Flavorpill has referred to Liz Nord as a “fierce, youthful visionary.” Her past films include Jericho’s Echo: Punk Rock in the Holy Land and a Haiti-based documentary for Wyclef Jean’s NGO. Liz also ran MTV’s Emmy Award-winning 2008 presidential election coverage and has produced work for a wide range of other clients.
Liz is currently producing the transmedia project Jerusalem Unfiltered with web, mobile, live, and traditional film components.
What happened after you finished touring in support of Jericho’s Echo?
I did a lot of freelance video production and graphic design work around San Francisco. I produced a piece for Frontline on youth culture in Israel, which was my first high profile credit.I also worked extensively in media education. I was hired by an organization called Just Think to help develop a national media literacy curriculum for middle schools. It was awesome, I worked directly with sixteen 6th/7th grade teachers and more than 400 students from two schools.
In 2006 I became the director of TILT [Teaching Intermedia Literacy Tools], which was a pioneer in combining media literacy with hands-on video production. We did filmmaking workshops with all kinds of underserved and underrepresented youth.
In one of my favorite projects there, we paired LGBT youth with LGBT elders to make movies together. The seniors shared life experiences with the teens, while the teens were able to guide the seniors through some of the technology use. I loved seeing them mentor each other and make great films, too.
When I initially took on the TILT position part of me worried that it would divert me from my goal of being a filmmaker and TV producer, but it ended up being the best decision I could have made, because later when I moved to New York and wanted to work for MTV, they needed somebody with production chops who also had experience mentoring young people.
“It was the Obama year, the ‘youth year,’ so to be working with young people in that particular election was exciting.”
How did you get the MTV job?
A contact got me a meeting at MTV News. The guy I met there was nice but a bit discouraging. He said, “Look, your background is not traditional. Even though you’re accomplished in the indie film world you’ll probably have to start as a PA, or maybe an AP if you want to get into TV production.”
A week later I get a call from the same guy at MTV, “You know what, this position came up and you’d be perfect.” I ended up going back in and meeting the VP of MTV News and it went really well.
I became the supervising producer of MTV News’ “Choose or Lose” 2008 election coverage. The whole thing was a big experiment, funded in part by the Knight Foundation, which promotes innovations in journalism.
We recruited 51 young people from all across the country to serve as citizen journalists on our “Street Team ’08.” Their charge was to report on youth-related election topics in their state across all of MTV’s platforms. Throughout the entire election season they were blogging, producing video packages, etc.
How did you coordinate all that?
A lot of juggling and coordinating and long hours…while I was overseeing teams of people, I was also managing all of these different platforms. We had a mobile site, a website, TV spots, a virtual campaign headquarters in Second Life…it was so crazy!
We had a lot of room to try different things. I had all my reporters using Twitter, which in 2008 was new for reporters. On certain occasions we were doing live-streaming on the web from mobile phones. One of my reporters was at Hillary Clinton’s concession speech, and she was up in the booth with these big burly guys with big cameras, and she’s shooting and streaming live with a camera phone (laughs). It was really cool.At the same time I was producing my own work for MTV News. I got to field-produce the DNC and the RNC, which was fascinating, and it was the Obama year, the “youth year,” so to be working with young people in that particular election was exciting.
Election Night was one of the best nights of my life. There were tens of thousands of people in Times Square, with MTV’s electronic billboard showing them a virtual map that we’d created with all of my reporters’ tweets appearing over their states in real time. And then when Obama won, although we had reporters across the political spectrum and strived to be impartial, the fact that he was the “youth candidate”…it felt like, “Oh my God, the young people really played a part in this for once!” It was really gratifying.
The job ended in 2008 with the election. It could have been the springboard to a lot of interesting things within the company, but shortly after the election Viacom laid off 850 people. A lot of the contacts I had made were looking for work themselves. It was like, “Here I am, I come to NY, get this great job almost right away, make this splash with a totally successful project, and then suddenly everyone I know lost their job…”
Kind of, yeah! On the other hand, when things slowed down it gave me more time to get back to hands-on shooting and editing, rather than just producing, and my personal projects. So it all kind of worked out.
“If anything has become apparent in my travels and work, it’s that we have choices here in the U.S., and that is an amazing thing….so why choose something you don’t like?”
How did you get involved with doing the documentary for Yele Haiti [Wyclef Jean’s NGO]?
I was brought onto the project by Jenna Arnold from Press Play. We went to Haiti together. We only had 5 days to shoot and then I edited for a few weeks afterwards…that was nuts!
I really like to immerse myself in subject matter but in this case we didn’t have much time. It was much more on the fly; we didn’t know who our characters were going to be ahead of time, the people who were supposed to cooperate with us within the organization weren’t as active….it was nuts….but pretty amazing…the experience really affected me even though it was only 5 days…I mean, it was Haiti! I’d never been to a place like that…
When you’re anywhere as a filmmaker you’re taking a very intense look at things. Well, Haiti’s a very intense place in itself and because I was there with Yele, we weren’t seeing the pretty side; we were going into the really challenged areas where they help.
Yele has gotten some bad press in recent years, but I found some of the things they were doing to be very valuable. Because they have Wyclef’s reputation behind them they could go into some of the worst neighborhoods and help people in ways that other NGO’s couldn’t, because other NGO’s couldn’t even get past the neighborhood gatekeepers and gangs.
The crew was basically me, Jenna, two bodyguards and a representative from the Yele organization. When we were shooting in Cite Soleil [a notoriously dangerous slum] there was one point when the bodyguards said “We need to leave. Now.” and they grabbed us and we ran off. I don’t know what happened, but something happened.
At one point when we were driving out of Cite Soleil, the Yele representative pointed at the gate and said “Oh, that’s where they used to pile the bodies of the U.N. people every night, who during a really bad period would go in and get killed.” I thought, “Oh my God! We were just in there!” I’m not bringing this up to prove how tough I am, I’m just saying that that’s why this experience was so unforgettable. As much as I’d thought that I’d seen in the world, I had never seen that kind of poverty and desperation and violence. Even in Israel and other places I had been. It’s a reminder not to take things for granted.
I think that’s another impetus for leading a creative life, for taking the non-traditional path even if it’s harder. Because life is short, you have to do what you love, and also we are some of the very few people in the world who have the amazing privilege to choose what we do with our lives.
If anything has become apparent in my travels and work, it’s that we have choices here in the U.S., and that is an amazing thing….so why choose something you don’t like? You don’t have to. If you look in places where people really don’t have a choice, you’ll realize how many options we truly have.
That is very motivating…don’t be bored! Do something good! I’m not such a Girl Scout, but I think that is a driving force for me.