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Ready, Roll, Cut: Carly McCarthy

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Academy of Art University School of Motion Pictures & Television alumna Carly McCarthy. Photo courtesy of Carly McCarthy.

Academy of Art University School of Motion Pictures & Television (MPTV) alumna Carly McCarthy’s talents were spotted early by Executive Director of Immersive Technology James Egan and MPTV instructor Jonathan Crosby. They suggested that McCarthy submit her short film, Good Grief, to The Smithsonian Institution’s 2015 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. Her film was selected as a finalist from hundreds of submissions from all over the country. Another one of her short films, Hey Mom, had been selected at the Academy’s own 2015 Media Awards.

Taking her talent and the skills she learned while studying cinematography at the Academy, McCarthy was able to land an internship working with United States Senator Bernie Sanders in Washington, D.C. 

McCarthy recently spoke about how different opportunities followed after graduating from the Academy as well as being inspired by the senator from Vermont contributed to her path to D.C.

How did you get from the Academy to Washington, D.C. in such a short time? What was your first job after graduation?

My first jobs were mostly freelance, which came through contacts I had made while working in a coffee truck during my three years at the Academy. Because the tech industry is based in San Francisco, I developed genuine relationships with regulars by serving them coffee every day for three years! I kept in touch with all of them, and let it be known that I was a freelancer and would take whatever jobs I could get to pay the bills.

After many months of feeling lost and asking myself “What am I gonna do?” I kept working on my own projects, which kept me going. I believe that fear and feeling lost is one of the most valuable things an artist feels, because you can transform it into motivation. Also, being afraid means you’re doing something right! Because you’re taking a risk—you shouldn’t be comfortable, that’s not the point.

What is the point?

To be uncomfortable and say something about it.

What came next for you?

I traveled, wrote, filmed and sat in a room alone for many, many hours and days, working on music for my own film. I’m always writing and working on music; 90 percent of the time, if I go through a period when I’m doing a lot of writing, I’m also composing, working on music.

What about your artwork?

None of these mediums are separate to me. I switch when I get stuck­—writing, music, drawing—because it lets me express what I’m feeling without words.

When you weren’t working on your own projects, what were you up to?

During this time, I was watching the [2016] Presidential race; I felt like I had a moral obligation to get involved. The way I know how to do that is through creativity.

This was one of the most pivotal moments in my life in realizing what my purpose as an artist was; to see something and say something that matters.

When I wasn’t working on my own project, I started volunteering on the phone banks for Bernie Sanders. In [the city], in the spring, I started showing up at Bernie rallies with my camera.

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Academy of Art University School of Motion Pictures & Television alumna Carly McCarthy. Photo courtesy of Carly McCarthy.

What did you do with your footage?

A: I made a couple of short documentaries.

Are they available online on YouTube?

I posted to Vimeo; I like it way more. It’s cleaner, organized, not messy and has more options for professionals.

What was the response to your videos?

I started sharing with friends and local Bernie organizers in San Francisco. [And] anytime something interesting with Bernie was happening, they’d call me [and ask], “Wanna bring your camera?” I was so passionate about this; this was my way of volunteering and being in the action!

When did you work on the Netflix project?

Summer 2016. I was in a networking group on Facebook (you have to be invited, recommended, reputable for this group); I saw an ad pop up for a series filming in the Bay Area. I submitted a resumé in 30 seconds; I was desperate for work! [A couple minutes] later I received a call for an interview, [and] could I be there in an hour? (It was across the Golden Gate Bridge!) We had a great interview, two months passed, but I was persistent, checking in by email every week.

There was a rally at Crissy Field, where I got to meet Bernie (I actually shook his hand!), that same day I heard from Netflix and I was hired. I worked on the project for two and a half months. It was a valuable experience, even though it was an extremely challenging work environment. I’m glad I did it; I knew I had something to learn there, plus it looked good on my resume.

After the Netflix projet wrapped, what was next for you?

I went to Scotland for two weeks on a road trip. I took a lot of photos and filmed every day. It was the perfect experience after that Netflix project, because it re-inspired everything for me. I could breathe; it was a new environment and place. I was immersed in cities and nature and we were disconnected from the internet.

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Academy of Art University School of Motion Pictures & Television alumna Carly McCarthy. Photo courtesy of Carly McCarthy.

How did it feel to be disconnected from technology?

I feel like the Scotland experience was like a “gem in my heart,” because I was just free. I was able to pull out my camera whenever I wanted. It was a constant sightseeing tour, feeding all of my senses. 

And after the trip?

I ended up building photo booths. Because if you’re an artist, you end up doing odd jobs to pay the bills.

So, how did D.C. come about?

It evolved. One night, after a long day, I just went to the U.S. Senate website, because of Bernie. I wanted to know what jobs were available, and what did I need to do, how close could I get. I just wanted to be involved as closely as I could, to learn and contribute. I went to Bernie’s site and looked for internships. I wanted to see what was available. There were two types of internships: Legislative or Press/Media.

I clicked Press/Media, to see if any [opportunities] were still open for enrollment. That night I wrote a cover letter and let it all spill out! I wrote: “I have no background in policy, but who I am, as a part of the LGBTQ community, gives me experience knowing what it’s like to have policy affect my life!” (Later, I was told that my cover letter made me stand out, because I was honest about why I wanted the job.)

I got an email about six weeks later—I had forgotten all about it—the email asked if I was still interested. I had a phone interview for about 20–30 minutes, very casual and to the point. 

One week later, I got an email: “You’ve got the job—do you want to move to D.C.?” I had three weeks to figure it out and find a place, get a plane ticket, move and show up. So I flew alone to D.C., moved into my digs one day before work—it was Jan. 1; my flight was New Year’s Eve.

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Carly McCarthy in front of the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Carly McCarthy.

What was the move like for you?

My first day, I was nervous. I took a taxi. Standing outside of the Senate Building, I looked up and wondered, “Am I really gonna do this?” I looked around and saw the Capitol Building, the Supreme Court, all the monuments and I was in awe and scared. “How did I get here?” And then I looked down and saw my mismatched socks (my signature style), and I laughed at myself. Once I walked through the door, I wasn’t afraid anymore. 

Now I feel like I belong in these buildings. I feel like I’m representing people who don’t feel represented. I’m not doing this because I think it’s prestigious or because I think it’s cool; it’s actually not cool. It’s really challenging and hard, and each day I’m the ear of lots of difficult things happening in our country.