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Wendy Greene, Filmmaker & Producer : The Joys of Documentary Filmmaking

By September 1, 2010November 26th, 2016No Comments

What is your name, age, and location?

Wendy Greene, 40, New York City.

What is your profession?

I’m a documentary television producer and independent filmmaker.

What did you study in school and what degrees do you have?

I got a BA in English at Columbia University in New York. I then got an MFA in film at Columbia College Chicago in Chicago, IL. The schools are both named Columbia, but aren’t related.

What was your first job?

My first real job in the business was as an associate producer at Towers Productions in Chicago. It was, and probably still is, a great place to cut your teeth, since they are happy to hire young people and mentor them.

Who or what inspired you to break into your current line of work?

I was at film school hoping to learn how to be a fiction director, but I was coming to the realization that I didn’t like directing actors, and I hated being on those slow, boring sets.

Then Ronit Bezalel, a great Chicago documentary filmmaker, asked me to help her follow this punk band for a week for a short film. She put a video camera in my hands and I was hooked.

Name/describe what has been your most rewarding project so far?

I don’t want to sound corny, but the fact that people open up their lives to me is always rewarding. But I’d say the first documentary I made, on African-American cowboys in the Midwest, was probably the most rewarding. The people I met were so excited to be telling their stories, because I think they felt like no one outside their world had ever asked them to before. And it was the hardest, because I had no idea what I was doing.

The work I did with an autistic girl and her family in a pilot for Discovery Health also affected me pretty profoundly—we still stay in touch and I think a lot about autism and how it will shape the world in the future. And just to be welcomed into a family’s life so completely like that was amazing.

And all the work I did in hospitals, in a few different series for TLC, was also really rewarding. I got to film everything from women giving birth to heart transplants, and saw people at the most incredible points in their lives. It also gave me the utmost respect for doctors and what they do.

So You Want To Be A Cowboy? from Wendy Greene on Vimeo.

Name/describe one incident when being a woman has helped your career?

Sometimes I think that my being a woman makes people more comfortable in opening up. But it might just be that I have one of those faces, because people tend to talk to me all the time—on planes, on the street, on the subway. Maybe it is the fact that I kind of want to listen to people that brought me to documentary.

Name/describe one incident when being a woman has hindered your career?

I hate to say it, but I think sexism is alive and kicking. It may be more subtle these days than, say, in the “Mad Men” era, but it’s there.

I feel like I’ve been able to achieve a lot in my career, but when I run into sexism, I admit, it can be disheartening.

It’s also been the thing that has pushed me forward. For instance, when I first started out, so many cameramen gave me so much attitude that I finally realized I needed to learn how to shoot for myself. Now if a camera guy tells me “no”, I have the confidence and the know-how to either do it myself or push them to do what I need.

Who is your role model or mentor (alive or dead)?

Rachel Hanfling, the first TV producer I worked for, taught me everything about how to produce television documentary. I fought her every step of the way, but in the end, she mentored me and taught me the skills I use on a daily basis. My friend Sue Huck has been a true role model: she has had a long, successful career in a creative business, and is the toughest person I know.

My friend Jess Dobkin is this amazing, fearless performance artist, and I think we sort of co-mentor each other creatively and professionally. My friend Wendy Lehmann constantly reminds me to stand up for myself and to be confident in my abilities.

If you could give one piece of advice to a woman starting out in your field, what would it be?

When I started out at my first TV job, I worked six and seven day weeks, and I constantly worried I’d never get anywhere. But in the end, that was when I learned the most about the craft of making documentary. Eventually, I made a lot of work I was proud of and got to the place where I was producing shows.

So I’d say just work your ass off, and don’t worry—it will pay off, even if the boys get promoted just a little bit faster. Just acknowledge that with a nod, put your head down, and keep on going. And if you need some encouragement, call me.


Wendy’s videos on Vimeo

– Interview by Elena Rossini


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