EXECUTIVE PRODUCER | REVEAL
What does Reveal do?
Reveal is part of The Center for Investigative Reporting, one of the oldest non-profit investigative newsrooms in the country. We produce a weekly radio show “Reveal,” stories for our website revealnews.org, and a range of videos, from short news pieces to documentaries. We’ve collaborated with a bunch of other outlets, most recently Frontline, MSNBC, PBS NewsHour, The New York Times and Telemundo, to produce stories.
What do you do as Executive Producer and Director of the Video Department at Reveal?
I head up the video department at Reveal. I supervise a small team of producers and also produce pieces myself. We work with Reveal’s in-house story engine- our team of 20 or so reporters- to make their investigations visual and character-driven.
What is a typical day like?
Part of what I love about Reveal is that there is really no typical day here.
When we have several projects going on I jump between edit rooms to screen cuts and supervise how stories are going. Colleagues tease me about speed-walking at a breakneck pace up and down the corridors of the office but it’s a large space and it always feels like there’s a lot going on and not enough hours in the day to meander.
I also still go out in the field and produce pieces myself, so right now I’m ensconced in the edit room finishing up a story for the Retro Report. I’m also putting together several treatments for various documentary series we’d like to get off the ground next.
What is your favorite thing about working for an organization like Reveal?
I love that the organization is all about the storytelling, and that producers and reporters are really allowed to dig into a story over an extended period of time, which seems like a rarity these days. The metric for success is the impact our stories have rather than the number of clicks or views (though those are obviously nice, too.)
The stories we do run the gamut- over the last year we produced pieces on the Bakken oil fields, America’s unidentified dead, government surveillance, and an investigative story on cats (that last one was a personal first.)
It’s never boring. Reveal is always looking to innovate and experiment with new ways of storytelling. In addition to more traditional news packages and documentaries, we’ve produced graphic novels and stop motion animations and worked with young spoken word poets who have brought some of our investigations to life in very interesting and unexpected ways. Reveal is also exploring the intersection of journalism and theater- we have an incredibly talented director/playwright on staff who develops plays based on our investigations. So, we’re venturing into areas that I never dreamed of when I graduated from journalism school.
If you’re interested, this is a link to an excerpt of a play produced last fall by StoryWorks, about the deadly consequences of oil drilling in North Dakota:
You graduated from Princeton University with a bachelor's degree in anthropology. Would you recommend that future filmmakers study anthropology at the undergraduate level?
Ah, anthropology was sort of a happy accident for me. Honestly, I couldn’t decide on a major and the anthropology department allowed you to incorporate almost any subject into your studies. That said, ethnography has a lot in common with reporting, so it all worked out in the end.
I don’t think you have to major in any particular subject to be a good journalist- just follow your passions and what interests you. It seems that’s how you stumble across your best stories, anyway.
You’ve spent 17 years reporting and producing documentaries for PBS, ABC, National Geographic, among others. What do you like most about making documentaries?
I love the excuse of reaching out to people I never would have met otherwise, and spending time talking to them and delving into different worlds.
What inspired you to venture into fiction filmmaking to produce the short film “On the Assassination of the President?"
My husband Adam Keker is a filmmaker who works mostly on the fiction side of things, though we’ve collaborated on several documentary projects together in the past. I dragged him to Cambodia for a story on the genocidal perpetrators and to China for a piece on the underground arts scene, so “Assassination” was the chance for me to get to work on one of his projects. “Assassination” takes the form of a secret CIA tape to be viewed only in the event of the president’s death by assassination. But ultimately, it’s a satiric look at conspiracy theories. It was a lot of fun to be involved in a totally different kind of filmmaking.
What would you recommend to a young woman who would like to pursue a similar career?
Internships are a great way to get your foot in the door, if you can swing it. I was lucky to get a wonderful fellowship a little ways into my career that helped me make a big step into producing an international piece I had had my eye on for awhile. It’s now called the IRP International Journalism Fellowship, though that’s more for mid-career journalists. These days, technology also allows you to dive in yourself and make documentaries on extremely tight budgets with small digital cameras and a laptop.
Aside from that, it’s always helpful to read and watch everything you can get your hands on so you’re familiar with what’s out there and what types of stories you’d like to tell.
What was your first job, and what did you learn at that job that is still useful today?
My first job out of J-School was for an early incarnation of New York Times Television. We worked with some of the first small pro-sumer digital cameras that came out, often shooting solo as a one-man band. I loved working independently and using this small digital camera almost as a notebook. I worked as a one-man band shooter for several years, which forced me to learn how to do everything- operate the camera, collect sound, interview, etc- and really become self-reliant.
What has been your biggest challenge in your career and how did you tackle it?
My biggest challenge is that same age-old issue of navigating how to juggle kids and work. I have three kids aged 11, 9 and 3 and my office is across the bay in a different town. I don’t actually know that I have tackled this- I feel like we’re still trying to figure this out every day. I’ve had the luxury of a partner who is incredibly supportive and has been able to cover for me at great expense to his own work schedule but that’s not always possible for everyone.
What achievements are you most proud of?
Honestly, I’m just incredibly thankful that I’ve been able to be a working journalist for two decades and make a living doing what I love. I go to work totally charged up for what the day will bring, and who can ask for more than that?
Amanda Pike | Executive Producer | Reveal
20 years' experience
CV in brief
Exclusive interview by Aisha Babalakin, February 2016