I first heard about Meridian Hill Pictures’ staff filmmaker and educator Ellie Walton from afar. As an American Studies student at Georgetown, some of my more prominent interests included local city history and labor rights. Two of Ellie’s films, Chocolate City and Igual Que Túdeal with both of those themes directly. So, I decided to approach Ellie to see if she would be the advisor to my senior thesis film, Creating Dangerously. Expecting a “nice project, but I’m way over extended with my own work,” type of answer from a filmmaker as lauded as Ellie Walton, I was very surprised when after I finished my pitch and she responded with a simple, “sure.” I had not expected to be successful! Even in this very first meeting, Ellie demonstrated so many of the qualities that I continue to appreciate about my time spent working with her.
The first thing I realized about working with Ellie is that she is accessible. Although her reputation precedes her (and that can be intimidating), after our first meeting I found it so very easy to speak with Ellie. This proved to be one of the things I most appreciated in our advisor/advisee relationship. In addition to being accessible, Ellie is flexible. We met in person about once every two weeks, often meeting in coffee shops, restaurants, at my school, in the Meridian Hill Pictures studio and occasionally intercepting each other on street corners. We would also often communicate through email, phone and text. Throughout the school year I heard stories from my classmates about their less-than-present advisors and how they were navigating the daunting thesis terrain more or less without guidance. Each time I heard such a story I felt lucky knowing that not only was my advisor responsive and receptive, she was actually actively motivating me in my work.
The next thing I noticed quite immediately about working with Ellie is that she “gets it.” Despite my finest efforts to string my thoughts and storyboards together, I always felt frazzled describing my ideas and what I wanted my final project to be. Often times my ideas did not resonate with my friends or classmates. Yet when speaking with Ellie, without delay or confusion, she always seemed to get it! The fact that I could communicate my ideas with another creative thinker proved invaluable in the construction of the narrative of my final film. Without making me feel as if my ideas where no longer my own, Ellie wisely guided my narrative to help me understand how to communicate effectively in the film medium. She taught me how to put the rubber to the road and how to form a project that others could “get” as well.
Finally, Ellie is supportive. As a young filmmaker, it is easy to feel that there is so much you don’t know, or to feel frustrated that you can’t make a scene look the way you want it to, or confused about the various ethical issues that come along with documentary filmmaking. Ellie guided me on all of these concerns. Not only did she guide me, she made me feel capable and motivated me to challenge myself. Maya Angelou once wrote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I certainly have not forgotten Ellie’s sage words nor her inspiring projects. What I mean to say is that rather than leaving our meetings feeling inexperienced or “small” (as one so often does as a student), working with Ellie always left me feeling “big” and capable as a young artist. It is thanks to that feeling that I truly have grown after working with Ellie.