It was my last night in San Francisco. We met on Powell Street, walked up the hill, turned left, walked up a block to Sutter Street, and went to the sushi place she loves. She had several recommendations but I settled for the California crab roll. First we caught up on each other’s lives. We talked about the usual- family, friends, travels, guys we were and weren’t seeing, not quite being 30, and film. But we didn’t just talk about film. We talked about her and film. We transitioned from catching up to me phinding out.
Erin Lee is a 29 year old film maker from Miami, Florida and currently residing in San Francisco, California. She has participated in various film projects on both costs and is currently working on a documentary with the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in San Francisco. As you will read, Erin loves using film to tell a story, just as much as I enjoy interviews and phinding out people’s stories. Here’s what I phound out about Erin and her work with film-unscripted.
Phreedum: Who are you in 5 words?
EL: Walking around with theme music.
Phreedum: How did you get into film?
EL: In high school I was interested in photography and signed up for a photography class as an elective. I didn’t get into the class and instead was put into a cinematography class. I had a really great teacher and fell in love with film and the ability to tell people’s stories. So, for college I went to Vancouver Film School and have been doing film in some form ever since.
Phreedum: How long have you been doing film freelance?
EL: For about 9 years now. I started right when I finished college. It wasn’t by choice. It really was all that was available.
Phreedum: What is your favorite aspect of film making?
EL: Editing is my first love. I have done a lot of editing, particularly with documentaries which I really like. More specifically veritae which is filming unstaged objective day to day things. I use interviews to tie the veritae footage together to produce a cohesive documentary.
Phreedum: So how long does the editing process take?
EL: You know that’s usually the hardest part to explain to people. The editing process takes a while. It can take an entire day to create one minute of finished footage. In fact, I usually bill clients based upon the length of the finished product as opposed to the length of time it takes me to edit the film. It’s more budget friendly for clients that way.
Phreedum: So your favorite part of film making is the part that takes the most time?
EL: Here’s the thing. It takes so much time because you can easily manipulate and lose a story with sound and juxtaposition. The editing is where you control the pace and sound design of the film to create emotion and tell the story, the story the people who hired you need you to tell.
Phreedum: What would you consider your greatest success so far?
EL: Having the confidence to ask for what I’m worth. This was an excruciating learning process for me. However, I think when you ask for more, people respect you more.
Phreedum: What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far?
EL: Not to take every job offered out of desperation. At the end of the day when I did this, it drove me crazy. I was tired, overworked, and underpaid. My time is worth something so I don’t need to say yes to everything.
Phreedum: Who has had the most influence in encouraging you to phreely pursue your dream?
EL: Gwendolyn Wright, a small business consultant here in San Francisco. When I first started filming for her business she would push me to do things that terrified me. She had a lot of faith in me and my abilities. She taught me a lot about self respect, especially being okay with saying no and not to be afraid of conflict.
Phreedum: What’s so great about being an entrepreneur in San Francisco?
EL: It was a lot easier for me to get work as there is a small film community here. San Francisco is also not a 9-5 city. There is always something to do in some part of the city and that usually means there is always some type of film or artistic project to be a part of in some capacity depending upon what your interests and skills are.
Phreedum: What would you consider your greatest resource?
EL: The experience I’ve had with larger corporate jobs has helped me learn so many various aspects of film that I can now do so many smaller projects completely on my own.
Phreedum: What do you think people underestimate about freelance work?
EL: I think people underestimate the idea that freelancing full time can be a reliable source of income. It really can bring in fulltime fulfillment financially and otherwise. I have lived in San Francisco for four years and it took three years for me to go to freelance full time. I worked as a cocktail waitress, bar tender, swim instructor, but I am happiest doing film and doing it full time.
Phreedum: Best piece of advice you’ve received?
EL: “Don’t bother doing anything unless your heart is completely in it otherwise you’re just going to drive yourself nuts.”
Phreedum: How does your freelance film work change the lives of others?
EL: Well I think for the person who hires me to do the work I am helping them fulfill a goal and tell a story. I think for the people viewing the work, especially the documentaries, I get to change their lives by educating them. Right now I am working with PBS regarding a documentary about indigenous communities and sacred sites all over the world. A lot of the communities are working hard to preserve these sites and my work with the documentary is educating people and helping to preserve the sites.