Elyse Neiman Seiter is an Emmy-award winning TV producer/director and filmmaker. She has 12 years of professional experience in television production and has worked for various New York production companies and TV networks on documentary-style and competition shows including MTV, TLC, HGTV, Travel Channel, and Food Network. She was the producer and DP on a feature documentary in Guatemala, and won an Emmy Award in 2009 for her work on MTV’s documentary series, “True Life.”
In 2014, Elyse founded Little Darling Productions, a documentary storytelling boutique that offers short-form documentary-style film, video, and photography. Her clients range from private families to local small businesses to national non-profit groups. Her films are thoughtful, moving, and cinematic.
Elyse graduated from Vassar College with a double B.A. in Film and Psychology. She lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY with her husband and their two kids, who are well documented.
How did you get into documentary-style television?
Well, I discovered documentary filmmaking as an undergrad at Vassar College. After one Intro To Film class, I was hooked. After a few post-graduation years in Japan, I returned to the east coast and landed a job assisting a documentary filmmaker on a small project. That led me to an Associate Producer role on one of the first docu-reality shows, TLC’s “Perfect Proposal.” I’ve worked on documentary-style television ever since.
You’ve had the opportunity to experience many roles in the process of producing a documentary. What’s your favorite one and why?
I really do enjoy all aspects of production, from supervising a team, to sitting with an editor making the hard choices, but I probably get the most satisfaction out of being in the field as the story unfolds in front of me. I love to get to know my subjects, be immersed in their stories and lives and ask them questions that help them explore and process, while capturing their story cinematically.
You’ve worked for a lot of well-known production companies and TV networks. What’s been your favorite project to work on?
One of my favorite shows to work on was True Life, MTV’s long-running documentary series on teens. I’d spend days or weeks at a time with different teens or young adults around the country, filming them and hanging with them as they experienced something difficult or profound. In one of my favorite episodes, “True Life: I’m Deaf,” I had the extraordinary experience of filming a 16 year old deaf teenager hearing sound for the first time.
Being with people as they cope with exciting or difficult life moments is a very intimate experience for both the filmmaker and the subject, and I always felt this deep sense of privilege to be part of someone else’s significant life moment. The process of being filmed is surprisingly cathartic and empowering for many people. I’ve had the privilege of shooting many amazing individuals on the series, and I have been humbled by the stories they’ve shared, and their courage for sharing it with others. I’m still in touch with many people I’ve filmed with over the years.
What inspired you to start your own production company?
I wanted to create a sustainable work/life balance where I could do what I love while also having the flexibility to be present for my kids.
Is there a big difference in the way you approach the work that you have done with the big TV production companies vs. the work you do now with Little Darling Productions? Do you have to frame the story telling or plan the filming process in a different way?
Whether I’m working on a major TV series or a short film for a family, I approach each story the same way— with an open mind, ready to understand my subjects’ perspective and journey, and tell their story with honesty, intention, and impact. Long-form television takes months to cast, film, edit, and deliver, whereas at Little Darling, I’m working on mostly short-form films and video content, so the timelines are much more compressed. I bring the same caliber of quality to each project I take on, though, regardless of budget, client, project, or film length. I’ve set the bar high for myself, and I intend to keep it that way!
How has becoming a mom changed your perspective on your career?
I was always very driven in my career, but becoming a mom shifted my line-up of Most Important Things. When I had my daughter, I was stunned to see how quickly she changed and evolved– almost day to day in the beginning— and I wanted to be there with her in both the little moments and the milestones. That awareness of the ever-changing-ness of my child, and of my wish to be really present with my family, is the inspiration for Little Darling’s Family Heirloom Films. In these films, I weave together a story of a family, which often includes sit-down interviews with parents and kids, and documentary-style footage of everyday family time—the kind of footage we don’t typically take on our iPhones that we should, because we would so appreciate it in the future! Like your grandma’s candlesticks, these films are intended to be enjoyed now, and passed down to generations of your family later. Modern-day family heirlooms.
Owning a creative production company with a flexible work schedule, while also being a mama at home with my little ones has been an idea years in the making! Little Darling Productions was born out of this desire for balance.
Do you have any secrets to help us become a better storytellers in general?
As a filmmaker, I would say to listen without judgment; and to allow your subject to guide, though you can help them steer. It is in the pause just after someone’s answer to a question that lies the treasure, so let there be space in that moment, always.
Any tips for the amateur videographer to create great videos when we’re shooting impromptu videos of our kids on our iPhone?
Sure! Here’s a few off the bat:
• Always shoot holding the phone horizontally. That aspect ratio (16×9) is HD, which is likely same as your TV or computer. If you ever edit video clips together or want to view your clips on your TV/computer, you can see them in their entirety.
• If they’re old enough to talk, interview your kids from time to time. Have a “video check-in” every six months or so, and ask them 4-5 fun questions. Do the same thing six months later and you will be amazed at how much they’ve already changed.
• Prop up your phones and get in the video! We all have literally thousands of iPhone videos of our children, but they’re missing key context— you! When your children are older, they will savor the little video moments that feature their parents, because they are far and few between. Make them happen more often. You kids will thank you later.
Do you have any activities you like to do with your children to help them develop their creativity and story-telling abilities?
We are a family of book lovers, which I think has helped my kids develop a love of stories and storytelling. My husband and I also share a lot of personal stories from our childhoods that the kids ask to hear again and again. Both of my kids love to draw, and I like to write their exact description of their artwork, word for word, on their drawings so that we can revisit it months or years later. They (and I) are usually tickled at what they described.
Fill in the blanks
My favorite TV show is Broad City and Orange Is The New Black.
If I had the infinite time and money to do a documentary project on any subject matter under the sun, it would be about grandmas all over the world cooking their signature meals in their own kitchens—exploring the idea that food is family is love.
The most inspiring story I’ve ever told in film is a True Life episode featuring a loving young mom with two boys who was struggling to rise above her circumstances.
If I had 1 extra hour in the day, I would do yoga everyday.
If I could choose a superpower, it would be to have dinner magically cook and serve itself.