The Team Behind Award-Winning Documentary ‘$avvy’ Uses Their Own Savvy to Finish the Film in COVID

$avvyRobin Hauser’s newest award-winning documentary, investigates the gender dynamics behind money and the cultural and societal norms that have led women to take a backseat to their own finances.

In making the film, Hauser was forced to use her own savvy when COVID 19 shut down filming and they had no way to gather the remaining content that they needed to finish the project. The team turned to Adobe Stock to solve the issue, digging through hours of footage to find content that looked authentic and could seamlessly fit into the film.

Once they were ready to move into post, Hawaii-based editor Shirley Thompson relied on Adobe Team Projects in Premiere Pro to collaborate with California-based assistant editor Annie Munger. The result is a remarkable story about the power of financial literacy and the crucial importance that women take control of their financial futures.

$avvy will be at Boulder IFF (runs June 24-26 and virtually through July 6).

ProductionHUB spoke to Robin and the team about their adapted remote workflow and the way that this project changed the way they’ll work moving forward.  

PH: How are you? How has your work changed and how are you adjusting?

Robin Hauser: I’m thrilled to have $avvy documentary complete! There is no doubt that 2020 was an extremely challenging year for all of us, and a very difficult year in which to make a film.  It’s the distribution portion of filmmaking that has changed most dramatically during COVID-19.  Film festivals have converted to mostly virtual screenings, and the curated screenings and talk that I often do for corporations, schools and organizations are all now virtual.  While is nice to have a break from my usual frenetic, on-the-road lifestyle, I do miss in-person screenings. There is truly nothing like hearing and feeling an audiences’ reaction to a film from inside a crowded theater.

PH: How did ‘$avvy’ come about? Why was this an incredibly important story to tell? 

Robin Hauser: A little over 5 years ago, I went through a divorce; despite having grown up with an economist father and having earned my MBA, I felt completely intimidated by the financial ramifications of divorce.  As I began to do research on women and financial literacy I was shocked at what I was learning.   Millennial women abdicate financial decisions to their male partners at a higher rate than any other generation.  Women 65 and older are 80% more likely to be impoverished than men the same age.  61% of women would rather talk about death than money.  What?!

Women live longer than men, we spend more time out of the workforce to care for children and parents and we earn less than men.  It’s absolutely essential that we learn about investing and managing our money to ensure financial security, independence and freedom.

PH: What challenges did COVID create and how did you determine how to address them? 

Robin Hauser: Where do I start?  First, in March 2020 we had to shut down all production.  We cancelled trips to NYC where we were meant to film interviews.  In a few cases, we had to change subjects entirely.  He had planned to film a screen with an investment club in New York City – the members are all in their 80s and 90s.  Clearly it was unsafe for us to film, especially with elderly individuals.  So we made a big pivot and found an investment club in the Sacramento, CA area.  We waited until August, when the California Film Commission granted permission to film outdoors – but then we had the California heat and wildfires to contend with.  Crazy.  With a lot of patience and careful attention to COVID protocol, we managed to complete filming in September.  The editing phase was also affected by the pandemic.  Shirley Thompson, editor, lives in Honolulu and was unable to come to California so that we could edit side-by-side.  Thanks to Adobe Team Projects, Assistant Editor Annie Munger and Shirley were able to work together on the edit – despite being more than 2,300 miles apart.

PH: What was it like working with Adobe to procure the remaining content needed to tell the story? 

Robin Hauser: With my past two films, I’ve had the great fortune of working with Adobe.  This is an incredibly valuable partnership.  Team Projects was a game changer, as we were able to edit $avvy while each of us worked from home.  COVID also restricted us from filming everyday b-roll – people at the parks, walking on the streets, eating outdoors…. in March through July of 2020, nothing outdoors looked normal.  In order not to date the film too much, we relied on Adobe Stock video for b-roll.  This was truly a blessing – to be able to mine high production value footage of everyday scenes to use as b-roll, since we could not film our own.  Kudos to Adobe Stock for their increasingly rich database of footage.

PH: How did you work with editors Shirley and Annie? 

Robin Hauser: Shirley, Annie and I all worked very closely together on $avvy.  When it came to editing, Annie would process the footage and make it available to Shirley.  Shirley would cut a stringout of the scene and share it with me.  I would ask my team (including invaluable Producer Tierney Henderson and AP Lily Green) their thoughts and we would refine from there.

PH: How did you hear about the project ‘$avvy’? What drew you to it? 

Shirley Thompson: Robin Hauser contacted me about editing Savvy in March 2020. I had just cancelled a month-long vacation to Italy because of a strange new virus that had broken out in China and had spread to Rome, Venice and Milan. Christie Herring, the editor of Robin’s previous film Bias was busy editing The Big Scary “S” Word, and had referred me for the job. 

I’ve spent the past 30 years editing documentaries, mostly directed by women and often featuring strong women protagonists. I also have a keen interest in personal finance. So Robin’s invitation to edit a film about women and money was a fast “yes” for me. Plus I was very impressed with Robin’s previous work and with the social impact she was having on important topics like racial and gender bias. I was excited about making a film about women, money and power, which could have a big positive impact on the lives of so many women and their families.

PH: Why was this such an important story to tell?

Shirley Thompson: When it comes to money and power, women nearly always get the short end of the stick. The gender pay gap, financial institutions which are built by men for men and the fact that women live longer and have to provide for themselves with less savings, all put women at a massive financial disadvantage. For women to live their best lives, they need to get educated about how to earn more, how to save, and how to invest. A film like Savvy can move people like me, who didn’t get financial education in school, to take the steps they need now in order to educate themselves about how to manage their own finances. Financial independence is one key to a happier and healthier life for everyone and that’s the message of Savvy.

PH: Can you talk about your collaboration with Annie? How did you work together?

Shirley Thompson: Of course, the original plan was for me to go to the San Francisco Bay Area to edit side by side with Robin in an actual edit room. As we all went into lockdown at the end of March 2020, it became clear that we needed to figure out how we would work virtually. I’m based in Honolulu, Robin is in Marin County and assistant editor Annie Munger is in San Francisco. Because I live in the Islands, I’m used to remote editing and using cloud-based productivity tools for sharing work and collaborating with directors on the continent. However, I had never edited a feature documentary 100% remotely. We knew we were going to need a reliable cloud-based platform where multiple editors could work within the same project and where we didn’t have to worry about losing work or accidentally writing over each other’s work. Adobe Team Projects became our solution.

I began and ended each day checking in with Assistant Editor Annie Munger. She was on Pacific time and began work 3 hours ahead of me each day, and she would update me via text as I logged into the Team Project every morning. Annie was the keeper of all the original media for Savvy. After each day of production, she would download and back up the media, make 4K proxies and upload them to Dropbox for me. I would download the 4K proxies, add them to my media drive, and then open the Team Project to link the new media with the clips that Annie had created. 

PH: Once COVID shut down production, what was it like having to pivot to gather stock content? What other challenges came up?

Shirley Thompson: I began editing Savvy in April 2020 and by June, Robin was amazingly back in production, carefully filming according to COVID-19 safety guidelines. However, it soon became clear that some scenes just could not be filmed. Any establishing shots of locations we needed would be completely devoid of people due to lockdowns. College campuses were closed, high schools were meeting online and the very few people on the streets were all wearing masks. We were going to need to rely on good editorial quality stock footage in order to fill the visual gaps in our story that Robin and the crew could not otherwise capture during COVID Summer 2020.

We did have to work with multiple stock footage libraries and archives to visualize the wide range of subjects covered in Savvy; everything from archival footage of 1950’s home economics classes, historical images of women from the 1920’s, 60’s housewives and 70’s feminists, as well as contemporary images that reflect the diversity of all women in terms of age, ethnicity and orientation. 

PH: What was your experience with Adobe Stock? 

Shirley Thompson: Our go-to library and first source was Adobe Stock. Because we were already using Creative Cloud, it was easy to just click on the Adobe Stock link and go straight into a search, download preview clips and edit them in to see if they would work. Annie and I came up with a system for naming and organizing clips so that they would be easy to find and license at the end of the project. At first we thought that some of the stock footage would be a placeholder until the pandemic subsided and we would be able to film and replace that footage. But as we know now, things never got “back to normal.” And in truth, many of the images we found worked so well editorially that using them didn’t feel like a compromise.

PH: Because you and Annie worked so closely together, how did Adobe Team Projects help? 

Shirley Thompson: Annie and I were able to divide up the work of searching for stock footage, and she was a tremendous help researching images, adding them to the Team Project as clips which I could then edit into the film. When we would screen and get notes from Robin, Annie could work on replacing stock footage shots in the sequence and clearly color code them in the timeline so I could review the edits. Team projects facilitated some good “tag-team” editing as we got deeper into the film and the work got busier. 

Working with Team Projects, I did have to change some long held editing practices. I first edited a documentary on a non-linear editing system (School Colors for PBS Frontline on Avid) in 1993. Computers in general and editing software in particular were a lot less stable back then. I had learned through hard knocks to back up my work and save and make lots and lots of copies of sequences in case we ever needed to go back in time and restore some lost work, or revert to an earlier cut. So when I edit a scene about a particular character, I save every scene as version 1, version 2, version 3, etc. Scenes will often get to version 8 or 10 before they are finalized and then they’ll change again when they are edited into the film as a whole. The main film sequence itself would also get duplicated and archived once a week, after each screening. Four months into the edit, the PPRO project was growing exponentially and this turned out not to be a very cloud-friendly way to work. The project got too big and became slow and cumbersome. We had to separate out our archived sequences into a separate project. As soon as we did that Team Projects became nimble and responsive again.  

The other thing I learned is that Team Projects is constantly backing up my work. And those backups…like a Time Machine backup of each edit you make…are fully accessible at any time. You can step back through your saved versions, pluck a previous cut from that save and bring it into your current project. And it was stone cold reliable. I was very impressed with that particular Team Project feature. Very helpful.

PH: What are some of the editing techniques you leaned on to be able to tell this story effectively? 

Shirley Thompson: Otherwise, Savvy is a simple tale well told. Editing is about storytelling and hopefully the tools help you create while needing as little maintenance as possible. I was able to really focus on telling these characters’ stories, the stories of their financial lives and the hard lessons they learned, without having to think too much about the technology itself. And I think that’s one of the biggest compliments one can give a piece of technical software or hardware…it did its job and didn’t get in the way and made my job easy. Of course, having a great, hardworking assistant editor is a boon. Much well-deserved credit goes to Annie Munger for her diligent management of all the editorial assets. But Adobe Creative Cloud continues to be my filmmaking tool of choice, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

PH: How did you hear about the project ‘$avvy’? What drew you to it?

Annie Munger: I was connected to director Robin Hauser through a mutual friend and was drawn to her previous work. She was beginning post for $avvy and showed me her sizzle reel – I was blown away! As a woman, managing my finances has always been important to me and is a common conversation topic among me and my friends, but I knew that wasn’t the case with a lot of people. The idea of making money exciting and empowering through film, and breaking taboos about money that so many women face was really exciting to me.  

PH: Can you talk about your collaboration with Shirley? How did you work together?

Annie Munger: This was very much a COVID edit; Shirley was based in Hawaii, and I was in the Bay Area. Adobe Team Projects was a natural fit for us, as we needed something that could support us working together from such a distance. Being able to send footage through file sharing services, and work together on a project made it feel like we were really in the room together.

PH: Once COVID shut down production, what was it like having to pivot to gather stock content? What other challenges came up?

Annie Munger: Robin still had a fair amount of shooting to do when COVID hit, and obviously so much of that shooting was no longer possible because of lockdown and restrictions. One thing that we were particularly in need of was significant amounts of B-Roll. Shirley and I did a huge deep dive into Adobe Stock library to find material that could be integrated into the film without it being obviously that we didn’t shoot it ourselves, and that fit thematically with our interviews. Since money is such an abstract concept, we had to figure out what visual material could show how finance affects women’s lives. 

PH: What was your experience with Adobe Stock?

Annie Munger: I think what was most helpful about Adobe Stock was how was easier than searching through other stock websites to find material that is not super “stock-like” – which sounds like a funny thing to say when talking about stock, but since this was a documentary and not a commercial or branded content piece, we really needed the footage to feel as natural and integrated into our footage as possible! And Adobe Stock really stood out in quality in that regard.

PH: Because you and Shirley worked so closely together, how did Adobe Team Projects help?

Annie Munger: As I mentioned above, we were hundreds of miles away from each other, so Team Projects was critical in making sure we could work together smoothly and make it feel like we were really collaborating effectively. The fact that I was able to make selects on one sequence while she polished up another, or for me to be able to fix something in her timeline the moment she realized something was off, was absolutely critical.

PH: What are some of the editing techniques you leaned on to be able to tell this story effectively?

Annie Munger: It was important for the story to feel exciting, young, and fresh – counteracting this idea that talking about money is dry or boring. I loved Shirley’s editing style in this regard – she relied on faster cuts and keeping up the pace of editing so that the film moved the audience along effortlessly.

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