digitizing their collections.
As assets, with prices and contracts often driven by practices more common in the advertising industry, licensing has also become a great deal more complicated. In the past, these old-school archivists would make handshake deals for rights. There would be a piece of paper–usually only one–and prices were always negotiable based on the filmmaker’s budget and even how engaged the archivist became in a film’s subject. Archival materials, then, wouldn’t bust people’s budgets. Today, they’re a big part of a project’s overall cost.
Technological changes, however, have favored filmmakers. In the past, the whole process of getting workprints and masters, synching things, going through answer prints, etc. was much slower and much more expensive. In a chemical process, things like color and gamma correction means making a whole new print, waiting three days to see how it came out, and then maybe making adjustments and waiting another three days to see the results. This “answer print” process alone would add about $5,000 (in 1980s dollars) to a film’s budget. Nowadays, you can sit in the editing room, tweak a joystick, and get instant color correction. The first time I ever saw that done, I was flabbergasted.
SCB: And of course, with film budgets and schedules shrinking over the past several years, a lot of filmmakers are choosing NOT to use authentic archival materials, especially music, because licensing can be so time-consuming and expensive. Either they use cheaper generic alternatives or–and this is ethically problematic–they create what appears to be actual archival material without making the audience aware that it’s not. With that said, of course the existence of archival materials alone doesn’t mandate its use. There are lots of creative alternatives, including animation and reenactments. It’s a real issue, though, when filmmakers want to access materials but realistically can’t.
In addition to filmmakers, what audiences do you hope this book reaches?
SCB: As someone who has taught in a department of history for the past decade, with a focus on public history, I hope the information contained in this book will be of interest to those creating content for museums and historic sites. I also hope that it will help to inform the growing number of academics (at all levels) who use audiovisual materials in their teaching and scholarship. What you see and hear is not always what actually happened–media literacy is more important than ever, in this age of deep-fakes–but it’s always been important. Whether material is from 1906 or 2016, it’s important to know who created it, for what purpose, to reach what audience? Does it line up with other authoritative research on this person or event?
KR: Yes, we’ve greatly expanded our sections about provenance, deep-fakes, and the importance of knowing the context in which the film was made or distributed. My hope is that this book is also able to reach nonfiction and fiction writers as well: the historians and biographers who need to know how to find and clear still images to illustrate their books, the historical novelists who want to examine photos or film or music from an era as background research to get details right in their stories. Of course the book is meant for film researchers as well, and to promote the art and craft of film research and to promote activism in the arena of copyright reform.
“Lucky Milo” is the story of former US Marine Milo Imrie ( pictured below) and his post-active duty struggles with PTSD and mental health issues. The film’s writer/director, Edmund Milligan Marcus, grew up with Milo and has directed several prize-winning shorts. He is currently in post-production on two feature films. As a freelance documentarian and videographer he has worked for numerous arts organizations and theater companies. Edmund is directing and editing “Lucky Milo,” working with his co-producers Donald Marcus (Edmund’s father) and Lisa Milligan.
We recently chatted with Edmund about how the film is coming together.
Please bring us up to speed on the production status of your film “Lucky Milo”.
Having secured 80+ hours of interview and archival footage around the country last November, we (my filmmaker parents Donald Marcus, Lisa Milligan and I) sorted through it over the holidays and are currently editing the feature length movie with a planned completion date of August 2020 and festival run in 2021.
How did you become aware of Milo’s story and what inspired you to want to share it with others?
Milo and I were childhood friends at camp for more than 5 summers and kept close afterwards while he joined the Marines and then returned to civilian society. His untimely death in 2018 prompted conversations with his family which organically led to this project, given that I’m a filmmaker and that Milo left us such an extraordinary trove of diaries and other revelatory material which illustrate his profound intellect, side-splitting sense of humor and inspiring life story. His epic, tragic, hilarious journey can bring healing and comfort to those suffering from conditions like his, and illumination to those in the dark about what’s going on in this country (which included me before this project began).
What have you found to be the challenging aspect of making this film?
Interviewing Marines and the family of Veterans has been, at times, harrowing. The sheer magnitude of the suffering that results from war can knock you out, and Milo’s experiences were as extreme as they come. Whatever one’s views on the wars in the Middle East or war in general, these men and women have faced unthinkable adversity and demonstrated a humbling, inspiring degree of heroism and selflessness of which I was not previously aware. In that way, the more difficult aspects of this project are also some of its most rewarding.
And what has been the most rewarding so far?
Firstly, getting to meet Milo’s network and learning so much about this incredible person who is now gone from the earth. Then, as a director/editor, it’s been deeply satisfying to put the puzzle together and with Milo’s keen interest in cinema, music, world culture, history and politics, the movie has taken on a kaleidoscopic quality which gets to the heart of who Milo is, how our society works, and why the problems of war are connected to our collective narratives and the ways we question them (or not). Learning and “speaking” the complex filmmaking language being called for in this project (interviews/stock footage/movie clips/diaries/news articles etc) is an exciting and fulfilling artistic conundrum for all involved in its construction.
How did you become aware of FC and its services?
FC was brought to my attention by one of our producers on “Lucky Milo.” We are MA-based filmmakers and so resources like FC and the wonderful people who work there must, in my view, be appreciated and supported by all who can.