After a stint in London studying environmental policy, Jen Maylack headed to L.A., more specifically her brother’s garage, where she landed on the set of some of the most amazing documentaries working today. The Power Thread got to chat with Jen after finishing up At The Heart of Gold, an HBO documentary covering the Larry Nassar trials, and I Love You, Now Die, a look at the trial of Michelle Carter.

After leaving grad school, and ultimately London, how did you land in L.A. and in film?

In college I’d done an internship at The Daily Show, and I realized after grad school I was a lot more excited about working in filmmaking and television creation than I was in environmental policy. It was really daunting because I’d done most of my college internships in government, and I was worried about being able to find a job. Luckily, one of the former producers of The Daily Show was tapped by HBO to be a showrunner on Any Given Wednesday with Bill Simmons. I submitted a resume and was offered a job as a showrunner’s assistant after a Skype interview. I moved to L.A. about a week later. My brother lived in L.A., so I went out there and lived in his garage for about a month, which was pretty glamorous, as I waited to find a house. I don’t like to brag, but it was a three car garage. 

Any Given Wednesday was a late night sports comedy, and I worked there for about a year. One of the show runners, though, asked me to come with her on her next show called Truth and Iliza with Iliza Shlesinger, and there I became an associate producer.

“The best things you can do in the creative industry is find mentors.”

How did you end up where you are now, working in documentary film?

When Truth and Iliza wrapped up,  and I was looking at what to do next, my boyfriend, who was still in London, convinced the company he was working for to move him to New York, so I was looking to go there. I saw a vague Facebook ad looking for someone to start in New York as an Associate Producer the following Monday. It ended up being Sarah Gibson, an amazing documentary filmmaker, who made LA 92, Fed Up, and China Hustle. She, at the time, was working with Erin Lee Carr. I went to New York on a trial run, and we all ended up collaborating really well, so I stayed on with them. I thought I would be in New York for six months, and it’s now almost two years later. 

 

What was the first project you, Sarah, and Erin worked on together as a team?

The first big project was a film called At the Heart of Gold about the American Gymnastics scandal, which came out in May of this year. We spent about a year and half on it. 

How did you end up where you are now, working in documentary film?

When Truth and Iliza wrapped up,  and I was looking at what to do next, my boyfriend, who was still in London, convinced the company he was working for to move him to New York, so I was looking to go there. I saw a vague Facebook ad looking for someone to start in New York as an Associate Producer the following Monday. It ended up being Sarah Gibson, an amazing documentary filmmaker, who made LA 92, Fed Up, and China Hustle. She, at the time, was working with Erin Lee Carr. I went to New York on a trial run, and we all ended up collaborating really well, so I stayed on with them. I thought I would be in New York for six months, and it’s now almost two years later. 

 

What was the first project you, Sarah, and Erin worked on together as a team?

The first big project was a film called At the Heart of Gold about the American Gymnastics scandal, which came out in May of this year. We spent about a year and half on it. 

That film must have been a very emotionally intense project to work on. How did the team you worked with handle that?

It was an interesting process in the beginning. We couldn’t find many women willing to speak with us on camera. With outreach, it’s difficult to email strangers and ask them to talk about this extremely intense and traumatizing experience, but things kind of opened up after the sentencing. We were really lucky to get in touch with Jessica Smith, an amazing woman who started the #MeTooMSU movement on Facebook. She was willing to speak with us and introduce us to her attorney who represented most of the women that appeared in the film. When we started the interview process, we filmed I think all but three of the survivor interviews in three days. It was very intense. Our courtroom cinematographer, Nick Loud, went to every single sentencing, and you could tell it really affected him. It affected us all at various points in the project, so it was a team that was very cognizant of self-care, mental-care. 

To shift gears a bit, I know it can be very mentally overwhelming for those of us in the creative field to go through these extreme lulls in work, and extreme highs in business-  how do you deal with that? 

It’s weird working in the creative field. You might have two-three months off between projects or seasons of a show. You can put so much work in and not see it go anywhere, but then that work will come back to you six months later. You really have to create your own schedule. It’s a crazy industry. People will ask you to start a job tomorrow on the other side of the country. You also really can’t beat yourself up all the time when things fall through or there are gaps in working, you just have to keep moving forward. It really does get easier. It’s advice that really doesn’t help at the time, but the work you put in now, you really will see the results eventually. You will never regret doing the work. 

 

So, as a woman, especially in film and especially right now with the women’s movements going on within the film industry, what in your life makes you feel powerful?

I work with two women who are amazing advocates and incredible filmmakers, who showed me it’s possible to bring radical empathy to real journalism. Having mentors like Erin and Sarah really changed my perspective about the industry. 

It’s not easy to find, but one of the best things you can do in the creative industry is find mentors. There isn’t a clear path to advancing in the creative industry, so you need someone there to give you feedback, to bounce ideas off of, and to push you.  

You can watch both At The Heart of Gold and I Love You, Now Die on HBO.