Blog: Carrie LeZotte


Carrie LeZotte is the executive producer at One of Us Films and founding partner of OICmovies.com.  She began writing, producing, and directing while attending Dearborn High School and never stopped.

In addition to independent film projects, her work includes cinema-style training for Comerica Bank, the documentary Regional Roots - the birth and evolution of Detroit and its people, and productions for several non-profits, including  Boys Hope Girls HopeThe Detroit Institute for Children and Automation Alley.

When she's not working, you might find Carrie sailing on the Detroit River, enjoying fine dining with her husband Stott (not Scott) Matthews, or being mumma to her amazing three-year-old, Zarey.

Photographs by Detroit Photographer Marvin Shaouni Marvin Shaouni is the Managing Photographer for Metromode & Model D Contact Marvin here
Carrie LeZotte - Most Recent Posts:

Carrie LeZotte - Post 5: About This Tax Incentive...

I was getting my hair cut the other day, and my stylist was talking to me about the tax incentive.  He was telling me that he didn't see how it was supposed to benefit anyone but the producers, who would get checks from the state to go make their movies.

WHOA.  Wait I minute, I practically jumped out of the chair!  With all the coverage that the incentives have been getting, from the big movies coming into town to the debates in the legislature, I think everyone knows the 42% rebate number, but obviously, there are some things that need clarifying.

First, the production company has to pay for the production upfront.  It has to spend the money here in Michigan (only 30% for non-resident hires who work here).  Then it gets audited.  Then, the company gets a rebate check.  All of the details are available on the Michigan Film Office website.

The perception that only one person, or only a producer, benefits, is wrong.  Usually there are several producers representing the production company on big movies who pull the project together, but, more importantly, it isn't just a select few who are benefiting. 

It is possible for a production to get 42% of its budget back, but in order to get that kind of rebate, they have to spend, spend, spend, right here.  There's a lot to say about this rebate, but I want to tell you how it's affecting the small businesses and freelancers who have been working in local productions.

Crew people I've worked with over the years are able to buy a house for the first time.  Other peers who moved out of state to Los Angeles or New York for production opportunities are looking to move back to Michigan to work or start a business.  Businesses that came close to closing are able to stay open.

I went through the rebate process with the documentary, Regional Roots, and with an animation pitch video, Daisy Tells a Secret.  These projects were both budgeted at less than $100,000, and they aren't the big dollar productions that are shooting in your neighborhood.  But those rebate dollars created jobs.  We were able to hire and pay young talent who would have gone out of state.  These small projects are helping our company grow in a way that will continue to keep jobs here in Michigan. 

There has been a lot of talk about repealing the rebate or capping it, but what it needs is a chance to work.  This takes time.  Most of the dollars being spent here are coming from out of state and then the rebate goes back out of state.  That just makes sense, because how many companies can drop tens of millions of dollars on production?  We can't, not yet, but just give us a chance to grow, and someday we'll be able to finance those big budgets, as well as grow and nurture talent.

Michigan also needs time to build the studios and train people for these jobs.  Building permanent facilities like additional production and post-production studios take time.  It takes time to train and educate the people for those jobs and get everything up and running.

What we don't have, like forest fires caused by years of drought, can be really appealing for people looking to leave the west coast.  With the loss of auto jobs in the region, we've needed something to bring new talent and energy back to Michigan.  I'm so proud to be a member of this hardworking community, and I'm doing everything I can to help create jobs.  Good things come to those who wait – and work for them.


Carrie LeZotte - Post 4: Film Tech

As a mom, multitasking is key to getting work done.  My daughter, Zarey, joins me for this quick vlog about facial recognition software, old video technology and the flip video camera.



Carrie LeZotte - Post 3: Nonprofits on the Net

If you have any connection to metro Detroit arts and cultural non-profits, I'll bet you heard from them regarding the million dollars The Community Foundation of Southeastern Michigan was tossing into the virtual air.

I imagined all the arts and culture people gathered in a Gladiator-type arena, clutching their instrument or paintbrush, and climbing over each other for dollars thrown into the crowd.  Instead of money falling from above, the CFSM went to the Internet with a plan for matching funding.  Certainly this is a new spin on giving.

While the effort suffered from technical difficulties, they need to be congratulated on the concept, and succeeded in raising $3.75 million for 75 arts and cultural organizations in southeast Michigan.  By setting up a giving environment driven by the Internet, the foundation forced non-profits to change the way they solicit their donors and reinvent the way they promote themselves online.  These efforts will continue to benefit the organizations in years to come, because by going on-line, the organizations are developing a younger donor base.

People still give to people, not organizations.  The Internet won't change that.  It's just a different platform for delivering the message.  It can be overwhelming, but the best thing to do is just start to engage, and it does actually get easier.

You can find Haven's Tracy Thomas, Director of Fund Development, on Twitter, Facebook, and myspace, in a mix of fan-pages and personal postings.  She's been steadily growing the social network for her organization, which provides an array of intervention, treatment, prevention and education programs in an effort to eliminate domestic violence and sexual assault.  Her updates include not only Haven events but her weekend plans, creating a personal relationship with her network.

Social networking efforts by Tracy and those like her are easy to measure to some degree, but during this transitional time, I'm sure organizations wonder, "Does this stuff really work?"  The signs are all around us.  If you just take a look at the fall-off of people going to see summer movies this year, the numbers are clear.  People are going elsewhere to be entertained.  Reach them on their cell or computer.

When I work with clients, there are two questions that I'm always asking myself.  First, how many different ways can we deliver the content we're producing for their organization?  Since we work with local non-profits, is there a part of their story we can take to a bigger, national audience, via the Internet?

In conducting interviews, it's rare that you sit down for five minutes and get five minutes of perfect quotes and sound bites for the final production.  I love to get people talking from the heart, and that doesn't happen on cue.  While the end goal may be a ten-minute video, there is a lot of good information in what is left behind.  

With limited resources available for website development and extensive editing, One of Us Films introduced our non-profit clients to blip.tv.  In addition to producing a ten-minute video, we took other good bits and created an Internet channel for the Detroit Institute for Children.  While Dr. Eileen Donovan explaining the use of Botox for children with Cerebral Palsy didn't fit in the overview video, it certainly is good information to have available.

The beautiful thing about making that information available as a video instead of text is that you get to hear how passionate Dr. Donovan is about the work she does.  Not only does she really care about what she's doing, she knows what she's talking about and can explain it succinctly.  How fantastic would that video be for a parent looking to help their child?  

Anyone can start a blip.tv account and post video to it for free.  The videos can then be easily shared or embedded, and the text is all searchable and easy to change and update. Even if that parent doesn't have access to the DIC, they might have found a solution for their child in Arizona.

The possibilities for communication today are exciting.  There are other video sharing sites or blogs with video postings.  Don't over-think it, just get started.  It can be overwhelming but little by little, it will get easier.  I promise!



Carrie LeZotte - Post 2: OIC Movies. Oh, I get it. Oh, I see.

In March of this year, my business partner, Diane Cheklich, and I launched oicmovies.com with the support of a team of four.  Our vision is to provide the best available resource for news, information, and entertainment in American Sign Language. We do this by producing original programming in ASL and organizing available ASL content from the web.

Five months later, the site has 4,000 members and continues to grow.  We began production of original OIC movies content about a year ago, and it took us about a year before that to figure out how we were going to make this site happen.  It's progressed in fits and starts as we've funded it ourselves and our team has largely been volunteers who believe in the service we are working to provide.

There were normal business reasons to start this venture.  The deaf and hard of hearing community demographics cite 28 million deaf or hard of hearing Americans and at least 500,000 ASL users.  While the government mandates closed captioning and relies on it as a compliance standard, English (and thus, English captioning) is not the first language of the deaf.  When Gallaudet research supports a median literacy rate of 17 and 18-year-old deaf students comparable with 4th grade hearing students, delivering information and entertainment in their first language, American Sign Language, seems like a worthwhile idea.

With the developments in video and Internet technology and the ability to provide access to this underserved audience, the possibility to capture this market grabbed our attention.  From the beginning, I imagined the service as a cable station for the deaf, entirely in American Sign Language.  

This channel is something the deaf have been looking for, but, until now, the technology hasn't been affordable enough to make it possible to serve this audience.  If you check out sign language videos on Youtube, you’ll see how the deaf are using it to create a dialogue with each other and share information.  Videophone systems enable the deaf to talk on the phone with an immediacy that hearing folks take for granted.

Content production for a niche market is one of the many beauties of Internet distribution.  So why did I pick ASL?  Why not sailing, triathlon training, natural childbirth, healthy cooking, or some other niche that I’ve obsessed over and fallen in love with?

As a visual artist relying on images and pictures, American Sign Language makes sense to me.  But like most hearing people, I always thought that ASL was a direct, word for word translation of English.  That is not the case.  ASL is its own language, and most hearing people don't know that.  Helping create a bridge between the hearing and deaf worlds using new technology is really appealing to me. The Americans with Disabilities Act gave some rights to the deaf population, but the deaf and their advocates continue to fight for rights to access and education in a world that has not fully embraced ASL as its own language.

I grew up with my uncle, Russ, who had Down's syndrome.  He was one of the first generations of Down's kids who didn’t get institutionalized, but were raised in homes with their families.  My grandmother dedicated her life to creating opportunity for Russ and other kids like him.  Eunice Kennedy Shriver started the Special Olympics, but it was people like my grandmother who made it possible through her day-to-day dedication in helping change attitudes about people with intellectual disabilities.  My grandfather was an active UAW member who fought for the rights of working men and women in the '30s and '40s.  So fighting for rights, fairness, and equal treatment is something that has always been in me, even if I didn't know it.

Beyond combining my production skills and entrepreneurial interests, creating OICmovies.com tapped into something personally rewarding.  Any niche you can think of will be filled by an Internet channel in the next twenty-five years.  If you can't find what you're looking for, this is the time to create it.



Carrie LeZotte - Post 1: Getting Into, and Staying in, the Movie Business

I think the first thing you need to consider is a broader definition of what the movie business actually is.  While even just fifty years ago, you could say the movie business was Hollywood, today there isn't one place to make movies.  In addition to making movies, production has morphed into television, gaming, internet, advertising and news, all starting somewhere in the imagination of kids who liked to play dress up, tinker with gadgets, and tell stories.  Because whatever the platform is, it's always about the story.

So while making movies may be your ultimate goal, it's not a job with a direct path to success.  One of the cool things about the business are the many different talents it brings together.  Beyond writer/director, there are technical positions like assistant camera that put you right next to every shot, the accounting department, where you make sense of the money involved, or computer related jobs in post-production. Pretty much any skill can be put to use.

To get started, I'm going to give you three tips:

Love it.  That's the easy part.  It's the most fantastic business you can be a part of and loving it will get you through the bad pay, long hours, drama, and aggravation that you'll experience along the way.

Show up.  Lots of people want to be in the movie business, and honestly, not all of them will show up.  This is a lot harder than it seems, and it can lead to frustration (see tip above) when you show up for something that doesn't seem worth the time, or it's 3:00 in the morning and you've been working for twenty hours.  Showing up isn't just being physically there, but being early, staying late, and being engaged in the process.  And it's not just for one job, it's for every job.  It's a way of life you're signing up for, because you can't stop showing up.  That's what the stars are doing when they walk the red carpet.  It's not always fun.  It's part of the gig.

This year I attended the Reelscreen summit in Washington D.C., Aspiring Filmmakers Bootcamp in Detroit, spoke at the Michigan Makes Movies Expo, and will be in LA for the Film Independents' Filmmaker Forum in October.  That's in addition to countless coffee meetings, films, hours on-line, and networking events.  I almost forgot – the actual days of production!  You've got to actually produce work as well, not just talk about it.

So where do you need to go when you're starting out?   Check out mandy.com to see what productions are crewing up locally.  While many productions do post there, most of the time it's going to be hot referrals from someone you've met before that will get you on set.  Festivals, workshops and volunteering on a short are all good ways to meet people and get started.  When someone hooks you up with a connection, don't be afraid to follow up and keep calling until you touch base with someone.  Local cable stations are good resources as well.  Growing up, I spent a lot of time over at the cable station in Dearborn.   

Finally, create your own opportunities.  Part of showing up may mean moving to where there are more jobs and people doing what you want to be doing.   I didn't ever make the move to one of the coasts, where there would have been a lot more going on than here in Detroit.  I did get a job in the business, but even while I had that job, I was creating opportunities for myself and doing the work I was interested in.   

There are 48 hour film projects that can get you started, or check out the contests on Youtube, where you can win prizes or cash for the videos you create.  This business isn't just about getting a job, it's a lifestyle that revolves around telling stories.  So take whatever talent you have, team up with other people that share the same vision, and make it happen.  

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