Melody Gilbert: meet the woman behind the camera


Melody Gilbert started her career as a broadcast journalist, but she decided to leave broadcast for good to teach. She doesn’t really know how it happened, but she’s now been teaching for over 20 years.

“Someone invited me to come speak to their class,” Gilbert said. “Then I went from speaking to classes to becoming an adjunct then to being full time. I really love it. It’s been a really nice transition for me.”

Gilbert is an award-winning documentary filmmaker with seven feature length films behind her, including “Married at the Mall,” “A Life Without Pain” and her new upcoming feature “Silicone Soul.”

Gilbert was hired by NSU as an assistant professor in the Department of New Media, Journalism, & Communication Arts in 2019.

Even when she’s making films, she has always been teaching.

“Whether it’s short-term, long-term, overseas, one class or workshop, I love teaching,” Gilbert said.

She owns a production company called Frozen Feet Films. She opened her production company around the same time she started teaching.

Her first independent film, “Married at the Mall,” is a documentary about people tying the knot at the Chapel of Love in the Mall of America near Minneapolis.

Gilbert filmed “Married at the Mall” with just herself, a camera and microphone. When she first started teaching, she decided that if she were going to teach her students to work alone in multimedia journalism, then she should know how to do it herself.

“One of the reasons I love it is because I didn’t know anything about the industry or the business,” Gilbert said. “I just made it. I went out in the world and made a lot of mistakes.”

Gilbert wanted to film something close to home. Only living 15 minutes away from the Mall of America, she wanted something she could have access to. She didn’t want to do something in a foreign country or in another state.

“If something happened, I’d be able to jump in my car and go and film a wedding,” Gilbert said.

She wanted her first self-made documentary to be easy to find and film.

She had to teach herself how to do everything on her own, but she showed no fear. She wasn’t familiar with the technology when she first started on her own. She was used to broadcast television where people carried the camera and the boom mike.

“This was the first time the camera was small enough for me to take out on my own,” Gilbert said. “I learned by watching over the years in broadcast television.”

She wasn’t scared. She was excited.

The most important thing she learned from journalism was to be a good listener.

“Genuine listening, where you are paying attention, is something you learn over time,” Gilbert said.

When it comes to her documentaries, she is asked how she gets people to open up to her. The thing is, she never feels like she “gets” people to open up to her.

“I just am really interested in what they’re saying,” Gilbert said.

To her, there is a big difference. Her way of thinking is just asking “why?” She wants to know why people do the things that they do or what makes certain people tick.

“I really want to know that stuff and I think people know that,” Gilbert said.

She doesn’t try to “get” you. She used to work for network news, so she knows all about that. She didn’t like it so much because it was all about the “get.”

“Independent filming is what I’m doing now,” Gilbert said. “It’s not about the “get.” It’s about exploring the story.”

Not only has Gilbert directed her own films, she’s produced a few that have won or have been nominated for awards such as the James Beard award for “The Starfish Throwers” and “Beneath the Ink,” which is nominated for a 2019 Emmy for Outstanding Short Documentary.

“Beneath the Ink” is directed by Cy Dodson. “Beneath the Ink” is about a tattoo artist in Ohio named Billy Joe White. He covers up hate-filled ink for free.

In under 20 minutes, audience members may feel triggered and experience many emotions, but that’s what Gilbert wants. She wants people to watch and then find out it’s the opposite of what it seems.

“In any kind of storytelling, there is always scene setting at the beginning which is supposed to pull you gradually,” Gilbert said. “At some point there is either a conflict, a surprise or a shock of some kind. All those things happen to continue forward.”

There are things in any of her films that will make someone feel uncomfortable, but that is what she does. It doesn’t matter if she’s directed or produced it. She wants to make stories that will get people to think. She isn’t trying to give people all the answers.

“I like to have twists and turns and surprises, that’s how you get people watching or interested,” Gilbert said.

Her goal is for people to form their own opinion on things. She wants people to respond and keep watching.

Her advice to anyone starting out is to just start.

“Start, make mistakes, and then start again,” Gilbert said.

She made a lot of mistakes the first time, but she learned from those mistakes and made fewer the next time. That is her definition of success.

“You have to start and figure out what you like,” Gilbert said. “I like to shoot and produce, direct, and edit. I like it all.”

The Department of New media, Journalism, & Communication Arts is sponsoring a screening of Silicone Soul on Sept. 24 in the Varnado Hall Ballroom at 6:30 p.m. Gilbert will attend the screening to introduce the film and to answer questions after the screening.