#FemaleFilmmaker Friday: Saving Sea Turtles

Filming in the cold Cape Cod sunset.

For #FemaleFilmmaker Friday, I’ve brought you an interview with Seattle filmmaker Michele Gomes, co-founder and Creative Director of InterChange Media who I was lucky enough to meet at an #NABShow several years ago.  I produced an interview for her project Combating Ebola, a series of emergency response videos that aired throughout West Africa. We talked about her new feature length documentary, Saving Sea Turtles, co-directed with her production partner Jennifer Ting. The film won the Green Spark Award at the American Conservation Film Festival.

What got you interested in the plight of the stranded sea turtles?

I grew up in Rhode Island and spent my summers swimming in the Atlantic and I’d never heard of sea turtles swimming off the shores of New England. Then, during a visit to the Massachusetts Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary in Cape Cod, we met a naturalist who told us that the rarest sea turtle in the world was washing up cold-stunned (hypothermic) annually every November and December and dozens of people were volunteering to go on patrols to save them.  So we decided to rent a place for 5 weeks in order to capture this phenomena.

Did you set out to make a full-length feature doc or did the project evolve?

The project definitely evolved. I was interested in filming the conservation efforts and finding out what was going on with the sea turtles. Jenny wanted to make a film about the naturalist, who she thought could even make a good host for a television series.  We both agreed we needed to capture what a “sea turtle stranding season” was like. After being on the ground, witnessing an environmental crisis—the largest sea turtle stranding in Massachusetts history–and seeing how the local community came together to try and save 1200 sea turtles, we knew we had to tell the whole story. The species is Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, and marine wildlife specialists and volunteers are working hard to prevent them from

Filming hatchlings on the beach, helped by volunteers.

going extinct.

What were some technical challenges that you and Jenny faced with production and what were your solutions?

​While we brought a lot of equipment, we were not prepared for the weather conditions during the winter on the Cape. The patrols happen after every high tide, day and night. The first time we went on a night sea turtle patrol, we had plans to shadow a retired private school teacher named Nancy Rabke.  The wind was so intense that when she came over to our car I could barely get the door open and she had to fight to wedge herself into the car and said, “I don’t think you should come out with us tonight.  The wind is just too strong!”  We completely agreed. Cape Cod is an enormous sand bar that sticks out 60 miles into the ocean and the sand gets wiped around by the wind and it can be painful.  If we had tried to film that evening, our lens would have been destroyed and we wouldn’t have captured the rest of the events as they unfolded.  So we had to adjust and be patient and practical.

Because of the wind storms and the volume of sea turtles that got pushed ashore, everyone around us was overwhelmed and dealing with the unexpected.  So we had to think and move fast, be resourceful and ask lots of questions without getting in the way.

We also lost the main character because he ended up having a major health problem just when the mass stranding was taking place.  So we shifted our focus a bit and found another lead. Luckily, this story didn’t rest on one man’s shoulders. The film reveals a community network that involves thousands of people from states all along the eastern seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico, as well as from across the US and Mexico.   

Michele with a 50 lb juvenile loggerhead sea turtle that she had just carried off the beach. It survived and was later released. The 275 lb female sadly did not survive.

Every documentary hits financial challenges. How did you approach the funding?

This was a passion project of ours, so we mainly ended up funding it ourselves.  We tried a Kickstarter campaign, but didn’t reach our goal.  We applied for grants but didn’t receive any.  Getting funding for a film about conservation is notoriously difficult.  It is not typically a flashy subject.  Women ​Make Movies in NYC became our fiscal sponsors so anyone who wanted to donate money towards the film could do so through them.  ​

Are there any tools–camera rigs, workflow management tools, etc.–that you used that made the process easier?

Go-Pros helped us to capture the underwater footage we needed as well as helping us to put the viewer into the footsteps of a volunteer (think pre-VR).  We discovered that the shoulder rigs we rented were too heavy and didn’t fit our bod​ies, so we went with hand-held except for sit-down interviews. ​

Not only do you have to be technically prepared, but you also have to be mentally prepared.  I’ll never forget the moment about a week before the production began that I realized that we will not only be shooting live sea turtles, but dead ones as well.​  Being prepared to expose yourself to some potentially traumatic content/experiences can be helpful.

What is your top piece of advice for any first-time long-form documentary makers?

​Be sure you are focusing on a subject that is meaningful and inspiring. If it is a meaningful subject, you’ll get it done no matter what obstacles you face (financial, time, technical, etc.)  Witnessing the dedication of the sea turtle patrol volunteers going out at 3 AM in 20 degree weather in harsh conditions inspired us every step along the way. We finished the film to honor their work and to help out with the plight of species. So in the end, we felt good about all the work we put into the film and we are so grateful that we get to share it with others.  Also, Jenny and I put down our cameras to help save sea turtles and that was a transformative life experience.

Any final thoughts?

Be sure to bring your post-production partners into the project early.  We’re so happy that we had meetings with an animator well before the film was in picture lock.  The more you can prepare your post-production team the better.  Talk to everyone about your film because you never know who is going to make a great suggestion.  It was our roommate who recommended our narrator and we were blown away by our experience working with a living legend, Dr. Sylvia Earle.  Creating a feature length documentary is a time- and energy consuming commitment. Our film took 2.5 years + and was demanding work.  Not only are you a filmmaker, but you have to be a social media expert, distributor, promoter, web designer and endless advocate.

Amy DeLouise is a Director-Producer-Filmmaker. She will be giving production workshops and hosting the #GALSNGEAR livestreamed discussion at NABShow in Las Vegas in April.

 

 

 

 

How to Set Your Rates for Creatives

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As a creative freelancer, one of our toughest challenges is how to set rates. Here are four ways to set your pricing. You can use a combination of these approaches, and sometimes may need to make adjustments depending on your career goals or the needs of a specific project.

  1. Market-Based Pricing – Market-based pricing is generally driven by two key factors: the number of vendors available (supply) and the amount of work (demand). But there are other variables at play. For example, if there are union rates for this job or service in your area, that may affect the typical rate charged–it usually improves it. Or, there may be pressures on the market, such as seasonal demands. Becoming an active member of a local association or meetup group — in my area of Washington, D.C., TIVA and Women in Film & Video , in NY and LA the Blue Collar Post Collective (BCPC)— is a great way to develop friendships with colleagues and learn about trends in your market. The BCPC conducts an annual rate survey which is a great tool for our industry.
  2. Value-Based Pricing – Using this model, the price of your services are driven by the value the customer puts on your work. For those with more experience in a particular subject matter or style of content, value-based pricing can work well. Value-pricing also works if a client really wants a particular team in place for a project and you have the track record to deliver what they need.
  3. “I Need This Job” Pricing – Of course there are stages of every career where you accept a rate lower than you might otherwise because you are trying to gain experience, try your hand at a new skill or tool, or secure work in a down market.  I would just warn that you don’t want to do this very often, or you are likely to get stuck at the lowest rates (and bring everyone else down with you.)
  4. Salary-Based Pricing – Wait, we’re talking about freelancers, right? So why would the term “salary” apply? Well, you may want to set your day rate by determining the amount of money you’d like to (or need to) make divided by how many days you are likely to work. This is not a hard and fast rule, but a good way to see if you are going to make your financial goals. If not, you either need to raise rates, work more hours, or perhaps garner more skills that prospective clients want.

 

These are excerpts from an upcoming Lynda.com course of mine on Freelance Work Strategies for Video Producers and Motion Graphics Designers. Let me know if there are topics you’d like to see addressed!

 

Focus on #GALSNGEAR at #NABSHOW

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If you’ve been following the #GalsNGear hashtag on Twitter, then you know I’ve been working behind the scenes with many colleages–women and men across production and post–to put the focus on women in the technical fields of our industry during NABShow this year.   On our program, we’ll be featuring 14 top pro’s talking about VR, UAV, VFX, CC, 3D, and more. Plus we’ll be giving away thousaGnG_IG-Post1nds of dollars worth of cool stuff! We want to be sure these professionals get the limelight they deserve, and inspire the next generation of women working behind the lens in our industry.

NABShow in Las Vegas is an incredible annual smorgasboard in our sprawling industry of content creators and distributors in TV, video, cable, OTT, satellite and more. Or as I like to call it, 100,000 of my best friends in media. Special thanks to NAB and Women in Film & Video, and our partners Broadcast Beat Magazine, sponsors Black Magic Design, Snell Advanced Media, and Vitec, as well as supporting partners Adobe, iZotope, Zacuto, Ott House Audio, Rampant Design, Sundance Media Group, and Radiant Images.
If you’re coming to NAB, then we’ll see you at the show! (8:30AM is free coffee/donuts and networking, the show goes live at 9AM). If not, join us live online at 9AM. Broadcast Beat, our streaming partners, will be carrying us to more than 2M viewers in 180 countries! Details here.

Luisa Winters on GalsNGear NABSHOW Live 2016

Check out these amazing women joining us on stage to demo and discuss gear and content production and post-production this year:

Participating women:

Jennifer Pidgen, COO, Sundance Media Group; UAV Pilot

Céline Tricart, Cinematographer & VR Filmmaker

Nina Page, Head of Business Development, Radiant Images

Amanda Shelby, Head of Production, Radiant Images

Csilla Kozma, Head of Content, Nokia Technology

Cheryl Ottenritter, Senior Mixer/Founder, Ott House Audio

Mae Manning, Editor

Sue Lawson, Editor

Megan McGough Christian, Production Manager, “Frontline”, WGBH Boston

Stefanie Mullen, CEO, Rampant Design, Visual Effects

Sophia Kyriacou, Broadcast Designer/3D Artist

E Samantha Cheng, Executive Producer, Heritage Series, LLC

Co-Hosts:

Adryenn Ashley, CEO, Crowded TV

Amy DeLouise, Producer/Director, Author of The Producer’s Playbook: Real People on Camera

 

The Future of Story: A View from Shanghai

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Maryann Brandon, editor of STAR WARS, discusses visual effects edit workflow.

I just got back from China, and the nascent NAB Shanghai conference, where I was moderating the Global Innovation Exchange thought leaders event. The sessions on 4K, UHD, and 8K were packed. Speakers talked about how they are building new audiences through OTT, and how they are developing storage and workflows for complex, multi-platform delivery.  And not surprisingly, the VR track was packed with speakers presenting on this new and evolving format.

But what really impressed me was the focus on STORY. Yes, we need ways to move massive data packets around for a consistent streaming and viewing experience. Yes, we will continue to improve picture resolution and screen quality. Yes, we will continue to evolve the immersive experience. And yet we know that what leads to success—whether of a social platform, a webisode, a feature film or a game–is a good story. Characters that are memorable. Authentic moments that make us laugh or cry. A connection to emotions that make us return and share, again and again.

Maryann Brandon, editor of STAR WARS: The Force Awakens, STAR TREK: Into Darkness and the new release PASSENGERS, talked about how through all of the special effects, her focus is always on story.  If the story isn’t working, effects are not the answer.  Her goal and that of the film’s director is always to make an emotional connection with the viewer. Michael Uslan, the producer of the DARK KNIGHT, THE LEGO MOVIE, and many other films, TV series and games, spoke about what compelled him to cobble together the financing to buy the Batman franchise while still in his twenties: “Batman’s greatest superpower is his humanity.”

This could be said of our entire media-TV-film industry. We are of course always taken with technology. Technology enabled us to create the first photographs, the first talking pictures, and the first color films. Technology brought the moon landing into every living room and built the networks that allow CNN to report from around the world. And now technology is bringing us social media experiences, virtual reality programming and AI characters. The future is exciting.

But technology without humanity is nothing.  So as I watched speakers from around the world sharing and learning from one another, talking about the kind of stories that truly engage, I was encouraged. Through all the high tech, we must keep our focus on the stories worth telling: those all around us, and those we have not yet imagined.

***

On my way to Shanghai, I stopped over in London for the IABM conference with broadcast manufacturers.  Here’s my talk on the challenges of Transmedia Production.

Women in Production

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gng-logoIf you’ve been following the #GalsNGear hashtag on Twitter, then you know I’ve been working behind the scenes with many colleages–male and female–across production and post to put the focus on women in the technical fields of our industry. We want to be sure these professionals get the limelight they deserve, get access to the best gear, and also help bring along the next generation of women across the industry.  galsngear-nabshowSeveral hundred folks attended our most recent VR, production and post gear demos, and enjoyed our killer panel with women in film finance, VR, cinematography, and film finishing during NAB New York (shout-out to our partners NAB,  Adorama and Black Magic Design).  I’m looking forward to seeing friends and colleagues at IABM in London this weekend, and at NAB Vegas this spring.  If you’ve got an idea for a #GalsNGear pop-up event at an industry gathering or film festival near you, give me a shout.

Amy DeLouise is a director-producer with a passion for making the industry the best it can be. Her new book The Producer’s Playbook: Real People on Camera is available from Focal Press/Routledge.

 

 

Student Filmmaker Next Steps: Getting Work in the “Real World”

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Through the wonderful serendipity of conferences, I got into an extended conversation with a film educator about what film students, and particularly young women, can do to better position themselves for careers in the technical fields of our industry. As someone who hires production teams regularly, and meets many starting out in our industry when I speak at events like NAB Show or interact with my online students on Lynda.com, here are a few ideas to consider.

Resumes

Credit others, too. When you are just getting started, you are probably not the Director unless it’s your student film. So, if you were the AC on a shoot, be sure to identify the production company and DP (we probably know them and may want to contact them to verify your work).

Be concise. One of my students recently sent me a draft resume of 3 pages, which I reduced to one. He’s got terrific camera department credits, but he’s only been working for 4 years, so one page is sufficient.

Provide references. This might seem self-evident, but your references should say nice things about you. I had a young woman once provide my firm as a reference when she had quit her summer internship with us about a week into it, and not shown up to an important shoot. Hmmm.

Social media. Remember prospective employers will be checking out your Twitter feed, your Facebook page, your blog. Since a lot of millennial crew members use Snapchat, someone on the team might have seen your posts there, too. I’m not suggesting being someone other than who you are, but think about how these reflect on your personal and professional brand.

Apply for appropriate jobs/Help others. I recently put out a call for a Set PA on our DC Women in Film and Video list-serve and got dozens of resumes from DP’s. I’m not likely to consider these folks for DP work, since they didn’t seem able to read instructions. Only one of them prefaced their email with “I realize you’re not looking for a DP for this shoot, but…” etc.  Even that is not really a great way to market. I was much more excited about an email from a DP telling me about a Set PA she thought was terrific, and giving me that person’s contact info. You’ve been helpful to me so now I’m going to keep you on my short list or try to be helpful to you in some way. Karma!

Send only as a PDF. ‘Nuff said.

Portfolio

Balance student work with paid work. Make sure you are posting those clips that best represent your best qualities. A brief line of explanation is helpful—i.e. “I was able to bring this low-budget feature in on time, and on budget, with a team of 6.”

The sizzle reel. I have mixed feelings about these. They can be overly selective and not representative of your work. On the other hand, for aspiring DP’s, editors, and graphics designers, they can be very helpful in demonstrating to a prospective client/employer your unique voice or style. You need to update regularly, so that can become costly/time intensive.

Offer links on your resume. You can include links to your work on company websites, YouTube or Vimeo pages, just be sure to make clear what your credits are on the show.

Networking.

Be polite, be bold. At conferences, workshops, guest lectures, go introduce yourself (especially you, young women!). Don’t apologize. Don’t brag. Make a Specific Ask. For example, would you review my resume? Would you speak to me for 10 minutes by phone about a job offer choice I have? (Do not ask to take us to lunch or coffee!)

Say where you want to go. “I’m working towards being a DP and currently working as an AC…” “I’m a production office PA but working towards becoming an editor…”  This helps the person you’re speaking to understand the big picture quickly and how they might (or may not) be able to help.

Amy DeLouise is attending the University Film and Video Conference, where she’ll be speaking on Tuesday, August 2nd at 11:30 AM about Multi-Platform Production Strategies (6P La Sirena III). Her new book, The Producer’s Playbook: Real People on Camera (Focal/Routledge) is available in the Vendor room.

 

 

 

 

Storytelling with Real People on Camera

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Focal Press/Routledge has just published my new book on a subject near and dear to me: working with non-actors on camera. As an impact filmmaker mainly for nonprofits, my work largely revolves around “real people” stories. When Focal approached me about writing the book, my first thought (other than how to fit it into my crazy producing and family life schedule) was what would be truly useful for working directors and producers? How could I frame the issues, the challenges, and the solutions in a handy, brief text? Here’s a little trailer I produced to give an inside look at what’s covered in this resource. I greatly appreciate your passing this along to anyone you know who tells video stories with non-professionals on camera!

To buy the book at a 20% discount, use code FLR40 at checkout here.