Meet the Graduates: Lilly

Majors: Journalism & Communication Arts (Radio-TV-Film)
Certificates: Digital Studies


How has the first month post-graduation been?

It’s been good. I think it’s one of those things where you just come from such a high, with finals week and the last projects and everything like that, you’re just going, going, going. And then the Sunday after graduation, it’s such a rapid downward of, “okay, now what?” It’s a little scary, but fear is good in life. And my advice to anyone going through that first month is to just breathe, accept the fear and let it push you to ask yourself what you really want to do. This is your first time in life without structure, so scare yourself into trying new things.

It’s a big transition. You’ve been in this structured space pretty much your whole life. You go to school, you check these boxes…then you get out of college and all of a sudden, that’s gone.

Yeah and there’s no right or wrong way to do post-college life, which is something I think everyone has to come to terms with. It’s definitely been one of those things where I think, similar to the first week of college, way back freshman year, when everyone is doing their own thing, relearning how to make friends, relearning how to put themselves in a different situation. It’s that all over again, but double the pressure from family, friends and social media to immediately conform into the “adult post-college life.”

I definitely understood with the Digital Studies Certificate, Com Arts major and Journalism major that there wasn’t a “right” path for me. There wasn’t really a formula that I could use to plan my life after college.  I had to take every opportunity that came by. But I think something that I realized is that some of my friends are constantly worried they aren’t following a formula, saying, “I don’t have a job yet” or “I don’t have the dream job” or “I’m just working in Madison this summer and I want to be out somewhere else.” These things take so much time and if the right opportunity doesn’t come the second you walk out of Camp Randall after graduation, it’s okay. I say that so calm, which definitely, I’m not calm 90% of the time. But it’s one of those things that will all work out and I just have to keep on telling myself that. And I’m okay with where I am and what I’m doing right now.

Tell me about what you’re doing now.

I started a position in November with a company called Coney Island Studies in Madison working on a documentary and I just continued with them full-time after graduation as a project coordinator and assistant editor. I also pick up projects on the side as a freelance videographer and editor.

Tell me a bit more about how you found the position and what made you decide to stay on after graduation.

I was taking Com Arts 467, the advanced production sound and cinematography class. The woman who owns Coney Island Studios had emailed my professor; she had been working on the documentary for six years and needed someone to log footage. It was entry level and it was something I’d done the summer beforehand with a production company in New York. So I thought, “let’s go for this.” I worked with her and it was something where there wasn’t really a set term and it wasn’t a typical internship. We had to sit down and figure out how we were going to structure things, how she was going to be helping me in my career as much as I was helping her.

Around mid-spring, I started to do the whole post-grad job search, thinking about what I wanted to do and if I wanted to move to a coast. I just couldn’t find a reason to be spending money on an apartment in Madison and then spending money on an apartment in Chicago or NY or LA. But looking back on it, I think deep down I knew what I was going to be doing elsewhere was going to be an entry level position where I’d be getting coffee, maybe being able to look at a script or maybe being able to push a couple of buttons with Premiere Pro. But what I was doing in Madison with Coney Island Studios was actually sitting down with the director and producer and really learning the process of how to make a documentary film, which you don’t necessarily always get in big companies.

How has having the Digital Studies Certificate been helpful to you so far?

I knew going into college that I wanted to do something hands-on with video and production and something that had to do with communication. But I didn’t really know how to get there. Digital Studies gave me the tools and skills required on all those job applications I looked at.

Digital media is so fluid nowadays; it’s constantly evolving and people are asked in any job situation now to have digital skills, so being comfortable with those skills and knowing if it happens to progress to a new technology that I won’t be completely ousted from what I want to do is a comfortable thing.

Any thoughts about where you’re headed in the future?

I think in a Digital Studies type job you have to always look ten steps ahead and realize that the tools we use to communicate and that Digital Studies tools are constantly evolving. So the video job you have now, two years from now they might be asking you to do something completely different than when you first walked in. It’s such an interesting, not paved-path career in Digital Studies; you really can go anywhere!

So fill me in on what you’ve been up to since we last talked.

I’m still working with Coney Island Studios here in Madison. We’re currently doing our final cut of the documentary with hopes to release it in 2019 at the Milwaukee Film Festival. It’s been really exciting to be part of a project where I’m going to see the end of it. With past internships and projects, I’ve been there for a semester or during the summer and helped as much as I could, but then I’d have to go back to school and couldn’t work on it anymore. To see the finish of a feature length documentary and all the hard work come to fruition is something that I am so grateful to have the opportunity to do.

I’m also doing some freelance work in the evenings and on the weekends. I’m working remotely doing some editing for a woman in LA who is making her own documentary on women who are running for office. I usually do that in the evenings after I get done with work at Coney Island. That means some of my days consist of 12 hours of editing work. And then on the weekends, I usually have some sort of shoot. For example, I recently worked for CBS News while they did a quick shoot in Madison and did the videography for a couple’s wedding.

It sounds like you keep yourself really busy!

I do. At the beginning of the summer, I watched the TED Talk by Shonda Rhimes about the year of saying yes and I made it a goal to say yes to everything I could. I figured I was fresh out of college and needed to really work on growing my network, especially in this industry. So anytime someone asked me to work on a project or help with a video or be a crew member for a project, I pushed myself to say yes and make it work. Of course, there were times I needed to set limits so I didn’t drive myself crazy, but it challenged me to try new things and get different footage for my reel.

The other thing about saying yes to everything is that I’m very young in the field right now and this is a very hierarchical industry. I have to be willing to do the PA jobs or be on a set for a full week with no sleep because that’s what helps you grow your network and get noticed. So I’m working a lot, but it’s great because I’m making connections with a variety of people in the field. Like most industries, there is this idea that all the higher-ups have no time for anybody beneath them and I’ve found that to be completely false. Of course, there is a time and a place to ask for career advice, but going along with this mentality of saying yes I’ve really pushed myself to use any and all interactions as an ability to help my career.

Now that school has started again and you’re still in Madison, are you missing college?

I’m at the point where I’m fondly looking back at college and there are definitely some aspects that would be fun to do again – Saturday game days, hanging out with friends after classes, some of the advanced production courses or broadcasting courses that were always really fun. Above all, college is one of  the only times you will be so geographically close to people of your same age that you share so many similarities with– same classes, same year of school, same major, etc. After graduation you are thrown into a world where you interact with people of all different ages, backgrounds, interests, etc. It can be lonely and you can distance yourself from those who aren’t like you, in attempts to recreate your college campus. But I’ve been taking baby steps to pop my filter bubble. That being said, don’t forget about your college friends as you strive to find your place in the world. The friends you made during your 4 years in college were with you during your highs and lows and as you began the process of finding yourself. It will be different since you don’t have the location or classes, but a connection you made in college could lead to something after graduation.

In regards to the connection between my career path and Madison. It is hard to be this close to campus and still feel like I’ve moved on. When I was in college, I thought that as soon as I graduated I’d move to a big production hub and I think a lot of other people expected me to do that as well. It’s been five months since graduation and the fact I’m still in Madison is okay with me at the moment. I think there are still opportunities here for me and I’ve built a network of people and companies that know of my video work and allow me to continue to create.

So you plan to stay in Madison for a while then?

I do have a goal that by 2019 I’m in a new place and I’ve moved onto a new project. It’s hard though because I have all these little freelance gigs going on and am working remotely, so it’s hard to map out what my life is going to be in the next month, or even the next week. But I think that is one of the contradictions of life after college (and maybe just life in general): you’re told it’s important to have an end goal but also scolded for taking your career too seriously if you aren’t enjoying the ride. To remedy this I’ve set goals for myself to continue down this career path, but I also try to not be hard on myself if I end up taking a diverging turn down a path different than what I expected. The Cut recently published  a great advice piece dealing with expectations that I urge every college and post-college student to read:

Any advice for current students who are beginning their job search process?

I think there are a lot of times as a student when you just focus on the homework ahead of you and you don’t think about other projects you could do outside of school that would help you professionally. With this industry take the time now when you have a free weekend and ask your friends to help you with a project to show off your wide range of work.

Also, use your professors and advisors. Build relationships with them and let them know what your five year plan is or what your end goal is so they can look out for you and help you make connections in the industry you’re trying to get into.

And don’t take life too seriously because no one knows what they’re doing. When you’re in college, you know you have to be in class at this time and you have your professor telling you when you have an assignment due, but once you get out of college you realize that no one is telling you what to do anymore, so it’s on you to do it. But just like school, life has labels. An article from Man Repeller had an idea that stuck out to me: work titles are one thing, but even if you aren’t on a payroll as a writer or on a Hollywood movie set directing movies, you still are a writer or a director when you have passion.

How are things going?

Things are going very well! I just moved back home to Minnesota after (sort-of) wrapping things up with Coney Island. My original plan was to stay in Madison and see a documentary from start to finish, so I didn’t really want to leave since it isn’t quite done yet. But I had also done all I could with it and I was starting to feel like I needed to move on to a bigger city. So In November I had a conversation with my boss to let her know what I was thinking and we were able to come up with a plan that worked for both of us. I’ll be coming back to Madison one weekend a month to help with whatever editing needs to be done on the project until we submit it to the Milwaukee Film Festival.

And I actually have some really exciting news to share. Just this morning I accepted an offer from Kartemquin in Chicago to do a spring internship with them.

Congratulations! That is very exciting! How did that come about?

So Kartemquin is a documentary film company that I’ve been following for a while. I had kind of known of their films (they made Minding the Gap, which was on Barack Obama’s 2018 movies to watch list) and last spring, I went to an event hosted by Digital Studies where I was able to talk with Justine Nagan, who had worked at Kartemquin before moving on to POV. She introduced me to some people at Kartemquin and I did reach out to them after the event, but I hadn’t really kept in touch. So when I saw that they were accepting applications for the spring, I just applied and waited.

The deadline to hear back from them was January 1st and when I didn’t hear back from them, I emailed them to see what was going on. I basically said that I knew that they’d been busy and I understand if I didn’t make the cut, but they were leaving me hanging. They emailed me back right away and asked to interview me the next morning. I set up a Skype interview and two hours after the interview, they called and offered me the internship.

So, moral of the story, don’t be afraid to email and check in. I think sometimes people don’t want to be a bother or annoying or sound like they really want the job, but following up just shows that you’re hungry for the job. Also, everyone is really busy, so don’t overthink it and just send the email.

Follow up is so important! So when do you start and what will you be doing?

The internship starts on January 14th and goes until May 17th. It’s more of an administrative type internship, not a production based internship, which I’m completely fine with because I’ve done production and I’m looking forward to learning about other aspects of documentary film making. So we’ll be working on things like sponsorship, copyright, archival footage rights, stuff like that. There will also be a bunch of workshops with people in the industry who will come in and talk with us about different aspects of the filming process. Then, in addition to the in-office work, we also have to work on our own project over the course of the semester that we’ll present to everyone at the end.

That sounds like a great experience! What are you most excited about?

I’m most excited about the fact that they stress on their website and through their social media channels that they are a community of filmmakers and editors. I need that community right now. In a lot of my other internships, and even with Coney Island, I was typically working with just one other person. And that’s fine, I understand that’s what independent film making is, but I don’t have a big support system right now, especially in Chicago. Kartemquin is known for supporting their interns long after they’ve completed the internship, so I’m excited to become part of their community.

What are you most nervous about?

I don’t know what my living situation is going to be yet, it’s a part-time internship so I’ll probably have to get another job on top of it, and I’ve got to get at least the living situation figured out in the next week or so. And even though I knew the timeline was going to be tight, I’m glad that didn’t stop me from applying. I know that I will figure it out and I don’t think that anyone should stop themselves from pushing themselves for a higher, harder job just because they’re afraid of the living situation. I mean, I might show up in Chicago with a suitcase and have a crash on a friend’s couch for a few days.  But that’s okay and people do it all the time.

This is something that I’ve wanted for a really long time, so I’m excited to see myself doing what I really want to do. And I’m looking forward to being in a bigger city of creative individuals. I’ll be in a community of people who want to do similar things and I’ll be able to support their work, have their support on my work, and just see where that takes me!

Last time we talked, you had just accepted an internship with Kartemquin. How has it been going?

It’s been absolutely amazing – everything I wanted it to be and more! My cohort is the first they’ve had that’s made up of all females, so getting to be with these very strong women every day has been an amazing opportunity and I’m learning so much about the industry and myself.

When I moved to Chicago, I knew no one and now I have this incredible network in the film community. It’s really scary to move to a place that you know you need to be for your career, but not have your usual support system follow you. But at Kartemquin the internship goes beyond crafting your career skills to teaching you life skills such as building your network. That’s what Kartemquin is known for and they did not disappoint. I think if anyone wants to be a filmmaker or do non-fiction work in Chicago or even the Midwest area, they should definitely consider Kartemquin.

What’s been your biggest accomplishment at the internship so far?

When I started this internship, I went into it like a job and tried my best to say yes to every opportunity they threw at me. I’m appreciative of my situation that I had saved up enough from past jobs, such as Angels Of Dirt in Wisconsin, that allowed me to focus purely on the internship without any distractions. That allowed me to work on this great kickstarter campaign for a film by Diane Quon, who was just nominated for an Oscar for her work on Minding the Gap. I was in charge of the email communications for the campaign. We made our fundraising goal and even managed to raise an additional $10,000, so it was very successful and I was happy I got to take such a lead role. To be in direct communication with such a powerful and successful woman really helped me get a behind-the-scenes look while also showing her my skills. It was one of those things where it really paid off to say yes and now these really well-known producers know who I am and the work I’m capable of doing.

That sounds amazing! And the internship will be wrapping up soon, right? What’s next on the horizon for you?

That’s a really great question! It’s difficult because I feel like at this point, I’m doing what everyone did when we graduated a year ago – trying to figure out what comes next career-wise. I always thought that I wanted to be a filmmaker, but this internship made me realize that I’m not sure I want to be the person behind the camera right now. After talking with filmmakers through this internship, a lot of them said that no one else could tell their story, so they were the ones who had to tell it. And I don’t feel like I have the experiences just yet, where I’d be the only person who could tell the story. I’m not hanging up the camera completely, but I don’t need to be the person behind the lens to be fulfilled – I’m happy when I’m doing any type of work on a film.

So what I’d like to do is help the people who do have the stories to tell. I have such a type A personality, that I’m really good at getting things organized and taken care of. I want to be in charge of the call sheets and the crew sheets and getting everything perfect so it’s ready on the day of the shoot. I’m actually signed on to be a producer for a fellow intern’s full-length documentary after we wrap up and I’ll also be a project coordinator for a previous intern’s project. So I’ve got a few freelance things on the radar and I’ll also be looking for a full-time job to supplement the income while I build up my freelance network. I’m not really sure what I’m looking for yet, but maybe something at an in-house film studio or a creative agency working on social media campaigns? We’ll see!

It sounds like this internship was a fantastic learning experience for you. Speaking of learning, is there anything from Digital Studies that stood out to you over the last year as being really useful?

The first thing that comes to mind is the capstone class where we created our own portfolio websites. When someone is looking for an editor or something, I can send them my website and they can see all the work I’ve done so far and it’s been really useful in helping me secure freelance jobs.

Also, with Digital Studies as a whole, the ability to take any task, whether it’s the Adobe Creative Suite or WordPress, a lot of the digital world is just hopping in and trying it. You may have only used the software once or it may have been a while, but the basic foundations and familiarity is there and that’s been super useful.

Because you’ve been working in film for so long, would you say that having other skills, say with Adobe Creative Suite, have been helpful in differentiating yourself?

Yes, 100%! I think you always have to remind yourself that even when you’re working in film, you’re not just sitting behind the camera. You’re writing grants to get more money for the film, you’re doing an outreach program so people can understand what your film is about, you’re talking to distributors and showing them your social media campaigns. There’s so much more that goes into making a film besides just the filming – there’s branding the film and all the aspects of distribution, advertising, communications, and all that. The more that you’re able to help in those areas, the more integral you become to the project. You might enter into a film doing something you know how to do, but don’t necessarily want to be doing. But you’ve opened the door and maybe one day someone on set needs an extra hand and that’s your opportunity. With the digital studies certificate a lot of the skills I learned in classes are the things filmmakers don’t want to be doing so they’ll hire someone to work on branding, create a campaign, set up a website, etc. What I’ve learned through digital studies has helped me get my foot in the door. So, my final piece of advice would be that when you get the opportunity in the classroom to learn something you might not think you’ll be doing on the job, still give 100% to acquiring that skill because you never know how it will come into use in opening doors for your personal career path.