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Jillian Corsie: “Trust yourself”

Trichster has helped people in 160 countries know that they are not alone in their hair-pulling and skin picking disorders. Second Assault is currently being used as a tool in police training helping the next generation of police officers learn how to better speak to sexual assault survivors. This work is critically important. I hope […]

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Trichster has helped people in 160 countries know that they are not alone in their hair-pulling and skin picking disorders. Second Assault is currently being used as a tool in police training helping the next generation of police officers learn how to better speak to sexual assault survivors. This work is critically important. I hope that no other survivor will have to go 10 years before speaking their experience out loud.

Stories like these give us space to feel empathy for those who have lived experiences vastly different from our own. It is so important to normalize the full spectrum of human experiences; it’s the way we connect and, ultimately, the way we enact change.

I’m currently working on a film that examines the laws we put on women’s bodies, but from a completely different perspective. It’s very exciting, but we have a long way to go yet!


As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jillian Corsie, an award-winning documentary filmmaker and branded content director whose work has been featured on Huffington Post, Refinery29, ABC News, and ABC’s 2020. Her debut feature documentary, Trichster, has been viewed in over 160 countries on VOD and her latest documentary, Second Assault, awarded her “Best Director,” two “Audience Choice Awards,” and “Best Crowdfunded Film.” Jillian is dedicated to telling stories that shine a light on difficult subjects and showcase strong female role models on screen.


Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?

I’ve loved theatre for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I would force my twin sisters to act in plays I’d written, but I quickly realized my parents and their friends weren’t always the most captive audience. Luckily, my dad had this clunky old VHS camera and I figured out how to make short films using in-camera editing. Throughout high school, I improved my skills by turning every project into an opportunity to make a movie, and so it seemed only fitting that I go to film school.

I became a documentary filmmaker by chance. I was working at a post-production house in New York City and was anxious to prove to my boss that I could cut things myself. Since I didn’t have a script or actors, I headed to Union Square and started interviewing people, thinking I could use my editing skills to tell the story in post-production.

I decided to ask them about Trichotillomania, a body-focused repetitive behavior where people pull out their hair. A friend of mine had it growing up and I’d always been curious to know more. I had a little camera and a lot of passion!

When I launched the Kickstarter for the film, titled Trichster, in 2012, I realized I was onto something big. Young girls all over the world started emailing me and told me how alone they felt, how their parents didn’t believe that they couldn’t stop pulling out their hair, and how desperate they were for relief. I watched donations trickle in from 20 countries.

Sitting in my tiny Manhattan apartment and realizing that I could have an impact across the globe was life-changing for me. Suddenly, making this film was not about editing, but about helping people feel less alone and making a difference in the world. And that’s continued to be a driving force behind what I do.

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

This isn’t a funny story, but I have a day that will always stand out for me. After the Trump Access Hollywood tape came out and women started posting about their experiences with sexual assault, I knew I needed to make a film about mine. The words the police officer told me the night I reported my rape had stuck with me for years. “Don’t mix alcohol and beauty.” I’d kept that officer’s contact info for a decade trying to work up the courage to confront him, and I decided then that I would do it on camera.

The moment that sticks with me most happened a year later on the day that I launched the crowd-funding campaign for Second Assault and “outted” myself as a sexual assault survivor to the world. That same day, the Weinstein story broke. That night I was meeting with WIMPS, a group of women and non-binary people in the filmmaking industry. What should have been a discussion about moviemaking turned into a group therapy session, and one by one we shared our stories of abuse. For 10 years I’d felt so alone, and suddenly I was surrounded by 30 people echoing back my own private thoughts and feelings. It’s an unforgettable thing, finding solace in the shared experience of strangers.

That’s the reason we make difficult films. By putting a face to an experience, we humanize it, making the voiceless feel heard and spurring action from those who want to make a difference.

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

I have met so many interesting people throughout my career both on and off camera, but this question brings one person specifically to mind. At the same womxn’s salon (WIMPS) that I mentioned above, there was a guest speaker named Caroline Heldman. Caroline was there discussing her role as an advocate for sexual assault survivors and other survivor-based work she has done, including her own experience being one of the women who went public with allegations of gender discrimintaion against Bill O’reily. While meeting her that night was emotional for me, she graciously offered guidance and advice to myself and my directing partner. Throughout the next two years of making Second Assault, Caroline was there at the drop of a hat any time we needed her. She came to my aid both privately and publicly and I will forever think of her as my hero. She is truly one of the smartest, kindest people I have ever met.

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

I’m about to finish editing a feature documentary about Fibromyalgia and I’m in pre-production on a documentary about an injustice women face in our judiciary system. This will be the second film Amy Rosner and I have made as partners and I’m really excited to get started!

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

There’s an excerpt from a poem written by Audre Lorde that I use at the start of Second Assault

“when we speak we are afraid

our words will not be heard

nor welcomed

but when we are silent

we are still afraid

So it is better to speak”

I’m most inspired by women like Audre Lorde, who put their lives, careers, and bodies at risk to make art that challenges others to change the way they think. Audre Lorde spent her entire life fighting for marginalized communities with her words. I can only hope to be as brave as her with my films.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?

Trichster has helped people in 160 countries know that they are not alone in their hair-pulling and skin picking disorders. Second Assault is currently being used as a tool in police training helping the next generation of police officers learn how to better speak to sexual assault survivors. This work is critically important. I hope that no other survivor will have to go 10 years before speaking their experience out loud.

Stories like these give us space to feel empathy for those who have lived experiences vastly different from our own. It is so important to normalize the full spectrum of human experiences; it’s the way we connect and, ultimately, the way we enact change.

I’m currently working on a film that examines the laws we put on women’s bodies, but from a completely different perspective. It’s very exciting, but we have a long way to go yet!

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?

I had just finished my first crowdfunding campaign and raised 10,000 dollars. It wasn’t a lot of money, but my filmmaking team and I intended to stretch it as far as possible and thought it would support our bare bones production for another six months.

At this time, I was working on a toothpaste commercial and the clients were going back and forth on how white the teeth should be. “More white!” “Less white!” This went on for three or four days and I couldn’t get over the fact that the room we were sitting in was billing 2,000/hour, meaning one day of teeth whitening was costing more than six months of documentary filmmaking.

Re-reading those emails from girls across the globe who had never seen themselves represented on screen and knowing I had the power to make a difference, it suddenly felt so clear what I needed to do. I quit my job, moved back in with my parents, and finished my film. Helping others feel seen felt more meaningful than selling toothpaste.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I have so many experiences with subjects of my films, or audience members who have been greatly impacted by the work I’ve done so it’s immensely difficult to just pick one. That being said, there is a moment that really stands out.

At the premiere of Second Assault, I was a nervous wreck, and my hand was shaking as I held onto the microphone for the Q&A. After the screening, a woman in her 60’s approached me and said “your generation is giving my generation the voice we never had.” Her words deeply impacted me. I’m so happy my film spoke to her and that she felt seen. This is the reason I make the work I do.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

Donate to independent film campaigns — especially those that are making a difference or are about a cause you believe in. Documentary filmmakers are not in it for the money. Unless we’re represented by a big company, we’re doing this full time work on the side while also supporting ourselves with other full time jobs. Share, tweet, talk to your friends about films that inspire you. Encourage people to rent an indie film on iTunes to support upcoming filmmakers. Help us build an audience, raise awareness, and change laws.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

You know more than you think. Trust yourself.

I think one of the biggest fears young filmmakers have is that they don’t know where to start. The reality is there’s no roadmap to being a filmmaker. You just have to pick up a camera and start shooting. You probably already have an idea, a story, something you want to say. If someone had told me to go make a feature film when I was 22 I would have said it was impossible. But then I started interviewing people and my passion won people over. I wasn’t an experienced filmmaker by any means, but my time in post production had taught me more than I realized. I had good instincts. That was a place to start.

Your differences are your strengths.

When I set out to make my first film, Trichster, I remember I was designing the website for it, and I was putting the filmmaker section together. Myself and four other women were the primary filmmakers, and I was really insecure that no one would take us seriously if we didn’t have any men involved in the project, so I decided to include some of my male friends that had generously volunteered to help in post production. I really believed that having a male face on my webpage would make our film more credible. Then I met Emily Best, founder of SeedandSpark. I will never forget sitting in her living room alongside my 4 women producers. She looked at us and said “you are an all woman team and that is your strength. Market yourself as such.” Her words profoundly changed my life in that instant. I went from being ashamed of our team to being proud of it. When I look back at it now, I feel so sad for my younger self that I had internalized misogyny to that degree. Emily remains a friend who continues to inspire me.

Bring on another editor.

Whether it is in the writing or in the post production phase, having a fresh set of eyes is key. So often, creative people feel like they need complete ownership over their work. But the reality is, if they want to make the best work possible, they need to turn their baby over to someone else for a new perspective. They may see something you don’t, and your film will be better off for it.

Work with transcripts.

When it comes to documentary filmmaking transcripts are key. They can be a bit expensive to have, but they will save you thousands in the edit room. They allow you to easily look over what you’ve shot, and make paper edits. If I had had these when I started editing my first feature documentary I would have saved weeks, maybe months, of time.

Don’t get bogged down by imperfections.

Filmmaking is long and arduous. It takes so much effort that at times it feels like there will never be another film. If you spend all your time trying to make a perfect film then you’ll never have one because there is no such thing. So many artists fear making bad work and end up never making anything at all. I think it is far better to create something imperfect and then to do it again and again. Your work will only get better. You have to learn how to put the pencil down.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

I think to be human is to desire connection and meaning. So much of that is lost in the world we live in today, and making work that connects with people has truly given my life meaning.

We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

I’d love to be in touch with Higher Ground Productions, the production company founded by the Obamas! Thay have produced some wonderful documentary work.

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

One of the things I do for myself that keeps me healthy is going for long walks on the beach (I know, that is so cliche!). Three years ago, when I was making Second Assault, I would walk across Lincoln Boulevard each day. And there was a small mural with a tiger that had a quote by EE Cummings: “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” Revisiting my assault was difficult and heavy, but seeing this quote was like being gifted a little piece of encouragement every day. I was putting myself at personal and professional risk in making the film, but I was getting to know myself and learning to trust my feelings in the process. For the first time, I was using my voice to say the things I needed to say. Women especially live in a culture that stifles our voices. This quote gave me permission every day to use mine.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me on instagram @jcorsie and twitter @jilliancorsie and at my website JillianCorsie.com. You can also watch Second Assault on Vimeo for free or watch Trichster on Amazon Prime, iTunes, and SeedandSpark.com.

This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!


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