Mark’s been involved in environmental filmmaking for over a decade. To celebrate Earth Day, we talk about how he got started.
Today, April 22nd, marks the 46th Earth Day since its inception in 1970. For those who don’t already know, a big part of MLP’s mission is environmental filmmaking. We were in the business incubator at Bethesda Green and still work with them to promote their mission; we’ve worked with Montgomery County and DC’s Departments of Environment, and Mark recently went on a sustainability mission to Antarctica. But how does a career and a business like this get its start? Earlier this week I sat down with Mark and we talked about how he got interested in filmmaking, what brought him into the environmental fold, and where he’ll be focusing his energy next.
SP: How did you get started in filmmaking? What got you interested in cinematography and production?
ML: I was a competitive snowboarder, and was in snowboarding for about ten years. I was living out in San Diego, and I was on an expedition, and we brought a film crew. They were shooting in 16 mm and 8 mm and I got really interested in what the crew was doing. I had never been filmed for anything. I’d really never had the itch for film until that adventure. I was pretty steady in my career, and also had an auto detailing company with a few locations in La Jolla and San Diego areas of California. I realized I just wanted a career change. I guess you could say I had an awakening or an epiphany. I’ve always been kind of an entrepreneur. I realized I wanted to do something different, and decided to go to film school. I took a year off between those events and school, and traveled around the country finding a kind of peace of mind, I guess you could say. I looked into Colorado film schools. I knew I definitely wanted to be out west, and applied to the Colorado University at Boulder film program. Within the first semester, I realized I really didn’t want to go through a whole college curriculum again. I wanted to put my hands on a camera a lot faster than seemed to be developing in the school environment. I switched over to the film program at Red Rocks College in Colorado, which was more of an accelerated certificate program where I would be getting more of a hands-on experience. I did a two and a half year stint at that school and I got a certificate in cinematography.
SP: What were the first few years of your career like? What did you focus on?
ML: Just coming out of film school, and trying to immerse myself into the scene; I was trying to convince other film users to switch over to HD. I had just bought a very expensive camera system that nobody had adapted to yet. People were still shooting in 35mm, and the HD digital medium was sort of the next phase of film. It took me a while, because there were a lot of DP’s [Directors of Photography] that weren’t convinced of the advantages of the new technology. So, I decided to just become an expert with the HD camera, which moved me into working on some big projects, by taking that leap of faith and using it. I was working with Panasonic; they focused their attention on me, and taught me how to be an expert with the camera. I spent the first two or three years with the HD camera just being on set and setting it up, eventually getting to put my eyeball on the lens. I went out and shot a lot of stock footage by traveling the country and shooting as much as I possibly could.
SP: When did you first become interested in the environmental movement, and why?
ML: I first became interested in the environment when I started to travel around the world filming on location in places like Ethiopia, Uganda, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti. All of these countries have their own issues and agendas on how they live and their awareness of environmental issues that effect each of them differently.
As for why; seeing is believing, and from behind my camera I was able to capture first hand how it effects each of them separately. I used to ask myself , how can they not know what they are doing is effecting their countries and communities? Especially in poor regions of Ethiopia where they have no connection with the world outside of their close-knit communities. So clearly better communication and sharing knowledge was going to be a big part of effecting change in these communities and around the world.
SP: How did you get involved with Bethesda Green?
ML: When I moved back to MD in 2009 I was looking to connect with my local Bethesda community and see where I could offer my services in the area of the environment. I met with Dave Feldman and Bethesda Green right when they were starting a green business incubator, and that’s where I opened a small office location.
SP: So tell me about your work with Bethesda Green. You have a series called the Think Green Minute – what was that?
ML: Well part of being in the Bethesda Green Incubator was the benefit of those connections that BG has with the community. Dave and the staff started making key introductions with organizations and companies in the area, including the Montgomery County cable television station. They’re heavily involved with the local green movement, and I was able to produce some content for them. Including, yes, the Think Green Minute series.
SP: How did Bethesda Green lead to other environmental opportunities?
ML: Even as I looked for and worked on projects outside of BG, I was able to stay involved with the daily activities and programs BG was working on, and I regularly offered my services to create content. This got my name out into the mix and in the world of production work begets work. The more you work, the more people hear of you and want to work with you.
SP: One of your projects during your time in the Bethesda Green Incubator was the Reel Water Film Festival. Can you tell me a little about how that got started?
ML: A few years ago I was filming segments for a film project about the Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve and I met Tiffany Jones, who was working at Journey’s Crossing Church at the time. We developed a friendship that evolved into creating a film festival that was focused on water issues. Water was a key subject matter for me personally; both because of my time spent in the water, recreationally and because several of my previous film projects had centered around water issues. So I was already familiar with the subject, and a film festival seemed like the perfect way to both raise awareness of water issues, and raise money to solve them!
SP: You’re still very connected with local green businesses thanks to your work with the Green Business Certification Program. Can you talk a bit about that?
ML: The Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection is the governmental organization that funds Bethesda Green. While I was in the Incubator, I met several of the DEP folks, including Doug Weisburger, and I was fortunate to be granted the opportunity to create content for some of their programs. This has since developed into a yearly contract with the County DEP. They call on us to tell the stories of businesses that have acquired the Green Business Certification and share their sustainable practices; these videos help promote the program to other businesses in the County, and act as a promotional piece for the business being featured. The videos have been really popular, we’re looking forward to doing our third year with the Green Biz program.
SP: So you recently met the Antarctic explorer Rob Swan. How’d that happen?
I first met Rob when another client of ours, Calvert Investments, called on MLP to capture an interview of one of their partners: the 2041 Project. I normally have time to research an interview subject prior to production, but in this case the client was acting as the producer so I just showed up on site with a small crew and was able to interview Rob. He has a fascinating story and it resonated with me on many levels. I asked him if I could be involved in a planned expedition for 2017 due to the fact that the 2016 scheduled expedition was only 30 days away from our introduction. He challenged me to be a part of the 2016 trip, come on the expedition, and help produce content for a few clients that needed storylines captured from the journey.
SP: So what is 2041? What’s its purpose?
2041 was founded by Rob Swan, who’s a polar explorer, environmental leader and public speaker, and was also the first person in history to walk to both the North and South Poles. Since his walk, Rob’s dedicated his life to the preservation of Antarctica by the promotion of recycling, renewable energy and sustainability to combat the effects of climate change.
Rob’s goal is to encourage sustainability in the next generation of leaders. The 2041 expeditions bring these people to Antarctica to witness firsthand both the beauty of the place, and the damage being done by climate change. So after the expedition is over, you get this group of people, future leaders, who are really devoted advocates for the Antarctic.
SP: Why did you decide to go on the expedition?
Going to Antarctica would be the trip of a lifetime! Plus I enjoy being challenged to take on something of this nature and be a part of the change I wish to see. I go with my gut, and in this case it was screaming at me to take it on…
SP: What did you hope to get out of the mission?
First and foremost to deliver on the commitments I had made to my clients. My sponsors were Calvert Investments and MTV, so I needed to capture a lot of interviews and footage for their deliverables. Secondly to connect with a group of 140 thought leaders from 30 different countries whose sole purpose was to be change agents with issues dealing with environmental challenges.
SP: What was the most impactful part of the trip?
Witnessing this vast phenomenal landscape that no country can destroy. No claims can be made to the Antarctica and with that treaty in place, there are no real threats to the landscape itself – besides global warming. This is where the real story is currently taking place. How we as a global population can all contribute to keeping Antarctica and other places like this from being destroyed.
SP: What was it like coming back?
Coming back into “regular” society was a bit strange. I was very tired and worn out from the hours I put into production on the expedition, so 2 days of sleep was first and foremost. To add to that, I was definitely feeling out of sorts and it was difficult to get back into the normal grind of business and living in a big city like DC. Like a lot of my previous trips into “no man’s land” I need to snap out of that mode very quickly in order to keep momentum on projects.
SP: What are your plans going forward?
I would like to take Rob’s challenge to be included in his next venture! In December 2016 he’ll be taking a smaller group of thought leaders and test equipment to Antarctica. That equipment is what he will need to survive with when he walk the south pole in 2017 using only renewable energy systems.
I also feel like there are other contributions my team of creatives and I can make. We want to do our part as storytellers to get the message out about sustainable changes that need to be adapted to help our planet survive.
And my biggest goal is to work closely with our next generation of change agents and challenge them to “do” – walk the walk and capture their progress individually, then tie their stories into a documentary about Antarctica, sustainability, and being the change we want to see in the world.
You can learn more about Mark’s trip to Antarctica on our dedicated page.