Though I loved movies growing up, I never thought that I would become a director. Instead, I spent most of my childhood reading about science, taking art classes and writing and illustrating my own stories.
Like many children, I saw films as things that were born into existence, conjured out of thin air, rather than the conclusion of a film crew’s tireless efforts. It wasn’t until I became a research fellow at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington D.C. that I had my "Eureka!" moment.
I had just completed my Master's in Public Health at Yale University and was still figuring out what I wanted to do with my degree. I was interested in public service announcements (PSAs) and had the opportunity to assist on two public service campaigns at the EPA. It was at this time that I began to understand the power of media as a bridge to connect audiences – in this case – with public health.
My initial skill set was a synthesis of health services, public service and art. I had no idea that an eventual career in film would help me to put all these talents to work. But during a visit to Los Angeles, I got the chance to observe the legendary Joe Pytka directing a spot for one of the EPA’s public service campaigns. Something clicked as I observed the crew: the grips, the PAs and other professionals in action.
I saw that this medium wasn’t simply entertainment for entertainment’s sake – it could be used as a vehicle for change.
Until then, I had never heard of ArtCenter College of Design. I just knew I wanted to attend film school and study graphic design. When I was looking at schools, I did a completely random Google search that combined the keywords “film,” “design,” “social impact,” “health” and “PSAs” and ArtCenter was one of the first things that came up.
Several years later, I am producing my first feature documentary, Chocolate Milk, a film about the disparities in breastfeeding in the African-American community. Until I read about the issue in a health journal, it never occurred to me that breastfeeding was a challenge for anyone in our country – or that there might be a racial component to the limited options that women have with how they choose to feed their babies.
Based on my training at ArtCenter through Designmatters and my background in public health, I knew that it was important to take a ground-level approach to the work. Therefore, after reading the academic research published on the subject, I reached out to the maternal health community to speak directly to women who had had challenges with breastfeeding. I didn’t want to make any assumptions about the issue or presume that I knew all the answers. I posted the results of those interviews online as a video series that gave a face and voice to the women affected. For me, discovering those answers was part of the creative journey.
ArtCenter not only taught me how to make films, but how to address problems using design thinking. It taught me to be curious about my audience and to create content with them in mind. Before deciding to produce the documentary, I initially developed a web series, brand identity, and message around the issue of breastfeeding in the black community that has now been adopted by a number of health organizations and state agencies – remarkable, considering this was an unpaid independent project that I "conjured" out of thin air. And after three years of tireless effort, it’s been an immensely rewarding experience to know that one person with a camera and a vision can make a real difference.
Chocolate Milk is still in production, but we plan to have two hundred community screenings across the U.S. next year during National Breastfeeding Month in August, 2018. We are excited for the film to connect with audiences and generate what we hope is a positive, progressive and honest dialogue.
At the end of the day, making art is about creating something honest. I make art by shedding a light on communities that are not always afforded a voice. And I am forever grateful to ArtCenter for providing the training and experience to have made that possible.
Elizabeth Gray Bayne
MFA 2011 Broadcast Cinema
Director, Chocolate Milk