The easy part of filmmaking is the shooting. The tough part is getting the job in the first place.
Like any freelancer, I like getting hired! But what do we do when we’re inspired to film something but no one is looking to hire people to film it? This time, I took it upon myself to, well, hire myself. As a creative person, I must keep pushing forward to do what feels right both technically and creatively. If I didn’t do that I would cease to be the person I am now.
How It All Began
It was a few years ago while shooting in India and Bangladesh for UN Women
that I came upon a tent city at the foot of a huge sugarcane factory. I spent some time there taking a few photos and chatting with the help of an interpreter. The people living in these tents would migrate sometimes hundreds of miles by oxcart to work in the fields harvesting sugarcane.
When I got back home, the images of these people were stuck in my head. I wanted to go back and do a story on them. I wanted to learn what their challenges were and what the life of a migrant sugarcane worker in India was like.
Unsurprisingly, the call offering me a job to do this on someone else’s dime never came! So I figured I would do it myself. But how? How could I afford to fly back to India for an unknown amount of time to work on a project with limited support and my zero comprehension of the local language?
I decided to launch an Indiegogo campaign
. I shared that Indiegogo campaign with everyone I knew and asked everyone I knew to share it with everyone they knew!
Nothing could have prepared me for the humbling experience of having total strangers give me money to do what I love to do. I set a goal of $7,000.00 and ended my campaign with $7,315.00 raised by 96 kind friends, family members, and strangers. People believing in this project, and by extension me, was a powerful motivator. Suddenly I had a ton of people counting on me to follow through on my promises.
I once read that the late NY Times photographer Bill Cunningham
would never accept anything in the form of sponsorship or even eat at an event. He did not want to be indebted to anyone or company. I certainly admire that but I am in a different situation! I think there are wonderful companies out there doing great things. Why not partner with them if it can help both parties?
I made a list of my dream gear and began to reach out to manufactures asking for support. Some ignored me, some encouraged me, and some were kind enough to help out with heavily discounted or free gear. Generally my job as it related to gear sponsors was to give feedback about their product and to post on social media. This all seemed more than fair to me and I was happy about the extra exposure this would give my project.
I reached out to camera bag, lighting, tripod, and hard drive manufacturers and the like. I also reached out to Zacuto. They offered me a significant discount on a Z-Finder Pro
for my Canon 5D MkIII
, which I call “the pig”, and the Enforcer Run N Gun rig
. Both products worked seamlessly and I know I would not have been able to accomplish some shots without those tools. Holding that pig of a camera steady while walking on uneven ground close to open sewers in 115 degree heat was made possible thanks to the Enforcer and being able to clearly view my subject matter would simply not have been possible without the Z-Finder.
Back in India
One of the first things I did once I decided to go back to India was to reach out to the friends and connections I’d make in India while working with UN Women. They were more than happy to help me plan, travel, translate, and offered incredible support.
One person I’d like to mention is my friend Sunitha Jagaanath. Her support and help made this project possible. Sunitha miraculously introduced me to Panduranga Biradaraka “Pandu” the head of R&D at the Nandi Sugar Company, who without knowing me or what my intentions were gave me unobstructed access to the factory and the migrant workers. Without his help there would be no story to tell.
I can’t make this clear enough. Having a person on the ground…call it a fixer, a friend or like in India an “auntie”, is imperative for both logistics and moral support!
I hope my story has inspired you to take a chance and hire yourself. No one else is going to make your passion project!
See the Migrant Sugarcane Project here: thebirthlottery.com/migrant