A Conversation with Jennifer Erickson

Columbia Access Television’s executive director talks community film.

Columbia Access Television might air a film about unicorns or a conversation about community violence. Either way, Jennifer Erickson is committed to giving community filmmakers a voice. For Erickson, executive director of CAT since 2010, that includes fighting to keep funding when the city threatens to zero the community media center out of the budget. It includes efforts such as the public service announcement contest CAT is running. In addition to political and social voices, the channel is an outlet for fire spinners, recorder-players, Special Olympics participants and comedic cooks.

“She’s passionate about her commitment to the Columbia community,” says access technician Justin Gregory. “And that shows while working with her on an everyday basis.”

When she’s not at CAT, the Pennsylvania native might be out exploring the countryside, watching films at Ragtag Cinema or listening to live music at one of Columbia’s venues. She encourages residents both experienced in film and not to stop by CAT’s downtown location to see their film-related concepts come to life.

What is CAT’s role in the city?

We are the community voice for Columbia. People can walk in with little to no knowledge about creating videos. We can teach them how to produce programs and create things that are important to them. Then they’re able to share it.

Your emphasis this year is on “Challenges in Filmmaking.” What are barriers to local movie production? 

The amount of money you have to invest in cameras, software and computers. It’s easier than ever to make films, but it can get expensive. You can use our resources and walk right in. We have fully loaded computers and Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere. When you check everything out, it’s $3,000–6,000 of equipment out the door. CAT is only $60 a year for an individual, and we have a discount of $25 for students, seniors and military members.

The theme of CAT’s PSA contest is “promoting non-violence in Columbia.” Why did you choose that focus?

We’ve listened to what our community has talked about. We produce “What’s Going On?” every month with the Mayor’s Task Force on Community Violence member Lorenzo Lawson, and he has guests on to talk about local issues. That seemed like something that we can tackle as a community.

Which CAT projects have you most enjoyed working on?

I love the collaborations. We did a really neat program with Lee Expressive Arts Elementary. We had third-, fourth- and fifth-graders create silent films from concept to post-production. We storyboarded their ideas, and we filmed them. One of the groups came up with an idea to have an angry unicorn fight with some leprechaun. They fight in a rainbow with two little girls. The film ended up being called The Angry Unicorn.

What’s your favorite part of filmmaking?

I like the role of the producer a lot. I really like working behind the scenes, helping solidify plans for filming. I would encourage people to try it.

You also help with the Citizen Jane Film Festival. How can viewers encourage women in film?

For the average person, definitely see films created by women. Women filmmakers don’t always create films considered to be “women films.” I just saw an article about Mean Girls, which had the largest amount (among recent blockbusters) of women working on a film production. Parity, 50/50 men/women working on a set, would be great. Women say just as much as men do.