The Making of a Documentary, Part 2 / Art and Empathy

In this two-part series, I’m sharing our strange and unexpected experience of being filmed for a documentary. In the fall of 2021, Director Dillon Hayes of All I Have, LLC, explained to us his desire to film the creative work of my husband and peer into the life of our family, our journey and our home. 

To read about Day 1, click here.

Day 2 focused primarily on my husband and his work, while I tried to hold my children back. The little ones were already smitten with Co-director Julia Grimm.

Out of the spotlight, I took the opportunity to make more conversation with the team. 

The desire to share a story

Grimm owns SLAQR Studios, a production/post-production company and lives in East Hollywood. She comes from New Jersey, where her family still operates a Christmas tree farm. Inspired by a documentary on child soldiers in Uganda she saw while at Amnesty International, Grimm went on to study film and television at Boston University. It was there she met Rill Causey who managed sound production during filming. Causey works as a freelance video/audio editor and sound designer.

When Grimm saw that documentary she said it caused her to ask, “What can I do? Can I help tell stories that might be able to help people or reach people? So that’s why I initially decided to go to film school.” She focused on documentaries. 

Causey started in sound through music, violin to be specific. After receiving recording software and attending an after-school program through Wide Angle Youth Media, he went to film school where he met Grimm.

Ultimately the two connected with Director Dillon Hayes. The three have discussed the ideas behind this documentary for years and decided last year it was time to get it off the ground. Hayes’ studied journalism in college, but after a class in documentary film, turned towards the medium that marries audio and visual to tell a story.

Growing in empathy

I was struck by the wisdom they shared. Though telling stories in documentaries, Hayes said, “You get more of a sense of how complex everybody on earth is. It makes you have way more empathy for people.” It’s easy to create a narrative around a person by the one aspect you see, “but it’s just always so much more than that,” Hayes said.

Grimm said she has always felt a curiosity about others around her.

“I feel like you get to a certain point in your life and you start to realize, oh my existence and my experience are not the same for everybody and my point of view and my parents’ point of view is not the same as everybody else out there.”

A project like this is a “passion project” for Hayes, Grimm and Causey. Documentaries make it possible for these filmmakers to not only hear others’ stories but share them by bringing “viewpoints of how other people live, people they might not ever really get to meet and experience themselves,” into others’ lives and homes, Grimm said.

Lending an listening ear

To do this well, they each spoke to the power of empathy in storytelling. Learning someone’s story begins by listening and that act itself can open up others to share. “A lot of people don’t have many people around them, that will really listen,” Hayes said.

After five years of more overtly political work, Hayes felt “burnt out.” His shifted his work, focusing more on what people had in common, rather than their differences. Grimm agreed with how energizing the shift can be. “I don’t think that most people are as far apart as we’ve been made to think we are.”

Then sharing without judgment

So instead of bringing personal bias, Hayes and Grimm try to approach with an open mind, asking where these beliefs came from, what factors contributed to them, and asking those questions without judgment. Then by documenting these ideas, they turn around and seek to help others see the bigger picture from another’s perspective. 

This documentary is still in its early stages. While some documentaries are contracted and funded from the beginning, Hayes explained,

“Most documentaries are started off by people like us who just have an idea.”

Those with a creative vision have more options than ever to bring them to fruition. Because of the changing media landscape, making documentaries has become “a viable career field,” Hayes said. Causey agreed,

“We are lucky to be in a time where there’s more of an appetite for it than there ever has been before.”

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

Leave a Reply