Filmmaker and friend of FC, Eric Stange, recently joined us on Making Media Now, the Filmmakers Collaborative podcast to chat about his latest film, “Pony Boys.” 

Eric’s film will be shown as part of the 2022 Boston International Film Festival.

Here is an excerpt of our conversation. To hear the full conversation, listen here or via your favorite podcast app.

Making Media Now: On this episode, we’re joined by filmmaker Eric Stange to discuss his latest film, Pony Boys, which is now streaming online as part of the New York Times OpDoc film series. About a dozen years ago, Eric had a conversation with a neighbor of his in Arlington, Massachusetts. The neighbor told him that another neighbor, Jeff Whitmore, had related a story that seemed impossible to believe in 1967 when Jeff was nine, he and his 11 year old brother Tony left their home and need a mass in a homemade two wheeled horse cart being towed by a tiny 10 year old Shetland pony named King and made their way alone on a 27 day, 350 mile journey to Montreal to attend Expo 67 This was a story Eric Stange just had to tell. 

Pony Boys is just the latest entry in Eric’s impressive filmography as a documentary filmmaker who specializes in history and science films for the likes of PBS, National Geographic and the BBC. Eric has produced and directed film such as “Edgar Allen Poe, Buried Alive,” “Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making us Sick,” “The War That Made America” and “Murder at Harvard,” among many others. 

MMN: How did this story come to you?

Eric Stange: Well, about 10 years ago, I was at a neighborhood barbecue and a neighbor across the street asked if I had ever heard the story of another neighbor’s childhood adventures, a mutual friend and neighbor, and I said, No. And she told me, “Well, you oughta talk to Jeff one of these days. Ask him what he did in the summer of 1967.” And so the next time I saw Jeff Whittemore, who I, I didn’t know well, but you know, we’re neighbors and see each other at neighborhood functions. So I said, I heard you have a good story to tell. 

And he told me with total modesty and sort of no recognition that this was all that unusual about how he spent the summer of 1967, when he was nine years old and his older brother was 11, driving a Pony cart from Needham, Massachusetts to Montreal. 

And I said, “Well, you mean with with your parents or your older brother or something?” He said, “No, no, no, just the two of us, Tony and me, nine and 11.” And he said, “My mother wrote ahead to the Boards of Selectmen to tell them we’d be coming through town and to watch out for us. And we did it.”

I told him I’ve been a documentary filmmaker for a long time, and I told him, one of these days, I’m gonna come back to you and I wanna make a film about this. And he laughed. He never really believed that I would do it, but about 10 years passed and I did come back.

So he came over to my living room and sat down and we did a long interview and he told the whole story. A couple days before, he’d given me a family scrapbook that his mother had kept about the whole trip. So I was able to see a ton of newspaper articles and things. I learned a lot about the story just from that. Sure. 

I really wanted to hear his take on it, and it was a great, wonderful interview. What was best about it, really, in some ways is that he really hadn’t told the story to anybody in any depth for a long, long time.  And so it was almost as if he was remembering a lot of the details just as we went. 

And then literally four days, five days after that interview, the world shut down with Covid. I mean, it was just at the beginning of March, 2020. And there I was with this 90 minute interview and the whole scrap book, which was full of photographs and newspaper clippings. I couldn’t leave the house or I could, you know, how it was. And so I decided, well, I guess I’ll just edit with what I have. And it became my Covid project. 

MMN: How closely aligned were there memories of the two brothers of the adventure? 

ES: That’s a good question, because there were definitely things that they remembered very differently. This was an oral history. It’s not journalism, it’s not academic history. So I have to confess that I didn’t always take the trouble to try to pin down exactly who was remembering it correctly. I mean, they, they certainly were in agreement on all the important things. 

MMN: How far into your consideration of the story were you before you decided on what your approach was gonna be in telling this story? 

ES: I knew I wanted it to be as immediate as possible, and that’s why I shot it with both of them looking directly into the lens. I wanted it to feel like they’re telling the story to the viewer directly.

I didn’t know when I started that we were gonna find this wonderful trove of news reel footage shot by Associated Press in those days. The AP had a news reel unit that went and spent some time with the Pony Boys. It took us a while to find it. Our archival film researcher, Heather Merrill, did an amazing job and found that footage. 

And I’m sure there were other TV crews that went up and stayed with them for a day or two. They (the brothers) have no real memory of that. They just know there were tons of reporters all the time. They don’t remember specifics. 

MMN: It’s such a formative experience, you know, two brothers, and it wasn’t like they were six and four, they were eleven and nine at the time. And it’s kind of hilarious how in the film where they talk about, “Gee, I can’t remember. Did I change my clothes? Did I have shoes when we started?”

ES: Yeah. I mean, and a lot of times in the interviews when I’d ask them a question, they would just shrug, say, I don’t know, I was nine. I have no memory of any of that. Or, I was 11. I don’t know. It didn’t seem important. They did remember quite a bit, but there were plenty of things they had no memory of at all.  

MMN: The boy’s mother really comes through as  the unsung hero or perhaps the semi-sung hero of the film. I believe it’s Tony who says that she ended up having the most effect on them being who they became. Tell me a little bit about the boys’ relationship with their mom and the impact she had on them. 

ES: Unfortunately, she’s passed away. I would’ve loved to be able to talk to her. I’ve talked to all the siblings, or all but one. And they all talk about how their mother was just this adventurous person who really believed in learning by doing, as the older sister Wendy says in the film. And they had all sorts of adventures. I mean, this probably was the most out of the ordinary adventure that they had, but they did other things too. Their mother just encouraged that sort of attitude. 

And as Wendy says in the film, their father was maybe not quite as on board with it, but he would go along with it. And they learned an awful lot from her or from those experiences. And I think they brought it to their own parenting practices as well. I mean, both Tony and Jeff have two kids of their own. Of course, I had to ask them both: “Would you have let your nine and eleven year old do this?  Neither one would say yes. 

MMN: We would be remiss if we didn’t talk a little bit about, about their means of transportation. That would be via King, the Shetland Pony. His role, of course, was a huge role. And I found it really interesting that even then there was a bit of a controversy over whether King was being subjected to treatment that he maybe shouldn’t have been subjected to.

ES: Yeah,  there were a lot of letters coming into the house, which the kids weren’t aware of cuz they were off on the trip. But their sister, Wendy and the father and the mother were getting these letters, lots of them complaining that they were abusing the pony. That no one should make a pony do that kind work. Shetland ponies were bred for hauling coal out of coal mines. That’s why they bred small and strong.  Hauling a very small pony cart with two quite small boys was not a struggle for King. 

And King was examined right before they left Needham. Then he was examined again in Southern New Hampshire. Then I recall he was examined at when they got to Montreal.  And he passed with flying colors every time.

MMN: And, well, not to reveal any spoilers, but I was very happy to learn that not only did King make the journey with flying colors, he went on to live another 20 years thereafter. 

ES: He had a very busy life all through Jeff. The younger brother was nine at the time of the trip. All through Jeff’s teenage years, he and King would go do birthday parties on weekends and that was Jeff’s summer job and even weekends during school. So yeah. King kept very busy. 

MMN: So we know how King and the boys got to Montreal. I wasn’t clear on how they got home. 

ES: Yeah. It goes by fast and it was too complicated to explain. There’s a little bit of a headline that says arriving home by truck. What happened is the family that ended up putting them up in Montreal was a farm family. They stayed usually on farms because it was just outside of Montreal. And the farm family very had a dump truck and rigged up the dump truck to the pony truck and they drove King and Tony, the older brother, home. The trip up there took 27 days. The trip back of course took probably six hours. 

MMN: How did your film find its way to the New York Times OpDocs?  

ES: Well, we, we submitted it. They have a submission process online. Someone involved with the film kind of knew someone there, which may or may not have helped. But it was really about going through the process. And I think, who knows; with these things so much is luck, Maybe if we’d submitted it a week later, they wouldn’t have hit that moment. It was around the back to school time. You know, these things—it’s like you, you cross your fingers and you hope for the best. 

MMN: Have you been going on in a regular interval and reading the comments? There are hundreds of them. 

ES: Oh yes. Yeah. I love the comments. 

 

 

Rachel St. Pierre recently joined Filmmakers Collaborative as a Program Director for FC Academy. We’re so happy to be working with Rachel and wanted to allow her to introduce herself to FC members, friends, and visitors! 

Welcome to FC, please tell us a bit about your background,

I obtained my Bachelor’s in Fine Arts in filmmaking from Savannah College of art and Design. I then went on to get my Master’s Degree at Lesley University in Arts Education. While attending Lesley,  I began working at Raw Art Works in Lynn as an instructor, and then manager, and began honing my skills as a teacher of youth filmmaking and a leader in the Northshore youth filmmaking and arts community. 

Prior to coming to work at FC, what was your relationship with the organization?

I became aware of the Filmmakers Collaborative about 5 years ago. I met Laura while working to submit my students’ films to the Boston International Kids Film Festival. After several years of acting as a panel judge for the festival, my strong belief in the work FC does lead me to become a board member and help assist in the early stages of developing FC academy. Each year that has passed has renewed and strengthened my passion and focus for the work that FC and FC Academy do year in and year out. The festival provides a platform for youth filmmakers to be treated like serious artists while putting a premium on access to kids from all walks of life. 

What will your role at FC entail?

I am the program director of FC Academy. I’m in charge of further developing our network of film instructors and expanding our programing. This expansion will put an emphasis on providing premium programming for all students who attend FC Academy classes. This will all be from a top down lense of equity in access to our programming. 

What are you most looking forward to?

What I am looking forward to most is building relationships with filmmakers from Massachusetts.

I look forward to building relationships on both the macro and micro level. In the micro: individual relationships are the heart of any program. I look forward to meeting and creating symbiotic relationships with filmmakers, town admins, teachers, parents, students, and any creatives who can contribute to our mission. In the macro: I look forward to expanding FC Academy’s brand and recognition. My end goal is to see FC Academy become a pipeline and creative hub for homegrown and local filmmakers!

Any additional fun facts about yourself that you’d care to share?

Fun facts: 

My favorite film is Tim’s Burton’s “Beetlejuice.” My three passions in filmmaking are: set design, location scouting, and photography. I have two dogs, one cat, and was born and raised on the North Shore of Massachusetts.

On a recent episode of Making Media Now, the Filmmakers Collaborative podcast, we welcomed back filmmaker, television producer, and FC member Roberto Mighty to talk about “World’s Greatest Cemeteries,” his new series currently airing on PBS. On the show, Roberto travels to some of the world’s most renowned burial sites, touring masterpieces of landscape gardens and culture. Each episode includes a stunning visual tour of one of the world’s greatest cemeteries.

What follows are some excerpts from our chat. Take a listen to the podcast episode for the full conversation.

MMN: Remind me of the genesis of this project. How did the idea come to you and how did you decide to take the approach that you did take, which is almost kind of like a magazine format in the sense that each of the six episodes you visit notable cemeteries in places far-flung and wide ranging.

ROBERTO: So in 2014, I was appointed America’s first artist in residence at a national historic landmark cemetery, that was the Mount Auburn cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And at that time, you know, I, I didn’t know that I was the first one in the country to be doing this. I just thought, man, I’m really honored, you know, to have been asked to be their artist in residence.

MMN: And what does the artist-in-residence do?

ROBERTO: So it does vary depending on the terms of the appointment, but in this case, they knew that I was a filmmaker and a multimedia artists. And so they asked me if I would be interested in doing a films and multimedia about their historic cemetery. And I was like, are you kidding me? Of course. And so what I did was over two years, I made 29 original short films about people that are interred or buried in that cemetery. And some of those films were also simply about the landscape and the history of the cemetery itself.

Prior to that, I had just come off of an 18-month artist residency at Harvard forest, where I did a piece about the certain area of Massachusetts in the 17th century. I did a piece about the clash of cultures of treating the Puritans and the indigenous peoples or the native Americans. And so I had a whole lot of background and landscape land use and so forth. So this was a beautiful natural progression.

MMN: And how did you go about choosing which cemeteries you wanted to feature in the series?

ROBERTO: Well, after 2016, after I finished my two year residency at Mount Auburn, I was pretty well steeped in cemetery culture before that I was just a regular civilian, you know, so after two years of probing around there and hanging out with historians, archivists, and cemetery people, I learned that there were these beautiful cemeteries all over the world, many of which most of which were actually built around the same time, which is the early 19th century.

So I was really fascinated by that history. And then going back, of course, there were these wonders of the world that we don’t, I don’t think we think of as cemeteries, but they are. So for instance, King Tut’s tomb, that’s a cemetery, right? The Taj Mahal in India, that’s a certain kind of cemetery that we call a mausoleum as a structure that’s built generally for one person and that person’s family. So these are all places which are in fact world landmarks. And there also burial places.

MMN: As a storyteller, as a filmmaker, did these storytelling possibilities around cemeteries immediately come to mind for you or did it take some reflection?

ROBERTO: I think it started when we were kids, our parents would tell us about reciting poetry in the cemetery near where they went to college. So our parents met in college at, at a historically black college in Ohio called Wilberforce University. They met there and apparently they used to go and recite poetry in that cemetery. And what’s funny is that our parents were of that generation where, you know, they were the kind of people who recited poetry all the time, you know? And so I, when I was a kid, I thought that the word cemetery meant place to go to recite poetry. So I was disposed to having a very positive view of them.

MMN: Did you script the programs yourself?

ROBERTO: I would script myself ahead of time and you know, like in the hotel room or something, but to be honest, the vibe would often dictate. I mean, these cemeteries are designed landscapes. Every single one of them is a design landscape. And the design is to make people feel better, is to make them feel calm and relaxed, to comfort the grieving and all that. But also these places, even from the very beginning were massive tourist attractions, right? And so, as a result of the gently rolling hills, the placement of some spectacular monuments, the fact that they left these incredible mature trees.

And in fact, many of them are certified arboretums, you know, for their city or for their country. Then of course, as you pointed out, the horticulture Is outstanding. I mean, these are truly horticultural show places as well. And so a place like Mount Auburn cemetery, which gets up to a quarter of a million visitors per year.

Presenting a WEBINAR on Sound Recording with Ian Black and Steve Drown. Ian’s career started as a guitar player/songwriter from a young age and he has been composing, performing, recording and producing music ever since. Steve has been an independent recording engineer for the last 21 years and a professional musician for nearly 30.

RECORDED: Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Composer and FC member Tom Phillips recently chatted with Michael Azevedo on the Filmmakers Collaborative podcast, Making Media Now. Tom’s credits include well over 500 films for national broadcast networks, such as PBS, ABC, CBS national geographic channel Discovery Channel and HBO. He’s amassed an impressive list of industry awards. His scores are regularly heard on national broadcast television, including the Antiques Roadshow theme and programs for American Experience and Nova. 

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. Don’t forget to subscribe if you haven’t already…it’s free!

MMN: When did music come into your life? And when you first caught the music bug, what were your musical ambitions?

Tom: Well, I first started taking piano lessons and when I was four. I grew up in New York, on Long Island. So I’ve been playing since I was four. So the big question is a, well, why aren’t you a better? (Laughing). But it was a classical piano teacher who stressed theory and he had played with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra in New York, and  he actually played cello with them. When I would bring him things to learn, other than a classical music, he would literally just tear it up. I remember bringing him a Beatles song and he tore it up. His idea of a jazz was Gershwin! He was really focused on the classics: Bach, Beethoven, Mozart.

And then when I got to college, I was an English major intending to be prelaw. The whole time I was playing in rock bands when I was in college. And it was like an original music band. I was writing the songs for the band. Always playing keyboard, always.

And, actually, I started writing music when I was like five years old.

MMN: How old were you when you learned to read music?

Tom: Oh, that was a right away. I mean, if you’re going to play classical music at four years old!  I was playing “Peter and the Wolf,” which is not exactly a Bach piece, but, you know, you have to read the notes.

MMN: And then you’re in college and continuing to play?

Tom: Then I dropped out of college early because I met my wife while I was in college and she played a guitar and we decided to go on the road with a rock and roll band. And so I just left college. My parents love that.

It was the early 70s when I left college. We traveled all around the south and the Midwest with a large band. With 6, 7, 8 piece bands, and I had to arrange all the parts for those bands, you know, write out the parts for those people. 

MMN: What kind of music were you performing? 

Tom: Well, it was contemporary music that had kind of a showy aspects. We were playing hotels and they expected, like if you played five sets, they expected one set to be like a, a show, a quasi-Las Vegas type of thing. So I had to write those, too.

MMN: How long did that band stay together? 

Tom: Well, we had different bands and we kind of decided to move back to Massachusetts at the end of ’77. And I went around to studios and found work as a session player, playing keyboards and then arranging parts for the acts that they had come into the studios to record.

This was also like the height of the disco era. People used a lot of strings and horns and so they needed somebody who could arrange for those instruments. So I wrote out the string parts and the horn parts. This is also of the height of the cocaine era, too. So while the engineer and producer were snorting cocaine, I’m just kind of watching to see how you run a session. And I would ultimately run the sessions because they were somewhat incapacitated. 

And then I started to get my own projects. The first things I did were for WCVB, channel 5, which at the time had a pretty large local production facility. We probably did 20 films there. I don’t know if you remember a film called “Summer Solstice” with Henry Fonda. It was an ABC movie of the week and Channel % produced it. And they shot it on Cape Cod. I scored that whole film.

MMN: Do you, as a musician, think there’s a particular personality type that works better as a composer of music for film and television?

TOM: Well, you know, strangely enough, I don’t really classify myself as a musician. I mean, I’m a good musician, but I don’t, I’m a composer. I don’t really worry about how difficult something is to play, because actually I’m playing into a computer. I just have to hear what I want it to sound like. So I just play. And if it doesn’t quite sound, if I don’t have the chops to actually make it sound like I want it to sound, I just take my mouse and move everything around or keep overdubbing until it sounds correct. 

MMN: If I’m watching a film and the credits come up and it says music by Tom Phillips, can I make the assumption that you both wrote that music, music you’re playing it? 

TOM: I’m playing it unless there are a live instruments that are credited. For example, I work a lot for American Experience and live instruments are used often in those scores. So if there was a violin or a cello or a flute or an oboe clarinet, I don’t play those.

MMN: Who makes the decision to have a live music as opposed to something that already exists or something created digitally. 

TOM: Well, there are two things: One is budget because musicians cost money. And the other thing is that if you’re doing a film score for American Experience, it makes completely no sense to have a sample instrument play a violin part when it has to be a real violin. You know, samples can only do so much.

MMN: At what point in the process are you, or you in conjunction with a director or the producer, making those decisions? Is this a during production pre-production? Is it all post-production 

TOM: It’s as soon as I get a cut, which sometimes is just an assembly cut, sometimes a rough cut. For example, the film on Marian Anderson that I scored for American Experience, the producer, wanted a music to be all classical in nature and to seamlessly be able to blend in with her recordings. So we discussed that ahead of time. So I, I kind of knew when I’m writing the score, what direction to go in. And also it’s Marian Anderson, you know, why would you put something contemporary behind it?

MMN: Is there any such thing as a typical turnaround built in to allow you to compose a score?

TOM: Never enough! The amount of time available is the amount of time it takes to do it. How’s that for an answer?

MMN: That sounds like a man who’s worked in production for years! Do you begin writing always on the keyboard? 

TOM: Yes. Because I’m a piano player. So that’s sort of the spine of everything. And then I have so many sounds that, you know, I’ll start writing and then I’ll say, okay, let me grab a cello or let me grab an oboe. Or if it’s more contemporary based, I might try a sound that is just like a synthetic sound to see how this works.

MMN: In addition to composing music for films and TV, have you done much in the space of multimedia or museum work?

TOM: A lot of museum work. I did plenty of projects for the American Museum of Modern History inn New York. We did something called a bioluminescence. It was called Creatures of Light. And it was a great project. They had eight rooms, which were all connected and only had a curtain hanging between them. So the music score I had to write was for each room. One of them dealt with things that are underwater. One had music like  Vivaldi, very classical and then other things had to be very electronic. And I’ve also worked for the Museum of Science quite a bit here in Boston. 

Another company I work for is called Monadnock Media. They’re out in Hadley, MA. They mostly do a museum shows. So we did the Truman Museum in Independence, Missouri. I finished that last year. And they did the Choctaw Indian Museum, which is actually in Mississippi because that’s where the Choctaw originally came from.  And so it’s a lot of museum work.

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
– Ability to manage multiple projects
– Prioritize and meet strict deadlines

Direct Responsibilities:
– Overall responsibility for all bookkeeping, including entering deposits (grants, donations,
accounts receivables), paying invoices, issuing invoices, and reconciling the books on a
monthly basis.
– 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
Filmmakers Collaborative
laura@filmmakerscollab.org

 

 

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.