Watch “A is for Adderall” on TERRA
Maggie Smith is an up-and-coming filmmaker. She is currently in her second year as a graduate student at Montana State University where she is studying Science and Natural History Documentary Filmmaking. A native Minnesotan, Maggie traded lakes for mountains and now resides in Bozeman, Montana. Maggie’s favorite part of the filmmaking process is editing, although she says cinematography is not far behind. “I love controlling how everything comes together. In the beginning, I’m given all this raw footage filled with hours of information and I’ve got the task of sifting through it all, saying what works and doesn’t work, what should go here and what should go there. It’s tedious work at times and I spend days staring at a computer screen in a windowless room, but editing is where the magic happens!” says Smith. Maggie compensates for the long hours spent at her computer with a multitude of outdoor activities. She is an avid skier and chances are if she’s not in class or working on a film you’ll find her “shredding the pow” at Bridger Bowl. She also enjoys hiking, yoga, camping, and her newest obsession is paddleboarding.
TERRA: Tell us a little about why you decided to make a film about Adderall.
MS: The idea for this film started after a conversation I had with the gentleman in the film. We were both up late studying together during finals week. He was incredibly focused and high energy while I was having trouble staying awake. He told me he had been up for three straight days and wasn’t the least bit tired because he had been taking Adderall. I was shocked, and immediately intrigued. What was it like? Did he buy it off someone? Or, did he have a prescription? We got to talking about his history with ADD and prescription amphetamines like Adderall. After that night I had a completely new perspective on ADD/ADHD diagnosis and the legal prescribing of amphetamines in the United States. I knew that his story would resonate with others like it did with me so that’s why I decided to make this film.
TERRA: What surprised you the most about making a film with an anonymous main character?
MS: The toughest part about making a film with an anonymous main character was keeping him anonymous! I was constantly worried that the story wouldn’t be engaging or that viewers wouldn’t be able to connect with a subject whose identity was hidden.
TERRA: Give us a behind-the-scenes snapshot of what life was like while making the film.
MS: Making A is for Adderall was incredibly fun. It was my First Year Film as part of the MFA program in Science and Natural History Documentary Filmmaking at Montana State University. I filmed, directed, and edited the piece myself and it was such a fulfilling moment to see it all come together in the end. The toughest part of making this film was being limited to only 5 minutes. I hope to release a longer version sometime this summer.
TERRA: What types of equipment did you use? Do you have a favorite piece?
MS: The majority of the film was shot with the Panasonic HPX 200. I also used a GoPro for some of the skateboarding shots and the shower sequence and two Canon 5D Mark II’s for the interview. My favorite scene of the whole film--the scene where he is sitting silhouetted against the window smoking his e-cigarette--was shot with a dslr mounted to a slider. I just love the perspective and slight movement that the slider brought to that shot.
TERRA: Did you have any particularly rewarding or dangerous moments?
MS: The most rewarding moment of making this film came on the day of the final screening. My film went last and it sparked this open conversation with the audience. Several audience members even stood up and shared their stories with being diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. It was a powerful moment for me as a young filmmaker. I had a film that had inspired others to share and talk about their own struggles and how they could relate to the subject in my film.
TERRA: What are the 3 things you’d never go into the field without and why?
MS: The three things I’d never go out into the field with are: extra memory cards and extra batteries because you never know what is going to happen. It’s incredibly frustrating to be left with a dead camera or no memory room and be forced to just watch as something epic--that you could have filmed--happens. I also never go into the field without gaffer tape and a screw driver because you never know when something is going to need fixing or a patch job.
TERRA: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
MS: I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker when I was about 15 years old. Every year for my birthday since I was in 7th grade my mom would take me to the Minnesota Science Museum’s Omnitheater. On my 15th birthday after seeing the film my mom turned to me and said why don’t you make films like this. Ever since then, I brought a camera on every trip I went on and have acquired hours and hours of footage from places like China’s Yellow Mountains, Costa Rica’s rain forest, and Guatemala’s Lake Atitlan. I have always been fascinated with capturing my experiences. However, it wasn’t until college that I really became invested in using film to communicate and connect with others.
TERRA: What would be your dream project?
MS: My dream job would be to make a film with Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson. The two collaborated on Baraka (1992) and Samsara (2011). If you’ve seen the films you’ll know why working with Fricke and Magidson would be my dream come true!
TERRA: What’s your favorite aspect of filmmaking?
MS: My favorite aspect of filmmaking is a tie between editing and cinematography. I love working behind the camera and then piecing the story together through editing.
TERRA: Do you have a favorite project you’ve worked on and why?
MS: My favorite project I’ve worked on would have to be the project that I am working on right now with the Sierra Club. It is a video installation piece titled “Capital W” that focuses on wilderness protection of Bozeman’s Gallatin Range. Because it is an installation I get to be really creative with film and I also get to tap into my artistic background and design, build, etc. other pieces that will be incorporated into the final piece.
TERRA: If you could be any animal, which would you be?
MS: If I could be any animal I would have to say it’s a tie between an octopus and a snow leopard.