How to Make an Emmy-Winning Documentary at 29 Years Old

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On September 28 the 2015 News & Documentary Emmy Awards were announced. Twenty-nine-year-old Rachael Counce, co-producer and director of photography for the documentary Medora, won her first Emmy.

Medora follows a struggling Indiana high school basketball team as they lose game after game in a small, sparsely populated town during a time of economic hardship. For their work, Rachael and fellow producers Andrew Cohn, Davy Rothbart and Rachel Dengiz took home the Emmy for Outstanding Business and Economic Reporting Long Form.

Cambio chatted with Rachael about what it feels like to win an Emmy, following your dreams and how to finally get high school guys to open up.

You just won your first Emmy! How does it feel?
It feels great! We shot the film in 2010–2011 and it's been a long road to this moment. It feels really good to see other people really responding to and appreciating something that you put your heart and soul into. The kids and families in Medora were so brave in opening up and sharing their stories with us and that took a lot of trust. It's nice to have that validated on some level.

What goes on behind the scenes of making a movie?
As co-producer, I played a role in helping to raise funds for the production. I also worked closely with the directors to develop and follow story lines in the field. When we started the project we were a very tight knit crew of about six people and everyone wore a lot of different hats. As the director of photography I was also responsible for the overall aesthetic of the film and was lucky enough to have the help of Peter Leix who is an amazing cinematographer out of Michigan and Michael Smith who also contributed a lot to the look of the film.

Tell us about being on set and shooting for Medora.
We shot on location in Indiana every day for about six months and really embedded ourselves into the community. At first, a lot of the guys were very shy but everyone started opening up and getting more comfortable with the cameras once they realized that we were committed to being there for the entire season. By the second month or so it was like the cameras weren't even there.

Did you always want to create films? How did you get there?
I've had an interest in film and television since I was a kid. That was the thing my dad and I really bonded over when I was growing up. Being from a small town, film exposed me to a lot of different cultures and ideas that weren't present in my immediate bubble.

My dad would always take the opportunity when we were watching movies to point out the things he thought were relevant and interesting that I should think about and he would ask me questions about them later. I went to school for media studies and moved to NYC for an internship at a commercial production company after graduation. I really just tried to insert myself into any production environment that would let me in. At one point I was doing three internships at once and working as a cater waiter on the side.

What advice would you give girls who might want to make films someday?
I would tell any young women who are interested in getting into film that it's not an easy road. There is a lot of financial instability that comes along with following your dreams. But if film is what you are passionate about, then throw yourself into it. Make every contact you can make and work on projects that move you. To me, it's not worth it if you aren't working on projects that matter to you. Nothing really compares to the feeling of being able to share a story with an audience and then seeing that audience react in a profound way.

It's awesome to see that powerful works of film are being #BUILTBYGIRLS! Watch the trailer here, and then stream it on Netflix!


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