SMCC student, Elora Griswold Full Interview

Can you tell me more about SMCC’s Communications & New Media program? How did it lead to your short documentary and what is the 2023 Maine Mayhem Film Festival? 

“In my opinion, our CNMS program is the best the state of Maine offers for aspiring filmmakers and journalists. During my time in the CNMS program, I’ve focused on film and new media–one of the several core focuses CNMS students can select. For example, other paths include a focus on digital marketing, digital art/graphic design, or photography. Throughout our pursuit of this core interest, I’ve found that the CNMS faculty is incredibly knowledgeable and will help you pursue any project if you come to them with questions and even a rough game plan. The people involved in the CNMS program (including students) are truly what makes it so strong, and I feel I couldn’t have found a more supportive environment to begin exploring the world of film and new media.”

“I began production for my short documentary in the Fall of 2022 as part of CNMS professor Corey Norman’s Maine Mayhem Festival track. In the fall, 10-20 CNMS seniors take Norman’s Advanced Video Preproduction course. We work throughout this first semester to develop our film ideas, and then at the end of the fall semester, we pitch our film concepts to a panel of former SMCC CNMS students who are successfully working in the industry. After this pitch meeting concludes, six student filmmakers are given a ‘greenlit’ to produce their films in the following spring semester.”

“The pay-off is huge: not only do you earn the opportunity to have your film screen across theaters and arts venues in Maine, but you also gain real-life experience most film students only obtain after leaving their cushy, four-year liberal arts experience. “The film world can be a beautiful but brutal place, and the reality is your success as a filmmaker will come down to your ability to market yourself and find meaningful connections in the people and places around you.”

What types of films do you create and what inspires you to make films?

“I specifically lean towards documentary filmmaking–in fact, my production is the only documentary that will be included in SMCC’s 2023 Maine Mayhem Film Festival, as the rest are narrative pieces. It isn’t easy to describe what inspires me to make films–I’ve always been naturally curious and had a wide range of interests. Documentary and journalism feel like the best way to explore these varying interests throughout my life and share perspectives I care about while still having marketable skills that enable me to meet the cost of living through sid-gigs and freelance work. I’m also politically aware and find film to be one of the most compelling and beautiful ways to change hearts and minds– we are visual creatures and need to step into others’ shoes to empathize with them. I want to reflect on my lived experiences of those around me and that I care about, which is precisely why I’ve pursued the specific film topics I have throughout my time at SMCC.”

How many documentaries have you completed and worked on? Which is your favorite?

“I’ve worked on a variety of short documentary projects since joining the Communications & New Media program. All projects I’ve created in the past have themes similar to those in The City of Servers– each investigates local politics and perspectives through the lens of working-class individuals.”

“The first piece I created and screened as part of SMCC’s Video Boot Camp production course, taught by CNMS professors Corey Norman and Huey Coleman. In this course, we have nine weeks to complete preproduction, production, and post for a short documentary or narrative piece. The process was intense, but the payoff was great, given the skills I learned and the fact that the course is worth a whopping nine credits. I also connected with many of my future crew members during Video Bootcamp, which was helpful. I produced a short called The View From Eastern Promenade Road, which follows food truck owners and staff during a forced relocation effort mandated by The City of Portland, which (at least from my perspective) was a decision rooted in elitism. I explored this topic further while editing and writing articles for The SMCC Beacon’s local politics section.”

Elora explains that her most recent pieces have helped her find her “voice.” she says she still has some technicalities to learn when it comes to documentaries.

“I then created Aneirons: The Political Protest Art of Ian Russell, which follows a local professor’s fight against PACs influencing Portland’s municipal elections. As I mentioned, I’m still in production for The City of Servers, which will be my latest piece.” 

What’s your latest documentary?

“The documentary I’m producing for Maine Mayhem is called The City of Servers. It’s an 18-minute long political, investigative documentary exploring gentrification and the minimum wage debate in Portland through the servers and BOH perspectives which are often forgotten in these conversations amongst business and property owners. We began production in early February 2023 and will not wrap shooting until March 25th, 2023. We then will start an intense post-production period that ends in early May, given our first screening is the second week of May at Portland’s Nickelodeon Cinema.”

Did you have help formulating the film idea? (crew, professors, etc)?

“I’ve been lucky enough to have the support of talented friends and faculty along the way–in fact, most of my crew for The City of Servers consists of former and current SMCC CNMS film students. Formulating and pitching my film concept was a relatively solitary process, given my lack of co-producers. Still, I’ve had amazing people around me every step of the way to motivate, provide feedback, and push me to be a better documentarian.”

“My incredibly talented director of photography, Bodhi Ouellette (also a former SMCC student), has played a crucial role in helping create our visual style and tone for this piece. I’ve also leaned on help from faculty members and fellow crew members that understand my vision and want to see it succeed.”

What supplies are being used (camera, lighting)? How long did it take for you to accumulate these things?

Elora explains that the CNMS department loans camera and film equipment. She used a Canon for her most recent project and prefers it for the majority of projects. 

“Lighting for The City of Servers depends on the location we are shooting at–for example, battery-powered LED lights are best for small apartment spaces. In contrast, the school’s Arri Fresnel lights are better suited for studio interview lighting. All-in-all, I estimated that production costs would reach just shy of $20,000 had I been required to accumulate or rent all equipment myself, essentially making the pursuit of this documentary impossible without the help of the CNMS camera department. Since we can use this gear, I’ve found my actual added cost to be $3000, which is a much more attainable goal we’ve hit through crowdfunding on Indiegogo.”

What specifically motivated you to create your documentary piece? 

“There were a number of motivating factors. As I mentioned, I want to reflect on my own lived experience and the experience of people and things I care about through my filmmaking. I worked as a barista in downtown Portland throughout a gap year I took to save for a top-choice college. Then afterward, once I could not save enough to surmount the ridiculously high cost of top filmmaking and journalism programs in this country, I had to continue working there while attending SMCC to meet the price of my rental and the cost of living. I noticed a distinct contrast in how Portland, ME, is marketed as a ‘foodie’ haven and tourist destination versus the reality for the individuals working in all those hip-new spots. The false sense of urgency throughout the restaurant industry entertains me but also concerns me: I simply do not want to live in a world where it’s acceptable for a customer or manager to criticize an employee over “poor service” meanwhile that employee cannot pay their ever-increasing rents or afford the parking and towing costs that come with living in downtown Portland ME. I also thought investigating this topic would help me develop my journalism and networking skills, which are critical if you want the freedom to produce meaningful media in a world that prioritizes profit over the public good.” 

Elora plans to move on and create a career for herself in film. The CNMS program at SMCC has helped get supplies that supported Elora and her process. 

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