When Judy Hallet was writing and producing short news documentaries for KUTV, Ch. 2, a few years ago, a friend told her about a classified ad in a TV industry magazine - National Geographic Television was looking for a producer.
"Why don't you send in your resume?" the friend asked. "Sure, along with 2,000 other people," Hallet replied. But she sent it in anyway, sure she'd never receive a reply.The next week Hallet got a phone call from National Geographic, asking for samples of her work. The follow ing week she was flown to New York for a round of interviews. And before she knew it she was hired.
"That's kind of a nice story because I knew no one," Hallet said in retrospect. "I thought I'd have to know someone, to use contacts - but they hired me based solely on the work I did in Salt Lake City."
Hallet has been working for National Geographic for four years now, yet, as she related the story during a telephone interview from her Washington office Wednesday, she still sounded a bit surprised.
On Friday, Hallet returns to Salt Lake City to show and discuss two of her hour-long documentary films - "The Life and Times of Jane Goodall" and "The Gauchos of Argentina." They will be screened in the University of Utah's Fine Arts auditorium, beginning at 8 p.m. Admission is $5, which will benefit the Utah Film & Video Center, formerly the Utah Media Center.
"I was one of the founders of the Utah Media Center. They decided this year to track down some of the founders and asked if I'd be willing to come out and do this."
Working for National Geographic is a dream job, Hallet said, an opportunity to travel and develop stories about fascinating people who do fascinating things.
"It's kind of a complex organization here - there are 12 people who are researchers or story editors and come up with story ideas each week. An executive committee votes from one to 10 on the stories and anything over a seven means they are interested in that story. They ask the producers which they want to work on - there are four of us right now."
A third of the stories for "Explorer" are acquired from independent filmmakers and 30 pieces a year are produced in-house. It takes a month of research, a month of filming and 12 weeks to edit an average piece, she said. And National Geographic is one of the few programs of its kind that has not converted to videotape - everything is shot on film.
One of her most challenging pieces of work was the documentary on Jane Goodall, the famed British zoologist who has studied chimpanzees in the wilderness of Tanzania for some 30 years.
"She came to us and said she wanted a film done on her for her 30th anniversary and I said, `Ohhh, I'd love to do that film.' I also said I'd like to do a more personal film and that's what I tried to do, a film more on what makes Jane tick and why she's the way she is.
"She had just seen `Gorillas in the Mist' (about the late zoologist Dian Fossey's work with gorillas) and said, `I don't want to have a film made about me after I'm dead.' "
But this wasn't National Geographic's first piece on Goodall - two others had been produced over the years. Hallett was concerned about making hers unique but her subject was very cooperative, allowing aspects of her life to be covered that hadn't been explored before - including her relationships with her mother, her son and her two husbands. The result is "The Life and Legend of Jane Goodall," a profile that is revealing and illuminating while also highly entertaining. (The film aired on National Geographic's "Explorer" series, which airs on the cable channel WTBS, last spring.)
Hallet's latest work is "The Gauchos of Argentina," a look at the "cowboys" of that country who are about 150,000 strong in the countryside and have a proud tradition. "Argentina has had a hard time in the last 30 years with terrorism and right-wing military dictatorships . . . the gauchos are one of the few things Argentinians are still proud of. There's a universal message here of knowing who you are and sticking with it."
"Gauchos" hearkens back to one of Hallet's favorite Ch. 2 pieces from 1985, called "Buckaroos," about local cowboys. That was a mini-documentary for "Extra," the now-defunct TV newsmagazine on which she worked for seven years. She says cutting her teeth on that program was helpful because it was journalism coming together with filmmaking. "We learned from each other. The journalists taught the filmmakers about content and telling a story in a precise way and we taught them about working visually and emotionally. The combination made for some extraordinary work."
She is now looking into four story ideas to decide on her next project - a behind-the-scenes look at the National Zoo, the Yanomami Indians of Venezuela, a gringo chief who grew up in Ecuador and became chief of a little village and French doctors who go wherever in the world they are needed.
There are always great stories to be done, Hallet says. The hard part is deciding which one to do next.
For further information on Friday's screenings, phone the Utah Film & Video Center, 534-1158.