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Season 4 - Episode 14:

How To Tell Your Story While Making a Living with Erin Bagwell

How To Tell Your Story While Making a Living with Erin Bagwell

Episode Summary

In this week’s episode, we’re talking to documentary filmmaker Erin Bagwell, director of Dream, Girl and Year One. Erin, who was featured as part of Oprah’s SuperSoul100 in 2016, tells powerful stories about women and their real-life experiences, ranging from female entrepreneurs in New York City to the early days of motherhood. She shares with us how she made a movie with Kickstarter support, gave her films a successful afterlife, and about that time she premiered a movie at The White House.

Episode Notes

Trigger Warning: this episode discusses postpartum depression and briefly mentions suicidal thoughts. 

When Erin Bagwell decided to turn to Kickstarter to get her movie off the ground, she didn’t expect to raise over $100K in 30 days, but that’s exactly what happened. Erin’s movie, Dream, Girl, is about the real-life experiences of ten New York City-based female entrepreneurs, and it turns out audiences were hungry for this type of story. Erin watched as women who were longtime experts in their field would have to prove themselves to boardrooms full of men in order to secure funding. “Wanting to be seen as an expert, wanting to be taken seriously, that’s still a big one,” she says. She needed to tell their stories.

So she pitched it on Kickstarter, and supporters were here for it. Erin credits her “really fabulous video” as the prompt that got people on board. “I spent a lot of money and I had a gorgeous video because I wanted people to look at it as a trailer. A glimpse of what the film would look like.” Erin invested in audio mixing, color correcting, and all the standard-issue Hollywood things to ensure that it looked amazing. “If you’re investing in a documentary, you want it to look, you know, like a film.” 

Dream, Girl went on to premiere at the Obama White House in 2016. Erin was able to design a successful afterlife for her film. In her first full year of filmmaking, she made over $100K in sales and employed a team of two. She worked directly with her Kickstarter backers to bring the film in front of audiences and supplemented the screening income with a robust speaker’s schedule on top of that. 

Erin’s twin inspirations for her first documentary had been her own experience being sexually harassed at work, and the collection of anonymous stories she collected into a storytelling blog called Feminist Wednesday. She was seen as a member of the entrepreneurial community, “because I had started this little WordPress blog,” and she had contact with women who were raising capital and launching start-ups. A lot of Erin’s audience was female founders and entrepreneurs who “really wanted to create spaces for connection.” She also linked up with influencers who promoted the film—and themselves—for their audiences. “People want to know your why. Why are you passionate about something, what is it that excites you? People are really attracted to that.”

For her next project, Erin’s own pregnancy was the catalyst and inspiration. “I was really interested in how people mother,” she explains. Her own experience with postpartum depression changed her expected filmmaking trajectory. “We don’t get to see a lot of great authentic stories about what it means to become a parent;” in making this film, she set out to change that. She felt “called” to share the truths and vulnerabilities of her first year of motherhood, and it became a way of healing her experience with PPD. Reviewing the footage gave her a sense of grace and compassion for her own story. Her goal is to let other mothers see themselves in the messy, ill-fitting parts of the early days of motherhood, and our own Damona Hoffman shares her insights into balancing motherhood and entrepreneurial momentum. Year One is now available to stream on YouTube.