Videographer Nel Shelby and Her Team Capture Pillow Magic Year-Round
Nel Shelby first came to Jacob’s Pillow as an intern in 2001. Since then, she founded Nel Shelby Productions and has joined the Pillow’s seasonal staff as Director of Media, leading a team responsible for visually capturing events happening during the summer Festival season. During the past two years, Nel Shelby Productions has also produced the short documentary film series Inside the Pillow Lab during the fall, winter, and spring. In June 2021, Nel was named one of Dance Magazine’s “30 over 30.”
We caught up with Nel near the close of the 2021 Festival to ask her about her work, what she has learned about creating and supporting a media team, and what she is excited about looking ahead. This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Q: What were your team’s responsibilities this summer, and what were your overarching goals?
Nel: As the Director of Media, I am responsible for producing beautiful images and video of the Festival with my team. We are capturing shows, talks, The School, and special events. This summer, more than ever, we were responsible for making trailers for each show on the outdoor Henry J. Leir Stage and creating a digital version of the full-length shows to go live online every Thursday. We also worked closely with the Pillow’s marketing team to create short promos and various videos to tell the Pillow story.
This summer I managed a team of six people, including a few contractors. This included the photographer (my husband Christopher Duggan), Assistant Photographer Jamie Kraus, Video Director Mason Chapello, Assistant Video Director Sonia Bartolomeo, and two video interns: Taylor Hutchison and Sydney Samson. We also worked very closely with the Archives to archive everything we filmed.
“I saw a letter from Martha Graham to Ted Shawn. It began ‘Dear Teddy…’ and from that moment I was hooked.”
Q: What were your assumptions and strategies at the top of this summer compared to 2020, when we presented an online-only festival?
Nel: We created a giant Google spreadsheet called ‘scope of work.’ This kept everything organized and lovely and clear and defined, so we knew what we needed to capture, what we were making, what we were archiving. We also created systems that laid out how we would accomplish everything. This included a deep level of Asana (project management software) to keep us all on task and moving forward.
Q: What did you learn and discover over the course of the summer about the fun and challenges of this work?
Nel: Oh gosh, I have learned so much. Most importantly, I realized how much I continue to love artists and people and telling stories. The work has been so deep and rich this summer. We worked closely with artists to make sure they felt good about the show going live digitally. I have learned how important a team is and how to continue to be transparent, to check in and make people feel good about what they are doing.
I have the most amazing team of humans and creatives ever. I have learned to continue to cherish them and honor them and help them grow. I have learned that doing things with love and grace is just as important as getting it done. This summer has been unique, and we went deep into learning more about ourselves—not just color correcting better, and becoming better editors, but becoming better people.
I love this work so much. When I finished the end-of-season video, I was so honored to sit with what we all did this summer and bask in the glory of knowing this was a huge team effort.
“I was a broadcast major and dance major in school, so during COVID, I felt all of my life was coming full circle.”
Q: How far back does your personal history with the Pillow extend, and what has this year taught you about the Pillow that you didn’t know before?
Nel: I began as a video intern in 2001. That summer changed my life, and now I look back so grateful for the tears, the triumphs, the learning, the friendships, the relationships. I began as Videographer leading the team in 2004 and have grown it since. This was the first year the photographers were on my team. I continue to be challenged by the Pillow, and I am sure that is why I keep coming back. I learn more about myself and others each year. I find such joy in the history created here. During my intern summer, I saw a letter from Martha Graham to Ted Shawn. It began “Dear Teddy…” and from that moment I was hooked.
Q: Since you have multiple clients, what are you seeing arts organizations doing overall, during and post-COVID, that excites you?
Nel: This year has been like none other for NSP [Nel Shelby Productions]. I have been here to just serve and provide whatever anyone needed. You want to do your event on Zoom? You want to livestream? You want to make a show in two weeks? My team and I are here.
COVID opened up a new way for me and my team to work and to make shows. That excited me. I was a broadcast major and dance major in school, so during COVID, I felt all of my life was coming full circle. Sometimes I feel nervous saying this, because people have had such a hard year, but I am so happy I could be of service this year and help organizations to get out there in a new way.
In terms of post-COVID: I’m not sure we are there yet, but honestly, right now everything is exciting me. What is around the corner? Along with my team, I feel that we can do anything. It’s almost like: bring it on! COVID has opened up new ways of working and has helped arts organizations to see that their reach can be wide—far beyond local audiences.
Learn more about Nel Shelby Productions at nelshelby.com.
Written by Elise Linscott. Published October 2021.