meet sarah: documentary filmmaker empowering women everywhere

Sarah Moshman on People with Panache

“Just hearing those stories, you can’t help being like what’s that for me? What’s my film, what’s my space shuttle launch, what’s my skate across the country? Everyone has that. It’s just whether or not you bring it out.”

Sarah Moshman is a woman after our own hearts. She traveled 7,128 miles in a minivan with five girls through 22 states to shoot 17 interviews in 10 cities over the course of more than 34 days. Whew! We thought driving seven hours to Minneapolis was a trek.

Sarah is a former Chicagoan living in LA. She and her team have created a film called “The Empowerment Project” to encourage women and girls across the country to be anything and everything they want to be. We can’t wait to see it! (The official trailer has just been released TODAY!)

People with Panache: How did you come up with this idea?

Sarah Moshman: It’s going to sound really dramatic, but I’ve been sort of brewing this idea my whole life. Really, it came to fruition in November of last year.

PWP: What’s the background?

SM: My business partner Dana Michelle Cook and I started a production company called Heartfelt Productions in 2009. We wanted to focus on projects that have heart and are beneficial to women. Every time you turn on the TV—or the Internet for that matter—it’s just objectification and really negative messages, so while we were working full time in reality television on a number of crazy shows, we started the company and shot short documentaries in our free time.

Sarah Moshman on People With Panache

“We turned the camera on ourselves as well. We are the glue who ties all 17 women together. We thought it was important to show how we are affected by the journey too.”

PWP: And you just won your first Emmy! Congratulations! What film was that for?

SM: In 2012 we made a documentary called “Growing Up Strong: Girls on the Run.” Molly Barker started the organization in 1998 with 13 women, and it has blossomed into this organization that has affected over half a million girls. Girls train for a 5K race, but they also learn really amazing lessons about bullying and gossiping. They asked us to make a documentary about their organization in Chicago. And I submitted it to the Emmys after it aired on WTTW in Chicago on March 30.

PWP: Winning an Emmy would be so exciting, I can’t even imagine it. But it’s even more special for you, right?

SM: My dad, who’s a longtime TV producer in Chicago as well, has won 26 Emmys at this exact same ceremony for the same network. So it’s very full-circle. I’m just thrilled to be sharing this experience with him. I grew up with Emmys all over my house: the living room, the dining room, my room, a broken one on the Christmas tree.

PWP: My gosh, 2013 sounds like your best year ever!

SM: I challenge 2014 to even try. I got married this year, I did a Kickstarter, and I sort of put everything else aside to move full force with this film because it’s everything I could ever want in a project all tied neatly in a bow.

It’s really exciting to say to the world, this is my dream, this is my ultimate. What would I do if I weren’t afraid? I thought, If I wasn’t afraid I would make this film, and I would see where it would take me. And that’s exactly what I’m doing.

PWP: We feel exactly the same way. Like Sheryl Sandberg said! How will we be able to see it?

SM: There’s a company called IndieFIix. It’s just like Netflix, where people pay a monthly fee to watch films. Their slogan is “Bring the festival home.” There are so many amazing independent films out there that go to these great film festivals and they get great acclaim, they win awards and then nobody sees them. So IndieFlix has come up with a way, and you pay $7 a month to watch all these fantastic independent films on their space.

PWP: That sounds perfect! How did you hear about it?

SM: I heard about IndieFlix a few years ago when I heard about this film called “Finding Kind.” These two girls named Lauren and Molly traveled across the US for a month and a half with their moms to start a kind campaign where they encourage girls not to bully one another. They started a nonprofit, and created this exceptional documentary. Afterward, they traveled the country to show it, building their lives and careers around it. And IndieFlix made it happen.

Sarah Moshman on People With Panache

“I’m happy at home lounging with my dog and my husband Ryan, watching ‘Parks and Recreation’—my favorite show of all time. Amy Poehler is my No. 1 role model.”

PWP: That must have planted a seed in your head.

SM: For years I’ve been following their path, thinking IndieFlix is a great company to be aligned with. They get it. I don’t want to just make a movie and release it into the world and then have to go back to my regular job. I want to build something. I want this to be my life.

PWP: How did you end up working with them?

SM: Are you ready for this story? Two weeks before we went on the road, I made a vision board about my dreams for the documentary. It was like people clapping, an award, a certain film festival. I put IndieFlix on my vision board. I can’t explain it, but two weeks later, I found myself sitting at a table with the CEO of IndieFlix.

PWP: What?! How?

SM: We went to meet this amazing woman, who donated to our Kickstarter in San Francisco, because she’d been so kind to us. So we’re in the midst of shooting at this point; we’re a few days on the road. We go up to her fabulous downtown office, and she has invited her friend Scilla—the CEO of IndieFlix. She had just gotten back from yoga class, so it was very casual. It was one of those things—had I known I would be talking to the CEO of IndieFlix, I would have thrown up or had an anxiety attack. I was just thinking to myself: This is it Sarah; there couldn’t be a more perfect opportunity handed to you on a silver platter.

We were telling her about our project, and she was really enthusiastic. She goes: Have you guys ever heard of a film called “Finding Kind”? I seriously almost fell out of my chair.

“Knowing what you want to do at any age is so powerful.”

So I tell her about my vision board obviously, and she said she got chills. It was like, what is happening?! She said “Finding Kind” is like having a pet dragon. Schools are calling her, Lauren and Molly have traveled to more than 600 schools with the film for three years, and those places are calling Scilla, saying: “We love ‘Finding Kind,’ but what’s next?”

She didn’t know it, but she was looking for me. And I was looking for her. So I kid you not, I sat up in my chair and said to her: Look no further, we’re the next “Finding Kind.” I’ve never been more confident in my life. I was like, this is it; I’ve got to go for it.

We met Scilla in Seattle a few days later, and she told us IndieFlix wanted to join us in co-production (which means they’re going to represent us and help us get distribution), and not even a week in, we were on the same trajectory as Lauren and Molly, which is all I’ve ever wanted. We already have screenings set in Seattle this April.

PWP: What was your favorite part about the project?

Sarah Moshman on People With Panache

Sarah’s first job out of college was on “Dancing with the Stars.” She got to meet everyone from historical legend Buzz Aldrin to her favorite ’90s singers such as Jewel, Brandy, Mýa and Lil’ Kim.

SM: We mentored an aspiring female filmmaker in every city that we visited. They were ages 15 to 30. If you don’t give back, what are you doing? Even if they never make a movie, I’m glad they were able to be part of our energy on set.

PWP: Working with so many smart, driven women for weeks on end had to be a blast. What did they teach you?

SM: One common theme: When I’m on my deathbed and I look back, I’m going to regret what I didn’t do, not what I did do. It’s so true.

It’s interesting to see all the commonalities between these 17 extremely different women. It felt like they had one major thing in common: They went for it. Several things stood in their way, whether it was a health issue like Kacie who had the heart condition, or cancer, or whatever it was. We had a girl as young as 21, a ballerina, and as old as 70. Just to hear how differently these 17 women approached their careers, their lives, the word feminism, their meaning of success—I’d love to do it every single day.

PWP: Wouldn’t that be a dream?

SM: Another common theme was finding your passion at an early age. That was so pivotal for all of them. But knowing what you want to do at any age is so powerful. Being comfortable with yourself and knowing what you’re passionate about and what you want to do—that makes you unstoppable.

[Photos by Alysse.]

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4 thoughts on “meet sarah: documentary filmmaker empowering women everywhere

  1. Pingback: The Empowerment Project! - illiterat

  2. Pingback: update: congrats to “the empowerment project”! | people with panache

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