By Kimberly Primicerio Swartz
Sitting poolside in Los Angeles recently, Sacred Heart University alumna Isabelle Eyre relaxed after an eight-day pilgrimage in Israel with the Diocese of Bridgeport, where she was the group’s videographer. She was settling into her new home before starting a freelance job—another career opportunity made possible through her University connections.
Eyre, who obtained her graduate degree in 2016, learned about the FTMA program through her mother. “She heard an interview with two FTMA professors on an NPR affiliate,” said Eyre, a 28-year old Seattle native.
Eyre started researching Sacred Heart’s FTMA program, which was a one-year program at the time. “That was a big draw for me,” said Eyre, who also wanted to try living on the East Coast.
She wasted no time—she applied to the program and was accepted. In the summer of 2015, she drove cross-country and settled in Stamford before starting classes.
“It was continuous school,” said Eyre, who chose to stay at SHU during the holidays and work on film projects with her peers.
Eyre’s concentration was creative producing, but she, along with her classmates, received hands-on experience in all aspects of film. They worked with the best cameras and lighting equipment in SHU’s high-tech facilities. While she acknowledged the benefits of such equipment, she said working with peers and faculty members who supported each other made a difference as well.
“Film inherently is a collaborative art form. You need people to work for, but it’s better when you like those people,” Eyre said.
“Isabelle came to our program with a strong drive and talent for telling stories,” said Damon Maulucci, director of FTMA, expressing confidence in her ability to thrive in any endeavor. “She quickly developed a distinct voice and contributed to our community of filmmakers by successfully serving as a producer on many student films and projects.”
In fact, Eyre won “Best Screenwriter” for her short film, Live Free or Meet Cute, at the FTMA’s 2016 film festival. And, after she graduated, she worked as a program coordinator for the FTMA for a year before moving back west. A SHU professor had connected her with a job opportunity there.
“It was hard being away from my family,” Eyre said. “Plus, I was thinking of moving to Los Angeles.”
Before Eyre moved, she heard the Diocese of Bridgeport was offering a pilgrimage to Israel. Eyre had always been involved with youth ministry, at home and in Connecticut with the diocese. She was asked to be a pilgrim on the trip, but she couldn’t—she was in the process of moving, and the trip wasn’t in her budget.
In October 2017, Eyre drove back west. She worked on a job in Los Angeles and was in Seattle for Thanksgiving week when she received a call from a friend at the diocese. The videographer for the Israel trip had dropped out, Eyre learned, and the diocese needed someone to document the pilgrimage.
“It’s really hard to say no to a free trip the Holy Land,” Eyre said, though she did hesitate before giving her response. Producing is her specialty, not videography, so she didn’t have a lot of experience behind the camera. “I just had to go for it. I’m a young professional in a new career, and I have to learn and make mistakes. I got so much better at videography because of that trip,” she said.
The pilgrimage also came at an opportune moment. Eyre had free time between jobs, and the diocese would pay for the trip. “It was uniquely suited for me,” she said.
Days before she left, the same FTMA classmates with whom she collaborated on projects and schoolwork were giving her pointers on to the best ways to use her camera, the same one she used in class (the Canon C100). “There was a community of people to help me get on my way,” said Eyre.
Her tasks in Israel were to film interviews with the group of about 20 and to get b-roll footage of all the locations the group visited, such as the Sea of Galilee, Jericho and Jerusalem. The group, including Bishop Frank J. Caggiano, left in early January.
Eyre shot footage throughout the trip and, while it was difficult without having an assistant to help with the tri-pods, lenses and other gear, she made it all work. “It was physically demanding,” she said. “But for me, God was planting a seed…I want to go back; I only scratched the surface.”
To Eyre, visiting the religious sites in Israel was a powerful experience. “The geography hasn’t changed. It’s the same as when Jesus was there,” she said, noting that she never felt unsafe.
“I was really impressed by the people I was with. Their faith and willingness to put themselves out there, it was amazing.”
Reflecting on her experiences, Eyre said that without her time at SHU, she wouldn’t have had such opportunities. Her friends and relationships with people at the diocese and SHU enabled her to go on the pilgrimage and find work in Los Angeles.
“It’s important to make these professional and personal connections,” Eyre said.