June 5, 2023
Alumni Spotlight: LaTerrian “LT” Officer-McIntosh '20
By Olivia Kuhn
LaTerrian “LT” Officer-McIntosh is the Director and Founder of Outlast Arts and Education, a teacher, and a filmmaker. She began her career in Hollywood in the camera department for Spiderman: Homecoming and continued working in the camera department on projects including Black Panther, Transformers: Bumblebee, and True Detective Season 3. She also served as the Director of Photography for LogoTV’s Emmy-nominated documentary Light in the Water. She currently spends her time developing Outlast, a non-profit organization that aims to increase equity, diversity, and inclusion in film by equipping Native youth from South Dakota with contemporary media skills. She seeks to support Native youth in reclaiming their narratives, pursuing self-determination, and economic freedom.
When did you start making your films? What kinds of stories personally interested you and inspired you?
My interest in filmmaking happened entirely by accident. I ended up transferring high schools during my junior year and enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program. When picking my classes, I could choose between taking chemistry or film studies. There was absolutely no way that I was going to take IB chemistry, so I chose film. I had no particular interest in cinema outside of watching movies with my family or going to the movies at the mall with my friends. I remember my first day in Mr. Aaronson’s film class - I walked in, dropped my bag on the floor and just kind of put my head down waiting for a movie to start. He was perplexed and asked what I thought I was doing and why I didn’t have my materials ready to take notes. Take notes? About a movie? It didn’t make sense, but I pulled out the notebook. After the film, Mr. A led us in a discussion about the film and I immediately began to understand cinema as art. I was captivated - I was so excited. I’d always done well in school but this was the first time I was excited about learning. By the end of my senior year, my class had to talk me out of signing up to donate bone marrow to finance my student films after I read Rebel Without a Crew, which was about all the crazy things Robert Rodriguez did to finance El Mariachi. I wanted to be Rodriguez so bad at the time. I was obsessed with zombie, werewolf, and action films. I liked campy stuff, anything with ridiculous action, especially with women in lead roles.
When you were a production student at SCA, were there any experiences, classes, or professors that stuck out to you? How did these prepare you to be an educator?
A few experiences stuck out to me. Being one of the few black women in undergrad pursuing production back in 2013 was difficult, and I started to question if there was a place for me in this industry. I had a more difficult time finding community and experienced a lot of culture shock. That was when I became aware that Hollywood didn’t have a whole lot of diversity. One of the key moments that helped me persevere was taking Dr. Boyd’s - the Notorious Ph.D. - Blaxploitation Cinema class. I hadn’t seen Black contributions to cinema celebrated like that in any other course except for his. Every time I left Dr. Boyd’s class, I had an overwhelming sense of pride. Black filmmakers were so often ignored and excluded, but still, they carved out a way to create incredible films with little money and few resources. Learning about those contributions and their resiliency and dedication to their craft impacted everything I’ve done since, including starting a film camp for Native youth.
I started Outlast in 2015 as I was becoming more aware of how Hollywood exploited the stories of people of color, especially Native stories, which were most often not told by Native peoples. I wanted to combat this big problem with the industry. So with almost no money and almost no resources, with the help of a few other SCA students, Nix Guirre, Emily Grandcolas, and Kaitlyn Wayman-Dodd, I started a film camp serving youth from Pine Ridge Reservation. We wanted to teach Native youth filmmaking skills so that they could tell their own stories. It’s grown a lot since then, but it was that energy that got us started.
How does creating films and other forms of media empower individuals, in your experience? Have you observed this in your students?
I remember when I applied to USC, somewhere in my entrance essay, I wrote that I wanted to use cinema to change the world. Obviously, it takes a whole lot more than cinema to change the world, but in the back of my mind, I wanted cinema to be a part of something good I could tangibly contribute to society. I didn’t have a vision for that until I began to understand how powerful media was by the way it influences how we understand ourselves and others, and the role it plays in perpetuating harmful stereotypes that prevent us from understanding each other's full humanity.
While there were a lot of negative and stereotypical movies featuring Black people, there were also so many films that were made by Black creatives that were interesting and nuanced. I could find books and classes about Black cinema. I could see it, so I could be it. There were a lot of shoulders of giants, so they say, that I could stand on.
That wasn’t the case with Native cinema, and as I begin to seek out more films by filmmakers from marginalized groups, there was a noticeable absence of films by Native peoples. That meant that there were so many young people who couldn’t see themselves when they turned on the television. So I wanted Outlast to help them become some of those early leaders in film and media and support them in breaking down barriers to entry to this beautiful art form.
As an educator, how do you approach the teaching process? What do you hope to instill within your students?
I start every experience with joy. Filmmaking is fun - or at least it should be! It’s challenging, but if there’s real community, real joy, and real trust, it can truly be one of the most exciting things you can do. Rooting it in joy makes overcoming challenging moments possible. I push students to try things that scare them, move beyond their comfort zones, and keep going during frustrating or difficult moments in the process because they can.
Like my own mentors, I remind them that they can do hard things and that there are so many people behind them committed to creating pathways for them, whether that’s going to college or entering the industry. Outlast is creating space for them because they deserve to be there, especially the kids I get to work with. Native people and communities have been so mistreated in general, but also exploited by the industry. Outlast is creating space for them because they deserve to be there - especially the kids I get to work with - Native people and communities have been so mistreated in general, but also exploited by the industry. The kids I work with are owed, their stories and their voices matter, and it brings me joy to see them go from not even thinking about filmmaking as an option to enrolling in film school or starting in entry-level positions in film and media.
What inspired you to structure Outlast as a film camp?
I’m really good with kids, and I also became aware of the lack of accessible summer programming available to Native youth from Pine Ridge Reservation. I figured if we wanted to see more Native filmmakers, we would have to support more Native youth in realizing and pursuing those dreams.
Pine Ridge is a rural area, and most film arts programming is concentrated in cities and costs money to attend. I wanted to bring free, high-quality film programming right to the kids whose communities were being exploited.
I started Outlast while attending USC. I had summers off, and could just barely afford to take a week off work without financial ruin, so for the past several summers, we’ve gone to Pine Ridge to run a one-week, all-ages camp. Outlast was and currently still is all volunteer run, so we don’t have the money to do anything longer than summer programming, yet. But, in the spirit of perseverance and resiliency, we do the best we can with what we’ve got. That’s what we hope our students do - continue to pursue these goals with whatever they’ve got because we’ve taught them the mechanics of filmmaking.
It’s difficult to get people to invest in a film camp for Native youth from Pine Ridge, even though lots of outsiders will come to the reservation to make films that are thematically rooted in hardship and poverty. Poverty sells, unfortunately. Our program and the stories our students tell negate that. There are so many more things that are interesting about Pine Ridge than poverty. The kids we serve are ready to tell new stories. Eventually, the right people will see what we’re doing and we’ll be able to expand. Until then, we show up every summer and will continue to do so to the best of our ability.
How is the core project(s) of each summer program determined?
A lot of students return each year, it’s almost like we’ve built a family. We get to watch the students grow up. Because so many come back, and we typically only have a week at a time with them, we try to keep each program fun and exciting. So if we do narrative filmmaking one summer, the next we may do a documentary. There’s no formula. Sometimes we pick the projects based on any potential visitors. In 2019, Mato Wayuhi, also a USC alum and a musician, had just released a song called “Cuddlefish”. At this point, he’d been heavily involved with Outlast as a mentor, but I asked if he’d be interested in letting the students make the music video for his song. He agreed, so that year we focused on music video production.
The upcoming summer program is in collaboration with MTV/Paramount. Could you tell us a little about how this came to be?
Lauren Begay, one of our volunteer staff members, was working on MTV’s Social Impact team and mentioned her work with Outlast. She pitched our organization and a potential collaboration with MTV to have Outlast students make their upcoming Native Peoples Heritage Month campaign. They loved the idea of passing the mic to Native youth and giving them a wide platform to literally tell their own story. We spent several months in meetings to work out the logistics.
Essentially, Outlast is simultaneously developing a youth program and producing a commercial, which is fairly complicated, especially because this is also the first year where programming is longer than a week. We’re taking two weeks to do an accelerated master class in professional filmmaking with the youth before MTV joins us in Pine Ridge for the commercial shoot. This would total three weeks of Summer programming.
The MTV collaboration pushed us to evolve our program very quickly because we are preparing students to make a short film that’s going to air across several networks, as well as social media.
It’s really exciting and I don’t know that something like this has been done before. We are immensely grateful to the MTV team for believing in our kids and giving them a real opportunity to tell a story that is meaningful to them. It’s not performative, they’re literally letting the students take the lead in so many important ways.
How is Outlast continuing to evolve its programs?
We are currently raising funds to develop after-school Fall programming, as well as partnerships with media companies, rental houses, and production houses to provide our older students with paid internships. Ultimately, our goal is to develop our infrastructure to allow us to support students from the very beginning of their interest in film and media to professional experiences, including meaningful access to entry-level jobs, or support in applying to film school.
We also are continuing to build partnerships across communities and organizations. Outlast is both community and solidarity work. We receive so much support from other organizations, especially Native-led organizations from Pine Ridge, in addition to receiving support from people from every background you can imagine. It really is a testament to what can be accomplished when people put their resources together in pursuit of common goals. We are looking forward to strengthening and developing this community of people and organizations committed to uplifting Native youth so that we can work together to accomplish more.
Where do you see Outlast in ten years? Are there any long-term goals you are hoping to reach?
In ten years, I would like for us to have our full workshop series, which would include beginning, intermediate, and advanced workshops, in addition to digital programming, fully operational in multiple communities. We would like to expand to work with youth from Rosebud Reservation, as well as with youth from Sioux Falls. There are so many youths spread across South Dakota alone with a wide range of cultural backgrounds whose stories are interesting and unique. You’re not going to get these stories unless you give those who lived them and know them the tools and platforms to tell them.
I’m most excited to see what the youth are going to be up to in 10 years. They’re so talented, I know they’re going to have incredible careers and continue to shatter expectations of contemporary Native cinema. They’re also incredibly kind and empathetic, so I’m excited to see the students in our program now come back to mentor the generation of filmmakers who will come behind them.
What have been the most fulfilling parts of being both an educator and filmmaker?
I realized about four years into my filmmaking career, which I was pursuing while also trying to grow and develop Outlast, that I enjoy supporting young people’s filmmaking journeys more than I enjoy working on set. I love cinema and filmmaking, but our industry has a lot of room to grow, especially as it pertains to the care offered to workers, the lack of diversity, and how the stories of certain communities are handled. There are a lot of programs available in Los Angeles, New York, or Atlanta that are geared towards solving some of these issues, especially diversity, and that’s awesome, but there are a lot of youth who just don’t have access, but who deserve to be apart of the conversation, especially because the media has consumed and exploited Native stories for decades, propagating narratives that are often harmful and untrue.
Watching their confidence grow, and their interest in filmmaking blossom is so exciting. Young people are so brilliant and if we listen, they have some very captivating stories to tell and have very natural intuitions on how to best support and care for one another. They also have very strong voices and visions for what the world could be, and what the industry could be. They’re not bogged down by the weight of the world yet. Their optimism, even in the face of hardship is tangible and contagious. They aren’t concerned with “how things are always done” because they don’t know yet. They create and work together in very authentic ways.
I get a front-row seat to it all and every time we run a workshop, my faith that we can improve the industry and our society is restored. As adults and industry professionals, it’s our responsibility to support them in hanging on to that optimism and give them a safe foundation to develop.
What advice would you offer to current film students and recent graduates?
I always pass on the advice that was given to me at the very start of my career.
“It’s a game of not quitting.” It’s not always about who’s the most talented or the most well-connected. Commit to not giving up and see where the journey takes you. It may not look like how you imagined. If you asked me at the start of this if I would end up in youth development, I would have said absolutely not. But I allowed myself the flexibility to allow my dream to grow, and I recommit every time I feel like throwing in the towel.
To learn more about Outlast, you can visit their website.