Caroline Smith: “Our culture doesn’t just need to be affected, it needs to fundamentally change”

I love when people notice the little things. Musical choices, pacing, or the way that one cut flows into the next. Sometimes when an overall project is just average, it’s hard for people to notice the parts of it that are well done, but when a project is excellent, those things stand out even more. […]

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I love when people notice the little things. Musical choices, pacing, or the way that one cut flows into the next. Sometimes when an overall project is just average, it’s hard for people to notice the parts of it that are well done, but when a project is excellent, those things stand out even more. Just the simple act of someone saying “I liked that part!” or “That part was funny!” makes me proud of what I do.

As a part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Caroline Smith.

Caroline is a “Jane of All Trades” filmmaker from Washington DC. Although she grew up in the nation’s capital, she never felt a desire to get into politics herself. From a young age, she had a fascination with theater and film and has worked extensively in both fields over the past 8 years. She has worked on documentaries, advertisements, animations, and educational videos for clients such as National Geographic, The Folger Shakespeare Library, Nando’s Peri-Peri, and The Global Foundation for Peroxisomal Disorders. Her most recent short film “Before” (which will have its world premiere at the 2021 New Media Film Festival) features innovative 360 stock footage of her hometown and was created in response to the Coronavirus Pandemic. Trapped indoors and unable to spend time with her close-knit group of friends, Caroline reached out to a few of them over the phone and recorded their fondest memories of the city. Little did they know, 9 months later the town they called home would become embroiled in history-making chaos.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?

Sure! I grew up just outside Washington DC, and as a result, I was exposed to many different cultures and art forms starting at a young age. When most people think of DC they tend to think about politics, but there are multiple vibrant artistic communities that have been flourishing in the city for decades. Actors, dancers, writers, filmmakers…all types of creatives. My mom picked up early on that I was drawn to the arts, so she helped me experience as much of it as possible. Some of my earliest memories are of walking through the Smithsonian with her looking at paintings and going to see children’s theater productions put on by local groups. And of course, going to the movies. I recently found a notebook from when I was a newborn where my mom wrote down some of my first milestones, and I learned that the first movie I ever saw was “Apollo 13” (at about 1-month-old). I have no memory of seeing that movie, but it was still a fun little thing to find.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

It wasn’t a very direct path, that’s for sure. Although I always loved theater and film, I’d never really thought about doing it as a profession until I got to college. Initially, I planned on becoming a special education teacher and picked my university based on its teaching program, but during my first semester, I struggled to keep up in the most basic psychology classes. I realized I had to reevaluate what I wanted to do with my life, and so I thought about the things that made me happy. Film and theater were at the top of my list, and since my college offered a combined theater, film, and media studies major, I switched to that. After switching my major, my life did a complete 180. I excelled in all my classes, made Dean’s List, and gained a ton of confidence. I had always struggled when it came to academic learning, but art was (and is) something I know intrinsically. It’s what I was meant to do.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?

One of the most interesting projects I’ve ever worked on was a hidden camera ad for Nando’s Peri-Peri (Nando’s is an international restaurant chain, but most of its US locations are in and around DC). Nando’s is one of my favorite restaurants, so I immediately said yes when I was invited to work on it. I was put in charge of casting people to be in the ad, and I ended up roping a bunch of my friends into it. It was hilarious watching their reactions on the hidden camera, and when I stepped out from the backroom and revealed everything to them they thought it was hilarious too. The whole production was completed during the pandemic, and I hadn’t seen a lot of my friends in person in so long, so it was really nice to see them and make some fun memories. We ended up staying at the restaurant until after closing, had a socially distant catch-up session, and enjoyed a bunch of good food. It felt almost normal.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

No one person stands out, but I’ve always been surprised by how nice and supportive the DC film community is. There are very few egos, and people are quick to offer help or advice if you ask for it. If anything, I feel like the pandemic has actually brought our community closer. When I get opportunities to work on set with other people (these opportunities are quite rare now) everyone is super friendly and eager to chat about work, life, and how we’re staying sane in the pandemic. Being in film production is like being part of a tribe; even if we’ve been separated for a while due to forces beyond our control, when we come back together, our bond is still intact.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are so many amazing people who have helped me get where I am today, but I’d like to single out three: Rachel Holmes, Christoph Green, and Lynda Meier. I consider them my Holy Trinity of Mentors. Rachel is an amazing producer who runs her own production company, Cat Eye Productions, and took me on as an intern when I had basically no experience. Christoph is a brilliant DP and editor with his own company, Tangerine Studios, who has helped me find a lot of work and connected me with a ton of great people. And Lynda…Lynda is something else. She’s like the fun aunt I never had, and talking to her never fails to make me smile. She’s basically who I want to be when I grow up, a writer/editor/producer/superhero/dog mom. I have so many stories about all of them, but I feel like this answer is already long enough! They’re just the best.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson quote is from the writer Oscar Wilde: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”. I interpret it as that we are all imperfect, but some of us choose to look beyond those imperfections and seek a higher purpose. Just because you are flawed, that doesn’t mean you can’t do great things. Many great artists came from harsh beginnings, and some struggled their entire lives, but they still managed to create something beautiful. I haven’t had the hardest of lives, but it hasn’t been easy either. I’ve had to work through countless insecurities and moments of self-doubt, but having filmmaking as my passion and outlet has helped me through it.

I am very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

I fully believe that we need diversity in film and television. It’s not a choice or a preference at this point. Our culture doesn’t just need to be affected, it needs to fundamentally change. The first step we should take is to change the narrative on diversity so that people and projects that are considered “diverse” can one day be considered normal. People from all walks of life should be able to see themselves in the media they consume, not as token characters but as heroes. I’m particularly interested in neurodiversity and physical diversity in the film industry, as there are very few accurate (or respectful) portrayals of neurodivergent and physically disabled people in film and television.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’ve been working on a few television scripts and writing songs while in quarantine. I’ve also been hired to cast several upcoming projects for the National Academy of Sciences, which is a production role I never thought I’d be capable of. I’ve always considered myself a very shy person, and casting requires you to talk to a lot of people. But I am good at reading people, and I guess my producer thinks so too!

Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?

I love when people notice the little things. Musical choices, pacing, or the way that one cut flows into the next. Sometimes when an overall project is just average, it’s hard for people to notice the parts of it that are well done, but when a project is excellent, those things stand out even more. Just the simple act of someone saying “I liked that part!” or “That part was funny!” makes me proud of what I do.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Lordy, I guess this is going to be a long answer. Honestly, when I sit down and think about it, working in this field is exactly what I expected it to be like at the start. The challenging things are challenging, and the good things are better than I could’ve ever imagined. I knew I’d make friends with other people in my field, but I had no idea just what great friends they would be. I knew I was open to filling basically any production position on any sized project, but I never expected my resume would become so eclectic. I thought I’d only work on projects around the DC area for the majority of my career, but now I’ve been considering other options in different parts of the county. I knew I’d have periods without work, but I never thought it would be because of a global pandemic. Finally, I had always hoped that working in this field would be conducive to having children and a family, and after watching several of my colleagues successfully navigate motherhood while working in the film industry, I know that I can do the same one day.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would start a movement to pay more things forward. Food, education, medical help, anything that people feel compelled to help others with. I’m a big believer in random acts of kindness as well as gift-giving, anything to bring a little joy into people’s lives.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

I’d love to have brunch with Lady Gaga or Taylor Swift, mostly for selfish reasons. They both seem like very kind and fun people from all the interviews I’ve watched over the years, and I feel like we’d all get along. I don’t know where exactly we would go for brunch, but definitely something with lots of carbs and unlimited mimosas.

How can our readers further follow you online?

I’m on Instagram and Twitter @wingfieldwonder. Also, make sure to check out the world premiere of my short film “Before” at the 2021 New Media Film Festival this June (the festival is actually on my birthday!). You can find out more information about the Festival at this link:

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

Same to you! Thank you so much for this opportunity!

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