COLUMBIA, MISSOURI— Sara Neitzert lays on a hammock in her backyard, daughter Lilly in one arm and a copy of Harry Potter in the other. It had been a long day. But, it couldn’t have been as stressful as cooking for 50 independent film actors for her husband’s last film or as intense as shooting and editing for a week straight (after working her full time job, all day) to finish her 2nd place winning short film, “Gimme Truth” at the True/False Film Festival. It wasn’t even as busy as one of her days at The Brooks Institute in Ventura, CA where she had eight weeks to finish 1 to 3 classes and a film project. But, Neitzert’s taken on all of these tasks, and more, wearing a smile. Have their been challenges? Absolutely. Being taken seriously as a woman in the film industry is hard enough. But, when you’re five feet tall with a baby face, you have a tough time convincing judges you’re not a film festival spectator. For Sara, though, there’s no turning back and no choice in the matter. She can’t remember a time when she wanted to do anything but work in film and television.
For Sara and her husband, Andy, keeping busy is always a good thing. “We always have an upcoming project. If we didn’t, we’d be in trouble,” says Neitzert. “We’d also be bored.” True to their nature, Neitzert and her husband have been working in film, together for years. They spent the majority of their time at Brooks, together, working on as many short films as possible. While other students “…didn’t take direction well,” Neitzert attributes their drive and motivation as major parts of their ongoing success. “Even directors need direction. There are a lot of great filmmakers out there who are flaky…most of whom have earned that right.”
After earning her Associates Degree in Photography from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and a Bachelor’s Degree from The Brooks Institute, Sara tried her hand at making films in the world’s biggest production set: Hollywood. Eventually, she and Andy moved back to his home town in Columbia to begin their family and continue their career(s) in a different market. Happy with their move, Neitzert says many businesses have a different mentality than Southern California’s ‘What can you do for me?’ attitude. “In California there are more job opportunities available to filmmakers. In Columbia, more often than not, we have to create our own opportunities.” These opportunities range from working with local universities on film projects to doing their own fundraising by seeking out donations. Neitzert jokes, “Producers are a special breed of high class beggars.” She’s also hosted her own television show, “Whatever! With Sara”
Bold Magazine sat down with Sara Netizert, recently, to discuss her love for film, her roles as a wife, mother, and producer/director, her on ongoing success as an awesome and bold woman!
Bold Magazine: OK, Sara. First thing’s first. How did you feed 50 people 2 meals a day for 3 weeks all cooked in a non-commercial kitchen for under $3,000.?
Sara: It was very stressful. I went to work from 8:30 to 5:00, came home, cooked, dropped the meals off on set, made sure everyone was fed, cleaned up, grocery shopped, and began cooking and preparing for the following evening, finally got to bed around 1:30 or 2:00 am, and then woke back up at 7:30. I did this for 3 weeks straight.
My mother in law, Jan, helped me out, and a couple of Andy’s students from the University helped, too. We had like six crock pots going and I made tons of good stuff. The actors would complain that there wasn’t always hot food and I’d say “Just eat your sandwich and like it!” And the grocery store credited us 20% which was a huge help. I made twelve pounds of spaghetti at one time. We did tuna salad, chicken salad, ham and cheese, vegetarian wraps, fettucini alfredo with chicken or vegetables for vegetarians and “make your own taco” nights. We repeated a few meals. One night, we had a “chicken scare.” Someone’s chicken was raw on the inside and we had to take it all back.
It was a great experience and I really learned a lot, but the number one thing I learned was not to offer to do that ever again.
BM: When did you decide you wanted to go into film and television?
S: I always wanted to work in film or television. For me that’s where the excitement is. It is an incredible feeling you get when people watch something that you have created and have a reaction, whether that be a positive or negative. If I had to pinpoint the moment, it would be one day when I was watching Full House and, during the credits, I realized Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen played one person. From then, I knew I wanted to get behind the scenes.
BM: Are there many women doing what you do in film?
S: There were a lot of other women in film school of varying ages. In fact, I worked on at least two projects whose crews were made up entirely of women. Today there are lots of festivals that showcase films by women. I was part of the core team that worked on The Citizen Jane Film Festival in 2009. It is an annual film festival that began in 2008 here in Columbia Missouri showcasing films made by Women.
BM: Any advice for young women looking to do what you do?
S: There is a lot to making a film. There is a lot of time and love put into it. If you weren’t completely passionate about it you wouldn’t be able to last as filmmaker. We sometimes have 20 hour days, working on just 4 or 5 hours of sleep, everything is going wrong, but you have to keep going and you want to keep going.
BM: What do you think is more important? Education or experience?
S: If you want to make films you don’t have to go to film school. Film school was the right path for me, but it isn’t for everyone. There is a book out there called “What They Don’t Teach You In Film School” It’s a really great book for anyone looking to make a film. In this industry it’s definitely who you know. But it isn’t difficult to get out there and meet people. If you really want to be a filmmaker, just get out there and do it! With YouTube, iPhones and flip videos and practically every computer coming standard with video editing software, it isn’t hard.
BM: What else can you do with all of these experiences and education?
S: There are lots of great jobs you can have working on a film. My personal favorite part of the process is editing. You have to be a good story teller as an editor, because no matter how the film was intended to be seen, you may have to change things up.
BM: Is it difficult juggling your roles as a filmmaker and mother?
S: Being a filmmaker can be difficult on most families. The more successful you are, the less time you spend with your family. Childcare is something that has been difficult to figure out when we are filming. Over this last project I saw her [Lilly] every day, but only for about an hour. That life can be difficult, but when we do have time off, we try to spend a lot of it together… Luckily the crazy hours don’t usually last more than a month or two out of the year.
BM: How about working with your husband, Andy?
S: It’s really great to be able to see so much of each other all day long and get home and say “All I really want to do is hangout and spend more time together!” We don’t get sick of each other! When we were in school we spent 24 hours together. I don’t know why it works for us, but it just does and I am happy it works.
BM: So, it sounds like it’s really had a positive impact on your family.
S: The benefits to making films are that you actually get to try out a lot of new things and meet a lot of new people. We have gotten to take Lilly to do some really neat things and she will get to have some opportunities most kids don’t. Hopefully one day we will be able to travel with her to all kinds of neat places when we take our films to festivals. Right now she is too young to get anything out of most aspects of a film festival.
BM: What is one of the challenges you face in making independent films?
S: You have to have a really good producer when you don’t have a budget, as we often don’t [have a budget]. The producer in many cases must find locations, actors, and crew members willing to offer their goods or services free of charge. Finding good food for very little money is important too. Often time’s people are willing to work for free as long as you keep them well fed.
BM: What are some of the best parts?
S: I got to meet lots of celebs at film festivals and also a few industry professionals that were able to give me advice and phone numbers. I got to meet Moran Spurlock (Supersize Me), Helen Mirren (actually I bumped into her. Literally…), the late Heath Ledger, Anne Hathaway, Stanley Tucci… just to name a few (and yes, I am bragging).
BM: What are some of the benefits, you’ve noticed, of being a woman in the film industry?
S: Definitely perspective. There are also lots of opportunities just for women. Also (and this may be a generalization), but I feel that women tend to be more organized and better at multitasking.
BM: That’s OK, Sara. You can be pro-women, here. So, it seems like on all of your projects, either you or Andy are always in the lead, with the other assisting. Is this always the case?
S: No, we’re actually working on a project, now, where we are co-producing.
BM: OK, build me your AOL Profile.
Favorite Color: Orange
Favorite Book: A Walk to Remember and all of Harry Potter series
Favorite Music: showtunes and broadway musicals
Favorite Theatrical Shows: Hairspray, Avenue Q, Chicago (This is a funny story, I actually met Jeff Marks, co-writer of Avenue Q at Thanksgiving dinner, one year)
Favorite Directors: Tim Burton (I’ve got a really cool charm bracelet of my favorite Tim Burton movies)
Favorite Movie: Snow White, Beetlejuice
Favorite Activtiy: Baking, Reading is a close second
Favorite thing to bake: cupcakes and Oreo balls (But, currently, cookies)
Who would you like to meet, most?: My Grandfather. He died before I was born.
Give me three words that describe you: Awesome, Happy, Hyper
Dislikes: liars, people who exaggerate to the point that I know it’s completely untrue. Like “Oh you flew a plane and Neil Diamond was your co-pilot?” I’m not sure why I just thought of Neil Diamond, there. Also people who call my office at 4:59
BM: Did you do theater in HS?
S: Yes, in Elementary and High School. I also did drama outside of school, as well.
BM: What would you want do if you weren’t doing film?
S: Teach middle school kids.
BM: What would you teach?
S: Something like film, photography, maybe English because it’s the only other thing I’d be able to teach. High School kids are a little too cool for me to teach. Not really, but they do act like it.
BM: OK, so you’re at a cocktail party. Everyone has name tags on, defining themselves. What would you put on your name tag?
S: Wierdo. How about something like that? I am. I am very strange and hyper. I’m just a strange person and some people don’t get me.
BM: Nice one. OK, so somebody gives you an unlimited budget. What type of film project would you want to do?
S: A documentary, definitely. I have tons of ideas for documentaries but I’d need someone to pay me while I was researching, filming, traveling, interviewing, talking to people, etc. I have a big budget film idea but these would be much less expensive than one of those. I just don’t know where I’d get that kind of budget.
BM: OK, Sara. What do you like to do in your spare time?
S: When I am not working or filming I love to lie out in my hammock and read. I don’t mind re-reading a book I’ve read dozens of times already. I also love baking! At least once a month I try to bake something new. I am hoping to find time to take a cake decorating class before the summer is over. I also love traveling even if it’s just a short trip. We spend weekends at the Lake of the Ozarks here in Missouri a lot during the summer. I also recently became involved in Community Theater.
Follow Sara on Twitter, here!
See more pictures of Sara and Andy, here!
Read Sara’s blog:
You can see some of Sara Neitzert’s Work, below:
“Chasing Chairs”- 2nd place winner in the T/F film festival Gimme Truth competition: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=we457d6zO64
“Whatever! With Sara” First Episode:
Sync (at the end of the video):