“Work Your Butt Off” Interview with Filmmaker Jennifer Sharpe

Jennifer Sharpe is a first time feature documentary maker. She presented her debut film Traceable at Raindance 2014 and shared some of the lessons she learned with us.

I have had a roundabout career in film.  Initially I thought I would get into production design, art direction or costume design, before I realised I wanted to be in documentary filmmaking.

I am a newcomer to the documentary filmmaking space; Traceable is my first feature documentary. I had directed and produced short videos before, but this was a much bigger undertaking then anything I had previously done. In my experience as a female filmmaker, I was provided an opportunity to make a feature documentary film (with a young woman at the centre of my narrative), primarily funded by women decision makers at a Canadian broadcaster.

My home country (Canada) is a good place for female filmmakers to continue to grow.  Time will tell how this compares to my experience as a filmmaker in the USA.

It took a while to make Traceable. I began pitching it early in 2012, it was green-lit at the very end of that year, we went to camera in January 2013, and began editing that spring /summer.   We delivered the film early in 2014, and have been submitting it to festivals ever since.

There were pressures and challenges all the way through making the film.  It was an amazing experience to grow from. As a creative thinker, one of the biggest challenges I faced was learning and overcoming a lot of the business constraints that become obstacles to a creative vision very quickly.

The highlights of making this film were abundant.  I was invited into a world I would otherwise never have gotten to see. It was a beautiful thing traveling to India, meeting some incredibly gifted people and seeing these ancient hand crafts come to life before my eyes.  It provided me with an appreciation in seeing that level of dedication to one’s craft – always carried out with overwhelming positivity.

A major highlight was getting to make this documentary with some very good – and exceptionally talented – friends of mine. That is always a big plus.  There is an inherent trust that exists working alongside friends, and you tend to look out for one another.

(Women in film) is something I care very deeply about.  As the disparity gets more coverage in the media, I hope that it continues to come to the forefront of discussion both inside and outside of the industry.  Ongoing support for female and under-represented filmmakers should continue to be fostered, and those that have made significant progress in the industry need to relentlessly keep pushing to have their voices heard as well as encourage, mentor and provide opportunities to those filmmakers coming up.  It will also take industry-wide opportunities to be created by broadcasters, studios, executives, producers, investors, etc.

I absolutely do feel an obligation to make films about women’s issues, and coincidentally I have drafted a documentary series that focuses on women’s issues, globally.

Someone said to me once: “you will never have as much time as you do right now”.  I took that to mean work your butt off as much as you can while you can, before life puts something else in the way. I try to keep those words in the back of my head – particularly when it gets hard to focus, or when I get distracted from these larger long-term goals.  Keep pushing.  And have patience.

I am currently writing two documentary series, one dealing with issues of social impact, and the second with gender issues.  I am seeking funding for both. Within five years’ time, I would like to see a documentary series of mine fully realised and distributed. I hope to be making a living telling impactful, engaging stories.



Katy Vans grew up watching a lot of late night films at a very young age; along with giving her nightmares she also developed a love of Spaghetti Westerns and Stanley Kubrick. With a background in acting, writing, film making and journalism she describes herself as an undisciplinary artist/word thief.