Is there a particular documentary film or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?
The prolific Pedro Kos has inspired and guided a lot of our work. His ability to draw out emotion in verite documentaries is world-class, and we’ve been so fortunate to not only watch his films but to work together on our last PBS feature documentary Five Years North.
What motivated you to make your film?
Our team first met Lisa in 2015. Our executive producer Austin wrote an article about the barriers to opportunity for ex-offenders in Illinois. Lisa read it, and reached out to explain she was on a mission to break down those barriers for herself and people like her. Austin and the team continued to support Lisa in her effort to change the law in Illinois, which laid the groundwork of trust and knowledge necessary for an intimate film of this nature. Lisa put her life and career on the line to help ex-offenders in her community—and we hope this film will inspire thousands of other “local Lisas” that we know are out there.
Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it.
The film was shot on a Canon c300 Mark II. We had the benefit of Lisa’s trust and comfort with our team, which allowed us to use more intimate Zeiss CP.2 Cinema Prime lenses. We added some subtle black magic filters as well.
Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your film to help tell your story.
Trust is key to any verite film, but especially one as personal as Free to Care. Given his seven-year relationship with Lisa, we decided to bring our executive producer Austin on set for the first day to help Lisa feel comfortable. From there, the only constraint we had was working around Lisa’s incredibly busy schedule. When your main participant is saving lives as a nurse during Covid, we wanted to be respectful of her time. Other than the interview, we filmed as just a DP and Director duo to keep our footprint small and inconvenience her as little as possible. This meant filming in a lot of tight spaces like her home and car, which required us to shoot handheld on the smallest rig possible.
How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?
The core of the story arc remained the same as when we set out, but how it was told evolved in post-production. We interviewed several of Lisa’s friends and co-workers, as well as an individual Tarra Simmons who was inspired by Lisa’s story to become the first formerly incarcerated state senator. In the edit, we felt that the intimacy of telling the story solely through Lisa’s interview and verite allowed viewers an ability to feel more personally connected to Lisa in such a short time frame. The film is only 13 minutes long, and we wanted her front and center for every second.
What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?
Where to start! Here’s a spark note version. 1. Set SMART goals—Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. 2. Invest in your campaign—just because it’s an impactful film, it doesn’t mean it will create change without a smart campaign. 3. Learn by showing your film—how and which audiences it resonates with might surprise you. 4. Be patient—your film will take a long time to release, but it will find its right audience eventually. 5. Remember to breathe sometimes. Above all, follow your passion and remember to tell the stories that drive you to action because those are the stories that others will resonate with and respond to.
What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?
Documentary filmmaking can take years. It’s bound to have crushing moments of exhaustion where you may run into imposter syndrome, or run out of money, or simply be unable to keep sprinting. But there’s so much joy and fulfillment available to us as filmmakers in every step of the process. We get to learn about the human experience for a living. To meet unique heroes and villains, interview experts in their fields, and deepen our understanding of the world around us. I personally love character-driven documentaries and thrive off of the relationships that I build along the way.
What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?
An extra battery for my phone and extra batteries for audio and camera equipment. To ensure we never miss a moment.
Please share a personal story about your experience making this film.
On one of the final days of production, we were filming drone sequences around Lisa’s home when her neighbor’s kids came out to watch. All are under 12 years old. We handed them the drone remote, and they shot the footage of their own community, giggling all the way but proud to have contributed.
Can you describe any obstacles you encountered in making your film and/or in your distribution/exhibition efforts?
Filming in Lisa’s work. She takes it very seriously and didn’t want to be distracted or make a mistake. Compromise was using a 400 mm Zoom lens.
What do you want audiences to take away from your film?
Lisa’s dream today is that no mother ever has to go through the pain that she did to pursue her passion. Unfortunately, in 15 states, men and women like Lisa are still being denied their dreams to work in health care because of their criminal record. We hope to use her story of redemption as a tool to help change those unjust laws, just as we did in Illinois. We hope that audiences will see and celebrate Lisa’s humanity and the notion that “one person, really can create a movement”. We have seen audiences connect with Lisa’s story and recount their own similar stories through tears of joy and relief. That is why this film exists. Because nothing will stand between Lisa and her dream.
Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:
Lisa’s lived experience actually makes her a better nurse and community advocate. Restorative justice is possible Actionable ways in which people can join the impact campaign in the remaining 15 states.
Please provide information on any recent developments regarding the issue or subjects of the film. How have things changed or not changed?
Lisa recently bought her first home! She’s the first person in her family to do so, and she hopes it will provide stability and refuge for anyone in her community, even if they’re down on their luck. Thanks to the film and its partners, there is pending legislation to change the law in TX, NE, CA, and MA, with plans to address the remaining states over the next three years.
She wanted to share this message with the SIMA community
“Having my story displayed on a large screen for everyone to see has been a surreal and humbling experience; however, nothing has been more rewarding than seeing families benefit from the changes that have happened here in Illinois. Removing these barriers is instrumental to reducing crime, dependency on the Government, and generational poverty. I am living proof that removing these barriers can and will take a person from government housing to home ownership! In closing, I’d like to add that none of this would have been possible without the people responsible for this film, and especially Austin Berg, he listened and he cared, and because he did, we were able to change hundreds of lives!!!!”
– Lisa Creason.
What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?
We hope you’ll reach out to help us with the campaign in the following ways: Host screenings of the film in your school or community. Lisa and the filmmakers are available to speak via Zoom or in person. Reach out to the local representatives in the remaining 15 states. We’re focusing state by state, with detailed campaigns: In California, we are working with Assemblymember Holden to propose a bill that will remove barriers for formerly incarcerated certified nursing assistants to pursue a career. In Colorado, we are screening the film and holding a bipartisan session to change the law by the next legislative session. In Texas, Massachusetts, and Nebraska, we are in conversations with partners and policymakers on the ground. If you’re in the corporate sector, we actively seek partners who believe in employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated populations.
Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.):
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