I have a background black and white ﬁlm photography and loved the creativity found in the darkroom. After college, I worked for a fashion photographer in New York and learned the digital work ﬂow just in time to meet conservation photographer and force of nature Cristina Mittermeier. I worked for Cristina as her ﬁeld assistant from 2007 to 2012 as well as for the organization she started, The International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP). I ﬁrst picked up a video camera in 2008 – it shot on tape and was a whole different beast to my still camera. Cristina is a Sony Artisan of Imagery and it wanted footage of her using its cameras. Cristina was on the phone with them, looked at me and said that her assistant could do the cinematography! So I learned how to ﬁlm video in Madagascar on a borrowed camera – it was trial by ﬁre. I’ve been learning to be a ﬁlmmaker ever since. In 2012, I started my own production company, Pongo Media Productions.
Conservation and climate change mitigation are both important and interesting because we can do something about it! We have the tools. Scientists are laying them out on a silver platter for us. Individuals are imperative in this ﬁght but we also need to have a policy that holds big industries and companies accountable. We are no longer in an era when we can claim ignorance.
Visual storytelling can help us understand the urgency of our changing climate. Films can help translate science, can transport you to locations you might never be able to visit, and most importantly reach people on an emotional level and inspire them to act.
Cristina Mittermeier was and still is my mentor, an inspiration and a dear friend. She has redeﬁned the conservation communication landscape and continues to move the dial with her work. She started two very impactful conservation organizations, the iLCP in 2005 and Sea Legacy in 2014. Cristina not only shaped how I view the importance of storytelling but, from the beginning of my career, encouraged multidisciplinary projects and unusual partnerships encouraging people to work together to have a louder collective voice.
I’m not sure it was any one moment, but all of the collective moments with different cultures. I've learned that what I think is important and my value system is not necessarily the same as in other cultures. This is a very obvious statement, but when making a ﬁlm with a goal to change behavior, it is important to appeal to your audience's values, not necessarily your own.
Being a part of projects that actually do effect change. Some of these moments happened within iLCP, some with Pongo Media Productions, but all of them were a group effort. Awards and being recognized by peers is an incredible feeling, but if those ﬁlms don’t do anything for the places, people and wildlife in the ﬁlm then I have not accomplished my goal.
I recently saw When Lambs Become Lions directed by Jon Kasbe. What is so unique about this ﬁlm is that it tells a conservation story in such harsh detail that the lines between right and wrong are blurred. Conservation is complicated, there are a lot of harsh realities that make making the right decision difﬁcult for many people. I like that it wasn’t sugar-coated. It told both sides of a story and was unbiased.
I have this conversation with many of my colleagues and the general consensus is that you make a ﬁlm three times, once in pre-production, once in production and one in post-production. Meaning you do your research, you plan, storyboard and dream up a ﬁlm, then, when on production, you are faced with challenges or gifts that change the course of the ﬁlm. Then, once again in post you shape the most compelling story with the assets you’ve gathered, even if it means killing that initial scope of the ﬁlm - aka killing your darlings.
When choosing a project, it has to have two of the following elements: 1. The story and/or character is unique and compelling. 2. It beneﬁts conservation. 3. It is well funded. I’d love to say I can take on all of the passion projects that I want, but even with a job I love, I have to pay the bills. Additionally, I also have a handful of colleagues that, if they call me up to work on a project, I know I’ll say yes to before even hearing about it.
That all my travel is for vacation.
This comes from personal experience. Coming from the photography sphere and moving into video I overlooked two major aspects of ﬁlmmaking. First, the importance of good audio – both in interviews and natural sound/ambient sound. Second, to hold shots longer than you think. Once I got to the edit I always wished I’d held the shot for 15 to 20 seconds longer, and let the action play through.
Take advantage of all opportunities to grow your skills. Don’t wait for the perfect job, take all the jobs offered to you so that you are prepared when the perfect project presents itself.
Harnessing the power of visual media to tell stories, Jenny works to create films that will act as tipping points in conservation campaigns. Jenny thrives on multidisciplinary projects and continues to collaborate with a dedicated community of photojournalists, filmmakers, writers, illustrators, scientists and conservation organizations. Jenny’s films have screened at HotDocs, Seattle International Film Festival, Brooklyn Film Festival, Telluride Mountainfilm, Banff Mountainfilm Festival, DC Environmental Film Festival and the Jackson Hole Science & Media Awards.
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