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.
Megan Donnelly is the Technical and Educational Development Manager at AbelCine as well as a Director of Photography and Local 600 Camera Operator. Originally from Mesa, Arizona, Megan Donnelly graduated summa cum laude from the University of Arizona with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Media Arts with a concentration in Cinematography.
Once in Chicago, she started out as a PA on commercials and interning at Ebel Productions. Determined to be in the camera department, Megan started working at Fletcher Camera and Lenses. She was fortunate to become the Technical Manager, where she provided technical and workflow support for multiple features and television series, working with and being mentored by amazing cinematographers along the way. She also helped to develop the curriculum for the International Cinematographer’s Guild Digital Loader Workshops, which she taught nationwide.
Megan is an accomplished Director of Photography for commercials, music videos, and narratives. Her narrative short, Before The Fall, directed by Kamelya Alexan, has screened internationally and at 19 film festivals, winning five awards. Previously, one of her television pilots was a finalist in the New York Television Festival in 2013, while another television pilot won the Chicago Television Pilot Competition in 2014. Her favorite work however has been her work telling real people’s stories. Since joining the Union, she has camera operated on the new HBO show Run, premiering in April, as well as FOX’s Empire. View her work at megandonnelly.net.
At AbelCine, she teaches a wide variety of courses to filmmakers and also develops custom curriculums. She teaches a number of camera workshops, DIT workshops, REDucation, lighting, and Phantom high-speed workflows. She loves being involved in the community, hosting and moderating various panels and events. Currently she is working with the rest of the training team to expand AbelCine’s virtual class offerings.
What did you originally want to be when you grow up?
I was one of those kids that always wanted to be a teacher. My whole family was teachers so that was a big influence as I really admired them. I was pretty specific and each year I would want to be a teacher of that particular grade. After that it changed to wanting to be a dancer. I danced every day of the week and danced competitively so it quickly became my dream job. That and watching The Fly Girls on In Living Color.
How did you get into the film industry?
In high school I took a video production course for 3 years. We did a live broadcast of the news and I remember loving the adrenaline. We also shot narrative shorts and music videos. That sparked my interest immediately. I remember shooting music videos on the weekend with a Mini DV camera and my friends. Somewhere there’s a copy of my own teenage music video version of Radiohead’s “Creep” and a stop animation piece to Ben Harper’s “Another Lonely Day.” I got really into it and it was a great way to express myself and my emotions. From then on I was hooked and went to college for Film.
After College I moved to Chicago since I had a little bit of family there and hey wanted to try something different! I found PA jobs on craigslist, and eventually connected with local Producers. I wasn’t ready for the patience that felt like it was going to take, so I took an internship and eventual employment at Ebel Productions. Here I met Tom Fletcher and Zoe Borys and pulled them aside and said “I want to work for you!” I had no shame and was driven to get into the camera department and knew working at a camera house was a great step.
All along I have been shooting as much as possible. Bob Ebel’s best advice to me was, “Shoot, Shoot, Shoot!”
Who were your mentors?
Honestly I’ve had a lot and am so grateful. I won’t be able to mention them all even. Mr. Rick Englemann, my video production teacher in high school, was definitely a mentor of mine. He had such a passion and jest for storytelling and made it so fun. And I remember thinking for the first time that this could actually be a job! In college, my mentor was a film professor of mine, Nicky Koschmann. She was experimental and expressive and got me to open up in ways I never expected. I really remember that.
As an adult, my key mentors have been Bob Ebel, Zoe Borys, Tom Fletcher, and Marsie Wallach. From Bob I got to watch how he lit and directed, but also how he talked creatively to clients, from Zoe I learned to never give up your drive and your passion, from Tom I learned how to run with a good idea, and from Marsie I learned the best way to represent myself and my work. I cherish each and every one of them and honestly try to do my best to give back and be a mentor myself when I can. As a female camera woman, I believe it’s especially important for young women and women everywhere to see women behind the camera.
On that note, I have always looked up to Ellen Kuras, ASC, Reed Morano, ASC, and Amy Vincent, ASC. They don’t know it yet but they have been mentors of mine for a long time. To be able to admire their work as well as believe as a young woman that this was a possible career for me; they will also be my mentors for that.
What is your greatest achievement?
Last fall I joined the camera union as a camera operator. I say this is one of my biggest achievements as I waited a long time to join. For years I DP’d nonunion projects and I didn’t want to join until I had a big reel under my belt and was ready for the challenge of that level of work. I really wanted to hone my skills. I also joined after a year of a tough health experience, so that added to an extreme level of accomplishment. I am proud and thankful to be a part of the union. Also, in my early 20s I taught the camera union digital loading all over the country. It was a big deal at the time since digital cinema cameras were new and scary to everyone. It was a great experience to be a key educator for the film industry. That was the first time I taught a room of fifty people and definitely got over my fear of public speaking! Now I do it all the time.
What is your biggest disappointment?
As a creative, we put ourselves out there a lot. That’s what you do! So you’ll know you’re up for a job and then you’ll hear if you don’t get it. So it’s easy to feel disappointed. I used to get pretty disappointed. But now it drives me. I’ve learned you can’t get in this business if a No stops you. Now I think: What could I do better? What were they looking for? Let’s go after the next one. Now I use the Nos for motivation!
ALSO READ: MORE REEL WOMEN
What are your biggest pet peeves?
When people don’t reply all! Oh my that gets to me. And actually communication is a big thing for me. When I’m working on a project I like to communicate my intent and all details with my team. So it’s a pet peeve of mine when I feel communication is lax. It’s so important!
Name a job you had that would surprise people.
An accountant! Zoe interviewed me and wanted to offer me a position, but the only position available in the company at the time was as an Assistant Accountant. I was good at Math and I was determined, so I applied and got it! From there I worked my way into the technical department and then my way up. I like telling this story when I teach because I think it’s a good reminder that your dream job takes time!
Who plays you in your life story?
Natalie Portman. I’ve always loved her film choices and what she stands for. She’s strong willed yet sensitive, extremely creative, has a good business sense, and knows what she wants in life. She’s also a dancer!
What do you wish you had more time to do?
So many things! With the current times as they are I am working on my list! Listening to my records more, connecting (albeit virtually at the moment) with friends and family, and doing art projects with my nieces (I draw a great cat person). Still on my wish list is starting an herb garden, teaching a kids dance class, teaching meditation to children, writing a health and self-love blog, and traveling!
Do you talk to yourself?
I talk to my Cat all the time. Is that the same thing? He talks back though.
What inspires you to be creative?
Nature! I love watching how light changes throughout the day, how it catches your eye, how it creates shadows, how it brings to light something you’ve never seen before. My other big creative inspiration is my nieces. They have zero fear. They inspire me every day.
And lastly my Mom. She taught me to enjoy life and also to always remember your inner strength. I think above all those are two of the most important lessons for anyone, and it often inspires me to create and share.
View Megan’s work at megandonnelly.net.
Some of AbelCine’s most popular classes are now available in a live, virtual format. Find out more about the expanded online learning options, as well as events and customized training classes here: https://www.abelcine.com/articles/news/company-news/virtual-learning-options-at-abelcine