Becoming An Award Winning Film Maker at 50
I was born in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, the only child to the two most supportive and loving parents who were both school teachers. I was a happy kid who excelled in school, played sports and was fortunate enough to travel extensively with my mom and dad. I attended Cornell University in Ithaca, NY and majored in biology. Afterwards, I applied to medical school but did not gain acceptance on the first try. Rather than try again the next round, I moved to NYC and made the decision to work in research in nuclear medicine with the plan of reapplying to medical school. Well, I lost the nerve to reapply and I ended up in NYC with a degree in biology and no idea of what I was going to with my life. After stumbling a bit I found a way to use my science background, pharmaceutical sales. I became a sales representative for SmithKline Beecham Pharmaceuticals.
While working at SmithKline Beecham, I found the courage to reapply to medical school, and low and behold, I was accepted. Unfortunately, I made a decision that has affected and plagued me to this day. I listened to my fiancé who DISCOURAGED me from acting on my acceptance because it would put a strain on our relationship due to how much I would have to pay back in loans after med school. Basically, my fiancé, who was a podiatrist, did not want me to become an MD as he felt that I would outshine him in the end. Nonetheless, one can’t blame others for the choices made on one’s own. My career at SmithKline Beecham was cut short as I was struck and injured by a car driven by a drunk driver. I suffered a fractured knee which led to a long recovery and ultimately termination from the company. During this time, I was married and had my first child. After being terminated, I made the choice to leave the workforce and stay home with my son, Justin. Two years after Justin, my daughter Chandler was born. The time I spent with my two great kids were some of the best years of my life.
Unfortunately, my marriage ended in divorce after 16 years. While licking my wounds from the divorce I went back to school at Fordham University and got my MBA with a concentration in marketing. During my time in grad school, I met a wonderful man named Peter Fish. Outside of the moments when Justin and Chandler were born, meeting and falling in love with Peter was one of the brightest points in my life. I was also fortunate that my children took very well to Peter’s caring and gentle manner.
Well, I am the queen of bad timing. I graduated from b-school in 2011 right after the collapse of the economy in 2008, and I struggled to find a job. I became very depressed. Peter, who is an Emmy-award winning composer for film and TV, suggested that I work with him and help with marketing of his studio in addition to doing sync licensing and talent wrangling. I loved all that he threw at me, and I was good at it. I immediately fell in love with all that the TV/film industry has to offer. I was drawn to the pace, the energy, the access to unlimited creativity and the ability to practice my craft and be my own boss. The only problem was that I hadn’t developed a craft. Being the ever-supportive partner that he is, Peter suggested that I find a skill that could be applied in the TV and Film business and hone that skill. He only had to tell me once; I learned how to edit videos and took to it very quickly. I edited for Peter and other clients, but I soon grew disenchanted with the environment in which an editor works, alone and in a dark room. However, I realized what intrigued me about this business was documentary film making. I took a workshop on documentary film making, and I was bitten by the bug.
The workshop required a final project of a 15-minute or less short documentary. I chose to do my final project on a young man by the name of Jesse Cohen. At the time, Jesse was a busker (street musician) in the NYC subway. He had recently experienced a painful divorce. Jesse left everything behind in Oklahoma and decided come to NYC and perform in the subways for his food and rent. The film’s title was “Jesse and the Fountain of Youth”. The short doc focused on who Jesse was and why he chose busking as a way of making a living. This 11-minute film became the start of my documentary film career. I remember coming home from a long day of work and in the mail was a letter requesting my immediate attention to RSVP the VIP party at the McMinnville, Oregon Short Film Festival. I was floored! My little film was accepted to a film festival in Oregon! Well, I went on to win “Best Emerging Artist”. “Jesse and The Fountain of Youth” went on to screen in the official selection of 25 festivals and won 9 various awards such as “Best Short Doc”, “Best Short Film” and many more.
Stressed that I wouldn’t be able to make another doc, Peter stated, “Find an interesting topic and do it again.” My next film, Brooklyn United, a film about an inner-city marching band in Crown Heights, NY, was accepted to multiple festivals, won many awards and was part of the Cannes Film Festival Short Corner. After doing one more doc, I felt that it was time to do a feature doc. To quote Peter again, “Making a feature is like making 8 little docs pieced together. You can do this!” And I did!
That film is “Not Black Enough” an 83-minute doc about a phenomenon in the black culture where people work harder at preventing progress rather than motivating each other, for fear of alienation or other various reasons discussed in the film. “Not Black Enough” features, singer/actress Vanessa Williams, PBS anchor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., rapper Petey Pablo and Grammy Award-winning singer Florence LaRue of the 5th Dimension. The film has won Best Documentary at the Women of the World Festival in Dubai, Best Documentary at The Austin Revolution Film Festival, Best Documentary at the Laughlin International Film Festival, Audience Award at the SENE Film and Music Festival, and a few more. I am also fortunate that “Not Black Enough’ has been picked up for distribution.
I just completed a documentary titled, “Livingston Taylor-Life Is Good” about singer/songwriter Livingston Taylor, brother of James Taylor. My next documentary is called, “N”, a film about the casualization of the use of the word, ‘nigger’ in society, pop-culture, etc.
If someone were to ask what my formula for success is, my only advice is to trudge forward with a passion, pass go and do not stop. Many people along the way tried to discourage me, but I continued to stay true to what I wanted and needed to do without looking back. I am also blessed to be in a relationship with someone who supports me in all that I do. One cannot do this alone. To steal Nike’s motto, ‘Just do it!’. I did and I’m never stopping!
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