Film Courage: In the beginning of your filmmaking career, how fearful or brave were you to ask for more?
Rachel Grady: More from our subjects, more money?
Film Courage: Everything, everything. I know you had talked about in an interview having confidence versus being afraid to ask for more. And that really a light bulb went off, not even that it was a gender-specific idea [“women should ask for more”] but just the fear of appearing too…
Rachel Grady: …Pushy? It is gender-specific.
Film Courage: It is? Okay…But I think you mentioned how you didn’t realize that was a thing [stereotype] and that you both were okay asking for more?
Rachel Grady: I think a lot of women (professional women) have that kind of trajectory which is (you know) as you have more success and you have more personal confidence, you will ask for more. And we’re two women, we own our own company, we have staff, and we’ve noticed over the years that the boy employees will always ask for more, even if they don’t deserve it and the women won’t. So I think part of it is just that we matured and we got more confident, but also we are business owners and I think you see the world differently when you are asking for money, when you are taking care of money, when you have staff working for you, when you’re a director, when you’re telling people what your vision is and expecting them…they work for you.
So all of the things that help people get more confident and ask for more, we were put in a position that we were able to grow in it. So now that we’re almost 30, we’re insanely confident.
Heidi Ewing: It is a privilege to make documentary films, it is a privilege to be in this business and direct, but there’s also a marketplace for the stories we have to tell, there is more of a marketplace than there has ever been. And I think a lot of filmmakers, especially earlier in their career just feel so lucky that anyone is interested in financing their work or supporting their work and I totally understand that. But I think it’s really important to graduate into a place where you realize that everyone is moved by important stories well told. And it’s hard to tell a story (an important story) well. And so there’s a premium for those people who can do it. And it’s important to realize that especially as a woman director, because if you don’t ask, it will not be offered to you. So you have to know that and sort of make demands that are reasonable, that are fair, so you don’t just end up working for less or feeling less than. So that happened pretty early on in our career. I mean, we put our heads down and we work and we make a movie, that’s what we do. But we also know that this is important work that people want to see and will pay for and that sort of thing. So it’s really finding that balance between doing subjects that really interest us and also realizing that it’s a business as well.
Film Courage: So then asking for more, being given some access to FootSteps [the clinic that was in their documentary ONE OF US], I think you said that they let you sort of be in their lobby for a little bit, it was like baby steps with them?
Rachel Grady: No, that was the access that they gave us.
Heidi Ewing: That was it.
Rachel Grady: They gave us the ability to meet their clients. That’s what we were asking them for.
Heidi Ewing: We did not film inside Footsteps hardly ever, except a couple of one-on-one sessions which you see in the movie.
Film Courage: Right. And they [those scenes in ONE OF US movie] are excellent, by the way.
Rachel Grady: Thank you.
Heidi Ewing: Those were hard-fought scenes. Thank you! Those were very, very hard to get.
Film Courage: I can see why.
Rachel Grady: So we weren’t asking them for more, that’s all we needed from them. We were very persistent and patient, and gave them a good pitch of why we were the right people for them to trust and they did it and then we met their members and we kept our end of the bargain and we made a movie that they like and they can use in any way that they want. We all got something out of it, which is another thing that you understand as you get more seasoned, that everyone is doing something for their own incentive. And you have to figure out what that incentive is.
Heidi Ewing: And also in terms of asking for more, I mean they had been contacted by multiple filmmakers over the year and they had said “no.” And so we said “But you haven’t been contacted by us and we have a body of work to show.” So it’s not abstract so much. They could see all of our past films, our five plus feature-length documentaries, plus a lot of other work and they can judge for themselves how big of a risk is this. Footsteps took a big risk. They had no editorial control over the film. They were not invited for any editorial feedback and so they had to trust that at least these filmmakers didn’t have a specific agenda and would tell it like it is, which is all we can guarantee. And so they’ve kind of taken leaps, as well. And that’s what it takes. It takes really, really brave individuals that will trust you and organizations in order for this documentary thing to even happen. And we rely on people to trust us and we rely on goodwill and we take it as a big responsibility and big gift. And it can be a heavy burden because people have trusted you and entrusted you with their secrets and their stories and so that has not gotten easier. That is just something that we grapple with every time. Are we doing right by this person? Did this person mean to say that? Or is this the one day that they would say such a crazy thing that would be great in the movie, but they actually really don’t mean it. So you have to sort of also suss out (you know) what is representative of a person or an organization.
So we had to grapple with a lot of those sort of rocky moments on this particular movie.
In their new documentary ONE OF US, acclaimed observational filmmakers Heidi Ewingand Rachel Grady (JESUS CAMP, DETROPIA) take a deep and moving look at the lives of three individuals who have chosen to leave the hugely insular world of Hasidic Judaism. The film follows Etty, a mother of seven, as she decides to leave a violent marriage and divorce her husband; Ari, a teenager on the verge of manhood who is struggling with addiction and the effects of childhood abuse; and Luzer, an actor who, despite having found success in the secular world, still wrestles with his decision eight years earlier to leave the Hasidic community. Produced over three years, ONE OF US offers unique and intimate access to the lives of all three as they deal not only with questions of their beliefs but also with the consequences of leaving the only community they have ever known. With their trademark sensitivity and keen interest in the nature of faith, Ewing and Grady chronicle these journeys towards personal freedom that comes at a very high cost.
Watch ONE OF US exclusively on Netflix beginning 10/20/17: