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Behind the Scenes: How We Found the Farmers for Our Short Film "In Short Supply"
Siblings Sherilyn Shepard (left) and Ricky Horton (right) are former tobacco farmers who now grow produce in Blackwater, VA. (Sherilyn photograph by Brad Horn for Bread for the World, Ricky photograph by Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World.)
One of the hardest parts of creating a short film such as "In Short Supply" -- Bread for the World's companion video story to the 2012 Hunger Report -- is finding the right people to be in it. Unless you're a wanna-be reality star, who wants cameras following them around in their daily lives? That's why knowing a trusted insider -- someone who's trusted by both you (the storyteller) and the potential people who could be in your story -- is key.
In the case of "In Short Supply," Bread's trusted insider was Robin Robbins, the food safety and marketing manager at Appalachian Harvest, an organization that helps small farmers market and distribute their organic produce. Robin and I met back in April when my colleague, Todd Post, and I traveled down to southwestern Virginia to report on Appalachian Harvest's operations. Robin showed us around the organization's packing house (which you can see in the video story below), explained their processes, and took us out to her own farm. She even gave Todd and me fragrant little pots of basil, rosemary, and stevia from her greenhouse.
Screen shot of Robin Robbins, Appalachian Harvest's food safety and marketing manager, who was instrumental in helping Bread for the World identify Sherilyn Shepard and Ricky Horton for our short film "In Short Supply."
A few months later, when I wanted to film a story about small farmers, I contacted Robin to help me. She's a real firecracker who gets things done. I needed a very specific kind of person to be in the video story, so I explained to Robin what I was looking for and why. As a filmmaker, it's important for me to explain the "why" part, because often people who don't work as visual storytellers might not understand all the research and mechanics that go into producing a good visual story. For example, when I film or photograph a story, I need people to actually be doing things -- like picking tomatoes or driving a tractor -- so that I have compelling photos and video. It's not interesting to film or photograph people talking about what it's like to pick tomatoes or drive a tractor. Also, capturing real moments as they happen requires spending a lot of time with people.
I emailed Robin in mid-July and asked if she knew a farmer who we could spend nearly all of our time documenting. I told her the person would need to be:
* A former tobacco farmer who used to receive government subsidies
* A person who generates a substantial income from growing produce
* A person who's involved with ASD [Appalachian Sustainable Development, the parent organization for Appalachian Harvest]
* A person who will be doing actual work on his/her farm while we're there
* A person who is articulate and open and not afraid or shy around cameras
* Preferably a person with a family - spouse/partner and kids (to show interaction with other people)
Robin, being the rock star she is, found three farmers who fit the bill. My colleague Molly Marsh, freelancer Brad Horn, and I drove down to Duffield, VA, on July 22 and met the farmers that night in Appalachian Harvest's packing house. Robin came in and out of our informal meeting since she was busy grading produce and packing it for distribution. The rest of us sat around a table getting to know each other.
Afterwards, Molly, Brad, and I decided Ricky Horton and his sister Sherilyn Shepard would be wonderful people for our short film. We asked, they accepted, and then Molly, Brad, and I spent most of the next several days filming, photographing, and recording audio of Ricky and Sherilyn's daily lives. We stood in wet cucumber fields and climbed on tractors. We learned about pink eye in cows and water damage to tomatoes. I feel we all came to a mutual understanding and respect for each others' work; spending a week together can do that for you.
What makes Ricky and Sherilyn great characters for this story is their down-to-earthness, and their frank way of explaining things. One of my favorites parts of the film is when Ricky says, "It takes work to grow vegetables. It's more or less just a living thing like you are: It's got its ups and downs, and has its good times and bad times." What a great comparison. You and I -- we're just like tomatoes or cucumbers!
I'm grateful that Ricky, Sherilyn, their families, and their employees allowed us into their lives. When you watch the video, it's one week of life compressed into 12-and-a-half minutes. But really, the story began back in April, with my visit to Appalachian Harvest and a meeting with Robin Robbins, a trusted insider.
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