A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the filmmaker workshop at the American Conservation Film Festival located in the lovely Shepherdstown, WV. The workshop was housed in the U.S Fish and Wildlife Training Center, which looked like a temple complex to American conservation. This was a very big deal for me being the long-time conservation nerd that I am. It was the first festival I ever attended saying that I was a filmmaker, which was exhilarating, even though I wasn't screening anything. And to top it all off, I took home a $1000 prize to develop a film I've been hoping to make for years.
Like many aspiring documentary filmmakers, I always have a possible next project in mind, and I sit on some of my better ideas for years. I had the opportunity to pitch one of them at the pitch panel that took place at the festival. I didn’t have any pitch ready when I arrived, but the organizer of the workshop Jeff Feldman convinced me after some of my classmates told him about the ideas I was sharing around the lunch table. My idea for the film was brewing for a few years, so I was comfortable pitching it even though I had minimal time to prepare. The worst that could happen was that I’d embarrass myself while the pay off was experience, criticism from industry professionals, and possibly some money towards my film. Thankfully, I let my subject speak for itself; an exploratory documentary on the disease-ridden population of rhesus monkeys living in central Florida.
I won second place and received some really good feedback about how to the production of my project. They asked me good clarifying questions that helped solidify the idea for the film. Thankfully my friend and fellow American University Center for Environmental Filmmaking (AU CEF) graduate assistant Beth Ebisch took notes for me, knowing that I would probably be too overwhelmed on the stage to take in all the good advice. I had been mulling over the idea for the monkey film for so long that I thought I may never make the film but the extra encouragement, along with the 1000 dollar second place prize from the Allemall Foundation, will finally jump start my project.
Two representatives of the American Bird Conservancy, Aditi Desai, an AU alum and CEF research fellow, and her colleague Grant Sizemore, won first place with their pitch for a film on better practices for being an outdoor cat owner to try and alleviate some of the horrible local environmental impacts our feline friends can impose on local ecosystems.
I’d like to thank Jeff Feldman and Jennifer Lee for organizing the workshop and for all of their help. I’d also like to thank Ed Scott and the Allemall Foundation for their generous contribution and for supporting up and coming conservation filmmakers.
I came to film school at AU because I wanted an opportunity to make my own films. My advice is to go to more festivals and to pitch anywhere you can. You never know when you’ll have the opportunity to get a dream project off the ground.