The first time she tried to make a documentary, she was so nervous she got the film jammed in the camera. She was filming landscape painter LeConte Stewart out in the Kaysville countryside and she was trying to make a good impression, so the obvious solution was to hide, yank out the yards of tangled film and throw the whole mess behind a bush.
She shot the scenes over, only to have a processing lab use the wrong chemical and ruin her film. By then, Claudia Sisemore began considering going back to being an English teacher.But it turned out to be a good documentary anyway, and in the 16 years since then Sisemore has gone on to become not only one of Utah's most respected documentary makers but the unofficial chronicler of Utah's arts. She has now made 10 documentaries about the state's artists, including former Utah Symphony conductor Maurice Abravanel, dancer Virginia Tanner and portrait artist Alvin Gittins.
She is able to win grants from organizations such as the Utah Endowment for the Humanities to cover the film costs of these documentaries, but admits she is not much of a fund-raiser. "When it's up to me," says the unassuming, self-effacing Sisemore, "I get those bitty budgets."
While the going rate for documentary expenses is $1,000 per finished minute, Sisemore's frugal techniques often keep her costs down to a fifth of that. Where the usual ratio of film shot to film used is six to one, Sisemore sometimes uses two out of every three feet she shoots.
At her full-time job as a producer/director of educational films for the Utah State Office of Education, Sisemore gets even more opportunities to be thrifty. A 30-minute 16mm movie called "The Beginning of Winning" - a film about sportsmanship that won an award for creative excellence at the U.S. Industrial Film Festival - was shot in seven days for just $12,000.
Sisemore has made educational films about everything from wild horses to the new film on "Contemporary Pioneering Women," and has produced a Spanish language program offered via satellite to rural areas throughout the country.
In two weeks she starts production on a film about the 1982 deaths of two Brighton High students killed by a drunken driver.