Director of Photography Jodi Savitz is Making Waves With Wooden Camera
Acclaimed director and cinematographer Jodi Savitz always knew she wanted to be a storyteller. She started her career as an actress before pivoting to filmmaking in 2016. Her first feature documentary, "Girl On Girl", received viral attention for its unique coverage of the LGBTQ community and feminine lesbian identity. Since then, she's shot narrative, documentary, and commercial work for clients ranging from Condé Nast to NBC. Her latest project, showcasing Uganda’s first and only LGBTQ aquatics team, brought her to the center of this year's NYC World Pride Parade to capture their momentous journey. We were able to ask Jodi a few questions about her story, her equipment, and her role as Director of Photography on the project.
How did you get your start in filmmaking? What steps did you take to get where you are today?
Before becoming a full-time filmmaker, I got my start in acting and theater at Northwestern University, where I was also a gender studies major. At one point in college, I studied in Buenos Aires, where I enrolled in a documentary filmmaking class. During my time there, I interned at several LGBTQ non-profits that really focused on a push for gay marriage in the city. I eventually filmed a documentary showcasing the stories of several lesbian activists, including two women who would turn out to be the first LGBTQ couple to legally marry there. This was definitely one of the first moments where I felt that, through filmmaking, I could really make a difference. [Watch "Yo So Así" here]
After graduating from Northwestern, I moved to New York to pursue acting. I loved performing, but I soon realized that I wanted to do something more - where I had more creative authority. I pitched a documentary that focused on a niche subject within the LBGTQ community - and then I bought my first camera. Through tons of research and wearing many hats during the filmmaking process, I released my first feature documentary, “Girl on Girl”, in 2016. Not only did I shoot, direct, and edit the film, but I also fostered a huge marketing campaign for the project. The reception was amazing! Today, the documentary has nearly 500,000 followers on Facebook.
“Girl on Girl” grabbed the attention of the managing editor of NBC OUT [an LGBTQ news source of NBC News] and soon I started working freelance for vertical content groups, shooting several short documentaries in the span of a year. This came at a time when social media and digital mini-docs gained steam (NowThis, Elite Daily, etc), and I was expected to work as a one-woman band. Over time, I realized shooting is where I shine and what I enjoy most. I decided to focus on cinematography and shift from digital media into larger documentary and narrative projects. To be where I am now, I spent a lot of time doing my own research, going to filmmaker meetups, and being active in the New York film community. The creation and teamwork process is fun - it makes my work not feel like work.
You’re currently working on a documentary about the Ugandan LGBTQ aquatics team. How did you find out about them and what made you want to tell their story?
At South by Southwest this year, I gave a presentation at a Panasonic panel called "Creating Films With a Conscience", about social justice filmmaking. This sparked interest in [filmmaker] Kristal Mosley, who contacted me in the spring to collaborate on a documentary she was directing. Kristal had connected with the swim captain of UKAT [Ugandan Kuchu Aquatics Team], Uganda’s first and only LGBTQ aquatics team. Being gay or lesbian is a crime in Uganda, so there is always a sense of fear of hostility that members of the team have to live with daily. Some of them have even been attacked on the way home from practice. Despite the risk, all but one on the team have officially come out.
Kristal found out that the team was coming to New York to compete in the annual IGLA (International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics) Competition and celebrate New York World Pride and wanted to document their visit. I joined the project as the DP and was able to capture the team’s first experience in the states. The goal of this documentary is to build a conversation about the rampant homophobia in Uganda and to help educate the world about the success of UKAT in order to make their situation better. They also want more Ugandans to know that they exist so they can create a more supportive community for future generations of LGBTQ people there. Coming to New York, they were able to experience the world could be for them.
What Wooden Camera products did you use for this project and how was your experience using this gear in the field?
I love the shoulder rig! It fit well and was very comfortable. It’s definitely built better for my size and the way I handle a shoulder rig - and that's really rare. Women’s and men’s shoulders are different. The curvature of the pad is really accommodating and the width between the pad and crossbar felt different - but comfortable. The padding of many other popular shoulder rigs isn’t as comfortable, and often I bring additional padding to wear on a shoot. For this shoot, I was on my feet all day and wearing the Shoulder Rig v3 for 6-7 hours and at the end of the day it was still very comfortable. I’d love to try it out with the extension arms next!
The Unified DSLR Cage also fit the S1 well. It’s nice to have a simple, low-profile cage. We didn’t have any issues getting cards or batteries out - which is really refreshing for a DSLR cage.
From Left: Rachel Villegas, Production Sound; Jen Lou, 1st AC; Jodi Savitz, DP; Lauretta Prevost, B-Cam Op; Brittany Jeffery, B-Cam 1st AC
What have been some highlights of this production? What's next for the documentary?
The biggest highlight of the shoot was capturing the team march in the New York World Pride Parade. We were capturing them as they discovered what the world could be for them - that there is support outside their community and they’re not alone. There were so many wonderful moments full of pure joy and excitement.
The project is still in the early stages of production, and there are future plans to shoot in Uganda and follow the team as their stories unfold.