By: Kafi Kareem, Graduate Fellow
An Emmy award-winning feature length documentary, Made in L.A, demonstrates successful community engagement in every stage of a media project – from fundraising and development to outreach and distribution. Driven by a passion for social justice, makers Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar have brought national attention to immigration/labor issues in Los Angeles, largely by building an alliance of community activist groups who support and promote the film. In this sense, the heart of the project is its public. After a successful festival run, national PBS broadcast and multiple awards (see appendix), the film continues to bring in revenue and make an impact through DVD sales, tours and screenings. Made in L.A. has built a loyal, diverse audience, unifying varied interest groups, and is a powerful example of media as a tool for social mobilization.
Background and Mission
The brainchild of director/producer Almudena Carracedo, Made in L.A. began in November of 2001 as a 5-month video project for organizers to raise awareness about labor-rights infringements in the Los Angeles garment industry and engage local garment workers. After reading a newspaper article about sweatshops in downtown Los Angeles, Carracedo approached L.A.'s Garment Worker Center with the intention of making a short film that would expose the conditions – long hours, sub-minimum or no wage pay, unsafe or unsanitary environments – under which immigrant garment factory workers were forced to labor. She formed intimate relationships with many of the workers in the Center, in part because, as a recent immigrant from Spain, she shared their native tongue. One year later, she was still documenting the workers' experiences. "The film emerged from passion," she explains.
Carracedo believed that the workers' stories deserved a national audience and a feature-length treatment. She sought out collaborators and in the process connected with Robert Bahar, founder of Doculink, an online community for documentary filmmakers to share information and ideas, and to support each other's growth. Together, Carracedo and producer Robert Bahar restructured the film with the new mission in mind.
The filmmakers completed Made in L.A. over the course of the next five and half years, bringing on a creative team—including co-writer and editor Lisa Leeman, editor Kim Roberts and composer Joseph Gonzalez—during the final production year. The film intimately follows the lives of three Latina immigrant garment workers involved in an organized struggle against a major clothing retailer. Through a boycott campaign and lawsuit, the workers force management to grant them legal wages—setting a legal precedent. The three women emerge from the battle transformed.
Made in L.A. aired on national broadcast television on September 4, 2007, the day after Labor Day, as part of PBS's P.O.V., a prime time series premiering 14-16 of the best independent nonfiction films every year. The film had a long, successful festival run and continues to gain momentum nationwide through community screenings.
During the first four years of production, Carracedo and Bahar were not paid. They both held other jobs (Almudena worked part-time as a Teaching Assistant at UCLA, and Robert worked as a line producer on other films) to sustain their full-time commitment to Made in L.A. Fundraising events, consisting of four house parties and one concert, financed the first few years of filming, in addition to building a core audience of grassroots advocacy organizations and community members. At these events, which collectively brought in about $30,000, screenings of the film's trailers allowed the production team to solicit feedback from passionate community members who, supportive of the film's message and mission, made generous contributions towards its completion. Close to 300 donors contributed to the making of the film. Carracedo and Bahar's free guide, "Reach Out! Planning a Fundraising House Party in Your Community," offers insights into hosting a successful fundraiser.
The Made in L.A. team also received a number of small grants from organizations such as the Unitarian Universalist Fund for a Just Society and the Diane Middleton Foundation, which supported the film's advocacy mission, and the Pacific Pioneer Fund, which supports emerging filmmakers. Still, the filmmakers held other jobs until they were able to secure enough funding to make a full-time commitment to the project in late 2005. The bulk of this funding came from the Independent Television Service (ITVS).
The production period for Made in L.A. can be divided into two stages, separating the first four years from the last two. The final budget was approximately $340,000, broken down as follows:
Since the film's completion, distribution and outreach efforts, consisting of community screenings, tours, website-based DVD sales and educational sales though California Newsreel (producer and distributor of social justice films since 1968), have already yielded about $100,000. The project directs all revenue towards sustaining its outreach campaign to bring the film to college campuses, worker centers, community groups, unions, immigrant rights groups and interfaith groups.
The filmmakers distribute DVDs from their website, working with NeoFlix, an e-commerce business for filmmakers and distributors, which handles order processing and fulfillment. The Made in L.A. project send units of 1000 DVDs to NeoFlix, which processes and ships orders for the DVD, charging 10 percent per unit. Community and university screenings bring in anywhere from $250 to $3,000. Organizations pay for the filmmakers to make a personal appearance and engage audiences at the screenings. University screening tours are particularly lucrative as they also cover travel costs and offer an honorarium in addition to paying for the screenings. Screening kits allow organizations to host events without the makers and are another source of revenue. A large community screening kit costs $198 and includes 11 DVDs, five full-size movie posters (27x39), and 200 postcards as well as a step-by-step guide to help organizations host a successful, audience-engaging event. Not all organizations are able to pay for screenings, but the ones that do make it possible for the makers to attend many events for free.
Made in L.A. followed a revenue and distribution model that reflects an awareness of the latest trends in the independent film industry. Distribution strategist and Made in L.A. consultant, Peter Broderick, calls this set of models and strategies "The New World of Distribution."
Avoiding the expense of buying ads in major publications, the filmmakers opted for a more grassroots approach, identifying and building a core audience, keeping their audience(s) updated on the film's progress and generating excitement within this core group. They used film festivals as another opportunity for exposure and to attract potential outreach partners. Finally, they opted not to take the risks involved with a theatrical release (having already scheduled a broadcast release with P.O.V. ) and chose a hybrid distribution strategy anchored by a comprehensive website, maintaining control over marketing and distribution decisions every step of the way. The Made in L.A. project was particularly adept at identifying and connecting personally with a core audience of community organizers, activists and universities who were passionate about immigration and labor issues. Much of the audience for the film emerged organically as enthusiastic fans encouraged others to host screenings and purchase DVDs.
With support from P.O.V, Made in L.A. partnered with Active Voice in San Francisco to help build up to the film's broadcast. Active Voice is a team of communication specialists who create strategies for using media to propel communities and individuals to take specific actions towards positive social change, through guides, workshops, events and key partnerships nationwide. Made in L.A. was part of Active Voice's Global Lives initiative on issues surrounding refugees and immigrants in 21st century America. La Americana, Speaking in Tongues, Childhood in Translation and The Visitor were also a part of this initiative, which involved forging partnerships between the filmmakers and concerned groups.
Active Voice connected Made in L.A. with organizational allies nationwide (such as the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights) and generating buzz about the broadcast. Additionally, Active Voice convened a brain trust of Washington-based organizations to discuss how best to frame Made in L.A., and how the film might fit into policy discussions around low-wage work and immigration.
Distribution specialist Peter Broderick, president of Paradigm Consulting, which helps media makers develop strategies to maximize distribution, audiences, and revenues, and a key player in the growth of the ultra-low budget feature movement, served as a consultant throughout the film's distribution phase.
Additionally, the team partners with an extensive number of local and national organizations (see appendix)—churches, advocacy groups, think tanks etc—to co-host screenings of Made in L.A., often to draw attention to local issues. In California alone, such organizations include the All Saints Church in Pasadena, the Community Coalition, the Immanuel Presbyterian Church and SAJE in L.A., Interfaith Worker Justice, the International Latino Film Society, the Bay Area Immigrant Rights Coalition and Mujeres Unidas y Activas in San Francisco, PUEBLO in Santa Barbara, and the San Leandro Community Action Network.
Publics for Made in L.A.
What makes Made in L.A. unique, in Carracedo's view, is that it tackles the labor exploitation issue by bringing attention to sweatshops right here within the U.S. and creates a link between labor rights and immigrant rights issues. "The film is empowering because it tells the stories of women immigrant leaders and has a wide appeal because it bridges gaps between English speakers and Spanish speakers," she says.
Bahar concedes, however, that there may be roughly 20 percent of the larger U.S. public whose anger makes them resistant to considering the immigration issue in any depth.
The film's core audience was built around their alliance of project partners and the community organizations, individual supporters as well as the garment workers themselves. The filmmakers credit these groups as being central to creating buzz around the film's broadcast release which reached over a million households, with some of the highest ratings in Houston, TX, Phoenix, AZ, and Oklahoma City, OK.
Made in L.A.'s wide appeal, and it's ability to unite various interest groups, is evidenced by the range of organizations who have co-hosted screenings of Made in L.A. to bring attention to particular issues. The Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) in California, which educates, advocates and organizes on issues of peace, equality, diversity and justice, co-hosted a screening of Made in L.A. in March of 2008, which was attended by a large number of retirees who were particularly impacted by the Tenement Museum scene connecting the story of today's immigrants to Jewish immigrants who came to the New York in the early 1900s.
Similarly, Made in L.A. screenings at universities brought together diverse campus and community groups as illustrated by the following examples:
A Stanford screening event, sponsored by The Riddell Fund and Residential Education, brought together a host of on-campus organizations – Okada, Casa Zapata, the Asian American Activities Center, El Centro Chicano, Film Studies, the Stanford Asian American Activism Coalition, and The Center for Comparative Studies or Race and Ethnicity (CCSRE) – as well the cross-college student group, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlan (MEChA), and local activists from the SweatFree Campaign, a national anti-sweatshop movement.
A University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) screening event was sponsored by the following UCLA institutes and organizations – Institute for Research on Labor & Employment, Labor Center, Critical Race Studies Program, David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy, Latin American Institute, Chicano Studies Research Center, Asian American Studies Department, Conciencia Libre & Student Worker Front, Student Activist Project, and the Center for the Study of Urban Poverty – in addition to MEChA
Campus organizations from a range of departments joined student groups to sponsor a screening event at the University of Southern California (USC). Among these were: the Political Student Assembly, Academic Honors Assembly, Latino/a Student Assembly, Women's Student Assembly, Program Board Speakers Committee, USC School of Social Work, Social Work Alumni Association, Latino Social Work Caucus, Social Work Student Organization, Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, and Graduate & Professional Student Senate. The USC Global Cultures Initiative, the Institute for Multimedia Literacy and the Department of Comparative Literature.
The filmmakers did not predict that Made in L.A. would appeal to college-aged Latinos as strongly as it has. These young people seem to be particularly impacted by the film as many of their parents have fought, and are fighting, the same battles as the women in the documentary. One student shared the following testimony, published on Made in L.A.'s website:
"I had the opportunity to see the screening with my mother and younger sister... and the experience was phenomenal. The tears in my mother's and sister's eyes as they related to the struggle that the women overcame in the film is worth more than words can say. But my tears were mostly motivated by the knowledge that I was sitting next to someone who had survived and overcame similar struggles - a single immigrant mother who, in much the same manner as the women in the film, did whatever it took to provide for her family - my mother."
The filmmakers struggled to find funding, apart from small donors and community fundraisers, for the first four years of production. However, they continued to submit grant proposals while hosting community fundraisers and holding other jobs. In hindsight, they realized that they were unable to secure bigger funders largely because early versions of the film lacked a wide appeal. Funders weren't willing to invest in a project that would only reach a small, albeit passionate, core audience. They set out to cut a trailer that would make the film's content more relevant to a general audience. The new strategy paid off when in late 2005, after having applied to ITVS two times prior, they finally received funding. Although the initial lack of funds forced the filmmakers to slow down production, it also enabled them to follow the main characters for a much longer time and to tell a more in-depth story.
The filmmakers expected the editing process to take about six months, but it actually took a year of continuous restructuring with editors, Lisa Leeman and Kim Roberts, to arrive at the final version of Made in L.A.
"The big editorial challenge of the film was that we were telling two different stories," explains Bahar. The two narratives were the chronological progress of the boycott campaign and lawsuit, and the three main characters' personal stories. The editing team set out to create a cohesive story arc that put the characters' feelings and experiences at the forefront. They reedited the film until they felt that it told a more in-depth story through the point of view of the women in the film.
Short Festival Run
At the end of 2006, with a September 2007 broadcast date already set and fast-approaching festival deadlines, the filmmakers were still involved in the process of reediting. The film, in their view, didn't yet tell the story in the way that it needed to be told for maximum impact, and for prosperity. So they decided to sacrifice festival appearances in order to continue editing. Made in L.A. was completed in mid 2007, leaving the makers with a very short US festival run. In June 2007 they were invited to do a world premiere at Silverdocs, and a West Coast premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival. Fortunately, Made in L.A.'s hugely successful PBS broadcast premiere generated enough interest to nullify the effects of the short US festival window. Since then, the film has played at over 70 film festivals around the world, and continues its international festival run.
Excess of Demand
Made in L.A.'s enthusiastic supporters quickly spread the word about the film. Presented with an overwhelming demand for screenings that exceeded their capacity to respond, the filmmakers met another, albeit much welcomed, challenge. They were forced to turn down quite a few invitations to attend screenings, but developed innovative screening kits to enable organization to host successful screening events independently.
Festivals and Awards
To date, Made in L.A. has been screened at over 70 film festivals worldwide, winning a host of awards and nominations (see appendix), including an EMMY Award for Outstanding Achievement in Continuing Coverage of a News Story and a Henry Hampton Award for Excellence in Film and Digital Media.
Press coverage was quite extensive nationwide and overwhelmingly positive. The film was reviewed by some of the most widely read newspapers across the country – a fact that may speak to its ability to reach mainstream audiences.
A New York Times review states, "Labor protest is not dead. Nor is it futile, according to 'Made in L.A.,' an excellent documentary."
Variety reports, "More simplistically heroic than, say, 'Harlan County U.S.A.,' 'Made in L.A.' could still serve as a populist rallying cry within the movement it chronicles," and also hails the film as a "rousing true story of solidarity, perseverance and triumph."
Glowing reviews also come from, El Pais (Spain), which described the film as a "combative documentary, full of humanity" and the Los Angles Times, which says the film is not "an exposé of abuses by the garment industry, but a document of an experience . . . domestic decorations and rituals become the fabric that supports the larger action."
The film was also covered in the The New Yorker, La Jornada (Mexico), the Seattle Times and the Los Angeles and Chicago editions of Hoy, to name a few.
Film screenings are an important outreach, distribution and publicity tool for Made in L.A. Organizations can buy community screening kits, which include full-size movie posters, postcards and enough DVDs to sell at the screenings for $20 each. These DVD sales can cover the cost of the kit, and the screenings can help organizations earn revenue for their cause.
Made in L.A.'s community screening campaign aims to empower national partners, community organizations, student groups and faith-based groups to use Made in L.A. as a vehicle for public education and social action around local issues in their communities. More specifically, this initiative is designed to allow organizations to:
1. Raise awareness about local and national issues of low wage work, immigrants' rights, consumer awareness, women's empowerment and community organizing for social and economic justice.
2. Educate immigrants and low-wage workers about their rights and present opportunities available to them in the community.
3. Spotlight local organizations' work or current campaigns around issues represented in the film.
4. Enhance or build coalitions between organizations working across the issues represented in the film.
5. Build bridges between immigrant workers, community members, and other organizations.
Screenings are also an important publicity tool as the filmmakers can collect contact information from the attendees to add to their subscribers' list. With thousands of people subscribing to the Made in L.A. monthly e-letter, and visiting their website, it is possible for the team to do business online. The website features a blog that keeps supporters updated on the project's progress, new screening tours, awards and other successes. Detailed information about the film, filmmakers, outreach partners, how to host screenings and how to get involved with the project is also provided. The site's "Learn More" section provides a link to a state-by-state directory of organizations in the U.S. working on immigration issues and a short list of some of the more prominent organizations.
Numerous individuals and organizations have credited Made in L.A. with successfully provoking thoughtful debate and action.
In November of 2008, Made in L.A. partnered with SweatFree Communities in the Pacific Northwest, a national anti-sweatshop coalition, using film screenings and appearances in six different cities to raise awareness about their campaigns. Kristin Beifus of SweatFree Washington comments, "Our goals [with the Made in L.A. tour] were to raise the profile of Sweat-Free campaigns working on campus and in the community by highlighting sweatshops in the US, and engage people to become part of these campaigns. The film was a call to action, and Robert and Almudena made every effort to link the film with local initiatives. By the end 30 people had signed postcards indicating that they were interested in becoming involved with SweatFree Campaign. As a result of the tour, there will be more concerted efforts with sweat-free groups on UW campus, labor academics and community groups."
In conjunction with their Worker's Rights Project, The Midwest Coalition for Human Rights hosted Made in L.A. screenings in Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota. The organization reports that the community screenings not only provided a forum for vocalizing their concerns on US labor practices and immigration rights, but provoked audiences to learn more about their projects.
Yale University held a bilingual screening for students, organizers, immigrant workers and professors. The panel included organizers from Unidad Latina en Acción, who spoke about supporting immigrant workers organizing in local restaurants and at Yale itself. Students got involved with the workers' struggle. Several community groups in New Haven successively held screening of Made in L.A., and the film has been incorporated into local activism. At a press conference for 12 Latina home care workers launching a lawsuit for unpaid wages, the plaintiffs explained that the film had given them courage and strengthened their campaign.
Other organizations, such as the International Latino Film Society, are similarly enthusiastic about the film's ability to bring awareness to issues of race, culture, exploitation and discrimination.
Made in L.A. has also been used as a teaching tool in high schools, colleges and universities. Matthew Garcia, professor of American Civilization, Ethnic Study, and History at Brown University calls it an "essential film for educators interested in sharing with their students the struggle of immigrant workers in a globalized garment industry." The film has been used by hundreds of schools and universities, including the UC Berkley and UCLA Labor Centers and incorporated in gender studies courses at the University of Missouri, Southern Oregon University and the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Los Angeles High School teacher, Nikhil Laud considers Made in L.A. "a powerful teaching resource" that enhanced class discussions about globalization, immigration, as well as workers and consumers' rights.
In 2009, the Made in L.A. team will continue with their distribution and outreach efforts, sustaining existing partnerships and reaching out to more potentially interested groups. With funding from the Fledging Fund and the Diane Middleton Foundation, they have embarked in their second year of community engagement work and have brought on another team member to handle the excess of demand.
In addition to distributing community screening kits, which also allow organizations to earn revenue for their cause(s), the team will begin a viral Internet campaign, making modules of the film available on platforms such as Facebook to respond to the needs of particular audiences. Bahar explains that one such module might be shaped from a scene in the film in which one of the main characters, Lupe, visits the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. Sadly she sees that immigrant garment workers in New York at the start of the 20th century suffered many of the same hardships. "It's just like that today," she observes.
The makers believe that their persistence and focus made an improbable film happen. "Know in your heart what it takes to get there," says Carracedo. Spend as much time as takes to bring your vision to fruition, knowing when to, and when not to, listen to outside feedback. It will be worth it in the long run to create a project that has a long reaching positive impact on the issues at hand and your career as an artist.
Funders Are Friends
Bahar and Carracedo advise, "A fundraiser only works when it is conducted with integrity and with respect for your potential donors. The basis of this kind of event is to work in collaboration with a community around issues that you're both involved with and care about. At its best, it is a symbiotic relationship: you need THEM to help support your work, and they need YOU to create the kind of work that they want to see – and that you're hopefully already creating."
Make the Business Model Fit the Mission
Bahar explains that, as the producer of Made in L.A., he has learned how to build the right business structure to draw revenue from advocacy efforts without compromising the project's mission; a structure designed to "maintain a true "double bottom line" that enables the team to support their continued work while accomplishing their mission and offering materials to partners at a low cost."
Stay flexible – Implement your strategy stage by stage and modify it as you go. You learn valuable information in every stage that will enable you to improve your plan for the next stage.
Split rights – Retain overall control of your distribution. Take a hybrid approach, dividing certain rights among distributors and retaining the right to do direct sales.
Target audiences – Research, test, and refine your approach to core audiences. Understand who is most responsive to your films, and how to reach them most effectively.
Find partners – Look for national nonprofits, websites, sponsors, and distributors to team up with to bring your film to their members, subscribers, and customers.
The Made in L.A. project has formed a national alliance of outreach partners with whom they host events to help bring attention to specific issues. Ally organizations include:
American Friends Service Committee
Center for Law and Social Policy
Hispanics in Philanthropy
Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Service
National Immigrant Solidarity Network
National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
Service Employees International Union
National Immigration Law Center
Garment Worker Center
Amnesty International Western Regional Office
Asian Immigrant Women Advocates
Bay Area Immigrant Rights Coalition
Center for Community Change
Centro de la Familia (Colorado Springs, CO)
DC Lawyer Chapter of American Constitution Society for Law and Policy
Hispanic American League of Artists (HALA)
Interfaith Worker Justice
Lower East Side Tenement Museum (NY)
MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlan)
United Students Against Sweatshops
Midwest Coalition for Human Rights
National Council of La Raza
Made in L.A. has won the following awards:
2008 EMMY Award, Outstanding Achievement in Continuing Coverage of a News Story, Long Form.
Henry Hampton Award for Excellence in Film and Digital Media, Council on Foundations, USA
Special Mention of the Jury, Valladolid International Film Festival, Spain
SIGNIS Award, Voces contra el Silencio Film Festival, Mexico
ESTELA Award, National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP), USA.
Best Documentary, Cuenca International Women Film Festival, Spain
Best Editing and Special Mention of the Jury, Antlantidoc, Uruguay
Spirit of Humanity Award, San Joaquin International Film Festival
Corky Gonzales Righteousness Award, Cine Sin Fin East L.A. Chicano Film Festival, USA
Nominee, Pare Lorentz Award, International Documentary Association
Nominee, Witness Award at Silverdocs, USA
2008 IMAGEN Award Nominee, Best Television Documentary
2008 ALMA Award Nominee, National Council of La Raza