10/03/2023- entry 12
It was December, 2018. I was nervous. I had clients coming all the way from London to Chicago - IN THE MIDDLE OF WINTER - for a shoot which I already felt so emotionally connected to. So much so that I had taken a step away from producing this one to focus on directing (which is very hard for me).
Let me take a step back… In October of 2018 (though I SWEAR IT WAS EARLIER), when Big Teeth first got the email about this potential project with Southpaw out of London, for their client, ghd, which featured a tattoo artist in Chicago who did mastectomy tattoos. I had NEVER heard of such a thing. I knew several people who had had breast cancer. Many survived, some, sadly, did not. But I truly never thought about the devastation people must feel after kicking cancer's ass but still not being able to look at themselves in the mirror after losing their breasts. The second I saw David Allen’s work and read about him I knew I had to do this job. I had so many questions for him and for the people who let him into their lives so they could feel beautiful again.
I busted my ass to get that job. I had to make changes to my original team, sacrifice some of my vision for budget, revise and revise a treatment but it was all worth it (and our final team was incredible). But then the day came and I was nervous as hell. Would I be able to make the talent comfortable, in some of their most vulnerable moments, while still making the clients happy?
What I didn’t realize going into this project is how much it would change my life. The people, the passion, the love, the energy, the rawness, the honesty. This was real, and while we were ultimately there to make a piece that promoted a brand, (albeit the good they were doing in the fight against breast cancer) we were telling the story of one person’s battle and a big part of her personal healing process.
I’d say we accomplished what we set out to do and my hope is that everyone who was there on those 3 days in December 2018 felt seen and still looks back on the experience as one they will never forget even if it didn’t inspire their first feature documentary!!
For the past almost 5 years, not a day goes by where breast cancer is not on my mind. Making this film has introduced me to more survivors and the artists and organizations who help them. It has allowed us to connect survivors with artists all around the world and help support groups like P.Ink and NAMI. I can’t imagine what the past years of life would have been like without those 3 days in December 2018.
Check out the final ghd piece here: https://www.bigteeth.tv/ghd
8/24/2023- entry 11
Where does a filmmaker draw inspiration from? Well, I’ll tell you where a lot of it comes from for me, watching films. In the process of making UnScarred I have watched more documentaries than I ever thought I would in my whole life.
They inspire me, they give me ideas, they teach me. They help me figure out structure, graphics, ways to manage stories you don’t have supporting footage for and even dictate additional shots I may want to capture. For the past two years I’ve had “Watch a Doc” on my calendar, blocked out, every Friday morning. Sadly though I didn’t always keep up. Maybe that’s because I had no one to hold me accountable. So now, here I am telling you, my hopefully more than 3 readers that I WILL watch at least one (and ideally 2) docs a week until the end of 2023. Then I will even share some of my thoughts about the films on UnScarred’s FB and Instagram channel. #whatselisewatching
But I need your help. I certainly hear about a lot of films through podcasts I listen to, word of mouth and who has the best placement on platforms I’m on frequently (Netflix, Hulu, Max, Amazon) but I know I’m missing some of the best option out there. That’s where you come in. What’s the best doc you’ve watched recently? Maybe it was twenty years ago and it really made an impression on you! Make sure to respond to my posts or message @unscarredfilm on instragram with your film, your friends film, your favorite film… I’m even open to doc series! Though I will say I’ve been putting off Get Back (which I know I’ll love) because 8 hours seems like a big committment - but I WILL DO IT!
Here I leave you with some of my favorite docs over my lifetime:
Waiting for Superman
Far From the Tree
And my newest favorite…. Judy Blume Forever, a film directed by Davinda Pardo and Leah Wolchok. I had the pleasure of meeting Leah via Zoom through a friend. Thanks to her for being so willing to give this new Doc Director the time and the advice she did.
So hit me with your favs and make sure to follow #whatelisewatching @unscarredfilm
7/15/2023- entry 10
Grants… everyone has heard the word grant. The exact definition of grant when used as a noun is: “a sum of money given by a government or other organization for a particular purpose”.
Creative people want them. They don’t require you to pay them back, you just have to show you have used them for the purpose in which they have been given. But boy oh boy are they hard to get.
So hard that people have careers in grant writing alone! Full people dedicated just to knowing exactly how to use the right words to pique the interest of the reader or to entice the bot to read more. Organizations can employ grant writers because the reward of getting a grant far outways the salary of the writer. And it's perhaps that grant money that also keeps that writer employed.
But for those of us who are independent filmmakers, it is much harder to justify bringing a grant writer on board. Especially with the competitive nature of film specific grants. I have not researched the actual % but based on all my conversations with members of the documentary community, the chances of getting a film grant are very very slim. But yet here I am completing several applications, knowing that it's perhaps just a few words that make the difference between me standing out or being tossed in the trash bin.
So I’ve turned my attention to grants that give based on theme, not film specific grants. I still have not had much luck but I am hoping that the idea of a documentary film that showcases or supports certain causes will stand out from the crowd. Modern Judaism, Breast Cancer, LGBTQ+ and Mental Health Organizations have been my focus. If you are reading this and you have thoughts or know of funding through any groups touching those areas, please let me know. If you are a filmmaker and have had success securing grant funding without a dedicated grant writer, what are your secrets? If you are a grant writer who is touched by this film and interested in helping us, please reach out.
I started my last blog out by mentioning that not writing blogs is hurting my SEO - and that’s because there aren’t more words driving traffic to the site. Well, I suppose I have found that parallel with grants. If only we had someone dedicated to both the SEO and the Grant Writing… I’m hopeful we’d be in a very different place in July of 2023! But we’re still moving forward - this film will happen!
4/24/2023- entry 09
The lapses in blog writing have to be hurting my SEO! I have come to realize that having one person dedicated to each part of this film would be ideal, leaving me to just log my experiences here and direct this thing. But since I’m flying solo on a lot of the parts of this journey it takes a lot longer to get anything done. We’re now in year 3 since UnScarred was born and the past few months have brought one big down….
We lost Melvric. Melvric was a kind, generous and passionate soul whose life was extended by ten years after having his double lung transplant. I was lucky enough to experience a huge change in him over the 2.5 years I knew him. He was truly an inspiration to me as I watched him express what he wanted and then go for it. His life was full of ups and downs, many many downs when it came to his health… but the man I knew had a strength, a confidence, a drive that gave him the will to live through it all, until he just couldn’t. I can’t help but think some of his experience in this film gave him some of the best memories in his last years.
On a much less serious and emotional note, but not a good one, we have also struggled to find a tattoo historian to be an expert for the film. We have spoken to several very knowledgeable people and constantly been re-referred to them. However no one has been able to commit to an on camera interview with us. We’re still going to search, but at the very least we will take the preliminary info they gave us to craft a script.
Now to the positive….
We have a new (but not to replace, this is an additional) fiscal sponsor based right here in Chicago, only a few miles from our office. If you’ve read my blogs (which are few and far between) you know my first (and only) grant was received by Chicago’s DCASE (the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events) as a part of the “Individual Artists” program. When I received an invite to a cocktail party for all the 2022 DCASE grantees I was hesitant to attend. After all, I won as an individual and it was likely I’d know no one there. But I thought, will I regret it if I don’t go? So I went! Boy did I make the right choice.
Aside from the overall cool vibe and entertainment I met several other Individual Artist grantees. But most importantly I met Juan, Tanner and Kevin from The Design Museum of Chicago within 5 minutes of my arrival! I quickly came to learn that they have served as fiscal agents for projects before and they seemed to like the concept of UnScarred. Was it a sign that Tanner had a tattoo over an old scar on his wrist? Let’s just say, IT WAS!
We met on Valentine’s day so I could tell them all about the film. We watched together as a delivery person crossed the street with way too many heart shaped balloons, and we all wished they were for us. Soon after, they informed me that their board voted enthusiastically and unanimously to bring UnScarred on! So… if you know where all those Illinois specific grants and funding opportunities are, then send them my way!
I’m also in the process of creating an advisory board for the film. This board will be made up of filmmakers, fundraising and non-profit professionals. It is my hope that this team can help lift us from the fundraising slump we’ve been in and help guide us to the next phase in our filmmaking journey… Post Production!
And HOPEFULLY I can write another one of these is less time than it took to write this one.
11/16/2022 - entry 08
It is the time of year where we honor and acknowledge everything we are thankful for. 2022 has proven to be, for me personally, much tougher than 2020. Perhaps it's settling into the new normal, perhaps it's the “recession, not recession” waffling, perhaps it's simply a change in how people do work. Whatever the answer is, or the multiple answers, it all seems harder. But, what I can say is that I am extremely grateful and thankful for the community we’ve built through UnScarred.
In May I wrote a blog post about how hard it is to make a film. Well, I’m standing by that. It’s been 6 more months and we are in a very similar spot. I mentioned launching a crowdfunding campaign, but we simply did not have the resources we needed to kick that off.
BUT…. some good news! We got our first grant!! And while we wait to find out about a couple more, at least this one will help us film with some of our needed experts. People say once you get your first one the rest shall follow… but it's hard to see the sunlight through the trees.
We estimate needing $170,000 to finish the film, get it to festivals and lock in distribution. used to be given budgets drastically above 170K to produce a stand alone :30 commercial and that didn’t include the media buy.
Which brings up something even more interesting, corporate support. Today so many companies have corporate giving initiatives, philanthropic divisions whose goal is to find non-profits who align with their missions and show the public what their values are. Where are those companies who focus on body positivity, mental health awareness and art? I’m prepared to apply! Maybe they don’t have grant money but they have a matching program. However, we still need an in to break through the clutter, have a connection, have an “in”.
No matter what happens next we’re keeping our social channels going, even focusing on more TikTok posting, and are fully prepared to hit the ground running as soon as the funding allows us to do so.
So, don’t wait any longer go to www.unscarredfilm.com/donate and please please help spread the word.
5/20/2022 - entry 07
It has been a long time since I’ve written.. 8 months actually. I think maybe that’s because I’ve been embarrassed...
Making a film is HARD! I mean, I’ve produced all kinds of content in my lifetime. Recently I even taught a course on producing at my alma mater Indiana University! With some help I've created and produced other people’s lives and raised them to their current ages of 7, 10 and 11 (yes, the 11 year old is a dog but she still needs mommy to care for her). But this film…. Wow, the hardest project I’ve ever taken on. It's also hard not to feel like I’m failing at it when we started the process in March of 2020!
If you asked me two years ago where I’d be with my film in two years I would have quickly said “In festivals”. Despite having every filmmaker I have ever talked to say documentaries take 5-10 years to make, I was COMMITTED to proving them wrong and having UnScarred be screened by thousands by the summer of 2022. I forgot however that passion and determination alone can not make a movie. Though it certainly helps. Otherwise I would have quit a year ago!
And yet here we are… not very different from where we were a year ago.
Still begging for the money
Still wrangling the archival assets
Still asking for favors from crews, editors and friends
Still meeting consultants over zoom
Still attending seminars regularly
Still applying for grants
But it isn’t all bad - in fact, if not for the time that has passed we our stories would have unraveled differently. Our major themes have shifted and our network has grown, we’re meeting tattoo historians from all over the world and…..
WE’RE STARTING TO EDIT OUR FILM!! We’re going to make this film no matter what so we’ll keep plugging along.
But we do need your help!
Do you know a social media influencer who would be touched by our film? We need their help!
Do you know of any organizations or corporations who provide funding for projects that promote body positivity?
Do you want to join a committee to help UnScarred get this film done by the end of 2022?
Look out for our crowdfunding campaign to launch in the next month!
9/20/2021 - entry 06
Making a documentary is TOUGH! It's exhausting! But boy is it fulfilling.
You know what is not fulfilling - not being able to finish it in the time frame you want.
I put a lot of hard deadlines on myself. It motivates me. It gives me something to work towards but there are factors I can not control and this past month has thrown a lot of them at me. That is why I’ve been so delayed in writing this blog entry, and why its gonna be a long one.
If you didn’t know, I own my business with my husband. We also have three children — two human, one canine. As much as I love making this film, I also love them. This has been a year wrought with stress, anxiety, and a lot of frustration and recently I’ve noticed how much I’ve allowed the happiness I experience making the film overshadow all of our connections. They've supported the making of this film since the beginning (Carmen has even donated two of her own dollars!)... but I need create a better work/life balance. With the kids back at school full time, this will be easier to accomplish.
health & covid
All of UnScarred has happened during Covid-19. The idea was born, the research and “casting”, the filming. We have followed precautions; we have delayed shoots due to exposure but what we didn’t fully anticipate was one of our own testing Covid positive just a week before our shoot. Immediately the shoot was postponed as we worried and worried about Melvric’s health, checking in often. As Melvric is an immunocompromised lung transplant survivor, I was even more concerned that he wouldn’t pull through. It was heartbreaking to be in Colorado at the concert I was supposed to go to with him, at the hotel where he works scouting for a future shoot date, knowing he was knowing he was struggling with his health. And while he’s certainly struggling to get his lungs back to tip top shape, he seems to be on the up and up and hopefully we’ll be together in person in October!
The other thing we have to postpone or at least reconsider are the fundraising events we had started to plan in NYC and Philly. Both involved IN PERSON gatherings to help woo donors. But with the Delta variant, we have made the decision to not plan anything in person at this point. While outdoor events could work, especially if we required vaccinations, fall and winter weather are hard to plan around. So, we have to be creative while not bombarding people with virtual events. Send ideas our way if you have any!
It’s hard!!! We have put our feelers out in every which way. We’ve contacted surgeons, survivors, artists, family foundations, philanthropists and more. We’ve applied for grants, done virtual fundraisers, gone to conventions and stayed on top of our social channels. Still, we have only managed to raise a small percentage of what we need to finish this film. That, of course, is the largest road block. And as we continue to talk about UnScarred any chance we get, all we can do is HOPE that the right person hears about us, the right person with a lot of influence and hopefully enough money to move us forward.
No matter what, I want to be submitting a finished film to festivals next Summer/Fall. There is no part of me that is going to stop that from happening. It just means things will happen a bit slower than my anxious mind would like!
8/11/2021 - entry 05
I can’t believe I’m home from Philadelphia. I was so looking forward to that trip for weeks and weeks and now it is behind me. It was well worth it and oh so much fun but also OH SO MANY STAIRS TO WALK UP WITH GEAR, a good workout for the calves.
There may or may not have been a tapping a bumper incident in which our PA was yelled at by a woman on the street. Perhaps no one will ever know what truly happened.
We fought against the timing of a thunderstorm to try and get an interview done outside - an interview in which did get done but during which we...
Got locked out of Molly’s building with the keys just inside the door after a delivery man neglected to acknowledge our door stop.
Likely the biggest hiccup of them all…the Tornado watch in Philly that was a warning closer to Molly’s parent’s home. So, they turned around enroute to Philly. And while not IDEAL we were able to get a nice interview with them through Zoom certainly opening us up to more variations on footage look/feel.
Due to our aggressive schedule (yet again) we had to scrap a few of our shots: Molly and one of her oldest friends on FaceTime and footage of Molly doing her work as a Physical Therapist - may just mean going back another time : )
It took a lot more time than expected to get Molly’s wardrobe/microphone figured out
I realized after camera wrapped that I didn’t ask Molly any questions about a key topic - so troubleshooting has already begun.
Probably the biggest hiccup at all - Hard Drives… we shot A LOT and we maxed out our drives (without backing up twice). To add to it, Carlos forgot his computer at the final location so there was a slight panic at 1:30am. I boarded a plane back to Chicago without all the footage. Giving me heightened anxiety which has only been added to the fact that the upload of the remaining footage is just not working so well. .
Don’t fret, the computer has been retrieved!!!
Seeing Shalik and Kevin twice in 8 days and watching Shalik FINALLY get her tattoo completed
Meeting Todd in Person
Reuniting with Molly and getting the chance to stay in her home with the adorable Mindy Sparkle and get to see her life in action.
THE SCONES and Almond Croissant from the Bakehouse right around the corner Molly’s
Monk’s Belgian cafe: Incredible Belgian beers and (make fun of me all you want) Seitan cheesesteak.
The love and dedication of Molly’s friends - a particular shout out to Dana for opening her office and her home for us.
The post shoot day Yoga class at Maha yoga which just made me realize how little I had taken care of my body over the past 2 weeks but felt amazing.
The crew! Carlos, Guido, Alex and Brandon. I just love working with a team that gels + discovering that Carlos just “gets me” - I’m blown away by the footage we got and can’t wait to put the pieces together.
And now I rush back to doing the work that is the hardest for me… fundraising! While also planning Chicago, Denver and NYC shoots. Please, if you are reading this, spread the word about UnScarred. We need all the support we can get to bring this film to life.
8/2/2021 - entry 04
Over week ago I landed in Cleveland, spent a quiet night with my mom and a bowl of chicken and rice soup from Corky and Lenny’s, and tried to convince myself that my super aggressive schedule for Shalik’s shoot day would go off without a hitch.
I can say with absolute certainty it did not! But that does not mean it wasn’t wonderful.
Shalik’s parents' very quiet neighborhood was not so quiet on Thursday Morning, July 22. I think everyone on the whole street was having construction done or mowing their lawn.
I got a bit concerned for Steve (cameraman)’s health in the back of the car filming while holding the camera for so long.
We had a couple conversations with the cops at the Akron Children’s hospital to buy us some time
We had a miscommunication of where to meet for one location and ALMOST missed the very small window we had with a key interview.
It was VERY sunny and for those of you who are production folks, you know, that’s never ideal.
The size of the camera makes a huge difference. Sometimes you have to go with the person over the right camera but if you’re trying to hit 5 locations in 1 day - GO LIGHT!!!!
Always have postcards about the film on hand. You never know who you will meet who is VERY Interested in what you’re doing.
It may actually be better to shoot guerilla style and ask for permission later (or after you get stopped by the cops)
It's not easy to back up footage in the back of a car
Shalik is amazing! And I can’t wait to see her again in Philly! Ok, Kevin is pretty darn cool himself.
I definitely don’t need to tote my clipboard around, but a fanny pack… that’s useful.
And now, I’m on to Philly with 2 key days of filming ahead of me. And if I'm being honest, these two days are certainly putting me in a financial hole. I have complete faith that I can bring this money in at some point and I guess deep down I know I will or I wouldn't spend a large chunk of my own to make this shoot happen. And boy oh boy do I have another whirlwind shoot planned but I’m pumped.
It better be less turbulent than my flight here was. I hope the pending storms stay far away from me and I hope that Molly and her infinite amount of friends actually have fun and enjoy their time on camera. I hope that very much for Shalik too even though I know she’s currently tossing and turning thinking about how nervous she is for part two of her tattoo.
7/20/2021 - entry 03
When I was in the “casting” process for the film, never in my life did I expect to find someone from Northeast, Ohio! I thought for sure my stories would hit NY, LA and of course Chicago but to tell someone’s story who grew up less than an hour from me, that was kismet. I’m extremely proud of my hometown of Cleveland and feel an immediate connection to people from that general area (even the Westsiders). When Shalik’s story fell in our laps, or shall I say “inbox”, and we had our first call, I felt an immediate bond. Who knows, Shalik may feel differently but I’m telling you from my perspective, the energy, the passion and the general midwestern vibe (despite her living in the east coast now) just hooked me. And from that moment until now, despite never being in the same physical space, we have continued to bond, and laugh ourselves to tears.
This woman is a force and to have the chance to film her in her hometown, in the place where life changed for her as a teenager is very special. To get a glimpse into her younger years is something I’m very much looking forward to. I’m also looking forward to lunch from Aladdin’s which happens to be one of her favorites and carries a lot of memories for me! But mostly, I’m looking forward to meeting the people who raised her cause they did a damn good job.
7/14/2021 - entry 02
Rochester is now behind and from what little I saw, I certainly enjoyed it – especially staying directly across from the art museum in a converted school building (named for Alexander Hamilton). And despite some next-door neighbor partying until after 4am (thank goodness I sleep with a sound machine) I’d go back and stay there again (just maybe not on a Tuesday night when 80% of the restaurants in the area are closed!)
Shoot day - what a thrill. The anticipation made it hard to wait until the camera was ready to see Loo in person for the first time but I did!
We were fighting a weather forecast that called for storms all day and with more than ½ of our filming planned for outdoors the producer in me stressed the whole time, even when I knew hourly we were in the clear.
Our Rented camera showed up missing 2 items so we were delayed starting as we waited for them to be delivered.
A last-minute funeral took one of our featured players out in the middle of the day (activating Cecilia and I to quickly swap things around)
One of our “talent’ had a few family emergencies pop up so we had to move forward without her.
And…there may have been a little “lost in a cemetery” action going on too. I should note that in regards to cemetery shoots, I am extremely creeped out being in cemeteries. But that shoot, with my mind focused on other things (like an eminent torrential downpour) I began to get over my fear. So much so that by the time this is published I will have been at 3 more cemeteries and likely not panicking while there.
One thing I’ll be including in all my shot day blogs is my list of lessons learned. Hopefully other filmmakers out there will already know some of these or could learn from them, though each film is quite different and some of my lessons may be a bit more person (like #2 on today’s list)
1. Always have a dedicated audio person on each of my “day in the life” shoot days and have them keep rolling even if the camera’s off.
2. Make sure the person you are featuring takes you to at least one of their favorite spots for a treat: coffee, juice, ice cream….(ok, this is just a personal note!)
3. It’s okay to not make advances in your friendship with the folks you’re interviewing on that day – there is plenty of time for that in the future. Your goal, get a glimpse into their life without you in it!
4. Capture the mundane: The sitting, the thinking, the cooking – and don’t make them talk while doing it!!!
5. If at all possible, especially with a small crew, make sure you, as the director have a direct line to the cameraman’s ear. The risk of ruining a wonderful and real moment is certainly more likely if you have to walk into a room!
Highlight of the day: A home cooked “Garbage Plate” made by Bonnie and Loo. A Rochester tradition that may sound a bit weird but tastes a lot good!
But boy, what a day. I truly feel I know Loo’s life just being in their home, seeing their world and dining at their table. Our team was made to feel so welcome. I know that Loo wants their story told just as much as I want to tell it and I’m so honored to get to do so!
That’s all for now! Thanks to Bonnie, Loo, Olivia, and of course, the adorable Kevin!
6/29/2021 - entry 01
Fifteen months, that’s how long I’ve been working on my first feature documentary, originally called, The Untitled Tattoo Documentary, Jews and Tattoos, My Body My Canvas and what finally became…. UnScarred. Fifteen months in which I have thought about the topic day and night, met countless people who are touched by the subject or passionate about having their voices heard.
When I say “met” I should clarify - the amount of zoom meeting recordings I have is insane. Actual personal interaction has been limited. Yet somehow in the midst of the pandemic I, along with the fearless Cecilia, my Associate Producer, have garnered support, connections and friends all over the world.
Thus far we have had five shoot days for the film, only two which we physically attended, behind masks in Chicago, many feet apart. And while I think I managed remote directing the best I could, nothing compares to being there in person. And now, the summer of 2021 is the time. This week I embark on the first of at least 6 days of filming before September. This week, I head to Rochester, NY to film with Loo and I can’t wait to give them a BIG HUG. I feel like I know everyone so well at this point and as a hugger, it pains me to have not physically touched ANY of the survivors throughout this process.
Then in July it's off to Philly and in August New York, another couple days filming in Chicago and then Colorado - So Molly, Shalik, Shako, Quemuel, Laura, Stephanie, Brenda and Melvric, I’m coming for you and you better be ready!
I won’t lie, I’m a bit nervous - I haven’t been on a plane in fifteen months, the filming timeline is aggressive and I haven’t raised the money I need to do all of this, but nevertheless I’m gonna power through. After all, as I sit here watching my children avoid going to bed, running around screaming, I think about all I have juggled over the fifteen months - all the pressures of keeping a business alive, supporting two elementary school aged children as they navigated virtual school (one in spanish immersion), being a short order cook, serving on three non-profit committees or boards and trying to maintain relationships with my friends and family who don’t live in my home.
But what rises above all of that, when I really reflect on the past 15 months, is the education I've received, what the survivors in the film have taught me, and what my own deep dive into understanding hate, both of oneself and of others has allowed me to understand and fight to change. It's all of this that makes me realize I will persevere, this film WILL be made, no matter what! So stay tuned for more behind the scenes posts as I make my way through this nutty production schedule!