If you saw Grace Eggleston volunteering at the 2023 Jackson Wild Summit operating a live streaming camera in Explorers Hall, you saw her in her element. An experienced cinematographer, director, and editor, Grace was drawn to filmmaking by way of a desire to be a part of the magic that happens behind the camera.
“My excitement for filmmaking stemmed both from a love of watching movies and TV, but more also wanting to know the behind-the-scenes of how a production pulled off certain scenes. Even as a kid, I usually felt most connected to the documentary-style photo/film exhibits at museums. This is some of the film work that inspires me the most–even when the message is over my head. I’ve always loved a mix of fine art and the environment."
Now based in Washington, D.C. but originally hailing from Michigan, Grace has a passion for water conservation issues, both in the Great Lakes Basin near her home and beyond. She loves telling stories that explore the ties between people and their environment. Her directorial debut, Timber Rattlesnakes of Catoctin Mountain Park, follows rattlesnake expert William H. Martin as he searches for timber rattlesnakes in Catoctin Mountain Park, showcasing their beauty and importance to a healthy and balanced ecosystem.
“The film is the first part of a short series I’m creating for the National Park Service. We hiked around boulder fields in the Appalachian Mountains with a rattlesnake expert to find their dens, visiting the same spots across multiple seasons to see a wider range of the population,” Grace shared. “One of my favorite finds was a rattlesnake who was pregnant with her first litter, and some babies spotted nearby later that fall. It was inspiring to see them up close for the first time–they were calm and beautiful–and to learn from such an experienced guide who knew the ecosystem so well.”
As she explores different roles in filmmaking, there’s no one niche she’s settled into just yet. Grace earned her MFA in Environmental and Wildlife Filmmaking at American University in 2021, and as she gains experience both behind the camera and in the editor’s chair, her hope is for a diverse career.
“I would love to direct more films of my own and am developing a few ideas for documentary shorts right now. I guess it comes back to working with people–I think it’s exciting, as a director, to get to pull teams together where everyone can knock their part of the film out of the park,” Grace expressed. “I’m currently freelancing mostly as a cinematographer or editor, depending on the project. I really enjoy both cinematography and editing because they challenge both the techy and artsy sides of my brain. They also inform each other really well; editing has helped me understand how to shoot better, and vice versa.”
Her most recent project took her to Dry Tortugas National Park, working as director of photography for Islands of Discovery: Dry Tortugas National Park–another work in partnership with the National Park Service. The project was a collaboration with fellow Jackson Wild Collective member Hyatt Mamoun, who served as director and presenter for the film.
“This is one of the most beautiful and unique places I’ve ever been. It was an exciting and fast paced shoot, sleeping in the walls of the old Spanish fort one night and filming baby sea turtles the next.”
Her advice to her younger self, and to all aspiring filmmakers, suggests a healthy balance of inspiration and self-confidence: “Trust your gut and don’t be afraid to follow your interests as they evolve! Everyone has a different mix of interests and strengths, and–most importantly–is at a different spot in their own life. So be inspired by people, but try to gently course correct when you find yourself playing the comparison game. Your career or life won’t be the same no matter how hard you try, and that’s awesome! So work hard, cheer others on, and stay true to your weird self!”
“I’ve taken advantage of the mentorship program, online workshops, and have also volunteered at the summit in Jackson Hole. It’s been a great way to meet new people in the industry and connect not only with mentors, but with other people who are at about the same stage in their filmmaking career as me,” Grace shared about her involvement with the Jackson Wild Collective. “It's been unbelievably valuable and a lot of fun to keep up with all the awesome people I’ve met through Jackson Wild!”
You’ll definitely want Grace behind the camera for your project, but you also may want her around when you’re out in the backcountry–she recently obtained her Wilderness First Responder certification!
“I was blown away by how much I learned. Taking a medical class was totally different for me, so it was a bit intimidating at first. But it was hands-on, very applicable to real life, and a lot of fun. I’m sure a lot of people reading this already know about or have this certification, but I thought I’d mention it in case it spurs even just one more person to take the plunge. I highly recommend it as a first-aid baseline for anyone who spends a lot of time outside and in the field in those crazy beautiful places we love so much!”