An update on “Good Thing”

My newest feature film is titled Good Thing: A Documentary About Landfill Dogs. It’s currently in production.

The film features Meredith College professor Shannon Johnstone, the photographer behind Landfill Dogs, a series of images featuring adoptable dogs in Raleigh, N.C., from the Wake County Animal Shelter.

If you’ve been a long-time reader here, you’ve heard me talk about Shannon and her project a lot.

In May 2013, I shared Shannon’s project on the blog. That post got some incredible traffic, which led to some awesome coverage in major news outlets. It had me jumping for joy! (Read that post here.)

In February 2014, I shared an iPhone documentary about Shannon’s project to keep spreading the word about the good work she’s doing with Landfill Dogs. It was titled Landfill Dogs: Behind the Scenes. I wanted to continue exploring the subject in a really low-risk way, while also prove a point that you can use what you’ve got to make a movie today. (Read that post and watch the short doc here.)

In November 2016, after we’d wrapped up Brewconomy and our self-distribution of the film, I finally announced me next project: Good Thing! (Read that post here.)

What’s happened since that announcement? Quite a bit. Here’s an update for you.

Funding Efforts

For years, I’ve been applying for grants to support the making of the film.

Those efforts have been time-consuming and exhausting, but really educational. I’ve learned a LOT about the grant application process, small pool of funds available to documentarians, and how to write the film before you’ve finished shooting it.

During the application process for one grant in particular last year, I finally found the clarity I needed on this version of the story. I kept trying to make it a short, partly so that we could get funding and share it with the world rapidly. (I’m really keen on short docs for a long list of reasons.) But by making this a short film, I was omitting a significant part of the story.

The film needed to be a feature and I finally came to terms with that. With that newfound clarity, I’ve been rewriting my budget and production schedule. I’m going to regroup and continue to seek funding from grant organizations.

Yes, I’ve also been thinking about crowdfunding. But I don’t want to jump into that too soon. I want to have a few things set up before starting a campaign because they can be quite time consuming.

Production Progress

So far, I’ve shot a lot of footage.

That footage has been edited into a trailer and the 10-minute version of the film. The 10-minute version is called a work sample, which is what I share with gatekeepers when seeking funding.

Since announcing the project in November, however, I’ve had a few more shoot days. They’ve been really productive, and I am ready to start adding that footage to the timeline, so I can continue to piece together the story.

To date, I’ve been shooting and editing everything myself. It’s a big switch from Brewconomy, but familiar territory thanks to Abandoned Allies.

Everything has been captured on two cameras, one of which is my Canon 5D Mark III. Boy, do I have the bad wants for a C300 and all of the accessories.

Or, you know, a sweet budget to get my crew together to capture it just the way I have dreamed about this film for years.

But I digress.

Shannon Johnstone, the photographer featured in my new documentary Good Thing, stops to take a photo of a dog.

What’s next?

Funding is key, so I’m still working on that.

Editing a rough cut of the film is at the top of my list. I want to get the new footage on the timeline so I can see what is lacking, and make plans to capture more footage. I have a list of things I’d like to shoot, and the rough cut will help prioritize those production days.

There are also some short clips I want to release to continue building interest in the documentary, and simultaneously share more info about Shannon’s photo series.

There are about a thousand other things on my list, and it’s tough to tackle with so few resources.

My dog, Louie, who was adopted from the Wake County Animal Shelter in 2007.

How can you help?

If you’re interested in helping with Good Thing, there are a few things you can do right now that’d be really awesome:

  1. Sign up for email updates here
  2. Follow along on social media (@goodthingdoc on IG, goodthingdoc on FB, @goodthingdoc on TW, camdenwatts on FB, @cammicam on TW, @camdenwatts on IG)
  3. Share the film or posts with your friends

Thank you all for following along! I really appreciate it.

More updates coming soon!

Thoughts on seeking the truth

I’ve spent a lifetime seeking the truth; it’s an obsession.

That’s thanks, in part, to growing up in a small town. Because in a small town most people know a person’s name, family, and business. Reputations are formed. Rumors spread quickly. And it can be really tough to figure out what’s true and what’s utter nonsense.

Also, my parents deserve a lot of credit.

For example, my dad would tell me stories to see if I was gullible enough to believe them. Since he was an history professor with a Ph.D., he made some really compelling arguments. But it was up to me to spot the nonsense. It became a fun game we played.

My mom had her own ways, too. Whenever I asked what a word meant, her automatic response was, “Go look it up!” It was infuriating but, in hindsight, I’m so glad she encouraged me to find answers on my own.

These things are really helpful for me as a filmmaker.

In this line of work, I may know the reputation of a particular crew member, but I typically give them the benefit of the doubt when we first meet. Or I may be interviewing someone but I suspect that they’re embellishing a story, so I keep prying to get to the real heart of the matter. It’s really helpful in the research stage, too.

Researching a story is one of my favorite parts of making movies. It gives me complete permission to fall into a new world, consuming almost everything I can to learn the lay of the land. Making connections, piecing together information, and drawing conclusions is so much fun to me.

While researching, I rarely accept something as a hard truth – especially from a single source. Instead, I look at multiple sources to piece together a story. Commonalities and patterns become easy to spot. Eventually, the most accurate version of the truth begins to take shape.

This can be really challenging in a world of misinformation, though.

Mike Benge, one of the men featured in Abandoned Allies, drinks rice wine with his Montagnard friends in Vietnam. (Photo courtesy of Mike Benge.)

While working on Abandoned Allies, for example, I met a lot of Vietnam War veterans. Many of them are very suspicious of the Communists to this day. (For good reasons, too.)

Montagnards, the tribal people from the highlands in Vietnam, are still persecuted in their homeland today – mainly for being American allies and Christians. It doesn’t get coverage stateside, though. So while working on the movie, I read a lot of news coming out of Vietnam. It was tough to find the truth of a story because the Communist government controls what gets published. There’s no free press.

Over time, with help from a lot of the Allies cast, I began to see the truth in the subtext. I looked for the things that don’t get printed in black and white. By reading news from lots of different sources worldwide, I learned a lot.

After a while, I began to see the bigger picture.

With every article and segment, I studied several things:

  • Who benefits from this news coverage?
  • How do the dollars flow among the companies in the news industry?
  • Do today’s news outlets follow the same “unbiased” pledge for reporting as I learned eons ago, when I wanted to be a journalist?

It was incredibly eye-opening.

Photograph of a soldier during the Vietnam War. (Courtesy of Maj. John Plaster.)

Now, of course, these aren’t scientific methods of proving a hypothesis on a grand scale.

Seeking truth comes in many different shapes, sizes, and situations. This post is mostly about instinctual ways of seeking the truth.

We’re challenged to seek the truth on a daily basis at home, work, and play. We’re called to seek the truth when we shop, vote, and speak our minds. And, I personally think this is a very good thing because we’re not blindly accepting of what people tell us to think, say, feel, or do.

Plus, I think this conversation is an important one – especially right now. Misinformation and distractions abound. It can be overwhelming to try to get enough info to form an educated opinion on a single matter, much less handle the barrage of breaking news coming at us every day.

It’s an important time to take a close look at how we consume information, make up our minds about issues, and take action on those things.

What about you?

So, I’m curious, how do you seek the truth, especially in current affairs?

Do you take the time to get news and information from many different sources, including outlets that are overseas? Or not?

Use the comments to share what’s on your mind.

The power of forgiveness

A Little Background

Getting married in 2013 put me through the ringer.

Let me be clear: everything about the man I married and our commitment to one another is totally dreamy. I’m really lucky in that regard.

Derek and I on our wedding day in 2013.

But planning a wedding and the logistics of starting our lives together just about did me in. There have been a lot of misunderstandings, arguments, and hurt feelings along the way. The life-altering events of that year made for an interesting 2014.

I wasn’t the same woman on the other side of it all. And, as a result, I went through a pretty rockin’ identity crisis. The next year brought a lot of soul searching; I’m only just now starting to fully understand.

One of the discoveries I made throughout that journey was the power of forgiveness. I’d heard people talk about “forgiveness” a lot but never quite grasped it fully. Now, baby, I’m becoming a master of forgiving.

Let’s dig a little deeper together, eh?

Why focus on forgiveness?

Simply put, forgiveness equals freedom.

During wedding planning, in particular, I felt weighed down by decisions I’ve regretted, mistakes I’ve made, and people / experiences that have caused me pain. Oh, boy, do I wanna be free of some of the things that’ve happened in my life. (There’s something about a big, life-altering thing like a wedding that’ll make you look back on your years.)

So, in 2014, the first purposeful forgiveness exercises I did were about things that happened a long time ago. They seemed easier since time tends to heal wounds. I made a long list of the junk I’d been carrying around with me. Afterwards, I went through each thing on the list and offered forgiveness.

The practice is a variation of Ho’oponopono, an ancient Hawaiian practice. It’s something that I picked up in the Get Rich, Lucky Bitch Bootcamp. (I’ve shared a bit about that with you here: But you could try out any version of forgiveness that makes you feel comfortable.)

Denise Duffield-Thomas runs the Get Rich, Lucky Bitch Bootcamp. A big part of the program is forgiveness exercises.

Confession: the first exercise didn’t feel that monumental. So, I tried it again later with things that felt raw. And, ooooooh boy, did the emotions start flowing. I honestly can’t recall what was on that list but I did some serious releasing that day.

Later on, I noticed that I felt lighter, happier, and healthier.

That feeling of freedom fed my curiosity.

What if I dug a little deeper? What would happen if I kept forgiving the memories, mistakes, and people I could think of each time? Wow, how good would that feel to be free enough to move forward, without the weight of those things holding me back?

In the three years since I started these exercises, I’ve done a lot of forgiving. Most of it’s about me and what’s happened in my life. I’ve never expected others to apologize for the things they’ve done to hurt me. It’s not about them. Forgiveness is about my life and what I want on a daily basis: joy, peace, and hope.

On the Other Side

Now that three years have passed since I started these forgiveness exercises, I’ve found so much freedom.

I don’t carry all the pains of the past with me. I don’t stress, worry, or jump to conclusions as often as I once did. I don’t fret about what could go wrong.

Instead, I’m living in the space where anything is possible. I’m giving myself permission to think big. (Like, really big!) I’m looking for like-minded people that also want to experience joy, peace, and hope on a daily basis.

That energy is what I want to bring to my personal and professional worlds. I want to see possibilities everywhere.

Shannon Johnstone, the photographer featured in my new documentary Good Thing, stops to take a photo of a dog.

It’s really lovely.

There’s so much more ease in my life, where stress and worry once used to reside. I’m so grateful. It has been really interesting to see how this shift in my world / mentality has shifted some relationships, too.

Why share this with you?

I feel like the world is more than a little chaotic right now.

It’s easy to read or watch the news and get completely bent out of shape about what’s happening in politics, our communities, and social justice (or lack thereof). There’s a lot to take in; it can be overwhelming.

But we’re not helpless.

We have the power to bravely seek peace, love, and joy on a daily basis by starting with ourselves. When we are happier, we can spread more joy throughout the world. We can choose to be patient and kind with one another on the highway, in line at the grocery store, and online.

When we decide to drop the weight of the past and focus on forgiveness, there’s a lot of freedom that leads to more creativity, possibility, and potential.

Last weekend, for example, I stopped and took photos of the tulips after church. It was a brief and simple moment. The light was hitting them so perfectly and they looked so pretty. But because I stopped to admire them, the guy behind me did the same. He looked so happy to discover them, and we chatted for a few moments.

Pretty, pretty tulips

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We are not powerless creatures.

We have within us what we need to bring about positive change in this world, even if it’s a simple moment with a stranger admiring tulips in the morning light. We can heal, forgive, and feel joy if we’re ready and willing.

Forgiveness is powerful stuff.

I hope that you’ll give it a shot. And, if you do, please let me know how it worked out for you. I’ve become a little obsessed with it, and would love to hear from you in the comments.

The next 10 years and developing your artistic voice

I’ve been making movies for about ten years. (Want to see what I’ve made? Check out the films page here.)

In those ten years, I’ve made plenty of mistakes. It’s been messy, challenging, exhausting, and exhilarating. Failure and I have an intimate relationship. It gives me the courage to experiment freely as a filmmaker – and that’s part of what sets me on fire. I love figuring things out as we go.

Speaking with Dr. Bob Patterson’s class at N.C. State University about “Abandoned Allies” in 2012.

It’s a dance; the steps are known but what happens on the dance floor may be different every time. When we’re first starting out, we may learn the steps of the dance and try them on as best we can. We memorize, copy, and echo what we’re taught.

Answering questions about “Abandoned Allies” at the August premiere at IMAX at Marbles in 2012.

After a while we start to embrace the tiniest detail of the steps, perfect them, seek a deeper understanding of the dance, and (sometimes) begin to challenge the norm. In filmmaking, this is often called honing your craft.

Developing Your Artistic Voice

What I’ve discovered in recent years is the development of my artistic voice. It’s simultaneously freeing and scary. But it’s the next stage of the evolution of my career as a filmmaker, and I’m all on board.

As a storyteller, I am finding what most interests me. What stories do I most want to tell? How? Why? What do I want to add to the conversation that hasn’t been said? Am I qualified to say it?*

On location while making Abandoned Allies in 2011. (Photo taken by my sister.)

For example, I’ve wanted to explore race relations in America for many years. I want to do this in a way that feels authentic. I want to explore my own community, bias, and understanding of the world. Finally, I think I’m closing in on an idea for a new film and that really excites me. Once I finish Good Thing, I can continue developing this idea.

Another side effect of honing your voice as an artist is the joy of telling others to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine – even if you’re not saying it aloud. The haters, doubters, critics, gatekeepers, and copy cats have made the past ten years pretty challenging.

On the set of “AK” in February 2016.

But I’m entering a new phase where I don’t have the time to pay attention to that noise anymore. It’s water on a duck’s back, as they say. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing – to the very best of my ability – and stay focused on that.

Brewconomy screening at NoDa Brewing Company organized by the Levine Museum of the New South on Tuesday, May 24, 2016.

The Next 10 Years

The next stage of filmmaking feels like delightfully uncharted territory, which is different than when I first started making movies.

I once was moving forward rather painfully – armed with nothing but passion and blind ambition. Now I can see the path ahead, know the obstacles and how to overcome them, and I’m really comfortable with the steps it’ll take to get achieve the goal. It makes the next stages the good kind of scary.

Panel discussion following the premiere of “Brewconomy” at IMAX Raleigh, with Shane Johnston, Margo Knight Metzger, Bruce McKim, and Dan Gridley. Photo courtesy of ArtsNow NC.

The next ten years will be filled with positivity, hope, optimism, and potential. It will be filled with more sincere, deep, long-lasting, trusted, and respectful relationships that make life more enjoyable – on set and at home.

IMHO, it’s also filled with more intimate relationships between creators and audiences. Live events where I can keep the conversations going after the credits roll, practice what we preach in the film, and help empower communities is what I’m keen on. (Allies and Brewconomy helped me see that this was possible, and I’m totally hooked.) Making the films more available to broader audiences is important, too.

The next ten years will be pretty great.

I’m excited about it!

On the set of Brewconomy in early 2014.

*To clarify, being “qualified” doesn’t equal seeking permission to tell a story. We live in a time where we should simply START working on the project if we’re always dreaming about it. Obviously, there are certain legalities with filmmaking in regards to actual, written permission (especially in documentaries) but that’s a separate matter.

Cancer: One Year Later

My dog, Louie, was diagnosed with cancer in April 2016.

We’re approaching the exact date that my husband and I found out that Louie was sick. I wasn’t sure we’d have another year with our sweet dog, so I’ve been counting every day as a blessing – even as he passes the smelliest gas while I write this post.

Cancer has made the past year tough. I haven’t wanted to share much about it on this blog because I was in the midst of the storm. It’s tough to see your way through something when you’re in the heat of the battle. I typically need some time to process, so I can reflect on what happened, and finally make sense of it by sharing the experience.

Over the past year, a lot of our closest friends who knew about Louie’s diagnosis would kindly ask about his health. At first, I would burst into tears immediately every time they broached the subject. Which, of course, made me feel so pitiful for weeping over a dog. I felt really guilty about it because cancer is in humans, too, and here I was crying about my dog.

But, that’s part of the lessons learned. Our dogs are more than companion animals. They really are our best friends, who consistently greet us with excitement and love and adoration. And sometimes dogs treat us better than our human friends do.

Little Louie has always been a willing participant in whatever camera test I’ve got up my sleeve. I was testing the miniature mode – which over saturates everything – on a new pocket camera in 2012.

My sweet little Louie has been with me for 10 years now. Those years were pretty brutal, too. I did a lot of growing up in that time. In no particular order: I got in a car wreck that put me in intense physical therapy, bought my first house to renovate, adopted Louie, started making movies, founded the TriFilm Society, quit a few jobs, started new jobs, fell in love, got married, built a new house with my husband, began learning what it meant to be a wife, and so much more.

He loves to cuddle. #dogs #dogsofinstagram #pitbull #pitmix #dogslife #doglover

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Little Lou has been right by my side the entire time. Through every difficult, dark day he has been there to cuddle. During every moment of joy, he has been there smiling back at me. We’ve been walking, running, and playing together for so long that it’s hard to imagine life without Louie.

In the midst of our grieving, figuring out how to handle Louie’s cancer treatments, shuffling back and forth to the vet, new special care regimen, and paying medical bills made the past year tough.

It made it really hard to concentrate on working on my new documentary Good Thing. The new movie is a feature-length documentary about Shannon Johnstone, a photographer who’s helping dogs at the Wake County Animal Shelter find homes. (That’s the same shelter where my sister found Louie and brought him home. Black dogs usually don’t find homes fast enough, so they’re more likely to be euthanized.) I’m sincerely looking forward to getting this film finished so you can see it. Watch the trailer here.

Louie looks a lot different now. He lost a lot of weight, so his cheeks and spine protrude a bit. His coat isn’t thick and shiny like it was when he was a pup. (He has what they call “pred skin” because of the meds he’s taking.) And he moves a little slower than he once did. (Then again, I move a little slower than I did 10 years ago, too.)

As we approach that one-year anniversary of Louie’s cancer diagnosis, I find myself feeling overwhelmingly grateful for the time we’ve spent together.

With the chaos of the world, I feel lucky to find love and joy on a daily basis. I am so thankful for all the lessons Louie’s taught me about life, loyalty, and love. He’s my boy. I’m going to love him as long as I live, ya know?

Dogs are special creatures that adore, forgive, and love us unconditionally.

May you find that, too.

We’re pretty excited about it NOT being so hot this week.

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Free screening of MISS REPRESENTATION on 3/29

There will be a free screening of the documentary film Miss Representation on March 29th, at The Cary Theater, in Cary, N.C., starting at 7:00 PM. I highly recommend this movie.

Please share with your family and friends. Go have drinks afterwards and talk about the movie.

From the theater you can walk to Bond Brothers, a North Carolina brewery that served samples at the Brewconomy screening a few years ago and was recently named “Best New Brewery” by USA Today.

Photo via The Cary Theater

Here’s the trailer:

The Geena Davis Institute has a short video, which I saw for the first time at Alice Fest a few years ago.

The message is simple, “If she can see it, she can be it.” It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot with my movies in recent years.

The 2016 Joy Jar

At the end of 2015, I found the “joy jar” project online in a few different places. It sounded pretty cheesy; the kind of obnoxious thing that makes you groan. And I mean uncontrollably groan aloud, so others can hear you.

But I was in a season of my life where things had been so stressful for so long, I needed a way out. I needed a path back to the more joyful version of myself, and was willing to throw anything at the problem. So I was was willing to try this little project – even though I was seriously cynical. Boy, was I wrong about it.

I’m writing this on New Year’s Day 2017, cuddled up on the couch. Derek and I just had a big breakfast. Moments ago, we finished going through the 2016 jar of joys. And, I’ve gotta say, I’m totally humbled by it.

Continue reading “The 2016 Joy Jar”