Filmmaker tells us all about working during a pandemic

Heath Cozens is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and Director of Productions at Fluent Productions, and his work has featured in VICE, BBC, the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Bloomberg and numerous other major media outlets. We recently caught up with Heath after he hired professionals on Mandy for his latest project.

Heath offered a unique insight into his work, as well as how candidates can stand out on Mandy and the ways in which employers can maximise our platform when seeking talent. Check out our chat with Heath below!

Tell us about your project Family Strong! What is the concept and how did you land on this idea?

Back in the early days of COVID, when NY was the epicenter of infection, it felt like history was unfolding at double-speed. As a documentary filmmaker sheltering-in-place, I wanted to capture the moment. But how?

Some fellow filmmakers were improvising workarounds, like using Zoom for interviews. It gave me an idea: a documentary series about families navigating the uncertainty of life during the pandemic, shot by the participants themselves.

I pitched the series to Nellie Gregorian at Fluent Research, a NY-based research company with clients in media, technology, and education. Fluent was conducting a major study on family wellbeing during the pandemic, and the web series concept was a natural match. Nellie greenlighted the series, titling it “Family Strong”. It would be the signature production for Fluent’s new video production arm, Fluent Productions.

Family Strong’s success hinged upon capturing spontaneous moments and capturing them well. To keep the technical side as simple as possible, I decided we would just shoot with smartphones. As photographer Chase Jarvis says, “the best camera is the one that's with you.” That seemed doubly true for emerging documentarians.

I cast families from over the country and gave them full control over what to document and share. I trained them on how to use their smartphones for filming, focussing on shot sizes, composition, and sequences. They shot in 4K, used external mics, and conducted file transfers with Google Drive. Soon, hundreds of clips started flowing in. l needed help!

This being an entirely remote production, it made sense to recruit internationally. I placed an ad on Mandy, and within hours had multiple qualified responses. One stood out: an experienced British editor in South Africa called Nick Lear. With Nick six to seven hours ahead of me, we could keep the production running 24 hours a day, if needed. And if one of us got sick, we could still stay on schedule.

Over six months, we whittled down thousands of clips to produce ten short films and an extended, two-part finale. The episodes developed in unexpected, poignant directions. In one thread, a newly-blended family bonds under lockdown, while in another, a frustrated pre-teen starts acting out. In one family, a girl starts getting panic attacks, and in another, a mom risks her health for her family. In one dramatic episode, a college student faces a brush with death.

It’s not easy to turn the camera on oneself, especially while dealing with real-life challenges, in the midst of a pandemic. I’m so grateful to the families for sharing their experiences.

What are the next steps for your project?

The series is on hiatus for now, but we are currently releasing some unseen clips from the series on our Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook pages.

However, like Michael Apted’s “Up” series —an inspiration for Family Strong— we plan to revisit our families. The pandemic, and the need for special filming approaches, isn’t going away soon.

How did you find your experience hiring talent on Mandy?

It was easy and quick. I love how quickly the job listings are screened and go live. I like how we got a lot of qualified applicants, too! I have hazy memories from the ’90s, of when Mandy was a massive book, updated yearly. Mandy is still the queen of production directories.

What advice would you give to Mandy members on how they can make their application stand out?

If you’re interested in the job, take the time to write a personalized letter, and spell check it. Look professional, look interested, and be polite. If you haven’t got experience in a certain area, demonstrate how you’re willing to learn. Correlate experiences you had in a different role with the job requirements. And if you get an interview or call, take the initiative and prepare. As remote work becomes more common, it’s vital to demonstrate you are a self-starter and don’t need guidance.

Do you have any guidance for employers looking to hire talent on Mandy?

Generally, favor those who write enthusiastic, personalized emails. Be crystal-clear about expectations. Make sure to leave a paper-trail, i.e., email. That way, there’s no confusion about decisions, deliverables, and payment schedules. Listen to your gut and consider speaking with referees before making the hire. It’s nice to know that your favored candidate did in fact cut/direct/shoot that thing they showed you.

Watch an episode of Family Strong

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