Collaborating for a Better Future

By: Abbey Adams

Collaboration is an important element of the entertainment industry these days. Mesh together two talented groups of people and who knows what can happen. I spoke with Erin Miller, the Founder of Out There Productions; a creative agency, production house, and squad of motivational speakers rolled into one package. I also got some insights from Iara Rogers Benchoam and Sarah Grabman of Etc. Pictures. All opened up about how and why this new project. “No Nuts” was able to successfully get off the ground and into the world, and what it’s like to start such an ambitious journey.

Tell me how this all got started and why?

Erin Miller: “There are two awesome lady-run production companies in Syracuse. My co-founder, Losa Amara Meru, and I run Out There Productions. Sarah Grabman and Iara Rogers Benchoam run, Etc. Pictures. This summer, we all decided to collaborate on producing a script written by Sarah, a story that took two years to complete. When you’re passionate about making movies, you gotta make movies. So we made ‘No Nuts.’”

Iara & Sarah: “People don’t tell you much about your founding year, what it takes to form a company and figure out how to feel fulfilled as people while doing work you care about. We sticky-noted our apartment and printed out inspirational quotes and developed our mission, vision, website, launch party, and vlog with a small team. Many said “you’re very young” when told that this first year we worked at a YMCA filmmaking class in New Hartford, created a Kickstarter video, created a Fitkids promotional video in Oneida, produced three (3) thesis films… and much more.”

What has this been like for Etc. Pictures? What does the future hold?

Iara & Sarah: “We are breathing in the past year to hone into our wants and dreams as individuals and as Etc.. Currently our 501c-3 is processing while we flesh out our five (5) and ten (10) year business plan, learn how to run a sustainable org in the Syracuse community in The Learning Classroom at The Community Foundation with Erin Miller, Marie Pfeiffer, Losa Amara Meru, and Tory Russo in an 8-month program, and are producing Blue Toes, a Syracuse Thesis Film and our 2nd Etc. Project: Getting Out There workshop and short film with local youth.”

Why focus on the youth?

EM: “Youth need mentors. On a film set, young people have the opportunity to learn leadership skills in a very unique way. Our two-day workshop taught young people about filmmaking on and off screen, as well as how to develop their own characters to communicate them onscreen for ‘No Nuts.’ We also collaborate with The Media Unit in Downtown Syracuse with the Executive Director, Walt Shepperd. One of our four tiers of the Etc. Project is ‘Youth Empowerment: We believe mentorship and learning to tell your own story are two key paths to growing young leaders.’”

What is your stance on the entertainment industry in Syracuse?

EM: “The film industry in Syracuse is emerging right now. There’ve been strong efforts for technical film set education through the CNY Film Professionals. Their goal is to provide classes and workshops for people to obtain gainful employment in the film industry in Central New York. When it comes to modern filmmaking, we are on the rise. The city of Syracuse is evolving, and filmmakers are making more and more movies here. High-quality productions can be made outside of New York City and Los Angeles. We got this up here.”

Explain the funding process for this and how/why it was successful for your team?

EM: “Our seed funding for pre-production came from private sponsors. The rest of our funding came from our successful Kickstarter campaign, where we raised $3000 over our goal. We are actively looking for an executive producer to help us finish the post-production process of this film.

How was the casting process? What was local talent like?

EM: “Our local talent consisted of 11 young people from the Central New York area. Some of them came from connections from a previous Etc. Pictures film called Kalyse. Some were relatives of Iara. We found our professional talent from online databases. Most of our castings were through community connections and personal networks.”

What was your favorite moment during the whole “No Nuts” campaign?

Iara: “The first day on set with the entire cast and crew. It was the lunch scene. My nerves were flying while I clenched my eternity necklace in one hand and binder of notes in the other, but then I looked around. I saw a crew ready to work professionally, respectfully, and resourcefully, and a cast of professional and nonprofessional actors harvests energy in an improv circle. This gave light and life to the production that I only ever imagined in my fantastical visions of set culture. Never would I have thought that my dreams for what it would feel like on set would become reality.”

Sarah: “A 3:00am meeting with the executive creative team during filming to figure out how to make an ambitious project work. That moment you realize when you’re in too deep to go back, but the team’s passion and drive to finish the project carry it through. That moment you realize the team cares about the project because they are personally invested and are getting something out of the experience.”

What do you hope to accomplish with this project?

EM: “With ‘No Nuts’, we hope to shine a ray of light of happiness and love through film during the dark times that are taking over the news right now. We want more young people in Syracuse to find a creative outlet through film and to tell more awesome stories. We want young professionals to know that it is never too early give back to future generations. We hope to put Syracuse on the map as a place to make festival-worth films with a bootstrapped budget. We hope to continue Etc. Project at least every summer. We hope to spread this project’s curriculum worldwide.”

What are your future plans for this?

EM: “I fell in love with fundraising this process. Asking for money is a daunting task, but honestly it’s not that hard if you’re pitching an amazing project with a lasting impact. I am using the Etc. Project to build my passion for producing and to empower artists to create without the monetary restrictions that compromise the quality of their final product. Every good artist needs a business person to help get their ideas out there. That’s me.”