Kevin Tobin on the job filming Living Between Stories.
CAMD alumnus Kevin Tobin ’12, who is a Boston-based documentary filmmaker, is currently producing his first feature film entitled Living Between Stories. The film, which explores the incredibly relevant and far-reaching topic of wealth disparity in the United States, follows author and activist Chuck Collins as he works to reverse the trends of income and wealth inequality. As Kevin quickly discovered (and fully anticipated), Collins is truly a fascinating, and knowledgeable, subject – whose genuine passion, energy, and honesty are clearly visible on film. Over the past 20 years, Collins, who grew up in a wealthy family, has been open, and humble, about life in and outside the one percent, and why Americans need to keep the pressure on key influencers to truly change the wealth trajectories. It is certainly a unique story worth telling.
Kevin quotes Nickel and Dimed author Barbara Ehrenreich when asked why Chuck Collins is an important figure to highlight, who said “I have never read a story remotely like the one Chuck Collins has to tell.” He is the great-grandson of Oscar Mayer, the famous meat and cold cut production company, and grew up in the one percent, but in his twenties decided to change his life completely and dedicate himself to progressive politics, instead of the money he had available to him at his fingertips.
“Chuck Collins gave away his inheritance at the age of 26. Since then, he’s been on the frontlines of progressive politics, whether it was organizing to help elect Bernie Sanders as mayor in the early 80s, or working with Bill Gates, Sr. to stop the repeal of the estate tax in 1999,” Kevin explained. “What’s important about Chuck’s transition is that he never turned his back on the one percent in the process – sure, he turned down their money, but he never gave up his family or friends. In Living Between Stories, he says that ‘class warfare is a dead end,’ and I couldn’t agree more. It’s valid and understandable to be angry and bitter about the one percent – but, if we are to really change things and create a more equitable society, we must ‘proceed with empathy.’”
Having such a compelling subject and storyline is crucial when making an effective film that will resonate with audiences, but to really bring it all to life, Kevin must pay attention to every detail during production. He, along with his co-producer and lead strategist Lisa Wall, manage so many facets of the film, from budgets, to the crew, to shooting and editing, then proofing and delivering, while of course, collaborating and getting along with various constituents involved with the project. Wearing this many hats can certainly be overwhelming for any filmmaker, but Kevin gives credit to Lisa and other key players in the project (Ryan Hughes, Director of Photography and Co-producer; as well as Chuck Collins and the Institute for Policy Studies team: Josh Hoxie, Anny Martinez, and Jessicah Pierre) for making every day fun.
Kevin explains that as a filmmaker, some days the world just aligns with your vision, and present unexpected gifts, while at other times, all planning and scheduling does not mean much of anything. This balancing act, though, is one of the things Kevin loves about the field, and he admits that “some of the best moments I’ve ever filmed, both personal and professional, have been unexpected moments that just sort of happen right when you are pressing record. It’s in these moments that I understand the balance, but also truly see the privilege of this profession and art.”
It goes without saying that Kevin’s days are busy – but working on such an interesting film with a talented crew is rewarding, and he feels prepared to handle anything that comes his way due to his education here at Northeastern University.
“Northeastern’s CAMD was the first place where I learned how to make a movie,” said Kevin. “Even six years out, I still can attest that being in Professor Michelle Carr’s Field and Studio Production classes taught me the principles of lighting and production teamwork that have carried into my career and projects today.”
Kevin even returned to campus to shoot some of his movie in the Shillman Media Studios, which Studio Director, Ron Starr, happily opened for him.
“I can’t begin to tell you how much that meant to me,” Kevin noted. “Ron Starr taught an amazing documentary filmmaking class, back in 2011 or 2012, and Shillman was a constant for me in terms of class traffic and community.”
Well, CAMD was equally thrilled to welcome Kevin back to campus, and we look forward to seeing how his documentary takes shape. His ultimate goal is to have the film ready to be submitted and accepted to the Toronto International Film Festival and New York Film Festival next fall, but he is also planning to have it ready for audiences in time for the 2018 midterm elections via Vimeo OnDemand.
We also look forward to seeing Kevin evolve as a filmmaker, which is truly an ever-changing career path.
“One reality that we often forget as filmmakers is the absolute privilege it is to be holding a camera, or a phone, and recording something we find relevant. It’s even more of a privilege to then transfer that recording into a format that will meet the eyes of an audience, no matter the size,” Kevin concluded. “With that said, it’s important to understand context of self, and be extremely careful about the energy (or products, projects) that I am emitting into the world and in front of audiences. Not to mention the economics involved. But, we’ll go into that more in Living Between Stories.”
You can help Kevin and his team continue to make this important documentary a reality by checking out or sharing their fundraising page here, which raises money for production expenses.