New Filmmakers to the Front

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Chanelle Aponte Pearson leads two of our filmmaking workshops this summer

by Rachel Baron | July 20th, 2020

Chanelle Aponte Pearson wears many hats as an independent filmmaker. She has served as a Senior Producer and COO at MVMT, leading the production for over 15 projects including such breakout hits like Random Acts of Flyness and An Oversimplification of Her Beauty. Her directorial debut, 195 Lewis, went on to win Best Breakthrough Short Form Series at the 2018 Gotham Awards. Chanelle is a proud member of the New Negress Film Society (NNFS), a collective committed to developing, producing, and exhibiting work by Black women and non-binary filmmakers.

This summer she leads our Documentary Budgeting (Thu 7/23) and Developing Your Story (Wed 8/5 + Wed 8/12) online workshops. As the pandemic carries on, we asked Pearson to share what she’s looking forward to, what’s been bringing her joy, and, of course, what kind of advice she has for someone dreaming of making a film.

Rachel Baron: Has anything been inspiring you lately?

Chanelle Aponte Pearson: I actually never went to film school. All of my experience, I pretty much earned through doing. During this time when things have really shut down and a lot of jobs have slowed down for me, I’ve really been taking the opportunity to create my own film school. I’ve been taking a bunch of webinars and educational classes, and just using this time to watch films and TV shows more intentionally, which has been really fun and inspiring. Just geeking out and absorbing as much as I can. And also watching other filmmakers sharing their stories and experiences.

RB: Any pieces or commentary you would recommend?

CAP: I definitely haven’t been watching documentaries, just because you know, there’s a lot going on in the world (laughs), but I really can’t wait to watch the documentary Mucho Mucho Amor. I promised my mom I would watch it with her. I’ve heard amazing things about it and I know one of the producers on the project.

RB: You've been a part of such incredible projects, including Random Acts of Flyness and An Oversimplification of Her Beauty. What are some of the greatest things you've learned through those experiences? And are there projects you’re working on now that you can tell us about?

CAP: During that process, it was learning as I go. Prior to dipping my feet into filmmaking, I was a policy researcher. I went to grad school for nonprofit management and specialized in policy analysis. In addition, I was a student organizer on campus and did a lot of program management, event planning. My foray into filmmaking was leveraging that experience as a program manager.

One of the biggest lessons I learned was being able to recognize the strengths and skills I already have and leveraging it in a different field, which I really try to advocate for for a lot of different filmmakers. Especially people who may not necessarily see filmmaking as a career because they don’t have the so-called expertise. You can tell the story you want to tell, leveraging the strength and skills you already have. What made our projects so beautiful and successful is that we were able to collaborate with so many other creatives in other fields. It incorporates so much in the arts.

One of the other projects we did at MVMT was the webseries 195 Lewis, which I co-wrote and directed. When it came down to the score in post for the series—I’m the type of person who only listens to three people on repeat—I reached out to a friend of mine who had a really great connection with local, underground musicians, majority queer folks of color, trans folks of color. She had never music supervised before, she didn’t necessarily know what that role entailed but she was super excited about it and gave it a try. And I have to say the soundtrack to the series is one of my favorite parts of the project. It’s about being able to recognize the strengths in your community.

Now I’m working with New Negress Film Society, a collective-run, independent production company. It started off as a collective of independent filmmakers supporting each other. We’re all women and nonbinary filmmakers of color. Now we are a production company, developing, producing, and hopefully exhibiting and distributing our work. One of the projects I’m working on right now and helping to produce is Afronauts by Nuotama Bodomo. Her short came out several years ago and she’s been developing it since. As a collective, we’re in the stages of financing the film and supporting her with the script. That’s something I’m really excited about.

RB: What are you looking forward to in teaching our Developing Your Story and Documentary Budgeting workshops?

CAP: I’m just thinking back to my first experience teaching Documentary Budgeting. One of the things I think really connected with students was when explaining how to write their treatment for documentary, which I know can be really hard. Like how can I write a treatment when I haven’t shot anything? It definitely is a chicken and egg issue. But you do have to have a vision for what you create. There may be a milestone you’re hoping to shoot up to or you may know where your ending will be. So your treatment is your visual representation and your budget should be a numerical representation of your treatment, everything in your treatment should be represented in your budget and vice versa. And somehow that just blew people’s minds. They just never thought of it that way. But funders want to see this, that you have a very clear vision as a creative, but that you’re also being practical and taking account of costs.

RB: What would you like to see happen next in independent filmmaking?

CAP: I think this pandemic has exposed the huge cracks that were already there in independent filmmaking, which is the need for a much broader network of support and resources and benefits for independent filmmakers in a way that allows independent film to be sustainable so filmmakers can live healthy, bountiful lives, without feeling the burdens of catastrophe. I remember a fellow producer who was talking about one of their collaborators and longtime friends, who had produced scores of films, but became really ill towards the end of her life and essentially passed away poor. This pandemic is exposing how widespread the problem really is.

RB: Anything else you would like to share?

CAP: What’s been coming up lately for me is that I have been speaking to more non-professional filmmakers. Basically people who have never thought about making a film, but are now interested in doing so. I want folks to feel like the films and TV shows they see (or don’t see) are open for control of narratives and to engage in filmmaking even when that seems like an impossibility. I’m really interested in seeing those stories brought to the forefront.

Interested in hearing more from Chanelle or taking a DCTV filmmaking workshop this summer? Check out our roster of offerings this July–August at dctvny.org/summerworkshops2020.

Photo c/o Laurent Chevalier