My Journey as a media professional
My name is Dan Harris, I’m a media creator passionate about utilizing my skills as a writer, researcher, lighting technician, and photo & video editor to create engaging media. My journey started in 2017 when I enrolled in the Fitchburg State University Communications Media Program, where I chose to follow a concentration in Documentary Production. During my time at Fitchburg State, I produced and directed several short documentaries, notably You Could Use That and Irene Clark, Navajo Weaver, films that followed my passion for storytelling centered around exploring the work of living artists, both as human beings and as conduits for their unique cultures.
During the summers between my Sophomore and Junior year at Fitchburg State, I worked as a guide for Deer Hill Expeditions, a non-profit that focuses on opening up access to the great outdoors for diverse high school student populations from around the country. Through this work with Deer Hill I had the opportunity to work with Hopi, Tewa, Zuni, and Navajo (Dine’) educational partners, and it was here that I met Irene Clark, a master Navajo Weaver. Through my educational work I saw the magic of Irene’s connection to her Dine’ heritage, landscape, artform, and amazing family, and was determined to share her story with the world. In the summer of 2019 for my capstone documentary film thesis, I flew with my student crew out to the Navajo Nation to tell her story. It was an incredible experience collaborating with Irene and her family to authentically represent her artform and the world it came from. The experience of directing Irene H. Clark: Navajo Weaver and its critical reception led me to the next step in my journey.
WGBH World Channel
This focus on human-centered storytelling coupled with my love of historical research led me to a fantastic experience as an Editorial Intern with WGBH World Channel where I had the opportunity to expand my understanding and skill set in documentary broadcasting. I chose World Channel as an internship because it specialized in marketing and showcasing the types of anthropologically-focused documentaries I became so passionate about in school. While at World Channel, I helped market upcoming programs by creating photo and video content for social media platforms and film festival events, assisted producers by screening new documentary submissions to enforce program branding guidelines, and assisted World’s outreach director in building out the channel’s professional network of storytelling organizations and film festival contacts through research. I even helped out during live production of World Channel’s hit show Stories From the Stage as a camera operator and production assistant.
Northern Light Productions
In the spring semester of 2020, I completed my graduating capstone internship with Northern Light Productions based in Allston MA, a fantastically creative company that makes independent documentary films and educational interactive museum exhibits for clients around the world. While World Channel helped me gain a critical understanding of documentary broadcasting and distribution, I wanted to see what the beginning of that process looked like from pitch deck to post-production, and Northern Light really illuminated that for me. A major project I did was helping Director Susan Gray and Producer Lydie Diakhate format and present the writing and imagery for a 40-page production pitch deck for the film The Lost Ancestors (currently in development), which follows the life story of critically-acclaimed Ghanaian artist Kwame Akoto Bamfo and his groundbreaking sculpture work focusing on the African slave trade. I assisted producers in developing an interactive media installation exhibit for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, consisting of documentary programming displayed on video walls and interactive virtual games. For this project I was tasked with researching archival video, photo, and historical writings for use in exhibit content, and assisted in the licensing and internal organization of these resources. I also worked as an assistant editor on this project by cutting down large volumes of video content into useable content, and by creating professional-grade transcriptions from these video resources. Similarly, I provided editorial and production support for the films Birth of a Movement, James Cotton: They All Stood Up, and helped prepare content for the Lincoln Project’s Making Sense of Place shorts series on YouTube.
One of my favorite projects at Northern Light was taking the role of archival researcher for Climate Feedback Loops a five-part short documentary series created by Northern Light Productions in partnership with the Mind and Life Institute. The films break down the critical elements of climate change into five parts: Intro, Forests, Permafrosts, Atmosphere, Albedo. My focus was primarily on the Permafrost segment, scouring the internet, stock websites, and speaking with scientists at various research organizations to find, obtain, license, and organize footage related to permafrost melt as raw material for this documentary. Through this process I learned so much. Beyond developing technical research skills, one of the main research objectives was to find raw material for Northern Lights animators to work with, giving me a better understanding of that cross-department workflow. The research and my communication of it even helped the producers themselves understand the science behind permafrost melt, its implications for climate impact, and therefore how this steered the writing and messaging of the project as a whole. Overall, my experience at Northern Light Productions was incredibly educational and helped me develop my understanding of documentary writing, production, and publishing more than I ever could have imagined.
I had taken what I’d learned at Northern Light and applied it to my own projects. In that same spring semester of 2020, I helped a great local nonprofit called ACE Greater Boston create a short documentary for their annual fundraising event. ACE is a local mentorship program that connects architects and construction industry professionals with underrepresented student populations for industry exposure, mentorship, and college scholarship programs. From pitch to publishing, I worked with executive director Jennifer Fries to develop a video project that authentically represented the incredible educational work ACE does, through student and mentor interviews. The documentary short helped ACE Greater Boston communicate its mission, raising $250,000 in program funding in the spring of 2020, a vital resource heading into the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Graduating College at the start of COVID
In March of 2020, my internship along with my documentary project with ACE Greater Boston came to a grinding halt and went remote, along with the rest of the world. Like many people I took the pandemic as an opportunity to pause and think, reevaluating how I could adapt my skills and passions to a rapidly changing world. Graduating in May of 2020 and finishing out my internship during the height of the lockdowns, I took a flexible and Covid-safe job working for Amazon that allowed me to continue doing some media work on the side. I helped with online documentary screenings and Zoom presentations for a fantastic film called Space Torah, assisting with writing, pitch presentations, and other minor editorial tasks on the side, and even editing together a short film called The Anchor Down - Earn The Sunset for Above Summit LLC. As the world began to open up again and the regular production industry resumed in Boston, I had the urge to get out from behind my computer to experience professional on-set film production, something I got a taste for and loved during my time at Northern Light Productions.
From Production Assistant to Lighting Professional
In the Spring of 2021, I began working as a Production assistant on commercials and e-commerce shoots for companies like Stop & Shop, JP Morgan Chase, Microsoft, Emerson University, and movies such as Netflix’s Don’t Look Up, and Free Guy. The great thing about PA work is that it allows you a first-person view and participating role in the tasks of every department on set, something that I felt really accelerated my learning in terms of understanding the workflow of professional video production on every scale. In this incredible learning environment, I built relationships with filmmakers that launched me from being a PA into the field of Lighting and Grip. I chose this route specifically because it is one of the most critical departments on set in terms of planning, logistics, equipment, and scheduling, and largely dictates the pace and workflow of an entire production. Along with this, I agree with the general consensus that lighting is the best department to start in because it is the foundation for cinematography and directing, and through my work in this field I’ve found this to be very true, allowing me to grow in other disciplines as a media creator.
My work in lighting has brought me to a lot of amazing places, and it's been an incredible journey exploring this field. My first short as a Grip & Lighting technician was on The Principal’s Assembly with Hop Top films, a great learning environment where I got a handle on the basics of the craft, and made connections that led me to later work with companies like Wanderlust Content, Big Brick Productions, 50-Eggs Films, and Matter Communications. One of my favorite teams to work on was for Season 20 of Ask This Old House with Roku Studios. Working under DP’s Nick Kolinsky and Jay Mauer I really honed my craft and learned the ins and outs of documentary-style lighting, be it for interviews, studio product presentations, or outdoor run-and-gun filming. This fantastic team and the mentorship I received from them really helped me come into my own as a lighting professional, and allowed me to take fantastic opportunities as a Lighting Technician and Grip on projects like Netflix’s Confess Fletch and The Perfect Couple, along with Sony/Marvel’s upcoming Madame Webb. As my network grew and I had the opportunity to work on documentaries, I made the decision to go union and joined IATSE Local #481 in the craft of Grip in October of 2022.
Looking Towards the Future
IATSE has been an amazing organization to be a part of, further helping me hone my craft and providing invaluable continuing education and networking opportunities, as well as allowing me to support my fellow film workers even as the current WGA and DGA strikes put our industry on hold. Still, I haven’t let this put a damper on my perspective and in a similar way to the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m choosing to look at challenging times as an opportunity for growth. I’ve had the amazing pleasure of working with my friends Bob Pare (director), Neil Giuliani(dp), Jimmy Martin (cam-op) and others on a great self-funded documentary called Mystic Disc (working title), a space where I’ve had the opportunity to grow as a drone videographer, BTS photographer, and more. I’ve felt so inspired by how this project has brought me back into documentary and editorial production, that I find myself going back to the strong roots I created through my work at Fitchburg State University, WGBH World Channel, and Northern Light Productions. I’m excited to get back into the research, writing, and editorial world, while utilizing the unique on-the-ground experience I have in the film industry, and how this will open up new a exciting opportunities in the next chapter of my career!