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Bess Kargman | SHOOT New Directors Showcase Event
Bess Kargman


Bess Kargman

1) How did you get into directing?
I thought my interest in shooting was something that developed in my early 20s but just recently I found a photo of myself holding a camera at the age of five (so it turns out I’ve wanted to do this for a lot longer than I ever realized).

I got my start as a director after first starting out in public radio and then television production. Eventually I began to feel like an indentured slave and so it empowered me to break out on my own. My 2012 feature debut “First Position” was initially a pitch that my employer rejected, so I left to make the film independently.

Shortly after “First Position” was released theatrically, ESPN Films and Whoopi Goldberg approached me to collaborate with them on Coach, which won the jury prize at Tribeca last year and just received a Sports Emmy nomination. It has been a thrilling ride thus far.

2) What is your most recent project?
I recently wrapped a 10-episode docu-series for Conde Nast Entertainment. The series will be released on Teen Vogue’s website and YouTube channel in the coming months (the name of the series is TBD).

Prior to that project I had a delightful time creating a dance video for the PBS television show Sesame Street. Currently I am in talks to direct a “rockumentary” in 2015. Working with non-actors is a massive task (humans are unpredictable, especially when the cameras are rolling) so the idea of working with trained actors (and a script) excites me.

I love how different all of my projects have been and I hope that versatility will serve me well in the future.

3) What is the best part of being a director?
As clichéd as it sounds, there is nothing more gratifying to me than crafting a narrative that makes people laugh and cry. I never take for granted how much power filmmakers have to affect people. If you can make someone laugh out loud while they still have snot and tears running down their face, you know you’ve done your primary job—which is to entertain in a meaningful way. As a non-fiction filmmaker I have another equally important job, which is to inform and inspire. As I make the transition into narrative projects and commercial work, I think my primary mission of entertaining, informing and inspiring viewers will become my “brand” as a director.

4) What is the worst part of being a director?
Independent filmmakers tend to wear too many hats as a cost-saving measure. While it has been extremely gratifying to be able to produce, direct and edit my films, my true love has been directing, and only directing. So I guess the worst part of being an indie director is when I have to shift my focus away from directing in order to make sure a project gets made. Luckily I’ve finally reached a point where I have the opportunity to delegate more in order to focus on directing. I still pour my own coffee though—I’ll never require an intern to do that for me.

5) What is your current career focus: commercials & branded content, TV, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre—comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.?
My primary focus has been on making feature-length films because that’s where I started my directing career; however I would also love to do more short-form projects, including directing commercials. I think I could portray a depth of realism and authenticity that resonates with viewers. I also think the commercial world could use a few more women directors, so why not put my hat in the ring?

6) Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons) and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates most with you?
Over the years I have had a variety of wonderful mentors. During grad school at Columbia I was fortunate to learn the craft of audio storytelling from Robert Krulwich, Alex Blumberg and Ira Glass (who produce masterful stories for NPR). From them I learned that a story is only as good as its characters. Jon Alpert and Matt O’Neill, who shoot and direct films for HBO, taught me that access is everything. More recently, Whoopi Goldberg, who brought me on to direct Coach for ESPN Films after seeing my feature debut First Position, taught me that generosity is a form of leadership.

7) Who is your favorite director and why?
A 125 word limit prevents me from listing all of my favorite directors. The list is long!

8) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
I have a lot of favorite commercials. Some are extremely impactful (for example there is a 2014 New Zealand car crash commercial that gives me chills), some are pure spectacle (a Boston Bruins spot that goes from a slow motion sequence to a rapid montage of athletic aggression), to a docu-style commercial about farming that makes us appreciate the nation we live in.

9) Tell use about your background (i.e. Where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I’m a born-and-raised Bostonian who recently moved from freezing NYC to sunny LA. During my childhood I was a dancer until I became an athlete (in college I played women’s ice hockey). My background is in journalism so I have some crazy stories about reporting undercover in the Bronx.