Episode 175: Ripple Effect – Documentary Filmmaker Biz Young

Episode 175: Ripple Effect

Interview with Documentary Filmmaker Biz Young

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Filmmaker and climber Biz Young shares her evolution from creating stop-motion music videos in her dorm room to making short documentary films inspired by nature and driven by purpose. We talk about how Biz started taking her filmmaking outdoors, her philosophy on ethical storytelling, and how she hopes to use filmmaking as a tool for activism.

Banner image by Gabby Piamonte

Full transcript available after the photos and resources.

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Featured in this episode: Biz Young

Hosted by Gale Straub

Music is by James Childs, Calica, & Iolite licensed via MusicBed.

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Featured in this Episode

Biz Young

Biz Young – photo by Gabby Piamonte

Biz Young

One of the ‘Bomb Ass Babe’ Videos in the Series

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TRANSCRIPT

Note: This transcript was lightly edited and created using a transcription service. As such it may contain spelling errors.

Gale Straub – Narration:

I’m Gale Straub and you’re listening to She Explores.

Biz Young:

I kind of started wanting to shift my documentary more towards the outdoor realm and that all happened so slowly. You know, I just, I just started building it really like film by film, but for years, you know, I never, I didn’t really like dive into it immediately. I kind of looked back and then realized like, Oh, I’m the films that I really love to make are the ones that involve being outdoors. And those were the ones that were the best, because I think I was most interested in the imagery of, you know, being in nature.

Gale Straub – Narration:

This is Biz Young. If you’ve been listening for a while, you probably know that I love how, when talking about progress – whether it’s creative, athletic, or interpersonal, we don’t always see its ripple effects as it’s happening. But when we look back and reflect, its accumulation is somehow both a surprise and the only possible outcome. And as we wrap up a challenging year, I’m excited to share some pieces of Biz’s progression as a documentary filmmaker.

 

Growing up, she went by Bizzy.

Biz Young:

Yeah, you can call me biz. That’s good.

Gale Straub:

Okay. What is it short for? Is it short for something? Yeah.

Biz Young:

I mean you can try to guess. Do you have any thoughts?

Gale Straub:

Um, Bizzy… Like I would think like Beatrice.

Biz Young:

Oh, I love that. I love hearing what people think it is. It’s actually short for Elizabeth.

Gale Straub:

Oh, well that’s a unique take on it. I like that. Yeah.

Biz Young:

My parents gave me the name Elizabeth, but my sister could not pronounce it. And so when she was, when I was three, she called me biz Beth. And so biz stuck.

Gale Straub:

Oh, that’s cute. I had a speech impediment as a kid, so I called my twin Wawa instead of Laura, because I couldn’t say L’s or R’s, I’m sure. She’s glad that didn’t stick.

Biz Young:

Wow. That’s pretty cute though.

Gale Straub – Narration:

I met Biz early in March at the No Man’s Land Film Festival Flagship event in Denver. It was right before everything started shutting down due to the pandemic, so it’s kind of filled this sweet spot in my mind when I was surrounded by a whole lot of creative and nature-loving people, all finding inspiration in watching the same adventure films together. Biz was one of these women. She’s a filmmaker, and I watched her present at the festival pitch fest. In her presentation, she talked about her philosophy for filmmaking, and I knew I wanted to get to know her better and follow her work going forward. Here’s a taste of it:

Biz Young:

What’s interesting about documentary too, is that there is so much for you to influence the documentary as the filmmaker. And so one thing I’m particularly interested in is how do you step back and really just become the vessel for somebody else’s story, as opposed to co-opting their story and just sharing it. And whenever light you want to.

Gale Straub – Narration:

I have a feeling, after hearing this conversation, you’ll want to get to know her work better, too. More about Biz, after a word from our sponsors:

PREROLL AD BREAK

Gale Straub – Narration:

Biz’s passion for film started through play, and curiosity.

Biz Young:

For me, the beginning was I was really into photography when I was young. And when I went to college, I was actually a zoology major, but I realized in all of my spare time I was making, I was really enamored with like stop motion, film making. And so I was making, I was like cutting out little pieces of paper that I had doodled on and then was making these little stop motion, like videos. I just realized like I’m in school for zoology. And I loved science and I loved learning about animals, but all my spare time was spent doing these like other really handheld things with a camera. And so I ended up realizing that I wanted to change my major to interactive media studies. And so when I went into that program, the focus was really broad, but videography and filmmaking was part of it. And so that was kind of how I got really interested and kind of followed that path. And then eventually just started doing freelance stuff. Even, even though I was professionally a graphic designer. So I was doing freelance filmmaking and doing full-time work for a while.

Gale Straub:

You really paid attention to, to where you’re devoting like that creative and like passionate energy. And what were your stop motion films about? Like, can you give me an example of one of them?

Biz Young:

Oh, totally. Okay. So I was really, I was really, really into music and so I think it really, the filmmaking for me started when I was making music videos for these bands that I really loved or these songs that I was really into. And so I used to do a lot of like found footage before that got like super trendy. But so it was either like some sort of found footage that was cut up into a music video, or if I was doing stop motion, it was just these like little doodled piece of paper. And so the one that’s on my website is about the ocean. And so it’s like, it’s I called it like envelope adventures. And so it, me opening an envelope and the ocean coming out of the envelope and then like a boat. And then you kind of go like underwater and there’s like fish and a robot. And it’s like kind of weird, but it’s all like timed to like match the, the song. And I remember being so proud of myself. I was like, check this out. And I like shared it with all my friends and yeah, it was just like, I was, I just was so happy

Gale Straub – Narration:

From creating these fun music videos, Biz progressed to making, and watching, a lot of short films. At first her films didn’t follow a narrative, rather they were an edit of beautiful, moving images. It wasn’t until after college while working at a nonprofit in Cincinnati called Design Impact, that Biz started creating short documentary films with story and purpose.

Biz Young:

I wanted to get better at doing films. And so I kind of brought it to their attention. And I was like, Hey, I, you know, at the time I was doing communications work, graphic design work and it, which is hilarious, but that’s what happens when you’re at a nonprofit, you have to do everything. So I was like, Hey, I’m I love working with my camera. How can I use this skill to support the organization? And because it was a really small non-profit, they were like, great. Why don’t you start taking pictures of these projects or start making these like short films to tell the stories of this particular project. They ended up kind of being like little documentaries about the particular projects told through the stories of the community members who were involved in the project. And so a big part about design impact was that we, we were consultants, but we were consultants for the social sector.

Biz Young:

And so if there was another nonprofit who was really stuck or was dealing with like a, what we called, like a wicked problem, for example, it might be that 50% of the kids in one particular school district who are on free and reduced lunch, aren’t showing up to food sites in the summer. And the question that we were trying to solve was, you know, why are these kids not showing up to this food site to get food? And so we would interview all of these different community members and then propose solutions, but they were solutions that were built out of co-collaboration with community members. Because a lot of times, you know, nonprofits might have a little bit of money or people will sit in a boardroom and say like, okay, I know how to solve this problem when you’ve never experienced yourself being on free and reduced lunch.

Biz Young:

So how, you know, you don’t want to be the one to solve quote unquote, solve a problem if you’ve never actually experienced, you know, being in the shoes of somebody who, who lives that from day to day. So for me sharing the stories of these projects that we were working on really came from the voices of the community members who were coming up with the ideas and co collaborating with us. And so I was sitting down with them and filming them throughout the process, and then putting together a video about it, to showcase that when you actually co-collaborate with community members or people who are already experiencing what you’re trying to solve for some sort of like larger social issue that you actually get to better and more sustainable outcomes. And so we wanted to create these films that showed that so more non-profits would start using that process instead of just isolating themselves in boardrooms and coming up with ideas that they think are going to help

Gale Straub – Narration:

Through her work at Design Impact, Biz started to see the power of visual storytelling through documentary film firsthand.

Biz Young:

As I got more into filmmaking for design impact? Um, I also realized that I loved it so much that I wanted to do it outside of my job. And so I started doing, I guess I call it freelance filmmaking, but it really just started with me taking a camera and interviewing my friends. And that led to something that I call babes, which is like a really fun series that I, that I started two or three years ago. And I’m still making videos for today. I it’s just like self-funded. But what I realized is that I was also really into climbing and hiking and camping and just being outside. And so along with doing bio-mass babes and the filmmaking from my job, I also was really interested in creating films about people’s relationship to the environment or people’s relationship to nature. And so I kind of started wanting to shift my documentary more towards the outdoor realm and that all happened so slowly, you know, I just, I just started building it really like film by film, but for years, you know, I never, I didn’t really like dive into it immediately. I kind of looked back and then realize like, Oh, I’m like the films that I really love to make are the ones that involve being outdoors. And those were the ones that were the best, because I think I was most interested in the imagery of, you know, being in nature.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Bomb Ass Babes is an Emmy award winning series of short films Biz created. Each features a woman in Cincinnati, the city Biz went to high school in and returned to after college. Each short is a bit like a love letter to the community she’s found there.

Biz Young:

The bomb babes was something that came out of realizing, you know, taking a step back and realizing that I had built this friend group of incredible women in Cincinnati and wanting to showcase that because I think a lot of people, yeah, a lot of people when they think about like the Midwest or they think about Cincinnati, there’s not a lot that comes to mind perhaps. And, um, I kind of wanted to change that narrative a little bit and showcase the talents of women that were already here doing really incredible, cool work and really creative work. Yeah.

Gale Straub:

No, that makes a lot of sense. And also for the people who live in Cincinnati too, to be able to discover some of those women as well, you know, like not even just outside, but like within the city.

Biz Young:

Totally. And it really built, I mean the Bomb Ass Babe film series, like most of those women, I’m friends with, most of them I’ve known for a while and then some of them are new. So some people will be like, Oh, this is like, you’ve got to meet this person. They’re really cool. So Syria Mani was one of the first ones that I did. And she was somebody that I had just seen perform. She’s a poet. I just seen her perform. And I remember being like, this poem is so powerful. I was like crying while watching her do her piece, it’s called loss generation. And I was like, we have to film this. Like we have to share this. And from that video, uh, people who didn’t know her now know her, and we kind of started building a collective of people who are now friends, just because they have like different episodes.

Biz Young:

So it was like, not only am I introducing myself to really amazing folks, but also it gives people a platform to meet each other after watching them, or even my friends who have seen films who were like, okay, this person’s really cool. I’ve always wanted to pull dance, you know, can you connect me? And so those like friendships are then built out of like, Oh, I loved watching them talk about what it was like to be a pole dancer. That’s something I’m really interested in and I want to hang out with them now and they live down the street. So it’s like, it’s really easy to build those connections when, when the accessibility is so much smaller, like closer.

Gale Straub:

Yeah. Yeah. I love the range of activities or passions that these bombs babes have to say. I want to say, like, I, I watched one and I think the person highlighted was really passionate about playing. It was like, Oh, Oh yeah, like a medieval kind of game. And it was like, Oh, I love that this exists. It’s like, it’s so niche. But the people who are into it are so into it.

Biz Young:

Oh, totally. Yeah. So Dagohir is like, um, it’s like role-playing and it’s medieval. I know it was made by people who were really into Lord of the rings, but I had no idea that that existed in Cincinnati. And, um, that woman, Claire is a co-worker and she was just, you know, I was like, what are you up to this weekend? And she was like, I’m going to go play this like game with phone weapons and whack each other. And I was like, that happens, could you take me, can I film it? You know? So it’s like, and it’s right in your backyard. You know? So it really, for me doing bomb babes and being a, being a filmmaker and wanting to share stories has really opened up my eyes to the idea that every one, everybody a story, whether or not they know it or whether or not, you know it, and then two there’s so much happening around you. And yeah, if you just take a minute to pay attention or be curious and go out and explore it, it will always like rise up to meet you. And you’ll learn so much about yourself and the people around you. And it’s just like, uh, I don’t know. I love it so much. Clearly.

Gale Straub – Narration:

We’ll hear more from Biz about her philosophy as a filmmaker, some of her recent projects involving outdoor adventure, and more – after this.

 

MIDROLL BREAK

Gale Straub – Narration:

We’re back with Biz, and me. Two interviewers, talking about interviewing.

Gale Straub:

There’s a difference between filming a friend and filming someone who maybe you’ve never met before, or you did maybe a series of interviews with before starting the filming process. How would you describe your, your process when filmmaking, someone who you don’t have a deep relationship with? How do you make them comfortable? Like how do you capture what they would like to have captured through the process?

Biz Young:

I think, um, the story is important obviously, but what’s more important is who’s sitting in front of you, who’s in front of the camera. So for me, there’s no like prescriptive way to, to make somebody feel comfortable in front of a camera, but you have to really be intentional and create a space for them to feel like whether or not they’re uncomfortable, they can tell you about it and also pay attention to how they are responding to questions and really listen as opposed to coming in and being like, okay, I want to ask this person like 10 of these questions. And like, this is, this is the story that I want to tell. Um, instead of doing that really sitting down and maybe asking all of these, a couple of open-ended questions, but really seeing where they take the story or where they are most interested in talking about and not like blocking that. And then like just cutting it off and asking another question, but letting them lead that conversation. But as far as helping somebody feel comfortable, I think you, in order for them to be vulnerable, you have to be really vulnerable as well. And you can’t expect somebody to open up on camera if you’re not being like fully transparent and honest with them from the beginning and trying to put the relationship first instead of the shot or instead of the narrative or the outcome, and just being like a decent kind human being, you know?

Gale Straub:

Yeah, sure. There’s a lot of intangible aspects of that too. You know, it’s just like a feeling and there might be a situation at point where someone just never feels comfortable and that’s not that it’s okay to continue, but like, it’s okay if that’s, if it’s not a fit.

Biz Young:

Totally, totally. I mean, there’ve been times when I’ve done interviews and like we’re both crying and like you have to be willing to sacrifice your plan or your idea for what you want in order to put the other person first. And I think at the end of the day to whatever you’ve created, making sure that they’re a part of that process. So I never release a film unless the person has already screened it. And unless they’ve already been like, yes, this is like an accurate representation of what I want to put out there, which I think is, you know, when there’s more people involved and more money involved, that’s where I think a lot of companies or production houses can go wrong. Is they almost like don’t have time for the person that’s in front of the camera. So I feel like it’s really important to have that relationship guide and that collaboration guide, what happens to the story instead of just kind of trying to like nail it, you know, like trying to get the best story at the expense of the person who’s trying to tell their story.

Gale Straub:

Hmm. Is, is your hope that someone might be able to watch a short film and know that you directed it or produced it?

Biz Young:

Oh, that’s a good question. Like, do I want the recognition or

Gale Straub:

Not so much like the biz stamp, but, um, like that they know it’s your style. Are you impart imparting a style that is recognizable? Maybe not from an ego perspective, but because of a point of view that you have

Biz Young:

Well, more recently, most of the projects that I had done, I haven’t even talked about the like collaborative work that I’ve been doing. But most of the projects that I have done in the past were all, um, like I did every part of the process. So I was interviewing and I was behind the camera, I’m editing. And I’m also doing, you know, I was like, uh, like a one person show, but more recently I’ve had the incredible opportunity of being a part of larger scale projects. And so I only have like one particular role. And so a more recent example of a project that I’ve done that involves collaboration is melanin base camps, Titan project, which features Sabrina Chapman, who I know was just on your podcast with that particular film that was run by melon and base camp, Danielle Williams. And I was a small role in that where I was doing some of the cinematography.

Biz Young:

And so I was doing fixed line videography. So as Sabrina’s climbing, I’m on a rope above her and shooting down and getting shots of her or I’m on the ground and getting some shots of her issues, like scrambling up the wall. And when I watched that video, it came out maybe less than a year, but like, you know, nine months after we had done the filming and I was kind of like, Oh, like, I wonder how I’m going to know which shots might have been mine just to like out of curiosity. And so I watched the film and it was so obvious and that’s when I realized like, Oh, I really do have like a, a style. And I think that if I were to try to describe that style, I think you’ll see it throughout all the Bomb Ass Babe videos, um, if you watch them, but it tends to be like really intimate.

Biz Young:

And so instead of, I’m not great at getting like really wide shots of action. But one thing that I love to do is get like really up close, intimate shots of like a hand on the wall or like an expression or like a moment. And so the theme that kind of runs between them is they’re like really soft. And I don’t even know if soft, you know, soft is like a texture. So I don’t totally know if that like works, but they tend to be like really kind of feminine. Maybe if I were to like, try to stereotype it, I guess. But like, you know, just like really soft. I, I suppose,

Gale Straub:

Yeah. I would say that you describing it. And my thinking about the short films that I’ve watched, two words came to mind for me, like one was poetic and the other was shimmery, you know, like those, like, like those, like just like those little moments that I don’t know, I go for these long walks and I feel like I’ll see little things and they’re just like these glimpses, like these shimmers that are glue in certain ways, they’re like they start to make me feel like the world makes sense. And I, I see a lot of that in your filmmaking.

Biz Young:

Wow. Oh my gosh. That’s so beautiful. Thank you.

Gale Straub:

I know that one of the things that you wanted to talk about was the ways that you, you know, we all can harness like our unique tools and our unique talents to give back or to take action for causes that we believe in whether they’re social, whether they’re environmental or whether they’re the overlap of the two, but what are some specific examples of, of films or projects that you’ve worked on that you feel like have aligned really closely with your values?

Biz Young:

I guess as much as I love filmmaking, I didn’t want to just create noise or films that, that didn’t maybe have like a deeper purpose. And to me, that kind of shows up in, I’ve kind of been thinking a lot. Chimamanda Adichie has a theory called the danger of a single story. And the theory is kind of about the inherent power of stories can be dangerous if they failed to provide a full picture of somebody, whether it’s like a group of people or a person. And the idea is that when you have like a stereotype, if like the world is only viewing a group of people through a stereotype, it’s very dangerous, right? Because they’re not, it doesn’t leave room for people to be multi-faceted, which we know that they are. And so the stories that I am most interested in telling are ones that really break those types of stereotypes, or fill out like a more round picture of somebody or give the audience a perspective that they might not have had.

Biz Young:

And I think that it also was really important for me to work on productions that weren’t just dudes, because the filmmaking world is very male dominated and it’s a very white male perspective. And so I was really interested in working with people that, that didn’t fit that description. And, um, I was really lucky to be, I mean, a couple of projects that I’ve done recently where the, um, the Titan project, which was a story run by a black woman about a black woman. And so that was incredible to be part of that, um, entire process. And also my friend, Mary Louise, who ran, uh, she got a grant from the North face to make a film about what it was like to be Congolese American. That story is called the traveler comes home and it’s not out yet, but to work like under, underneath her and to have like, to have her really guide the story.

Biz Young:

So the story was about her, but she was also in, uh, in the position of power to create the story the way that she wanted to create it. And so it’s been, it’s been so amazing to be able to, to work with people who are telling the stories about themselves in a way as opposed to somebody just coming in and like not maybe being in the shoes of whoever the story is about and telling that story, it definitely is a different process. And I think it yields better outcomes and the stories are much more intimate and personal because the power is lined up with like what the story is about

Gale Straub – Narration:

As a filmmaker, Biz stresses that it’s all too easy to influence the outcome. And as we heard earlier, her philosophy in creating her documentary films is to step back and let the subject tell their own story. In doing so, Biz is able to use her craft as a tool for activism and for understanding.

Gale Straub:

How can folks who are listening in use their own unique skills to support the social and environmental movements that they really care deeply about?

Biz Young:

Yeah. I think that for me, really trying to figure out, like asking myself what I was good at and then trying to brainstorm ways to use that skill, to create some sort of social or environmental change. That’s kind of where I started. And I think that that’s the same space that all of us can really start at. And I think it just takes a lot of creativity and brainstorming, you know, if you want to do it with like a group of friends, just sit down and say like, you know, what do you think I’m good at? Like write down what you think you’re good at, and then come up with ways that you feel like you, that can be useful, um, in some sort of movement. But another tool that I really love is called the long game. I think if you want to find it, I can send you a link, but it basically is a breakdown of different roles that you could play in some sort of activism.

Biz Young:

So one of them is storyteller. I know there’s caregiver, there’s disruptor, there is healer. So what’s really helpful about it is it really breaks it down into really, um, very easy to understand language. And hopefully when you’re reading through these, um, roles, one of them really resonates with you I’ve even done this with friends who have said, you know, we’ve all just like shared the, they’re kind of like, I think there’s like eight or nine roles and said like, Oh, I think I’m the storyteller. But I also have some moment of like caregiver in me. Um, but it’s really helpful. I think you have to do that collaboratively because it can be, it can feel really isolating, um, because these movements are so huge and, you know, everything kind of feels like it’s crashing down in 2020, but, um, I would say start with a group of friends, start with what you like to do, what you’re good at and what you’re passionate about, and then maybe read through some of these roles and see what resonates, and then just try to apply it and you might mess up, or it might work the first time around, or it’s, uh, it’s something that, you know, just kind of like unfolds and, and you just have to trust that process and keep trying and keep applying and keep fighting the good fight.

Gale Straub:

I bet some people looking at all those rules might be surprised at, at where they fit in. You know, it might feel, you know, I’m sure some people listening, feel like they’re floundering a bit, you know, feeling a little hopeless and to look at a resource like that and see yourself in it, or see the potential for yourself to, to take a role that’s more hopeful. Yeah, totally.

Biz Young:

It can feel so discouraging because what we’re facing is so massive, but really understanding that it starts within like your small group or community or collective of people and then shifts out outward from there. It’s like ripples. And so if you can really even focus on like, you know, what’s happening in your neighborhood, if everybody did that, you know, we’d be in like a very different spot.

Gale Straub:

We’ve been talking a bit in abstractions – so I want to take a moment to provide a tangible example. Say, you’re passionate about rectifying environmental injustices, and you do some research and find out that a land trust is trying to save a watershed from development that would affect water quality in a low income area. If you excel at social media as a storyteller, you could help raise awareness for the issue. Or if you’re a bridge builder, you could talk with people who support the development for economic purposes to help them see where it would be detrimental for the community at large. I also want to note that what Biz is referring to is a diagram called The Social Change Ecosystem Map by Deepa Iyer of Building Movement Project. I’ll link it in the show notes. Overall, it’s always beneficial to take a look at your values, and where your strengths can help you act on them. And the end of the year is as good a time for reflection. As for Biz, we chatted in mid September, just as she had recently received some exciting news for her career.

Biz Young:

My career in the past, even like three weeks has changed drastically. I was unemployed for a little bit. I lost my job because of COVID, but I just got a new job. I’ll be working with the North face, uh, part of their video production team. And this has kind of been, even though I’ve worked on filmmaking projects for the past six years, I think this is for sure. I know for sure. This is the first job that I’ve had that is specifically in video. And so I’ve always had this dream to merge my love of the outdoors with my love of the camera. And this is my first step towards making that actually happen. And so I want to continue to explore where that intersection can be most helpful for building like really a unique and interesting and new narratives in the outdoor space. And I’m just excited to hopefully be a part of that, whether it’s like behind the camera or I’m helping to produce films, or even just like, honestly, even just consuming. Um, I’m just really excited to see that start to shift and we’ve already seen a shift and we need to really just continue to push it forwards. So, yeah, I think I’m just really excited. I’m really hopeful. We’ll leave it at that. I’m really hopeful for the future. Um, whether or not I have a role in helping it change, I’m just really hopeful that it will.

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