Student Filmmaker Series – Part 5: Nine Things I Learned From My Favorite Young Storytellers

My heroes tend to live off the beaten path, in total honesty and with wild authenticity. Arkasha Stevenson, Jon Kasbe, Matt Eich and Alexandra Mihale are a few of my heroes.

I spent some time getting to know these passionate young filmmakers. Here are 9 things I learned from their beautiful, genuine musings. Visit my blog to read the full interviews.


1. Stay

Arkasha: In college, I documented the lives of two people who lived in a hotel room together. D-Ice sold crack and Pansy worked as a prostitute. I told Pansy and D-Ice that I wanted to be around for everything. One night, business was slow and Pansy began to worry that they wouldn’t be able to make rent. She had a full blown panic attack and launched into a violent dissociative episode. D-Ice tried to pin her down on the bed so she wouldn’t hurt herself. I began to slip out of the room to give them privacy. As I opened the door to leave, D-Ice turned around and said, “I thought you wanted to see everything.” I closed the door and sat back down.

Watching a pimp hold and comfort his woman was the most raw thing I had ever seen. Later, it was strange to think that my first reaction was to look away from the intimacy that I was working to document. A rule I made for myself in college was that unless I am asked to leave, I stay.

Arkasha Stevenson

Arkasha Stevenson

2. Trust your instincts 

Arkasha: I’ve always thought that an essential part of photojournalism is learning to trust your gut. It takes a lot of work to learn to trust yourself.

Jon: A brilliant lady named Cath Spangler once told me that leading an interesting life leads to interesting projects. I couldn’t agree with her more. Ideas don’t have to be fully formed or perfect. They don’t even have to be good. Students should just run with what they’re feeling at the time and see where they end up.

3. Start making work right away

Jon: I started making work right away in college. One of my first short films was The Polevaulter. I watched people cry while watching it. I felt I had created something with meaning. Something that could do something for someone.

4. Embrace the struggle

Matt: It is a constant struggle to find work that sustains me financially and creatively. Even when it is a gig I’m excited about, I’m not excited about the prospect of being apart from my family. The only thing that has allowed me to survive is the ability to be fluid and not tied to one revenue stream.

Jon: During college, I didn’t take the time to find ways to make money. I lived off free food, campus events, and favors. I became super resourceful, but now I’m left wondering: do I spend half my life writing grants to do projects I care about? Or do I do projects I don’t care about and hope I still have the drive to make the ones I do care about?

Jon Kasbe

Jon Kasbe

5. Surround yourself with creative, inspired, hard-working people

Jon: My one regret from my college years is that I didn’t take the time to really seek out people I wanted to collaborate with. Most of my projects were started and finished alone. It’s tricky to find people with both drive and time.

When I was a college first year I would email people, nicely letting them all know I’d be happy to help them out in any aspect of their production at any time. Very few of them replied, and the ones that did usually said thanks but never pulled me into their work. I can understand why now, I didn’t make it clear what I could add to their process, mostly because I didn’t know what I could add.

6. Awards come and go, but good stories will sustain your spirit

Jon: Awards are slippery slopes. Say thanks when you get them, but forget about them as quickly as you can. They’ll mess with your mind and dilute your motives. In school, the main goal was to create great work. Over the years it shifted towards treating the people I made videos about with love and care. Now it’s a hybrid of the two.

Matt: I set goals for myself, but never had expectations of the contests and grants that I applied for. You never know what to expect and can’t judge the success of your work by contests alone.

Alexandra Mihale

Alexandra Mihale

7. Turn your vulnerabilities into strengths

Alexandra: I spent my undergraduate years studying journalism in Romania and received a Fulbright scholarship to Ohio University where I studied photojournalism. I remember the first time I landed in Ohio. I arrived around midnight with a big suitcase. I asked around at the airport for a bus to take me to the University. They told me there was nothing until 10am. I was tired and dirty.

A bus picking up Chinese students on summer break had an open spot and gave me a ride. I had no where to stay and ended up spending the night on a couch belonging to one of the girls on the bus. We are still friends. Being foreign was an impediment for me at the beginning of my experience in America, but soon became an advantage.

8. Make work fun. Make fun work. Do both at the same time.

Alexandra: I actually found some of the stories and subjects while partying. I did the piece Story Of A Girl following one of my ex-roommates, who was a party girl.

Matt: I’d say to shoot first and questions will follow. The questions are the important part, and they will help shape the direction you move with your work, as well as the shape that your life takes.

Matt Eich

Matt Eich

9. Everybody gets rejected.

Jon: Only about 300 people watched my second video Bathroom Text. It was heartbreaking, but I realized I couldn’t just make a video about anything and expect it to be good. This set me on a path to creating videos about people and topics I’m interested in and care about. I decided as long as I cared, it was a project staying invested in.

Matt: In the studio I have a bunch of rejection letters taped to the back of my door. They’re a good reminder to try and try again.


Read Part 1: Five Young Storytellers You Have to Know
Read Part 2: So, You Majored in Media. Now What?
Read Part 3: One Piece At A Time: What Gear Do You Need To Make Great Film?
Read Part 4: Five Ways to Master The Post-Production Process

Stay tuned for the final Part 6: How To Make The Most Of College As A Storyteller, coming soon…


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About the Author

Beatriz Wallace is currently a Visiting Professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her friends do cool stuff like take pictures of pets that need adopting at animal shelters, make movies with famous people and tell stories that matter. She worked at Cellar Stories Bookstore and Time Magazine after she graduated from Amherst College with a degree in writing and photography. She has a Master’s Degree in Photojournalism from the University of Missouri. She’s from New Orleans and she’s kind of scrappy. She might be a juicer, a yoga teacher or a software developer next. And she’s okay with that. To see her work, visit, follow her on Twitter @bigmuddyheart or friend her on Facebook (Beatriz Wallace).


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