The Best Decision I Ever Made
By Lacy Wittman
It was 2013, I was three years into my first and only full-time Producing position in New York City. I had previously navigated a successful freelance career in Los Angeles’ competitive film industry, successfully transitioned to NYC and now found myself contemplating something many people in good jobs do - I’m miserable, but I have a job people would kill for. Could I really quit? What would my boss/friend/mentor think? What would they do without me? (Admittedly, a completely selfish and egotistical thought.)
However, something else was also happening in 2013, news of the devastating decline in elephant population numbers in Africa were coming to light. It was being reported that due to an increase in poaching, elephants were in serious danger of going extinct in the wild in our lifetime!
Since I was six, I’ve loved elephants. Nearly every stuffed animals and school project growing up involved a pachyderm. When people ask me why elephants, I could never explain it. Simply put, they are my spirit animal. As I sat day-in and day-out at a desk I began to loathe, it was watching elephant videos on YouTube and reading articles about what conservation efforts were being done in Africa that provided my mental escape - daydreaming of filming in the hot African sun as elephants roam the savannahs. It was the ultimate romantic ideal of an enviable career films are made of.
And last year, it happened.
To make a long story short, I finally left my full-time position, went back to freelancing, hustled to build a network producing digital content and commercials and most importantly began attending environmental and wildlife conservation events in New York. I began surrounding myself with the people doing the work, running the non-profits and spending time in Africa. I had found the role models, the passionate elephant women (and men) and I was unabashedly brave about asking how I could help and get involved.
The frustrating truth is, besides donating money and posting elephant conservation headlines on Facebook, the most impact you can make is to go.
Actions do indeed speak volumes, so in 2015 I bought a ticket to South Africa. It was a 10-day trip with the goal of filling it with elephants as many days as possible. I’ll never forget seeing my first wild African Elephant. I was so excited I literally could not see it. These animals are like giant houses and I was blinded with excitement. Luckily, a shaky account of it was documented where all you can hear is a childlike voice seeing her superhero. It was the best and as they say the Africa bug had bit.
The following year I built off of the first trip to Africa and decided to go and learn about the captive elephant population in Asia, spending in total 3 months finding elephants to photograph and film and to better understand the complexities of the situation there.
Then last year, I was craving to return to Africa and decided to go all in. I gave up my Upper West Side apartment, put my belongings in storage and bought a one-way ticket to Kenya.
It was the best decision I ever made.
Over the course of 3 months, I went on countless game drives, saw hundreds of elephants, met the most amazing people and put my camera to the test. The last month I was there I had been connected with the organization Save The Elephants, a world-renowned organization that has been studying elephants for over 20 years. They had reached out letting me know there was a position open to be their filmmaker in resident and were offering the position to me!
This was the same organization back in 2013 that I spent hours reading about, watching documentaries of and even sent a cold email saying, I’m a filmmaker and want to help. And here I was just four years later, getting to spend every day in the hot African sun, filming elephants to support their research and conservation efforts. I had dreamt it, and now was living it, validating every cliché of if you work hard enough, dreams come true.
Lacy Wittman is a filmmaker by trade, studying at Montana State University and having worked on films, television and commercial productions in both Los Angeles and New York City for over a decade. Her lifelong passion for elephants has directed her focus towards conservation initiatives in Africa and Asia. She’s followed the elephants in Thailand, Laos, Sri Lanka, Bali, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe Botswana and South Africa - all in efforts to share the stories of the people on the ground, working tirelessly to help save the world’s elephants.
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