Filmmaking is challenging. That much is obvious in a competitive, creative field of projects, collaborations and waiting to “make it.” However, as SCAD alumna Gabriella Garcia-Pardo has realized, artists are more than just the work they produce.

Garcia-Pardo, originally from Miami, Florida, graduated in 2012 with a BFA in film and television. She is an independent documentary filmmaker and visual journalist in Washington, D.C., working as a cinematographer, editor and producer.

Garcia-Pardo first heard about SCAD early in high school when she decided she wanted to be a filmmaker. Shortly after, she toured SCAD and discovered their Rising Star program for students between their junior and senior year of high school. She participated in the program in 2007 and from there, she had a clear sense that SCAD was the best place for her to foster her filmmaking education.

“I loved that there were so many different majors, that the campus was spread out through beautiful Savannah and that it felt like the school was more about potential and creativity than a boxed-in idea of what art school should be,” Garcia-Pardo said. “From the film side, I wanted to get my hands on cameras right away and very few of the other schools I looked at would either allow that opportunity or have the same amount of equipment.”

Photo credit: Angie Stong

Garcia-Pardo recently thought about the expectations filmmakers place on themselves when she was asked to participate in SCAD Student Media’s second annual Wordcast media conference. Throughout the event, she shared her filmmaking experiences and industry advice with film and television current students. One of the lessons she emphasized was the importance of balance in personal and professional interests.   

“Being well rounded and pursuing my other passions made me a stronger filmmaker,” Garcia-Pardo said.

Garcia-Pardo advised students going into filmmaking to express their opinions and self unapologetically.

“This is a big one for young women, and for others who feel like a minority in their field,” Garcia-Pardo. “For me personally, the shift in confidently embracing both feminism and femininity as not having to be mutually exclusive was a game changer. It took knowing that my work was good, showing I was reliable, and seeing that the work would speak for itself and eventually outweigh any shallow assumptions about my appearance. I’m doing what I love and it’s important to me to do so without changing myself to fit a certain mold.”

Talent, according to Garcia-Pardo, will also only get filmmakers so far. Genuine work ethic, the will to persist and the ability to collaborate with others will get students much farther, Garcia-Pardo said.

“Networking is a real thing,” Garcia-Pardo said. “Most of my work now comes through referrals, and an old boss is the reason I was able to get my foot in the door at National Geographic. It’s key to note though that people can sniff out a networker for networking’s sake. What I’m talking about here is actually finding connections with other people and artists. You’re not going to click with everyone, and that’s fine, but truly listening and knowing what you want will go a long way.”

SCAD gave Garcia-Pardo a strong background in two major professional elements: collaboration and a technical understanding of filmmaking. Garcia-Pardo said being surrounded by a diverse group of artists is both a wonderful and challenging place to be.

“There are so many talented people with their own visions and skillsets,” Garcia-Pardo said. “Working collaboratively with artists who came to each project with a different perspective helped me to communicate my own ideas better and create films as a group that were far better than what I could make on my own.”

Garcia-Pardo at Wordcast 2017. Photo credit: Angie Stong

On the technical side, Garcia-Pardo said she graduated from SCAD with a “drilled-in” understanding of the filmmaking process and an “on-your-feet” problem-solving mentality for working on set.

“Although the documentary and journalism worlds operate very differently and in a much more stripped down setting, that methodical training was instrumental in polishing future projects,” Garcia-Pardo said. “SCAD also gave me a thorough education on the equipment needed to produce work at a professional level.”

Garcia-Pardo said she stays in touch with her closest SCAD friends and tries to help current students with any questions or concerns they have while building a career in documentary film and visual journalism. She has also aided other SCAD alums in pitching to National Geographic and she shares any professional connections she can in between projects.

“I’m currently a contributing DP to a multi-part documentary series,” Garcia-Pardo said. “Otherwise I have my own independent short film I’m working on in Morocco which should be completed by next summer, and am in talks on a few potential new documentary projects.” 

According to Garcia-Pardo, the most important thing students can do to prepare themselves as creatives and filmmakers is to continue to create and understand it may take time before their work is at the level they want it to be. She said she believes her 21-year-old self would be happy with how she has grown since leaving Savannah. Her dream at graduation was to be at National Geographic and she worked intentionally to achieve that goal.

“A career in filmmaking takes a lot of grit and a genuine love for the craft,” Garcia-Pardo said. “I’m not sure if I thought it could happen so quickly nor that I would choose to leave National Geographic after a few years, but I’m still moving forward as a documentary filmmaker, taking on projects that I find meaningful, inspiring, and challenging. That’s at the core of what I hoped for.”