Meet Erin McGoff, graduating senior majoring in Film and Media Arts with a minor in Marketing! Erin McGoff has given new meaning to the word “wonk” at AU; among other accolades she is the creator of the documentary This Little Land of Mines. Her Campus American had the opportunity to ask McGoff a few questions about making a documentary while still being in school.
Her Campus American University: What motivated you to become interested in film and media?
Erin McGoff: I grew up in a super creative home. My five older siblings and I took classical piano lessons which eventually resulted in several bands and a family-operated recording studio. Although music was my thing growing up, I always loved film and ended up making music videos for clients of our studio. I taught myself how to shoot and edit in high school through online tutorials. I’ve now learned that I’m a visual person, but my true passion is score composition, so I guess music still is #1 in my heart.
HC AU: What made you decide to make a full length documentary?
EG: I’ve always been a producer who loves challenges, and creating a full length feature right out of college sounded like a great challenge. I was originally planning on making a shorter, student project…but as I learned more about the story of the Laotians, I realized this was much bigger than a 10 minute student film. There’s just so much story to tell.
HC AU: Can you give us a synopsis of what the documentary is about?
EM: Of course. During the Vietnam War Era, the United States also secretly dropped bombs on neighboring Laos. In fact, they bombed Laos more heavily than any country has ever been bombed in the history of warfare. But it was all covert—Congress didn’t even know about it. However, the real issue is that 30% (80 million) of the bombs never exploded upon impact and still lay littered around Laos—waiting for an unsuspecting farmer or child to step on them. 70% of Laotians are subsistence farmers, so as you can image, this is a huge issue. But Americans don’t care about it because Americans don’t know about the Secret War. [The US dropped (on average) one planeload of bombs every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years.]
Logline: This Little Land of Mines is a feature documentary about how the United States bombed Laos more than any country in the world and 80 million unexploded bombs continue to kill and maim hundreds of Laotians every year.
HC AU: Can you tell me about your alternative breaks trip and how it impacted your vision at all?
EM: Yes! My alternative break gave me invaluable insight and research into the economic issues in Laos today. There’s only so much research you can do on this side of the world. Getting to see the UXO (unexploded ordnance) issues and interact with Laotians gave me the understanding and passion I need to make this documentary a reality.
HC AU: What are the greatest challenges you’ve faced in creating the documentary? Is it a process you’d recommend to other students?
EM: The biggest challenge is definitely funding. I spend about 30-40 hours a week on this documentary, (on top of 21 credits!) and it’s almost all on grant applications. I’m planning to go shoot in September of this year, so I had to get a jump start on grants since they usually have a slow turn around. It’s definitely difficult, but it’s enjoyable because I’m passionate about it and am willing to climb the steep learning curve. Even though I’m getting credit and have a great SOC advisor, this isn’t a class. I would only recommend this if you find a story that your absolutely obsessed with telling.
HC AU: How difficult has it been to raise the money to finance this project?
EM: It’s definitely not easy, especially when a lot of people don’t know what Laos is. But I’m halfway through my Indiegogo fundraiser campaign right now and am over halfway fundraised (for that goal). I think when people hear this story, they’re willing to give—it’s too important to ignore. I’m very ambitious when it comes to the quality of this film, so my budget is quite large. The money is out there, it just takes a lot of work to find it.
HC AU: What do you hope that viewers of the documentary learn from it?
My first goal is simply awareness. It’s hard to start a conversation if people don’t know the topic. Second, my call-to-action is to catalyze American support to find effective and efficient solutions for clearing the 80 million unexploded American bombs.
HC AU: Is there anything else we should know about you and/or your documentary?
I know there are a lot of issues and bad things going on in the world that are demanding your attention. And honestly, I’m not one to get fired up about politics—but this isn’t political. It’s just wrong and it’s going on right now. The U.S. is not the type of country to carpet bomb innocent civilians (98% of the Laotians killed are/were civilians), leave 80 million bombs that continue to kill children in their backyards, and brush it under the rug. The U.S. spent more money in 10 days of bombing Laos than they’ve donated in total to the clean effort. It’s up to us to make this right. If anyone has any questions about Laos or filmmaking in general—you can reach out to me at anytime. I’m usually squatting in the Dav writing grant proposals.
Photo Credit: 1,3,4 belong to the cutie, 2 & 5 taken by Lindsay Maizland.