film & video producer

CLARA TOMAZ

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I am a Film and Video Producer who takes care of all aspects: from concept and directing, to shooting and editing. In the last 4 years I have produced over 100 movies, 2 of which are feature films, and 1 short documentary funded by a 2016 Upside Down Grant with One Revolution Foundation.

I start each new project with refreshed enthusiasm as if it was my first one! I begin with listening very carefully to my clients, paying special attention to the message and the mood they are looking to convey though their movie. My mission and talent lie in transforming my clients' wishes and needs into a cinematic experience that belongs to them in content, style and creativity.

I make an excellent team player and also work independently very well; I am hard working, self-motivated, and ambitious. I can find the best in everyone and make it shine through my movies!

MY GREAT TEAM OF ASSOCIATES:

In my background I have 8 years experience as a high school teacher (1996-2004), a MFA in integrated electronic media (2009-2011), the production of 20 mini-documentaries as founder and creative director of Media 4 Community, NFP and multimedia producer of Chicago 4 Community webzine (2012-2014), and about 80 movies of various length as a Film and Video Producer with Make Your Movie, inc. (2012-present). Among my customers are: The American Cancer Society, The Lake Forest Historical Society, The Friends of the Wilmette Public Library, The Good Food Festival and Conference, the Empire State College, the Park District. From 2011 on I have presented my video work at the Cell Theatre in New York; the EMPAC Theatre in Troy, NY; Sonorities Festival in Belfast, Ireland. In 2016 I was awarded a national grant by OneRevolution Foundation, for the production of a short documentary that 'turns the perception of disability upside down'; this short documentary is now being submitted to 9 film festivals around the world.

See what's in the press about Clara Tomaz: Daily North Shore Magazine, The Wilmette Beacon (2016), Make It Better Magazine, The Wilmette Beacon (2014)

Clara Tomaz created a business out of telling stories after cancer made it hard for her to tell her own.

Born and raised in Italy, Tomaz worked for many years as a high school teacher in Milan until she moved to the United States with her husband and two very young children in 2004, first to upstate New York and then to Wilmette seven years later. All was going well in their adopted country until 2007,  when Tomaz was diagnosed with tongue cancer. Extensive treatments that included invasive surgery left her with a severe speech impediment, causing her to reassess the direction of her life.

“I had a dream in my drawer about working as an artist,” Tomaz said.

While still undergoing reconstructive surgeries, she turned that dream into a reality. Two years after her diagnosis, she enrolled in Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, and earned her Masters of Electronic Arts. Then, after moving with her family to Wilmette, Tomaz established a non-profit business called Media 4 Community, which has produced 20 pro bono documentaries for non-profit organizations in the Chicago area. More recently, she started Make Your Movie, a service that organizes family photographs and film and weaves them into a personalized video.

A self described “personal historian,” Tomaz goes to client’s homes and sorts through old pictures and film stored away in the attic or basement, in addition to downloading digital photographs and movies stored on a computer. After sifting through everything, Tomaz transfers old photos and film to digital, and also creates unique videos based on a client’s request.

“It’s a very personal service,” Tomaz explained. She described the Make Your Movie business as one “for families who love their history and want to share it with generations.”

For example, for one Wilmette family of four, each year Tomaz creates a unique movie documenting their lives from their own photos and videos. Wedding anniversaries are also popular requests, as are milestone birthdays.

Some projects span generations. Currently, Tomaz is helping a client collect all of her family’s photographs stored away in the attic and basement of her house in Skokie. So far, Tomaz has collected 3,200 old photos which she is transferring to digital with plans to make a video. Tomaz recalled her client saying “she could sleep well at night knowing that the photos are well taken care of.”

The compassion that Tomaz brings to her business, stems from her own unique history with cancer.

“My cancer made my life more challenging due to the speech impediment. [But] it has improved my life because I was pushed to use my talents in a new way. I never envisioned that I would be able to love my career in this way. I wouldn’t change anything. Cancer has actually made my life better,” Tomaz explained.

“Making movies is my talent and I wanted to make movies for the under represented,” she said about her videos for non-profit organizations. “I was looking for a way to make movies and to make some people’s lives better.”

And that may be the best way to describe Tomaz’s true talent: her ability to tell other people’s stories while improving their lives. Through both her not-for-profit Media 4 Community and Make Your Movie, Tomaz makes the visual medium more accessible to ordinary people.

“When you want to tell a story, sometimes words are not enough. Sometimes visuals are not enough. Sometimes sounds are not enough. But when you put them all together, you have a story told in a movie.”

In 2007, Wilmette’s Clara Tomaz was enjoying life as a mother of two toddler-aged sons when she received a shocking diagnosis of tongue cancer. Her world was turned upside down. She soon underwent full removal of her tongue, rounds of chemotherapy and a series of reconstructive surgeries.

She was left with limited ability to speak and said she hardly recognized the image staring back at her in the mirror. Most would say Tomaz had every right to crawl under her covers and wish away her darkest days. Tomaz, however, did just the opposite. Grateful to be a survivor, she listened to the words of wisdom bestowed upon her by her mother, “There is nothing you can’t do, and there is always a solution to every problem.”  

Prior to her diagnosis, Tomaz worked as an English as a second language instructor in New York. She loved her work, but knew with her speech impairment, she would need to find a new path. So, she enrolled in an MFA program focusing on movie-making, video and imagery. The very first day of class she was asked to stand in front of her peers and introduce herself. Tomaz said she was reduced to tears because she could barely announce her name, but she persevered, putting her fears aside and completed her degree with pride.

“I decided I wanted people to see me as a confident, happy person. If I acted scared, or embarrassed, then that’s what others would see too,” Tomaz said. “ I wanted to be someone who could overcome their disability and inspire others to do so too.”

And that’s exactly what she did. After finishing her degree and relocating to Wilmette, Tomaz founded the non-profit, Media 4 Community. She used film to help others tell their stories about important family events. 

With Media 4 Community thriving, Tomaz then founded local film company Make Your Movie, Inc., taking on new projects such as a recent Holocaust survivors documentary. She enlisted the marketing help of her friend and fellow Wilmette resident Heather Hehman, who said these types of projects are a perfect fit for Tomaz because, “ “[Clara] understands the depth of emotions that come with such stories.” Hehman adds that [Clara] “doesn’t see problems, just opportunities.”

Soon, Tomaz’s work caught the interest of One Revolution Foundation, a non-profit organization promoting the belief that, “It’s not what happens to you. It’s what you do with what happens to you.”

They recently awarded Tomaz with a $5,000 “Upside Down” film grant. Bonita Hutchison, executive director, said that Tomaz turned the perception for a disability “upside down” by reinventing herself after her battle with cancer.  

“Once we spoke with Clara on the phone there was no question she needed to be a recipient of our ‘Upside Down Grant’,” Hutchison said. “Her story exemplifies the human spirit. Clara’s story illustrates the fact that anyone with the right attitude, regardless of ability, can overcome his or her challenges, start new, and live fully. And those are the stories One Revolution wants to share with the world.”

Tomaz is currently using the grant to create a film that takes a creative approach about her emotional journey to accepting her disability in a “metaphorical” way. Her film will then be shown at film festivals internationally.

She said her goals for the film are twofold. First, she hopes to inspire people with a disability to accept themselves and move on with their lives. Second she hopes to teach those without a disability how to interact with those who do, and to understand that their disability is only one part of the story. 

Tomaz also tells others to “get over” the obsession with perfection.

“I hate the idea of being perfect,” she said “When you have disability, it is obvious that you aren’t perfect, but guess what? People who like the real me will like me anyway- disability or not.”

As Tomaz reflected on how far she has come since her diagnosis 9 years ago, she said she is genuinely happy and wouldn’t change the course of her life if she could. 

“My disability is a part of my identity now. It has affected me so much, and has  made such a positive impact on my life and the lives of others as well. I’m happy and I want the world to see it.” 

A woman in a green T-shirt stands behind the camera, focusing the lens on a group of inner-city kids doing face-painting.

Members of a board of directors, staff and her equipment—camera bag, tripod, microphones and a lighting kit—surround her.

“Action!” she calls, and begins filming.

This one-woman force of nature is single-handedly changing the way that Chicago-area nonprofits market themselves to potential donors, clients and employees. Clara Tomaz of Wilmette, Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Media 4 Community, offers her services free of charge to qualifying nonprofit organizations to enable them to showcase their stories—who they are, why they exist and the services they offer.

“In an aspirational way, the mini-documentaries are tools to promote social awareness, empathy and integration,” says Tomaz, a cancer survivor who holds an MFA in Electronic Arts from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “In a practical way, nonprofits, which usually have low budgets for marketing, have access to a video that might otherwise cost them tens of thousands of dollars to produce.”

Tomaz first created Media 4 Community in the fall of 2012 as a project, then in April 2013 incorporated as a nonprofit, complete with a board of directors. Since its inception, Media 4 Community has produced 18 videos for area nonprofits, which use them on their websites, in presentations and can even sell them for fundraising. The mini-documentaries of less then five minutes are shot, edited and produced by Tomaz for free. 

Grandma’s Soup, a nonprofit organization that provides meals to families in Evanston, Wilmette and Skokie who are affected by life-threatening illness, benefitted from one of Media 4 Community’s mini-documentaries. CEO Kaquana King had nothing but praise for the experience.

“Media 4 Community is a great organization that has really brought Grandma’s Soup front-of-the-line exposure,” King says. “It’s people like Clara and organizations like Media 4 Community that make what Grandma’s Soup does all the more rewarding.” 

David Victorson, Executive Director of True North Treks, an Evanston-based nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting young-adult cancer survivors by connecting them with nature, says, “As a starting nonprofit, it’s very important to have a visual story to show your audience what it is you do and what you hope to accomplish, and Media 4 Community is that.”

Tomaz is taking her work a step further by running “make your own movie” classes for clients of some of the nonprofits she serves. Recently, she helped people with cerebral palsy create a video about what it’s like to live with that condition.  

“It’s liberating,” Tomaz says. “I am an artist, and I have an experience with a life-threatening disease, and I know how liberating it can be to create an emotional connection with an audience. Through video, we can reach people in a way we couldn’t by just talking.”