• A Brighter Lens


This week we sat down with award-winning director, producer, and writer, Chantal Potter, and talked with her about her directorial debut, Balloon Man. Chantal founded Made For T.V. Productions in 2008 and she was previously known for BET Network's award-winning docu-series, The Defining Moment & Turning Point, where she was the creator, Executive Producer, and host.

Her feature directorial debut Balloon Man, is an intimate portrait of a her father--a former NFL athlete who learned how to navigate through the clouds, becoming the first African American Hot-Air Balloon Master Pilot in the world. Balloon Man will be released worldwide on-demand on February 2, 2021.

Click here to listen to our interview with Chantal Potter on Apple Podcasts.

Episode transcription below.


Chantal: Hello?

Larkin: Hi.

Chantal: Hi, how are you?

Larkin: Good. How are you doing?

Chantal: I'm doing good. I'm doing good. Thank you all so much for having me on your show.

Larkin: Chantal, thank you so much for joining us today. We're really looking forward to talking to you. Could you just give our listeners a synopsis of your documentary Balloon Man, and tell us about your personal connection to this story?

Chantal: All right. Well, Balloon Man, it was an idea that I had pretty much right out of college.

I didn't know it was going to be a documentary at the time. I just knew that my dad is a good storyteller and he needed his story to be told. And so, you know, I really just started-- I got my camera out and I really just started following him. My dad is a hot air balloon pilot. He's been flying for over 42 years.

And, this film actually, you know, it talks about his journey. You know, he didn't start in hot air ballooning. He used to play professional football with the Buffalo bills back in 1970. And so this film really just shows his journey, all of the triumphs, all of the trials. And in 2016 he actually got a lifetime achievement award in the balloon and the ballooning world, from the balloon Federation of America.

It's called the Ed Yost Master Pilot award. And so, you know, this film just. You just take a journey with him, you know, you're going to see exhilarating sites. You're going to see, you know, his football days. You're going to see him growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, and then traveling cross country. So yeah, that's pretty much what the film is about.

You know, I, I love my dad. It's been such a pleasure working with him on this. We both were producers, executive producers, and I couldn't have asked. Or a better partner to work with. He's so organized and, you know, and filmmaking, you need that. You need someone who's organized, just has all their stuff together. And, you know, my dad was that.

Jennifer: Did you have to convince him or was he like, he was ready to go? He's like, let's tell the story.

Chantal: You know what, I didn't have to convince him at all, but it didn't start as a documentary. It was just me, you know, capturing footage, flying different places, going up and down the East coast, the different balloon festivals.

And I was just capturing footage. It wasn't until a few years later, I was like, let me start. Getting interviews, you know, this could be really interesting and the entire story kind of unfolded completely different than I initially imagined. But I really liked how it, how it turned out.

Jennifer: Wow. What a cool story. Yeah, you really, you really held this, this whole film and you were credited as editor and even cinematographer in addition to your directing Balloon Man-- how did you navigate all those different roles in bringing this documentary to life? And if I'm correct, this is your first documentary. True?

Chantal: This is my first feature length documentary that I, that I brought through distribution.

I used to work as a producer for BET. So I did quite a few short form documentaries, and, and news packages, but this is my directorial debut. So it's been a journey in itself, you know, as you mentioned, I did wear several hats, while making this film really, because I had to, especially in the beginning, I think later on, I was able to-- and funding is everything.

So once I was able to kind of hire different people to do different things, I didn't have to do it all by myself anymore. And, you know, hats hat goes off to my incredible crew. You know, I couldn't have done it without. Any of them you know, especially bringing it through that, that post-production phase.

We had some animation. I worked with a very talented colorist and very talented gentlemen who did all the titling for the film. So I needed every last one of them. My producers, you know, who. Just the wealth of knowledge and resources. My co-executive producer who really helped us, fundraise and get all the funds that we needed to finish the film.

And so, you know, I did the first couple of passes with the, with the documentary, but it was three hours long. Okay. And at one point, and I'm like, what do I cut out? Everything is so important to me. So I really had to just take a step back and I was able to bring on another editor Roy Heisler and I'm just like, he didn't know-- he, you know, he met me before, but he didn't know my dad. He was very. Unbiased to the story and I'm just like cut away, whatever you think is not necessary, or you don't think contributes to the overall story, please feel free to cut it. And so you know, just working with different folks throughout the post-production process, I think that's how I was able to complete the film.

Larkin: I would imagine, especially starting a documentary, kind of, like you said, where it's-- you're just filming things to begin with. And then you discovered that there's this story that you do want to tell how, like, how do you even begin navigating like what the story is? I know you knew, you know, your father's story, but I just, I just, that to me would be such a hard part of the process of just being like, okay, what is this story that I'm going to tell, because you don't have a script or anything to go off of.

Chantal: Right. I think that's, I mentioned the story is completely different from how I initially thought it would turn out and it takes place over really a decade. And so you, you grow with my father throughout this film, you see him, you know, with mostly black hair. And by the end, he has a lot of gray hair and You know, at one point, I remember thinking, how is this story going to end?

Because he was, you know, still thick in his career with ballooning and he hadn't won the award yet. You know, I'll wait for you all to watch the film, but it ends, you know, differently, than I would have imagined as well. But, you know, I really just let it unfold naturally. And if I would have completed the film in 2015, he wouldn't have won that award.

And I think that's a big part, of his story, you know, getting that award. There's only a handful of pilots that have it, you know, he's the first African-American, in the country to get this type of acknowledgement. And so. I'm just happy and I'm thankful that it took as long as it took to complete this film, because I think every year, every, every year we worked on this mattered.

Jennifer: Wow. Yeah. And I'm struck too. It's interesting. You're really telling the story of. Of his career, it seems like at the height of it. And then as it's kind of coming more to an end, or whatever that looks like for him. And, and it seems like for you, your filmmaking has really blossomed. I know that you have a new production company and you're in development with stuff like there's something really sweet and like poignant about that.

Did you feel that through the process or is that more like in reflection kind of looking back.

Chantal: Well, I actually started my production company in 2008. So this was a year before I started well, before I graduated college. And so at that point, my production company looked different then too. I was doing one-off contracts.

You know, I was doing a lot of more, more hands-on filming myself and I realized as I grew with it, that I wanted to focus more on filmmaking under my production company, banner filmmaking, I've pitched a few television shows to different networks, scripted unscripted, and really just filmmaking.

That's what I wanted to focus on. So over the years, that kind of, I kind of grew out of that. One-off contract. You know, I worked, for a while with Howard, publishing the DVD in the back of the book. And I loved that because those were one of my first contracts and I was able to just be as creative as I want it to be.

And really showcase all of the students within the within the university and what we were going on, Howard Homecoming is such a huge deal. So we had a section just dedicated to that. I worked a lot with the congressional black caucus, so those were a lot of one-off projects that I did in the beginning.

But, as I continued with my company and I realized, you know, I want to kind of go in a different direction. Balloon Man kind of came to an end. We're at, we're at the distribution phase and I'm ready to, you know, kick off my next project at this point, you know, I'm fired up. I learned so much throughout this process and, you know, delivering a film to a distribution company is an experience all on its own.

But now I know I can do it, you know? So, I am ready for the next project. Absolutely.

Larkin: What do you hope audiences will come away with after watching Balloon Man?

Chantal: Well, I'm aware there that, you know, if you see the title Balloon Man, and you look at the artwork on the poster, If ballooning, isn't your cup of tea, you might not even look twice.

But Balloon Man, there are so many other themes ingrained within this film. It's not just about ballooning, you know, it's, it's about a man, really just trying to figure, figure out life. Like all of us are doing on a daily basis. And and so what I actually just launched yesterday on MLK day, it's, it's a virtual series and online virtual series.

So what it's, there are four different panel discussions that I had and I invited guests to discuss the different themes within the film. And so one is just on life after sports. You know, after the jerseys have retired and everything's said and done, you know, what do you do when something that's defined, you defined you for so long being an athlete comes to an end, then what what's next?

And so we had some great panelists on that, a few Former NFL players, WNBA, NBA, my father. And then there are three other panels we have, one is on ballooning. One is on the daddy daughter dynamic. And then the last one is really on Black history. You know, Black excellence. And, you'll see, within the film, my father's pretty much a Renaissance man.

He also, at some point within the last 50 years of his life, he started collecting and he curated it's called the Costen cultural exhibition. And it's basically a Black history exhibit that he takes around, you know, to different museums, schools, different companies for different occasions.

And people can just literally walk around the room and look at history. And so the last panel is really on that and I think it's very important and he stresses in the film. You know, he, he grew up, went to an all-Black school, but he never saw people that looked like him, you know, in the history books. He went to Atlanta and his uncle took him to lunch and introduced him to Dr. Martin Luther King. And he didn't even know who that was. And that was a year before he passed away. So coming from this bubble and Omaha, Nebraska, you know, he really just vowed then that he wants to teach other people the history that wasn't taught to him in the books. And so on the panel, we have Senator Douglas McCrory. And he helped pass a bill in Connecticut. So now by 2022, Black history is mandated in all of the public schools in Connecticut. And so, you know, there's just so many other themes and exciting things that I wanted to talk about, you know, that didn't make the cut in the film. And so please, you know, check out the series it's on chantalpotter.com/balloonman and you can see the entire series. There will be dropping over the next two weeks, leading up to our February 2nd premiere on vOD.

Jennifer: One last question for you, Chantal, I'm curious-- you've mentioned the whole funding process. A couple of times that sounds like quite a journey. But you did it, which is incredible. What would you say to like other young female filmmakers that are trying to tell their story that they're passionate about? Especially thinking about funding and doing that. What advice would you give to them?

Chantal: I would say you have to ask for a hundred different things for two things to actually happen. Okay. I have been, you know, laying out for different grants for different you know, funding for just exclusively for filmmakers, for women filmmakers. You know, I. Started in the very beginning with this Kickstarter campaign you know, I got a fiscal sponsor Documentary Educational Resources, and then another one on the back end of production.

And applied for a few grants that way. I was able to-- anybody that donated, donated to the program, they were able to write it off on their taxes with the fiscal sponsor. And so, I think though, the one thing that kinda got me over the hump with the postproduction. Because in the beginning I was really funding it myself and then I realized it was turning into something larger than what I could afford out of my own pocket.

So, that's when the grant started coming in, you know, just filling out those applications. And then. On the, on the tail end we had a fundraiser and a lot of people came out for that and they really supported there. So, just making phone calls, like I may have called, you know, a thousand different people, you know, just asking if they would help support the project.

And I think it's because my father, who is who he is, and he's such a, you know, having these different discussions with people, asking them to donate, they're like, absolutely. Like, your father did this for me, you know, 10 years ago. Your father has been such a help. He he's taken photographs for free at my event, you know, he's just been a help to so many people, people were just willing to help us with this project.

And so, you know, the next one is going to be a journey of itself. We'll see how that one unfolds and how I can secure funding for that. But, you know, just, don't be afraid to ask you know, if you're going the donation route, because at the end of the day, people want to be a part of greatness and, you know, people are excited to see their names in the credits and to be a part of something.

So you know, don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it.

Jennifer: Cool. Your father sounds like an incredible man.

Chantal: Oh, absolutely. I'm like he's, he's been my hero my entire life. And You know, just talking to other people, interviewing different people. I'm not the only one that feels that way for sure.

Jennifer: Wow. Cool. So while we end every interview with our lightning round "three, two, one action." So you can answer in a word or phrase. So we'll start with three, your favorite or most influential film.

I have to say Titanic,

Chantal: sorry, lightning round. I won't give an explanation. But that has been one of my favorites forever. There's so many more at this point.

Jennifer: It's a classic.

Larkin: Two: dream person. You want to work with?

Chantal: Ava DuVernay.

Jennifer: And one: Best advice you've received?

Chantal: You just have to remain persistent. It may take a day, it may take a week. It may take a decade, but stay persistent and just continue to push for what you want.

Larkin: And action: where can people follow you on social media?

Chantal: People can follow me at @chantal.potter on Instagram. The website is: chantalpotter.com/balloonman. And then, you know, all the social for the Balloon Man film is at @balloonmanmovie.

Jennifer: Amazing. Wow. Thanks so much for chatting with us, Chantal. This was great.

Chantal: Yeah, no, absolutely. This was fun. Thank you guys so much.