Cindy Lynn Carter: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker

An Interview With Susan Johnston

Authority Magazine Editorial Staff
Authority Magazine


Don’t listen to other people who try to crush your dream of filmmaking.

Even as a child I was mocked and made fun of regarding my “I want to go to Hollywood” scenario. Rather than poor me, I think it made me more stubborn about doing it, but the negativity has pushed me away from creating at times throughout my life. Do what you want to do. The worst thing that can happen is you’ll fail. So, what.

As a part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Cindy Lynn Carter.

Cindy Lynn Carter is a published writer and multimedia creator. She has an MA in Film & Video from American University and a BA in Radio, TV & Film from the University of Maryland.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?

Hollywood movies basically raised me. I spent most of childhood watching all sorts of film; whatever was on the TV and late-night channels I devoured. I learned how to talk, live, and fall in love from the movies. Only after I became an adult did I realize that this might not have been particularly healthy.

I was always a rebel against just about everything, and I wanted to move from the DC area and live in California where I thought I might fit in since I was seven. Life continually stopped that from happening, so I eventually decided I would just make movies, write screenplays, stories, whatever, wherever I am. The Internet and digital medial allowed that for so many.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I always wanted to work in Hollywood and the film industry. My entire focus was filmmaking and even when others tried to discourage me, “You’ll be poor and a failure” was one fun piece of advice, I continued on that path with my college degrees. I had a few screenplays that did pretty well in some film festivals and one of them was almost optioned. I had a film review website in the early days of the Internet that did well, but nothing took off. I had to reimagine what I was going to do with my life. I guess failure led me to this path! At least failure in the traditional filmmaker sense.

After I didn’t have success in Hollywood, I saw the Internet as a way for a regular person to create movies that others could see outside of the system. I could make movies all day and show them to my dog, but the important thing for me is for others to see them. To me, film/video is all about communicating ideas and emotions and finally there was a way outside of the Hollywood system to do it.

The focus of my work started in animation and has moved into the documentary realm. I like to tell stories that few know about — I’m fascinated by history, the history of those that didn’t “win” and get to write the history books, and especially those who have been forgotten. It keeps me up at night sometimes because I feel I need to tell their story.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your content creator career?

The most interesting and/or funny story occurred when I was at an event not related to my career. After telling someone what I did they told me about a video they had seen and really liked on YouTube — it was my video! I actually had to prove I was that person by giving them my card. They refused to believe me. Weird but satisfying in its own way.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

When I was just out of Grad School, I had a meeting at DreamWorks with screenwriter Terry Rossio about one of my screenplays. It was surreal to fly out there, give my name at the guard station, and then meet Terry. He was wonderful to me, showed me around the Animation area, and we had lunch at the cafeteria. He gave me great advice, we talked about all sorts of things, and after I left, I drove to Santa Monica. Walking on the beach I said to myself that if nothing ever happens in my life after this, I would totally be okay with it. And I still am.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have to mention a Professor in Graduate School at American University. John Douglass. He was always so positive and enthusiastic about my work, about everything really, and basically gave me the patience and determination to finish my degree. You certainly don’t need a film school degree to make movies but I did need the confidence, and that is what Professor Douglass and that degree gave me.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Bloom where you’re planted.” I’m not sure who said it, but I remind myself of it often. For so long I thought my life wouldn’t start until I moved to this place or a certain city and I wasted so much time. Do what you want to do, create what you want wherever you are. We have the ability now to bloom all over the world.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Right now, I’m writing a fictional screenplay based on my documentary Zone of Silence, and a fantasy short film about Vikings. All over the place but they both have paranormal, historical, and mystical aspects which I love.

Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?

Like I’ve mentioned earlier, I am proudest when someone is moved or entertained by something I’ve done. I did a simple short on a museum in West Virginia dedicated to John Henry, and the curator commented online that it was better than the one he had paid to make. He had no idea about my film until he found it on YouTube — I had only visited because my husband has the same name and I thought it would be fun. It was!

Another story was regarding a video I did about Lake Okeechobee in Florida and a hurricane that hit there years ago. The African Americans who died were all dumped in a mass grave while the white people were entombed in the city cemetery. An African American man who had grown up there thanked me for telling the story — it had been forgotten and a relative of his was in that mass grave.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. Don’t listen to other people who try to crush your dream of filmmaking.

Even as a child I was mocked and made fun of regarding my “I want to go to Hollywood” scenario. Rather than poor me, I think it made me more stubborn about doing it, but the negativity has pushed me away from creating at times throughout my life. Do what you want to do. The worst thing that can happen is you’ll fail. So, what.

2. Watch lots of movies.

You have to know what has been done in order to do something different. The worst thing I hear is, “I’ve never seen a black and white film.” Watch TCM. Go through the Criterion Collection. If you want to write, read, if you want to make movies, watch them. Lots of great newer independent films out too.

3. Make an Entertainment Lawyer your friend.

Make sure you use one if you ever get a contract or any legal document. You’ll thank me later.

4. Teach yourself everything you can about technology.

Unless you’re wealthy you’re going to have to do most everything yourself. Non-linear editing was still fairly new when I started, so I taught myself how to edit, HTML, digital, everything. It is much easier now because of the software, but you’ll still have to be a Renaissance Man/Person to be a filmmaker.

5. Use the cheapest versions of everything to start.

Sure, the top-of-the-line software, camera, whatever is great, but when you’re getting started the object is to create something, finish it, and get it out there. Today you can-do high-quality stuff with the basics. The cost of things keeps many creative people out of filmmaking, don’t let it. Except for audio! Get good quality audio! I have found that sound really is the hardest part of filmmaking to do well. Especially on location. Trust me!

When you create a film, which stakeholders have the greatest impact on the artistic and cinematic choices you make? Is it the viewers, the critics, the financiers, or your own personal artistic vision? Can you share a story with us or give an example about what you mean?

My vision is the most important when I make a film or write a screenplay. I have to have a feeling about something; it moves me or I’m interested in it. I actually dream about ideas and sometimes come up with the video afterwards. My short, “Last Night I Dreamed of Michael Nesmith” is one of those. I literally put the dream on film.

Of course, the second is the viewer. My entire purpose is to share something with them — the creation really only exists after someone other than me sees it, so I have to believe that whatever my vision is, it will communicate something to the viewer.

How can our readers continue to follow you?

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

About The Interviewer: Susan Johnston is a Media Futurist, Columnist as well as Founder and Director at New Media Film Festival®. The New Media Film Festival, honoring stories worth telling since 2009, is an Award-winning, inclusive, and boundary-pushing catalyst for storytelling and technology. Susan was knighted in Rome in 2017 for her work in Arts & Humanity.