REEL WOMEN: Independent Filmmaker, Grace Pisula

Reel Women

Editor’s Note: They are leaders. They are inspirational. They are mentors. They are visionaries. They are, quite frankly, badasses. They are our 2020 Reel Women During Women’s History Month, you will be able to meet these incredible personalities in Advertising, Entertainment, Media and Production. Get ready.

Grace is a Polish-American filmmaker native to the Northwest Side of Chicago. For nearly a decade Grace was a freelance one-woman arthouse working as a photographer, graphic designer, cinematographer/director, animator, and editor.

She finished the Interactive Media program at Bradley University with Applied Excellence, as well as programs at Minneapolis College of Art and Design and The University of Texas in Los Angeles.

In 2018 Grace founded her production company Gold Point Studio.

Grace believes in fostering creativity in others, and even more so she believes in the creative process as a vehicle for innovation in business and community. Grace is an active member in the entertainment industry. She is the Technical Director and sits on the board of Women of The Now, Chicago’s nonprofit womxn filmmaking collective.

Reel Women

She is currently on the Advisory Board for the TV and Broadcast Department at the Hammond Area Career Center. Grace was named Midwest Female Filmmaker in 2019.

What did you originally want to be when you grow up?
I was told that when I was younger I either wanted to open a candy store or be a veterinarian because I’ve always loved animals and have been entrepreneurial.

How did you get into the film industry?
Wow. It’s true what they say: there’s not one way. I went to Bradley University and I was first studying photography. By the time I started at the university I’d been a photographer for 2 or 3 years and was working for a professional photographer.  So naturally I got a little bored with the curriculum. After just 4 months I switched majors to Interactive Media, and took on extra classes in Business Management as well.

I learned design, coding, game design, entrepreneurship and creativity, and in my last year a new program came about that would allow five students from my school to go to LA with the University of Texas. I had already DP’d my first film and I was starting to behave like a real independent filmmaker. I applied, and I got in.

I studied Producing, Post-Production, and New Media from people working in the industry. I interned for Paramount Pictures, Dick Clark Productions, and The Institute. It was only four months, but the UTLA program revealed to me that a career in the film industry was not only viable, but that I was a natural in so many different ways. I think, if I had to choose the most pivotal moment/event that opened the door to my film career it would be that.

Who were your mentors?
I’m so lucky to have had the guidance of so many mentors throughout my career. I can’t possibly name them all, but I will try my best to give a shoutout to people who fundamentally shaped me as an artist and a leader. 

At 16 my first job was for an architectural landscape photographer named Robert Gigliotti and he taught me everything about photo editing. After my time working for him I was comfortable editing 2,000 images at a time. 

Monica McGill was my academic advisor and coding professor. She encouraged me to take control of my college career by selecting classes that would challenge me. She put me in positions of leadership in her classes. Her guidance helped me get to LA and for that I’m eternally grateful.

Edward Lamaroux was a professor of mine who wrote a number of books on New Media Theory and Intellectual Property Law. He taught me a great deal about philosophy of media and culture, and he took a personal interest in my success as a student. Today, as I lead my company to be innovative in media, I recall his studies everyday. I’ve since loaned his books to my colleagues and am able to pass on this valuable information. I do hope I get those books back though…

David Trillizio is the Director of Freshman Orientation at Bradley University. I worked for him one summer editing a new video for each of the 13 freshman orientation sessions. Under his leadership I pushed myself to turn around video edits in ridiculous speed (one in every 3 days I believe). It took me two years to get that job but it was worth it. I had never worked so hard as I did for him and I think my success in handling that project had a lot to do with his belief in my ability. He made it so I could show myself how much I’m really capable of doing.

Marlena Asher, former president of the Northwest Arts Connection. She’s been extremely formative in my leadership development and taught me how to be a champion of my vision and the vision of the organization, which works to uplift the voices of artists from the Northwest side. She put me in touch with community and government leaders, and that made me a bit nervous at first, but she also helped me learn how to handle those situations.

What is your greatest achievement?
To date I think Golden Voices, a short film I produced to compete in the Indiana Film Race, has been my greatest success. I was also the DP, Editor, and FX Animator. Golden Voices won Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Cinematography, and Best Director. We took home the grand prize of $10,000 which helped me grow Gold Point Studio (still in its first year at the time) and later we learned the film would premiere at the Academy Award qualifying festival INDY SHORTS. I had not attended any festivals or had a film in a festival before this so it was an experience I greatly valued. Golden Voices is still making its rounds in the film festival circuit.

What is your biggest disappointment?
Ooof. My friends will laugh with me on this one because it was so long ago. Not film related either. I was camping in the Rockies in 2013 and on the way home, as we drove through Denver, we heard K.Flay was in town. She wasn’t famous yet but we absolutely loved her music. We bought her merch and a CD and asked her to sign them. Removing the cap from her sharpie, she asked me if I smoked. I said something like “Oh yeah I just came from a camping trip and I smell like a bonfire” and then I walked away. Looking back, I feel that I missed out on having a really cool sesh with a really cool female artist, and I’m pretty sure she’s from Chicago, too. It’s such a shame.


What are your biggest pet peeves?
This question. No. I do a lot around organizing efforts and managing people. My pet peeve is when people don’t communicate.  

What are your predictions for the film industry over the next decade?
Good question. I can only speak to the Chicago independent scene. It’s clear to me that short films and short-form media are becoming more popular. I think there’s now more of a platform than ever for short-form. Even Netflix is experimenting with the genre. There’s a plethora of platforms for distribution.

There’s a lot of hope for indie filmmakers and the people who might not have had a voice to use film to bolster their voices. Even local businesses are supporting local filmmakers and there’s an incredible amount of love here in Chicago. I hope that trend continues. Ten years from now, who knows what it will look like? I am especially excited and hopeful for the next innovation in immersive media.

Name a job you had that would surprise people.
I’ve always been in the film and media industry. I sold tickets at a movie theater and I was the morning announcer at my high school. My first job out of college was for a Chinese trades company at the Chicago Board of Trade shooting and editing content for their broadcast. Most people are surprised when I tell them I helped my friends start an escape room business. I was their in-house media producer for the first couple years. Escape Artistry has two locations in Wicker Park.

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Who plays you in your life story?
Oh, it’s gotta be Ellen Page (Juno, Umbrella Academy). When the movie Juno came out I was in high school and everyone started calling me Juno. I guess it’s kind of a physical resemblance, but it also seems to go into talking and mannerisms. We definitely want to do a project with her.

What do you wish you had more time to do?
Ooh. More time to travel and more time petting my cat. If only my cat could travel.

Do you talk to yourself?
Yeah, sometimes. I think we all do. I think sometimes when someone else doesn’t show up for you, you gotta show up for yourself.

What inspires you to be creative?
The person who inspires me most is my mom. She has fundamentally shaped my character and has fueled my intrinsic motivation in life. Her enthusiasm for my creative talent led to the exercise of my entrepreneurial spirit, the result of which is continuously unfolding before me.

Growing up, I watched my mom work by day and study by night. She was an immigrant single mother with two children, and yet I can’t remember a dull holiday or birthday. My brother and I had numerous extra curriculars. We liked sports a lot and we travelled often to Poland to spend time with our family overseas. This super mom had enough time to do all those things for me, and I believe she is the hardest working person I know.

Now as an adult I can see how these experiences propelled me forward. My mom’s dedication to her work and her family, along with her continuing desire for education, inspires my ambitions and fuels my creativity. Seeing her do all those things instilled in me a knowing that I too am capable of so much.