From UFO seekers to Wall Street occupiers, Carr documents it

Sept. 25, 2013

by Sean Kirkby

Guns made from 3-D printing, microscopic creatures capable of surviving in space, and a man who will eat anything from rolls of toilet paper to painter’s caulk in a bid to end world hunger — you wouldn’t expect to find videos on these topics on the same website, let alone from a single person. But Erin Lee Carr has produced documentary films centered on all these subjects, among others.

Photo: Erin Lee Carr

Erin Lee Carr

Carr, a producer for The Verge, graduated from UW-Madison in 2010 with a B.A. in communication arts. As a former vice producer, Carr made documentaries on diverse subjects ranging from UFO seekers to Occupy Wall Street protesters.

Carr has focused on the margins of society in her work, choosing people and parts of stories that illuminate larger issues, rather than attempting to create documentaries that encompass every part of every story.

“That’s what being a journalist is — it’s going out into the world and finding people and things that are more interesting than you are and telling that story,” Carr says. “It’s not a story until you have somebody to tell that story. “

One of her most recent and popular documentaries is “Click. Print. Gun.” It follows University of Texas Law School student Cody Wilson’s efforts to use a 3-D printer to construct a semi-automatic rifle and offer that design to others online with no cost or restrictions.

“In the moment, I could feel how big it could be, and I never felt that way, “ Carr says. “Breaking a news story, especially when it relates to video — it’s the energy. It was so kinetic, and I was so excited. When we got to editing it and watching it, I was working with the editor. Watching him put it together … I was blown away.”

Carr also worked as a production assistant on the pilot of the HBO series “Girls,” before recognizing that documentary filmmaking could make a greater impact on the world.

“I’m a hard worker and I think Madison very much instilled that in me. You can’t just think that research or ideas will come to you. You have to work for it.”

Erin Lee Carr

While on campus, Carr worked as a resident assistant, a job she credits with teaching her how to talk to anyone and everyone. She also worked at the Instructional Media Lab and hosted a WSUM radio show on Riot Grrrl, an underground feminist punk rock movement in the ‘90s, once a week from 4 to 5 a.m.

She says she decided to come to UW-Madison because it felt like home to her. Her four years at the school helped shaped her into who she is today, she says, and the most important thing she learned while attending the school was stamina.

“I’m a hard worker and I think Madison very much instilled that in me,” Carr says. “You can’t just think that research or ideas will come to you. You have to work for it.”

Communication arts professor J. J. Murphy taught Carr in two of his seminars, one focused on screenwriting and the other on American independent cinema. He says Carr was an enthusiastic student with a strong interest in the Internet and popular culture.

For instance, Carr wrote a paper on the film “Four Eyed Monsters,” an independent film focusing on the relationship between its two directors, who used the Internet to distribute the film to a wide audience. Murphy says Carr’s current work is a continuation of the interests she brought to, and developed on, campus. 

“She was very spirited. Successful students have drive and ambition — in other words, they have direction. She had that.”

J. J. Murphy

“She was very spirited,” Murphy says. “Successful students have drive and ambition — in other words, they have direction. She had that and you could already tell there was a good chance that she was going to be involved with online media in some type of way.”

Carr is the daughter of New York Times media columnist David Carr. His book, “Night of the Gun,” credits the birth of his twin daughters, Meagan and Erin, as convincing him to end his crack addiction. Carr says her father has supported her and given her advice on her films.

“The best piece of advice he ever gave me was about listening,” Carr says. “He told me that it’s not my job to talk first — it’s about taking in information. He said a really great way to start off dialogue with someone is to thank them for taking time out of their job for me to do mine — being humble, being appreciative and coming from a place of goodness.”

Carr says she plans to continue producing short-form Internet documentaries since they allow her to pursue multiple interests. With almost half of all Americans watching at least one video online a day, her audience is sure to continue to multiply.

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