Ocean’s Harbor House

Filmmaker Q&A with Director Jacqueline Romano

Is there a particular documentary film or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?

Yes, many! Two filmmakers I’ve admired who, though maybe very different stylistically but similar in their professionalism and the vastness of ability to explore and push their creative meter, are Michel Gondry and Mo Scarpelli. There are countless films/campaigns that have influenced how I tell stories, but one that always sticks out in my heart’s memory is the Blood Brother documentary. 

What motivated you to make your impact video?

The organization found me, to be honest. They were looking for someone who had a certain level of sensitivity, and also the ability to tell a complex story in a concise way. They also had the awareness that storytelling could help them in their fundraising efforts, which was something they needed urgent support with. One of my many personal ties to the topic of vulnerable youth is my experience in mentorship. The stories I heard of the youth who entered Ocean Harbor House’s doors mirrored the stories of the vulnerable young people I mentored in the past. In a way, it felt like another outlet for supporting and empowering youth.

Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it: 

We shot with the Canon EOS C300 Mark III and vintage Zeiss lenses. I wanted to light all scenes as though we were using the available, or natural, light. We used the Aputure 600x to extend the sunlight into the interview scenes, and unbleached muslin sheets to bounce some of that light inside the room.

Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your film to help tell your story. 

My preferred method of filming has always aligned with helping the audience feel they’re experiencing the story with the subject. With this particular story, I felt the experience of the youth living in the houses, or returning to them after years, would be best conveyed by using an observational approach. The type of equipment used, in partnership with the handheld method employed by my DP Fletcher Wolfe, allowed for a beautiful but also raw appeal to the footage. That rawness and beauty mirrored the emotion felt in the stories and memories recounted.

How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be? 

At the start of the project, the concept was to follow one subject who had gone through the transitional living program and was now doing well. As part of the development phase, I held pre-interview calls with the few people who were open to being that one subject, as well the Ocean’s Harbor House counselors. It became apparent to me in listening to them, how much more understanding of the heart Ocean’s Harbor House has for their work if they were able to hear from some of the staff as well. Tenise’s story alone would have been powerful, yes, but hearing the depth of the counselor’s involvement from her perspective adds a necessary layer. I decided to add in the executive director interview to have a voice present that would break down the technical aspect of their work, as a main use for this impact video will be as a supportive tool for fundraising and aligned partnerships.

Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this impact video: 

Sometimes we’re so in the mode of being in service of others that we don’t see how much influence we have until someone else mirrors it to us. In my few days spent in the center, I had a glimpse into the amount of willpower it must take for the Ocean’s Harbor House staff members to engage in their individual role every day. It was heart-warming to hear reflections from the staff we interviewed that hearing themselves speak about their work helped them to see just how valuable the role they have at the center is.

What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?

Do what it takes to maintain the truth and integrity of every story you tell. With that as the foundation, consider your goals and the type of impact you want to make and for who by telling this story. Those elements will be your compass throughout the story development, filming and editing process. With most impact videos, you’re working with highly sensitive topics. You’ll want to use your ability to read the energy of each situation to lead with compassion, adaptability, and a grounded presence.

What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?

Engaging with diverse worlds, my focus lies in immersing the audience in the story by using various techniques to capture genuine emotions and environments. It’s beautiful to witness the significant internal impact on individuals when their stories are represented authentically, and how it resonates with the audience. I learn and evolve from every project, and am inspired by everyone I engage with on those projects.

What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?

I always take, at minimum, an audio recorder. Sometimes you can’t anticipate when a subject is going to let their guard down and share something from the heart. I’ve learned it’s best to just start recording audio when I arrive on site, and keep it running.

Please provide a brief description of the work or organization featured in your video:

Ocean’s Harbor House is a 501(c)(3) non-profit agency that provides more than just shelter. Staffed by trauma-informed experts, they provide youth and families the individualized support they need to begin their healthy, happy, and ultimately successful life’s journey.

Since 1988, Ocean’s Harbor House has provided shelter, support, and services to vulnerable youth and families from Ocean and Monmouth Counties in New Jersey, as well as across the entire state. In many cases, these services can be extended to individuals in need, regardless of their geographic location.

What have you learned about the value and impact of the project?

Ocean’s Harbor House voiced to me at the start of the project that they struggled to communicate the impact and range of their services to ongoing and potential donors. The organization presented this video for the first time at their annual fundraising luncheon. I received a text from the executive director that day sharing that many audience members were visibly moved by it, and some not only increased their donations but requested to present it in company presentations for donation matching initiatives. Ocean’s Harbor House is now actively rolling out the impact strategy we developed for an online fundraising campaign and outreach to youth and families in need.

Please share a personal story about your experience making this impact video:

The moment I heard Tenise speak in our pre-interview call, I knew she was the right person to feature in the video. She answered every question I delivered with a poetic response. Whether or not she was aware of it, It was clear to me that she had been holding onto her story and was waiting for the right platform to share it on. It wouldn’t surprise me if she continued sharing her story in other places. I felt her strength through her confidence in speaking the message she so passionately wanted to share. She is a force, and a beautiful soul.

What do you want audiences to take away from this video?

Tenise’s message of holding onto hope has rung in my ears since we filmed, and I hope it does for the audience as well. It can be a challenge to do it, especially today. When I originally edited it into the video, I imagined a vulnerable young person watching it. Even if they didn’t make it to the shelter, I wanted to leave them with that message. The way she shares it alludes to Ocean’s Harbor House eventually showing her what hope looks like. That element of it was meant to inspire donors and partners to support their continuing influence to future residents.

Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion: 

​​- Choosing subjects and crafting a story in alignment with the impact goals for the organization

– How to approach the end to end production tasks while filming on highly sensitive topics, and with confidentiality to consider

– Collaborating with the staff to device creative decisions/solutions to capture the experiences of the youth at the homeless shelter

– Directorial choices contributing to the emotional impact of the video

Please provide information on any recent developments regarding the issue or subjects of the video. How have things changed or not changed?

There has been a growing and urgent need for extending emergency housing services to families. While the Transitional Living Program at Ocean’s Harbor House will continue to serve youth, they have begun taking steps to extend their services to both homeless youth and their families.

This part of her interview did not make it to the final cut, but Tenise is getting her masters in Social Policy. As she put it, she wants to be for others who she wished she had as a young person.

What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?

Donations are crucial for Ocean’s Harbor House to keep their doors open and sustain their mission, most pressingly the emergency shelter and anti-trafficking efforts. Sharing the video is a tremendous aid in itself, as it increases the visibility to potential donors, partnerships and youth and families who are in need of their services.

Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.) relevant to the context of the issue discussed in your video:



Tenise’s Story // https://vimeo.com/892062020

Supporting Different Dreams // https://vimeo.com/892062145

Crisis Intervention // https://vimeo.com/892062094

Recent PBS news coverage on emergency shelter shift from youth to youth+families: local news written article: https://www.jerseyshoreonline.com/toms-river/youth-shelter-will-soon-be-serving-as-family-shelter/ … and PBS coverage video link: https://video.kpbs.org/video/ocean-county-youth-shelter-closes-shifts-to-serve-families-1691695640/ 


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