“A midwife of stories” – LPB Executive Producer Linda Midgett talks about public media storytelling and encourages independent filmmakers
It’s dusk, and old-growth bald cypress and swamp tupelo trees watch silently over a Baton Rouge bayou of public media. A sedate backwater house made of logs and built on stilts rests in the still waters, but from this primitive homestead, coils of camera cable snake out the door, and luminescent set lights emanate brilliantly through the saw-cut windows.
An infant cry bursts out and is carried across the water and out through the night.
Louisiana Public Broadcasting has just given birth to a new story, and LPB Executive Producer Linda Midgett is the midwife that helped bring it into existence.
“I know shepherd is like an old-timey word, but to me, it’s shepherding a project. It’s almost like being a midwife,” she told Fable House. “It’s not that it’s always my child, but I’m here to help bring it into the world.”
In real life, LPB content is not created in a homestead in a backwater bayou (although their studio is in Baton Rouge). Nor are the stories that serve the audience of Louisiana born with a sense of archaic roughness. The reality is that a team of dedicated individuals – a family of creators – nurtures a story, develops it, finds balanced truth, cultivates it carefully in a public media greenhouse, and then publishes it with the mission to entertain, educate, and inform the people of Louisiana.
Linda Midgett helps lead this mission.
We talked to Linda about what it is like to serve as the Executive Producer at Louisiana Public Broadcasting, and how her experience as a showrunner, director, and producer, is serving to grow the next generation of filmmakers.
Linda Midgett directing the actors for Why Louisiana Ain’t Mississippi…or Any Place Else!
On the day-to-day role of what she does as Executive Producer at LPB:
LM: “I oversee all of our original content. So as a PBS station that’s statewide, we air content that is national PBS content – national series and dramas, documentaries, that type of stuff – but then we do our own original productions and it’s usually content that is much more specific to Louisiana. So it can be documentaries, it can be a puppet series – it runs the gamut, the type of content that LPB has done.”
LPB produces original, thought-provoking series that range from the emotionally intelligent creativity of Ziggy’s Arts Adventure to the current public affairs documented through Louisiana Spotlight.
On determining what are the priorities for Louisiana-specific content, like with the Louisiana Spotlight series:
LM: “We actually have an in-house producer, Ben Johnson, who produces that series and he and I work together to come up with topics…We try to keep our finger on the pulse of current issues. Other people and our staff contribute ideas, etc. So we just sort of pull from sources around us to figure out what topic to focus on.”
Towards the end of 2022, LPB aired Why Louisiana Ain’t Mississippi…Or Any Place Else! This could be considered a “centerpiece” series of original content for the year and is a wonderful example of what Linda and the crew at LPB do so well. Here, the mission was to build an intimate and well-rounded representation of Louisiana culture based on a Powerpoint presentation by former two-time Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne:
LM: “This presentation, he for years has been going around the state giving it. His presentation is a Powerpoint presentation that has music and other things mixed in, but it’s like an ethnography of Louisiana.
It’s sort of a history of how Louisiana became this gumbo of culture that it is. So, it starts with the indigenous communities that were here and then goes through the process of the Spanish arriving and the French, and “Where did they go? Where did they move?” Then the Germans come, and how New Orleans gets formed. It’s a lot of history, but at the same time, it’s just presented in a way where it’s more through the lens of culture and the demographics. Like, how did this group of people get here? What did they add to the culture that is Louisiana culture?”
On the concept of seeing promise in a simple Powerpoint presentation and adapting it into a featured series that included interviews with Louisiana figures from Jimmy Swaggart to James Carville:
LM: “We took his outline of the presentation, we re-ordered it, and we just figured out – it was interesting, it was like having a skeleton and you’re filling it in with muscle and flesh and stuff like that, sort of filling out that skeleton that he gave us.”
Linda Midgett interviewing Jimmy Swaggart
When Linda joined LPB in March of 2021, she brought with her decades of production experience, but also her background as an independent documentary filmmaker. This included a documentary called Same God that Rolling Stone called “…a testament to the power of faith”. This story examined race and religion by studying the cultural conversation around an incident at Wheaton College in 2015. Linda spoke about how her discipline has evolved over the years in choosing the right stories that need to be told:
LM: “You realize at some point that, I think you can be – sometimes as storytellers, we’re a little too self-indulgent, where we don’t want to be disciplined and sort of in service of the story itself, if that makes sense. I would say that over the years, I choose stories based on more the combination of, yes, of course, what I find interesting – if it’s a personal project like Same God, that was a very personal story for me. But I wouldn’t have done it if I had not seen that the issues that I explored in that film were relevant to so many people. Even though I was deeply passionate about it, the motivation to get it done was that it was important, that the story needed to be told, and I knew for sure that there were certain people that would want to see this story. “
For aspiring filmmakers, on the practical aspect of choosing a story in which to invest your time:
LM: “If I really believe this story needs to be told, who’s the outlet, how do I design it in such a way that it’s gonna be picked up, and that people will actually see it?
It has to do with timeliness, with human themes that resonate. You have to have a sense of why the story matters, that you can articulate beyond your own self-interests.”
LM: “The worst thing that can happen as a filmmaker or as a producer – whatever you are – is to put all of this energy and work into a project and then no one sees it. The worst thing in the world is like, “Oh my gosh, I mortgaged my house or maxed out my credit cards to do this show and I don’t have distribution, I don’t have an audience in mind”.”
On how tough and how freeing it is as a creator to grow into learning collaborative criticism:
LM: “When you see over time that yes, this improves the story, you trust that process a lot more and you’re not quite so possessive about your idea, or your script, or your plan – whatever it is – you get better at saying, “Yeah, I’m open to rethinking that” or “Somebody’s brought in a different point of view and it’s changed the way that I’m gonna approach this”, and it’s actually beautiful – it’s kind of like a dance when you’re in that zone where it’s not about your ego or you being hung up on that, but you’re able to be in the flow of saying, “Yeah, I see how this can improve”.”
On the power of fostering a collaborative environment in a leadership role as Executive Producer:
LM: “My personal experience as a producer and director is that I like to have the best people around me that I can, and then I want them to feel empowered to do their job as well as they can and that they feel the freedom to give ideas, to make suggestions…the project almost always improves by doing that.”
On what she enjoys specifically about working at Louisiana Public Broadcasting:
LM: “It’s wonderful to be in public media where education and civic engagement and community involvement – all of those things really matter – that’s the core mission of what we do. It’s really delightful to be able to be in those spaces and not have to be apologetic about it – not have to make yourself more commercial or less earnest.”
Linda Midgett interviewing Richard Lipsey
On why LPB (and public media in general) is such an important space for documentary storytellers:
LM: “I feel like public media right now is one of the best places for documentary filmmakers to be telling their stories. The distribution outlets like Netflix – and Netflix used to pick up a lot of independent documentaries – well, now they’re doing them in-house. So, if you’re not already part of that ecosystem with them, then it’s almost impossible to get your film on Netflix, right? The economics of being an independent filmmaker, to me, have just become unsustainable. Unless you are independently wealthy, you can’t really make a living doing that. I feel like there are less options for the kind of work that I had been doing for some time, and public media is a good place for that.”
When responding to specifically what drew her to the Executive Producer role at LPB:
LM: “I’ve been a filmmaker for years, and I’ve been a producer for years, and a storyteller – part of my decision to come here was really more the opportunity to help sort of lead and train up the next generation of filmmakers. So, I have quite a few storytellers and producers and filmmakers that I brought onto our team here, and I really enjoy just being able to work with them. I think that they are all so smart and so talented – for me, it’s very invigorating to kind of share some of my hard-earned wisdom – hopefully it’s wisdom (laughing) – that I’ve gained over the years and to be able to help them along and help them tell stories better.”
On the importance of growing filmmakers finding an honest community:
LM: “One of the challenges that I see for independent filmmakers right now is it can be very isolating. It can be really a lonely process. If you’re doing a film every couple of years that comes out, and you’re not getting feedback and critique, in some ways, it’s difficult to get better. Because you don’t have somebody who’s looking at your script and being kind of brutally honest and saying “This structure’s bad, it doesn’t make any sense”, “It’s too long”, or whatever it is – you need that. You need years of getting that kind of feedback, I think, before you can really hone your craft.”
On specific issues that Linda and the team at LPB currently gravitate towards:
LM: “I would say right now that our team as a whole, I think we’re really drawn to environmental stories. And that’s because Louisiana is really on the front lines of climate change.”
LM: “You have a hurricane that hits, your homeowner’s insurance skyrockets, your flood insurance skyrockets, your energy costs have skyrocketed. This is all in tandem with the national inflation that’s happening and the global inflation that’s happening. I would say that those stories that are dealing with that right now are at the forefront of our mind because it’s so relevant and timely and it needs to be talked about.”
On what she finds most creatively fulfilling:
LM: “Even though I’ve been in this industry for years, I still feel that thrill of creating a great project. It gets me excited, and I love the process. I get geeked up about it, you know what I mean? “I love this!” – it’s just fun, it gets my adrenaline going.
One of my producers, Lily, commented after – I’m the one who did the interview with Jimmy Swaggart and I enjoyed it so much, and afterwards she looked at me, and she said, “You have that glow!” She knew – because I was so happy – I love meeting new people, I love meeting interesting people and interviewing them. It’s just a joy. I think I’ll be 80 and probably have the same reaction.”
On how people interested in supporting LPB can get involved:
LM: “We have an organization called the Friends of LPB, and that is our fundraising arm. So, people – they can donate, they can do a monthly membership, a yearly membership. They get benefits for that – they get access to Passport, which is PBS’s streaming service. So, it’s like having a – it’s cheaper than Netflix. You have access to all of the PBS content, including ours.”
When asked about what other projects she’d like to shout out:
LM: “We have a feature-length documentary called The Precipice, and The Precipice was directed by Ben Johnson, the producer of Louisiana Spotlight. What we did – we had done a Louisiana Spotlight on the Pointe-au-Chien Indian tribe, so it’s a tribal community here in Louisiana. We did a Louisiana Spotlight on them and their fight for federal recognition. They’re recognized by the state but not the federal government. We did a Spotlight on that, then we took some of that footage and used it as a basis to continue filming and to do a full-length documentary about them.
Ben started filming in 2021, and in the middle of the filming, Hurricane Ida hit and almost wiped out the community entirely. So it really turned into more of a vérité project, where we got the before footage and we got the after footage of what happened to that community.
It’s a really important story because the Pointe-au-Chien, they are French-language speaking and there’s only about 800 people in the community, and their whole culture – it literally is on the precipice. They are hanging onto the edge and they are the frontline of climate change because it’s climate change that threatens to literally just wash them away.
The fight for federal recognition – if they had federal recognition, they would have the resources to bolster their community so that they aren’t washed away.”
On LPB’s role as a supporter of independent Louisiana filmmakers:
LM: “Part of our commitment here is being connected with and embracing the independent film community in Louisiana. That’s part of my job duties, is building relationships with independent filmmakers, and finding ways to help them. It amplifies their content, it gives us resources to more content than we would have otherwise, so it’s really important to us.”
A shepherd of storytelling for the people of Louisiana
That bayou homestead – it exists not as a real place with coiled camera cable and the buzz of cicadas against harsh studio lighting. It is a representation of what Linda and LPB do as a media home for the state of Louisiana:
They are a home for entertainment, for knowledge, for culture.
Linda is there to help bring these stories to life, and show that there is a place for the voices of the next generation of storytellers.
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Fable House is a video production company based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana that specializes in production for film, video, commercials, and TV. Our team are experts in physical production, post-production, and VFX. We produce content for major brands, TV networks like Syfy and Lifetime, and provide production services to Louisiana’s never-say-die indie filmmakers.