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Opinion Editorials

Filmmaker sheds light on the obstacles of documenting social issues

(EDITORIAL) Documentary filmmaker, Eli Steele, talks to The American Genius about the different obstacles involved with creating films surrounding social issues.

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documentary

Where creativity meets passion

Bringing a film to life is a lot like the dichotomies of the right and left side of the brain. The right side is more creative and artistic while the left side is more logical.

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When creating a movie, you have the right side which entails the inspiration and vision for the film, while the left side is the business aspect that produces the film.

Art of the documentary

Documentary filmmaker Eli Steele discusses with The American Genius how he’s worked to bring both his right and left side together in order to create a body of work that examines social issues.

After working on mainly the artistic side for years, Steele eventually decided to launch his own production company.

His most recent film, “I Am or How Jack Became Black,” was inspired by a Los Angeles public school system threatening to deny his son enrollment into school if Steele did not select a “primary race” on the admissions form. Along with being multiracial, Steele is also deaf which has had an influence on his interest in social issues.

What motivated you to begin your own production company?

Like several filmmakers that I know, I started out thinking that filmmaking was purely an art form and not a business. Developing one’s own voice as a filmmaker is an all-consuming challenge and I had spent the previous ten years writing script after script. I worked jobs like Starbucks and the post office. When I finally finished the script that would become my first feature narrative, “What’s Bugging Seth,” the process consumed much of me that I was completely on the artistic side of the film world.

So, when I began the pre-production phase on the film, I couldn’t have been more naive.

Nobody from the Screen Actors Guild, to rental houses like Panavision, would talk to me unless I had a production company. Developing my skills as a writer allowed me to produce a script; however, it would be establishing my own production company and learning the film business on the fly that would allow me to turn the script into an actual film. I learned many lessons through this baptism by fire. Perhaps the most important one: the words you write in a script are never purely artistic for it always takes a production company and all of its business resources to bring those words to life on the screen.

What sparked your interest in documentary filmmaking?

“I Am or How Jack Became Black” marks my return to the documentary format. When I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker in my teens I started by making short documentaries – that’s how I got into college. After graduation, I pursued a career in the independent film world on the narrative side and eventually made “What’s Bugging Seth,” a MTV Network pilot called, “Katrina,” and several other films. However, when my two kids (the third multiracial generation in my family) were born, I began to wonder what America would be like as it grew more multiracial.

Then I came upon this statistic: by the year 2050, at least 20 percent of all Americans will self-identify as two or more races.

This struck a nerve – that’s more than the black population, more than the Asian population. How would this change race in America? I knew right then that this was an issue that I had to explore and that the documentary format would give me the freedom to give my full voice to this issue. It was the subject that dictated the format.

Tell us about your previous work and awards that you have received.

I have worked on many projects, credited and un-credited, but the two biggest projects were the film “What’s Bugging Seth” and the MTV Networks pilot “Katrina.” “What’s Bugging Seth” was a romantic comedy that told the story of a deaf young man who determined to let nothing, not the most absurd comic misunderstandings, stop him from pursuing his dreams and love in an unforgiving world.

This film won awards at over ten film festivals and secured distribution deals in America, UK, and elsewhere.

After “What’s Bugging Seth,” I was invited by Warrington Hudlin (producer of “House Party” and “Boomerang”) along with my sister, Loni, to participate in the Breakthrough Filmmaker’s competition to produce an MTV Network pilot. Our pitch was “Katrina,” a dramedy that told the story of two Hurricane Katrina survivors that end up in San Francisco with a yuppie family headed by two mothers. We won the top award and went on to produce a well-received pilot, “Katrina.” While it was never green-lit for a season, the pilot opened many doors for us.

What is the subject of your current project? What inspired that?

My current documentary, “I Am or How Jack Became Black,” explores the impact of the multiracial baby boom upon Identity Politics-driven America, a country that has shed much blood on the color line. The inspiration for this documentary came when I went to register my multiracial son at his local public elementary school in Los Angeles. To my surprise, we were told we had to reduce my son’s complex identity – black, Jewish, Mexican, white, Native American – to a “Primary Race” box or he would not be allowed to enroll. There was no multiracial box or “check all that apply” type of scenario. (I would later learn that schools that allowed these boxes often put multiracial kids back into the primary race boxes behind the scenes.) What bothered me about this encounter with the school officials was what kind of message was the government sending my son by asking him to reduce his heritage to one race?

At home, we teach him the opposite: to embrace all of who he is.

There are those who have argued with me that these boxes are meaningless, for mere data collection. But, if that is true then why did America’s second largest school district, Los Angeles Unified School District, refuse enrollment to my son unless a “Primary Race” was checked? Why was his race more important than him walking through the school doors? And what value did these race boxes hold if my son essentially had to lie about his racial identity in order to check one? These questions and many others became the driving force behind my documentary that I knew I had to seek answers for.

Your documentary “I Am or How Jack Became Black” dealt with the topic of being forced to select a race in a school admittance setting. Is this something you’ve seen happen in the business world?

I think as a multiracial you often encounter situations in the business world where how you chose to identify racially reflects on you. Because we come from two or more races, we can make people nervous. Where do my racial loyalties lie? Which race am I more of? And so on. I encountered this when pitching film or television ideas to executives. Since my scripts reflected my diverse world-view, some executives would take a roundabout way to figure out what my racial background was.

They wanted to know if I had the racial authority or “street cred” to tell the stories that I wanted.

I found this to be detrimental because once the race issue had been breached it usually dominated the conversation to the end. After these meetings, sometimes I wondered if the pitch had been rejected for its merits alone or if it was because I had said something politically incorrect along racial lines. In the end, it didn’t really matter – that door was closed. I would have to find another open door. And every time I took steps forward I would always come upon another open door. One of them was “I Am or How Jack Became Black.”

What advice would you give to someone looking to get into documentary filmmaking?

A year or two ago, a filmmaker friend asked me to donate to his Kickstarter campaign. His goal was to raise about $50,000. I ran into him recently and asked him how his documentary was progressing. He said he had fallen short of raising the funds and was not pursuing the film. There was absolutely no reason, in my mind, why he could not have gone out and shot the documentary on his downtime. The fact that he let a failed Kickstarter campaign decide his fate showed that he lacked the two most important things: belief and passion. Documentary filmmaking for many filmmakers is the equivalent of flying blindly. You’ve got to step off the cliff. I know and hate that feeling. I’m an introvert and I have had to force myself to do man-on-the-street interviews where you stop a stranger cold for an out-of-the-blue interview.

There were days where I struck out completely.

But I gave myself no choice but to continue this torture and when things finally broke my way and I landed the interview I wanted, it was the best feeling. I would never have spent the five years it took to make “I Am or How Jack Became Black” without belief and passion. And that has always been my advice to anybody embarking on a documentary – make sure you have that belief and passion in the idea to carry you through all the ups and the far many more downs that you surely will encounter.

Has being deaf had any influence on your filmmaking?

People always ask me about my deafness and how it affects my filmmaking. I know why some people are curious, but for me I was born profoundly deaf and it is the only world that I know, the only way of living that I know. I know that some of these people think being deaf comes with obstacles and I don’t disagree. Sometimes when I walk up to someone on the street for an interview I find I can’t hear or lip-read them – like the man without dentures or the woman that I thought was speaking too fast for me to lip-read, but was actually speaking Russian.

Sometimes I’ve been interviewing someone and my cochlear implant battery dies, leaving me praying that their lips are lip-readable.

Other times, I’ve gone in for a job interview and noticed a change in the interviewer’s manners when he or she notices my cochlear implant. While these and many other obstacles are real, I don’t view them as negatives. Instead, I’ve used these obstacles to define me for the positive. It is these obstacles that have forced me to look at the world from a different perspective, an outsider perspective, and that has allowed me to see things that others may not. I know it was being deaf along with being multiracial that gave me this outsider perspective that allowed me to give an unique voice to “I Am or How Jack Became Black.” On a last note, people often ask me if I could magically have normal hearing, would I? My answer always is no. There is no greater reward after a long day of interviews or editing than taking off the cochlear implant and entering a world of complete silence.

#documentary

Staff Writer, Taylor Leddin is a publicist and freelance writer for a number of national outlets. She was featured on Thrive Global as a successful woman in journalism, and is the editor-in-chief of The Tidbit. Taylor resides in Chicago and has a Bachelor in Communication Studies from Illinois State University.

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Opinion Editorials

How to identify and minimize ‘invisible’ work in your organization

(EDITORIAL) Often meaningless, invisible tasks get passed down to interns and women. These go without appreciation or promotion. How can we change that?

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Women in a meeting around table, inclusion as a part of stopping gender discrimination representing invisible work.

Invisible work, non-promotable tasks, and “volunteer opportunities” (more often volun-told), are an unfortunate reality in the workforce. There are three things every employer should do in relation to these tasks: minimize them, acknowledge them, and distribute them equitably.

Unfortunately, the reality is pretty far from this ideal. Some estimates state up to 75% or more of these time-sucking, minimally career beneficial activities are typically foisted on women in the workplace and are a leading driver behind burnout in female employees. The sinister thing about this is most people are completely blind to these factors; it’s referred to as invisible work for a reason.

Research from Harvard Business Review* found that 44% more requests are presented to women as compared to men for “non-promotable” or volunteer tasks at work. Non-promotable tasks are activities such as planning holiday events, coordinating workplace social activities, and other ‘office housework’ style activities that benefit the office but typically don’t provide career returns on the time invested. The work of the ‘office mom’ often goes unacknowledged or, if she’s lucky, maybe garners some brief lip service. Don’t be that boss that gives someone a 50hr workload task for a 2-second dose of “oh yeah thanks for doing a bajillion hours of work on this thing I will never acknowledge again and won’t help your career.”  Yes, that’s a thing. Don’t do it. If you do it, don’t be surprised when you have more vacancies than staff. You brought that on yourself.

There is a lot of top-tier talent out there in the market right now. To be competitive, consider implementing some culture renovations so you can have a more equitable, and therefore more attractive, work culture to retain your top talent.

What we want to do:

  1. Identify and minimize invisible work in your organization
  2. Acknowledge the work that can’t be avoided. Get rid of the blind part.
  3. Distribute the work equitably.

Here is a simple example:

Step 1: Set up a way for staff to anonymously bring things to your attention. Perhaps a comment box. Encourage staff to bring unsung heroes in the office to your attention. Things they wish their peers or they themselves received acknowledgment for.

Step 2: Read them and actually take them seriously. Block out some time on your calendar and give it your full attention.

For the sake of demonstration, let’s say someone leaves a note about how Caroline always tidies up the breakroom at the end of the day and cleans the coffee pot with supplies Caroline brings from home. Now that we have identified a task, we are going to acknowledge it, minimize it, and consider the distribution of labor.

Step 3: Thank Caroline at the team meeting for scrubbing yesterday’s burnt coffee out of the bottom of the pot every day. Don’t gloss over it. Make the acknowledgment mean something. Buy her some chips out of the vending machine or something. The smallest gestures can have the biggest impact when coupled with actual change.

Step 4: Remind your staff to clean up after themselves. Caroline isn’t their mom. If you have to, enforce it.

Step 5: Put it in the office budget to provide adequate cleaning supplies for the break room and review your custodial needs. This isn’t part of Caroline’s job description and she could be putting that energy towards something else. Find the why of the situation and address it.

You might be rolling your eyes at me by now, but the toll of this unpaid invisible work has real costs.  According to the 2021 Women in the Workplace Report* the ladies are carrying the team, but getting little to none of the credit. Burnout is real and ringing in at an all-time high across every sector of the economy. To be short, women are sick and tired of getting the raw end of the deal, and after 2 years of pandemic life bringing it into ultra-sharp focus, are doing something about it. In the report, 40% of ladies were considering jumping ship. Data indicates that a lot of them not only manned the lifeboats but landed more lucrative positions than they left. Now is the time to score and then retain top talent. However, it is up to you to make sure you are offering an environment worth working in.

*Note: the studies cited here do not differentiate non-cis-identifying persons. It is usually worse for individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community.

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Opinion Editorials

5 secrets to a more productive morning, free of distractions

(EDITORIAL) Productivity is king in the office, but sometimes distractions and other issues slow you down. So what can you do to limit these factors?

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distractions stop productivity

Regardless of whether you’re a self-proclaimed morning person or not, more efficient mornings can be catalytic in your daily productivity and output. The only question is, do you know how to make the most of your mornings in the office?

5 Tips for Greater Morning Productivity

In economic terms, productivity is a measure of output as it relates to input. Academics often discuss productivity in terms of a one-acre farm’s ability to produce a specific crop yield, or an auto manufacturing plant’s ability to produce a certain number of vehicles over a period of time. But then there’s productivity in our personal lives.

Your own daily productivity can be defined in a variety of ways. But at the end of the day, it’s about getting the desired results with less time and effort on the input side. And as a business professional, one of the best ways to do this is by optimizing your morning in the office.

Here are a few timely suggestions:

  1. Eliminate All Non-Essential Actions

    Spend the next week keeping a log of every single action you take from the moment your eyes open in the morning until you sit down at your desk. It might look something like this:

    • Turn off alarm
    • Scroll through social media on the phone
    • Get out of bed
    • Eat breakfast
    • Take shower
    • Brush teeth
    • Walk dog
    • Watch news
    • Browse favorite websites
    • Get in car
    • Starbucks drive-thru
    • Arrive at office
    • Small talk with coworkers
    • Sit down at the desk

    If you do this over the course of a week, you’ll notice that your behaviors don’t change all that much. There might be some slight deviations, but it’s basically the same pattern.

    Now consider how you can eliminate as many points of friction as possible from your routine. [Note from the Editor: This may be an unpopular opinion, but] For example, can you skip social media time? Can you make coffee at home, rather than drive five minutes out of your way to wait in the Starbucks drive-thru line? Just doing these two things alone could result in an additional 30 minutes of productive time in the office.

  2. Reduce Distractions

    Distractions kill productivity. They’re like rooftop snipers. As soon as they see any sign of productivity, they put it in their crosshairs and pull the trigger.Ask yourself this: What are my biggest distractions and how can I eliminate them?Popular distractions include social media, SMS, video games, news websites, and email. And while none of these are evil, they zap focus. At the very least, you should shift them to later in the day.
  3. Set Measurable Goals and Action items

    It’s hard to have a productive morning if you don’t have a clear understanding of what it means to be productive. Make sure you set measurable goals, create actionable to-do lists, and establish definitive measurements of what it looks like to be efficient. However, don’t get so caught up in the end result that you miss out on true productivity.“There’s a big difference between movement and achievement; while to-do lists guarantee that you feel accomplished in completing tasks, they don’t ensure that you move closer to your ultimate goals,” TonyRobbins.com mentions. “There are many ways to increase your productivity; the key is choosing the ones that are right for you and your ultimate goals.”In other words, set goals that are actually reflective of productivity. In doing so, you’ll adjust your behavior to come in proper alignment with the results you’re seeking.
  4. Try Vagus Nerve Stimulation

    Sometimes you just need to block out distractions and focus on the task at hand. There are plenty of ways to shut out interruptions but make sure you’re also simultaneously cuing your mind to be productive. Vagus nerve stimulation is one option for doing both.Vagus nerve stimulation gently targets the body’s vagus nerve to promote balance and relaxation, while simultaneously enhancing focus and output.
  5. Optimize Your Workspace

    Makes sure your office workspace is conducive to productivity. This means eliminating clutter, optimizing the ergonomics of your desk, reducing distractions, and using “away” settings on apps and devices to suppress notifications during work time.

Make Productivity a Priority

Never take productivity for granted. The world is full of distractions and your willpower is finite. If you “wing it,” you’ll end up spending more time, energy, and effort, all while getting fewer positive results.

Make productivity a priority – especially during the mornings when your mind is fresh and the troubles of the day have yet to be released in full force. Doing so will change the way you operate, function, and feel. It’ll also enhance tangible results, like income, job status, and the accolades that come along with moving up in your career.

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Opinion Editorials

Is the tech industry layoff bloodbath coming or is it already here?

We have large online communities for job seekers, and we can affirm that the layoffs are on the way, but there is a silver lining for all involved…

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layoff time

If you were on Twitter at the end of last week, you probably saw a dribble of conversations about layoffs in tech coming, and today, the volume was turned up to 10 on social media. Several founders have said they’re cutting parts of teams and are nixing contractors. We’re about to be in a recession, y’all, and we can ALL feel it coming.

While this has been happening all of this calendar year, a pending recession is kicking the stock market in the teeth (especially in tech), and combined with a slowdown in fundraising, fuel has been added to what was simply kindling, and layoffs are already rapidly escalating.

JD isn’t the only one hearing it, my inbox has slowly been lighting up on this topic. In response, Joshua Baer noted that it’s a great time to scoop up talent. Love or hate him, he’s right.

There is a lot of data on tech layoffs, for example, Layoffs.FYI has been tracking meaningfully since COVID began, pulling info from public reports. We expect they’ll be busy for the next few months.

While VC funding in 2021 was at a global high, so far, 2022 has shown a significant slowdown, according to CrunchBase. Many believe valuations are tumified, a bear market is believed to be upon us, and tech firms are struggling to increase profitability, all combining to a bubble about to burst.

As Baer noted, the silver lining is for anyone looking to hire. It’s bad news for anyone about to get a pink slip, but it’s also empowering to know that candidates are still in the driver’s seat in this market and negotiations are still in their favor.

We at AG have communities dedicated completely to job seekers and employers, and have created neutral ground on which they can meet, and they do by the thousands (Austin Digital Jobs and Remote Digital Jobs).

We’re not seeing the “bloodbath” of folks with pink slips in hand yet, BUT today, a dozen mid- to senior- level technologists reached out to me personally that got laid off Monday morning.

With our finger firmly on the tech employment pulse, we agree with the assessment that layoffs are coming.

More on this topic: “Why are tech layoffs coming after such great Q1 earnings?!”

Here’s the TL;DR version in memes:

The end is nigh?
tech layoffs in memes

Seems about right

In and out Morty, a quick 24 hour adventure!

Diversification is the key


The May 2022 stock market

Insert angry title here

It’s fedish!

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