Elettra Fiumi and Léa Khayata, the founders of Granny Cart Productions, are two young producers/directors/shooters/editors who share a passion for storytelling and cameras that they used to carry in their red granny cart. Granny Cart is a full service production company based in Brooklyn, NY, and founded over four years ago. They produce mini documentaries for news outlets and corporate clients, including the BBC, MSNBC, The Gagosian Gallery, and Rebecca Taylor.
KitSplit: How did Granny Cart Productions come about?
Elettra & Léa: We met at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where we did our masters project together and quickly became best friends. This is also when our shiny red granny cart made its first appearance — it served us well on a snowy day when we had a lot of gear to carry. After graduating, we realized we had the same ambitions so we decided to take the jump together by starting our own production company.
K: What have you been working on lately?
E&L: We recently published a piece in The New Yorker that was commissioned by the Gagosian Gallery on photographer Gregory Crewdson. We’re also doing videos for a medical institution, the International Fine Prints Dealers Association, and are working on our first independent feature, A Florentine Man; some archival footage of which was part of a recent exhibition on Radical Discos at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.We’ve also done some recent pieces for Rebecca Taylor, the BBC, TIME, and Univision’s Fusion.
K: What piece of yours are you most proud of?
E&L: One of our most recent shorts, Letters From Solitary, tackles the issue of solitary confinement through the lens of a play, Mariposa & The Saint, which was written through letters exchanged between the playwright and an inmate who was in solitary for over two years. We were in awe of the courage and dedication of the people involved in this story, and hope we were able to convey the power of the play and its message through this piece. It premiered on The Marshall Project and we are hoping to get a wider release in the coming weeks.
K: How would you describe your film style?
E&L: Intimate and non-narrated, with a dash of grit. We let the characters and the places tell the story.
K: Can you tell us a little about your process?
E&L: We start with an idea, research the hell out of it, and then figure out what would best illustrate the story. We carefully and diligently research every component from the background of the characters to the details of the locations so we are well-prepared once we are actually on the shoot. This enables us to understand the context of what we film and informs us on how to film it. In the field, we spend a lot of time with our characters. We’ve learned through experience that sticking around an extra hour or so is usually what brings out the best scene, even if you thought you already had more than needed. Real moments take time to unfold in front of cameras, and you have to be patient and perseverant. Back in the office, the edit is born with the script and the script, in turn, is born from the interviews. We have a very particular workflow that we’ve developed over the last five years of working together. It’s almost like a dance: we work on pieces separately, and when the inspiration winds down, we swap. We always keep two pairs of eyes on everything we’re working on, and spend a lot of time giving each other feedback. When a piece is ready for review by our editor or client, it’s already gone through several rounds of edit.
K: Can you give us a general overview of the gear you typically use?
K: What is your most-used piece of gear?
K: What’s your favorite piece of gear?
E&L: Our macro lens: Canon 100mm f2.8. Extreme close-ups bring the viewer close to the subject in a revealing way. And on a side note, it’s also great for filming text.
K: Can you talk a little about what inspires you?
E&L: Watching other people’s work, old and new — anything ranging from 1960s European art films to more contemporary films like The Stories We Tell, Bombay Beach, Manda Bala, Wolfpack, Cartel Land, and we’re excited about Kirsten Johnson’s Cameraperson and Chloe Zhao’s Songs My Brothers Taught Me. And conversation: whether it’s interviewing sources or speaking with other filmmakers, everything unfolds from exchange.
K: What’s the best piece of advice you got when starting out?
E&L: Charge for your work. Break it down for the client to understand what exactly is involved. You shouldn’t do endless rounds of edits or shoot overtime for free.
K: What advice would you offer to other folks just starting out?
E&L: Find a good partner to work with, stay focused and don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and your work — you’ll be more professional knowing and claiming your worth.
K: Closing thoughts?
E&L: If you want to learn more about our work, come to our Breaking Into Video Journalism workshop this Saturday 2/27 at the Made in NY Media Center by IFP featuring speakers Andy Lampard of CNN’s Great Big Story and Shruti Ganguly of Fictionless. You can use promo code GrannyCart for $20 off. We’ll be talking about the nuts and bolts of making it in the industry, whether it’s as a freelancer, staff, or business owner: building your reel, writing proposal, budgets and contracts, and…getting paid! You can read a preview about it in this Q&A we did recently with Columbia Visuals or pick up the March issue of Photo District News (PDN) that features a profile on how we started Granny Cart Productions.