During fall break, rather than head to my sleepy hometown in upstate New York, I traveled to New York city to get a glimpse of what my post-South Hill life may look like. Along with my fellow Park Scholars, I journeyed to the city on my junior shadowing trip, where I followed the daily routine of Emmy Award–winning, documentary filmmaker and proud Ithaca College alum Jeremy Levine.
After graduating from the Roy H. Park School of Communications in 2006 with a degree in television-radio, Levine founded Transient Pictures with fellow Park School alum Landon Van Soest '04. With a studio based in Brooklyn, N.Y., the pair has traveled around the world while directing and producing
several feature-length award-winning documentaries. The most notable of which is “Good Fortune,” a 2009 documentary production that won several awards, including an Emmy for Outstanding Business and Economic Reporting.
Throughout my day with Levine, I was able to get a glimpse into the filmmaking process and learn about the many phases of documentary production. From topic and character research to grant writing, pre-production, camera and lens selection and editing, I saw it all. Guided by Levine, I toured the studio, asking questions and even helping the team do a bit of pre-production research.
Like most artistic careers, documentary filmmaking is typically not a profitable vocation. About 99 percent of documentary filmmakers have yet to generate an international following, but still wish to have great control over the stories that they tell. Yet the balance between profitable advertising jobs and marginally profitable but socially important jobs is a delicate one.
My time with Levine helped me flesh out how small to mid-level production companies use grants, external producers and advertising jobs to fund the projects that define their work. Before spending time with Transient, I had worried about how this balance could be found. After a day of watching Levine and Van Soest work, I grew hopeful that I too could make socially relevant films while still paying the rent. Levine’s grant writing and financial management abilities struck me, and I’m now motivated to seek courses in small business management, financial accounting and grant writing.
Shadowing trips provide students with an opportunity to network with Ithaca alumni while still in school. These opportunities, which are available to all students, are best taken advantage of before we hit the professional world. The college provides its students with an extensive network of alumni, the majority of whom are genuinely interested in our academic goals, are eager to give advice and are open to setting us up with internships. Shadowing trips also allow the shadower to assess the professional world without requiring the semester-long commitment that most internships demand.
Throughout the day, I couldn’t help but picture myself two years from now, going through Levine and Van Soest’s daily routine. I pictured myself living in Brooklyn, riding the subway to the Williamsburg stop, heading to my studio, doing research, applying for grants, playing with cameras and editing. Now back in Ithaca, I feel I have a concrete image that I can attach to my dreams. Thanks to the knowledge I gained and the relationships I forged, I will try to intern with Transient this summer to get an even better idea of how the documentary production field works.
This piece was originally published in The Ithacan.