Josh Davidsburg: Documentary Film Maker, Freelance Broadcast Journalist & College Lecturer

 

Angela Tuell  00:05

Welcome to Media in Minutes. This is your host Angela Tuell. This podcast features in-depth interviews with those reports on the world around us. They share everything from their favorite stories to what happened behind the lens and give us a glimpse into their world. From our studio here at Communications Redefined, this is Media in Minutes. I am so excited to welcome our guest today Josh Davidsburg. Josh is a documentary filmmaker, owner of Lot 1 Films, and senior journalism lecturer at the University of Maryland. He began his career in television journalism working for stations in Maryland and Florida. Over his career, Josh has won three national Telly awards, as well as directed the acclaimed documentary Queen of the Capitol. Hi, Josh. Welcome.

 

Josh Davidsburg  00:55

Hey, Angie, thanks for having me. This is amazing.

 

Angela Tuell  00:57

It’s so great to hear your voice.

 

Josh Davidsburg  01:00

It’s been way too long.

 

Angela Tuell  01:02

I know. We must tell everyone so that they know. But we went to journalism school together at the University of Maryland.

 

Josh Davidsburg  01:07

Go Terps. Go Terps.

 

Angela Tuell  01:08

Yes, yes. And we started in television together in Salisbury, Maryland, as television reporters. You were actually there first and helped me get the job. So thank you.

 

Josh Davidsburg  01:21

And I think we co-anchored the school show, didn’t we?

 

Angela Tuell  01:25

Yes, we did. We did. Together.

 

Josh Davidsburg  01:27

I’ll have to go through the archives and see if I can find that.

 

Angela Tuell  01:29

Yes. I’ve seen some photos there. And that seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it?

 

Josh Davidsburg  01:34

It really does. It does. It – well, on one hand, it seems like a lifetime ago, but I still feel like I’m that age. So it’s like time hasn’t passed, but –

 

Angela Tuell  01:44

I agree. I’m definitely not the number that my birth certificate shows that I am. We were definitely living the dream though, right?

 

Josh Davidsburg  01:52

Yes. Yeah, absolutely. It was a different time. Yeah.

 

Angela Tuell  01:55

It was. Do you think your first TV job there was everything you thought it would be?

 

Josh Davidsburg  02:00

I think it was everything I thought it would be and a lot more. And it’s a small market. So like you don’t really, you don’t really know what you’re getting into. But you know, small-market television is a lot of fun. And there are a lot of problems. And a lot of the issues that we talk about today or going on back then are still even worse, but we loved it. I mean, it was like the best job in the world if you could get it.

 

Angela Tuell  02:31

It was our location, being near the ocean. I mean, that was amazing.

 

Josh Davidsburg  02:36

I had friends that started out in Billings, Montana, and we got to start 30 minutes from Ocean City, Maryland. You can’t beat that.

 

Angela Tuell  02:43

Yes.

 

Josh Davidsburg  02:43

Sea on the weekend and the boardwalk and yeah…

 

Angela Tuell  02:47

You cannot beat it. It was great.

 

Josh Davidsburg  02:49

Not that there’s anything wrong with Billings, Montana. It’s

 

Angela Tuell  02:51

No no. Right, right. Or Alaska. I’ve had friends start there.

 

Josh Davidsburg  02:55

Right? Just has nothing on Ocean City.

 

Angela Tuell  02:57

No, not at all. So after we both moved on from that first TV job, even tell us a little bit about your next moves, which I know included other TV stations and even a few years in public relations.

 

Josh Davidsburg  03:09

Yeah. So actually, my very first job was in marketing. I did marketing right out of school for Phillips Seafood restaurant on the southwest waterfront. I was there for a year, but about three months into it 9-11 happened and they shut down the restaurant I raced out, met up with my dad who was a reporter, and followed him around all day. And like that day, I just realized that like I had to be out in the field reporting. And so that day, I shot a couple of packages with him. I edited them together or his photographer edited them together at the time. And that was my first resume reel. First real resume reel I had one from college, but this is the one that got me a job offer.

 

Angela Tuell  03:50

Yeah, that was a Baltimore station. Right?

 

Josh Davidsburg  03:52

It was Yeah. WMAR was working for WMAR in Baltimore.

 

Angela Tuell  03:56

Right.

 

Josh Davidsburg  03:56

And I was so going to Salisbury. I was there for three years. And then I went to Fort Myers, Florida. And I was in Fort Myers for exactly two years. And Florida. It was the great second station, kind of like a master’s degree in journalism tells me what not to do and what to do. It was a tough station to work for kind of a grindhouse. And then after two years, I moved on and went to Baltimore where I was at was full-time freelancing at WBAL and Maryland Public Television.

 

Angela Tuell  04:32

Yeah, amazing.

 

Josh Davidsburg  04:33

Yeah. And then the market crashed in 2008. And they cut all of their freelancers. And right at the same time, I got a job doing PR for the Maryland Department of natural resources. I’d never shot my own stuff before that, like we were lucky we can Yes. Yeah. We missed that one-man band. Kind of wave, right like I left Salisbury. And then they started doing one-man band stuff.

 

Angela Tuell  04:56

Yeah, I couldn’t believe we were that lucky.

 

Josh Davidsburg  04:58

Yeah, it was the same thing in Fort Myers. I was in Fort Myers. I left Fort Myers. And then they started doing one-man band stuff. Okay. And then I got to Baltimore and the WBAL’s union, and they are not going to go one-man band, right? And so I never as a journalist shot my own stuff. But when I was at the DNR Department of Natural Resources, I didn’t really love writing press releases. That wasn’t me. So I borrowed a camera from Maryland Public Television, I shot one of our press events, and I edit it together, this was like 2009. And so nobody was doing this kind of stuff. They saw it, and even though the video looked terrible, they loved it and started having me come to more events and not come to more events because it was there. Right? You know, they would have a shoot more events and put it together. And then we got a Homeland Security grant to do a PSA. So instead of hiring somebody to do a PSA, yeah, put that money towards equipment. And I started shooting videos for the Department of Natural Resources and handling the press at the same time I was I was the press contact. I wasn’t writing as many press releases, but I was still doing the normal like connecting. Yeah. So around a year into that, I got a job as an adjunct in Maryland, part-time teaching one class, I did that for about a year and a half, and then a full-time position opened. And because I had the reporting experience, and I had the shooting and editing experience, I think that’s why they hired me and I got a job teaching a class that used to be taught by two people, a reporter and a photographer. And yes, I’m teaching the class all by myself. And I’ve been doing that since 2013. So almost 10 years.

 

Angela Tuell  06:44

Wow, that’s amazing. I was wondering how you got into video because you are a video production expert. At this point.

 

Josh Davidsburg  06:49

I love it.

 

Angela Tuell  06:49

I wondered where that came from.

 

Josh Davidsburg  06:52

Yeah. So I mean, we did a little bit in college like, right, we learned tape to tape and all that kind of stuff. And I don’t know if you remember –

 

Angela Tuell  06:59

That makes us sound really old when you say tape to tape.

 

Josh Davidsburg  07:02

Kids – back in the day we used to have two tape decks, and you’d have to hit buttons. And if you got the wrong edit, oh, man. I don’t know if you remember about Salisbury, there were a couple of trips that some of the reporters went on. And I got to go on a trip to Estonia, and Bosnia with the Maryland National Guard.

 

Angela Tuell  07:22

I do remember that. That might’ve been before I got there.

 

Josh Davidsburg  07:26

They were going to send a photographer and none of the photographers had their passports ready to go. So I was like, I’m not giving this trip up. I’ll shoot it myself.

 

Angela Tuell  07:35

Yes.

 

Josh Davidsburg  07:36

And so that was the only professional shooting I did before I got to DNR. But I’ve always kind of loved photography and videography. And it just when I got access to the camera, you know like cameras have gotten so much cheaper now compared to what they were –

 

Angela Tuell  07:52

Yes, yes.

 

Josh Davidsburg  07:53

that like, you know, once I got access to a camera, and I started shooting and editing, I love shooting and editing my own stuff. I do think that there needs to be a photographer, and reporter team, but that’s, that might be a different topic.

 

Angela Tuell  08:07

No, we can talk about that. It is extremely hard to do the role of a reporter and photographer.

 

Josh Davidsburg  08:14

Yeah, so it’s, it’s hard. You’re you like something needs to go. And usually that that ends up with some of the reporting, right? Like you can’t do some of the reporting, if you’re also focusing on the shooting and editing and, you know, all that kind of stuff. And then also, it’s not really safe, right? You’re sending these young people out into places where they shouldn’t be with a ton of equipment all by themselves.

 

Angela Tuell  08:41

Right, like, a drug shooting just happened, or – Right.

 

Josh Davidsburg  08:44

Right. And you’re sending them all by themselves. And, yeah, there needs to be a broader conversation about safety and TV newsrooms.

 

Angela Tuell  08:51

Yeah. Do you think we’ll ever see that?

 

Josh Davidsburg  08:54

I don’t know. You know, there’s, there have been a couple of tragedies recently, you know, a couple a few years ago, there was the shooting on air in Virginia. And then last year, it wasn’t really a tragedy. I mean, it that video went viral of the young reporter who was hit by a car while she was standing on the side of the road. She was fine. Right, if you saw that, but I mean, that’s just like, that’s just kind of the tip of the iceberg. There just needs to be a broader conversation about safety in newsrooms, and one-man bands and all that kind of stuff. Yes, I’m sure we could talk about that for a while.  We could talk about that for hours.

 

Angela Tuell  09:33

So let’s talk about how you got into documentary filmmaking and are now a successful documentarian. How did this come about?

 

Josh Davidsburg  09:40

So, in college, I bought a copy of this documentary called Spellbound.

 

Angela Tuell  09:45

Okay.

 

Josh Davidsburg  09:46

It’s this documentary all about the National Spelling Bee. And it’s got these amazing kids and it just blew me away that like, this is a movie, right? It’s –

 

Angela Tuell  09:56

Yeah.

 

Josh Davidsburg  09:57

And it was the first documentary that I saw that wasn’t like the Ken Burns, slow zoom in zoom out of photos, which there’s nothing wrong with that, but it just didn’t pull me in. So, you know, I always kind of wanted to make movies, I always love journalism. And I was always kind of looking for a way in, in between both of those. And I never really knew how to do that. And then, when I started teaching it at Maryland, one of my students, I taught an intro to multimedia class, one of my students went out and did a story about a drag queen, because they have to do this, like at the end of the semester project were like, basically two to three-minute documentary on somebody who does something interesting or has an interesting hobby. And she got this drag queen in DC. And this particular class would like to stay after class and just asked me questions about the business all the time. And at one point, they asked me what else I wanted to do besides doing documentaries or besides teaching.

 

Angela Tuell  10:59

Right.

 

Josh Davidsburg  10:59

So I always wanted to do documentaries. And the student said, Well, why don’t we do it on Muffy? And I was like, Oh, that’s a great idea. And she set up a meeting. I met with Muffy. So my documentary is Queen of the Capital. It’s about a government bureaucrat by day drag queen crusading for charity by night. And we met with Muffy at Bentley’s in College Park, which is like a local bar that’s been there forever.

 

Angela Tuell  11:24

It’s still open?

 

Josh Davidsburg  11:25

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. It’s still open.

 

Angela Tuell  11:26

Okay. Okay.

 

Josh Davidsburg  11:28

So we met there, and Muffy told us about the imperial court and all this amazing stuff that she does for the community. And like, I realized that this wasn’t just like a story about drag, but like an amazing person who does drag. So I was like, Okay, this is a great documentary. So we started filming in September 2014. We followed Muffy for a full year. She was a part of this group called the Imperial Court, which every year elect an emperor and empress to be their figurehead and choose whom they raise money for. And Muffy spent the year campaigning for Empress. And so that was, that was the documentary, and then we kind of weaving in and out the history of drag into the documentary. It was just an amazing experience. And I just caught the documentary bug. Yeah, that was it.

 

Angela Tuell  12:18

Yeah. And it was screened at film festivals across the country. And also picked up for distribution on Stars, which you can find it right now. Yeah, September 2022.

 

Josh Davidsburg  12:29

Yes, yeah, it’s we screened. So we had like a great film festival run, going to film festivals is kind of like, the most amazing experience because when you’re doing TV news, you just kind of like, put your work out there. And you’ll get some feedback. Yeah, but watching a documentary in a theater and people like laughing at the parts you want them to laugh at, and being like, really quiet and the parts that you want them to be quiet in. I mean, it’s just, it was an amazing feeling. And yeah, I got the bug. And I think it’s the ultimate journalism. I mean, it is extremely hard to tell a story through only their voices to literally through their voices, you know, through your interviews. And Yeah, it’s, you know, it was a complete learning experience. And I actually turned it around to a class at Maryland. So everything that I learned, making Queen of the Capitol from like, the pre-production, and like, coming up with the story idea, and like doing all that kind of stuff, to like, the problems that we had throughout production to like, distribution and getting it out there and trying to figure out marketing and crowdfunding. I turned that into a class and now students are, are learning from me, and hopefully, they will make the same mistakes that I made, they’ll go on and do even more successful stuff. That’s amazing. What mistakes do you think you made? Oh, okay. So the number one, my number one regret is the matriarch of the drag queen community in DC. At the time, we tried to set up an interview with her a bunch of times, and she kept pushing us back and pushing us back weren’t feeling well, whatever. Yeah. And then she passed away, and we didn’t get a chance to sit down with her. And there was one time where we were, we were at an event, and somebody was like, Well, shall we talk to her now? And I was like, I want to do like a proper sit-down, well-lit interview, let’s get like something on the books, set it up. And we just never, never could. So my number one, my number one advice is, if you can get the shot, take it, take it. And I think that’s true for like making a doc like just starting a documentary too. I mean, anybody can do a documentary, we’ve got phones in our hands that are better cameras than when we were in school. You could just you know, you just gotta go out and start shooting and like learn how to shoot, learn how to edit and all that stuff is online. And I can you know, I can teach you. But you can also learn from all these different sources online that are, that are free and you know –

 

Angela Tuell  15:07

So much more than we had when we were going through school. It’s amazing.

 

Josh Davidsburg  15:11

It’s incredible though, like, if you look at the curriculum that we have now, back when we were there, you either went into print, TV, or radio. That’s it, right? That was journalism. Now, now, we can even divide it up into tracks. It’s basically like you graduate with a journalism degree because there are so many options out there. Like, we have a motion graphics class, and we have, you know, all these data classes. And we’ve got all these investigative classes, like we have classes that meet in Baltimore, and are just like out doing like, like social justice reporting and business reporting.

 

Angela Tuell  15:45

Uh – can I go back to school?

 

Josh Davidsburg  15:46

I know, right? Yeah.

 

Angela Tuell  15:47

And do it again?

 

Josh Davidsburg  15:48

Yeah. So these kids don’t know how good they have it.

 

Angela Tuell  15:54

And you are working on documentary number two, right?

 

Josh Davidsburg  15:57

I am. Yeah, so we are following a, we’re following a Baltimore ballerina who spent her whole life studying male ballet technique. And then in her senior year in high school, she came out to her family that she was transitioning from male to female, and is basically starting all over again from scratch. And she just got into college. And she has to learn basically, the format of the female form of ballet, which is different. Yeah, it’s not the documentary that we started. But this is what it’s kind of evolved into. The documentary that we started, was we were following a group of Baltimore boys who were studying to become professional ballet dancers. And it was they all went to the Peabody music conservatory, the PREP program, which is one of the oldest and most historic ballet programs in the country. And one of them kind of emerged as our main character. And then halfway through her senior year, she announced that she’s transitioned. And so we had to, we had to pivot as well. And, you know, I think we have an even more important story to tell.

 

Angela Tuell  17:08

Wow, that’s great. When do you think it will be?

 

Josh Davidsburg  17:10

Oh, God…

 

Angela Tuell  17:12

Is that the worst question to ask?

 

Josh Davidsburg  17:13

Oh, no, no. So, I mean, the original concept for the documentary was like one year, right?

 

Angela Tuell  17:21

Right.

 

Josh Davidsburg  17:22

But when she transitioned, you know, we figured we have to kind of see this thing through. So she’s at Towson University right now. And so we kind of want to see how far she makes it. At least, you know, what her first job is, or, you know, if she transfers to another school like that, that might be the end of it too. So right now, we don’t have a date, but it could be 2026, maybe.

 

Angela Tuell  17:49

Okay, so when you’re working on one documentary, do you ever start another? Or is it a day-one-at-a-time thing?

 

Josh Davidsburg  17:56

I have a running list of ideas. I have another documentary that I can’t talk about yet, but it’s kind of in the planning stages. And that would be a much, much shorter documentary. And then I’ve got a couple of shorts, like, I’ve got a short that we just entered into film festivals. So we’re waiting to hear back from you. And, like the very first thing I ever did kind of documentary style, I shot with a buddy. And we just went out on a weekend and shot this, this race in Frederick, that they do those old penny-farthing bikes, they ride around. They ride around Frederick, and it’s like, an internationally known penny-farthing race.

 

Angela Tuell  18:39

Really?

 

Josh Davidsburg  18:39

It’s – Yeah. And so we shot a short documentary and just started entering that into a film festival several years ago. And that was like the first film festival that we got into. So that’s up to and I’d always like to kind of revisit that and, and kind of see where they are.

 

Angela Tuell  18:54

Yeah, I love that life of doing so many different things. I mean, I feel like it keeps it exciting and as enjoying professional life.

 

Josh Davidsburg  19:03

That’s one of the beauties of teaching. I mean, I love teaching. It is like I wouldn’t want to do anything else. But it also gives me the opportunity to do documentaries and journalism. And, you know, I’m, I’m freelancing for Maryland Public Television, and doing all kinds of stuff like that.

 

Angela Tuell  19:21

What has been your proudest professional moment so far?

 

Josh Davidsburg  19:25

My proudest professional moment. I mean, it would either be screaming at Slam Dance, or Starz and they kind of have two different proud feelings. So Slam Dance is one of the biggest film festivals in the world. It’s like an independent film festival that started as a parasite Film Festival to Sundance takes place in Park City at the exact time at the exact same time.

 

Angela Tuell  19:53

Really?

 

Josh Davidsburg  19:54

Yeah. When Slam Dance started a few other of these parasites festivals started in the same place in Park City, but all of them kind of died out and Slam Dance has kind of become like their, like the big kind of punk rock Film Festival. And so that was the biggest film festival we got into. And it was just amazing to be in Park City during Sundance at a really good film festival showing this documentary that I kind of like, still couldn’t believe we were at that point. And, you know, that’s that, like showing it, like screening in a screening room with a bunch of people. And this was, this was January 2020. Like right before COVID hit. It’s kind of like the end of that, the end of our innocence, right? And then getting on Starz. I mean, I still can’t believe it’s got national distribution on a major cable platform, it just blows my mind when I –

 

Angela Tuell  20:55

People have to pay to be a part of it. How did you do that? How did you accomplish that?

 

Josh Davidsburg  21:00

So we lucked out, we got a really good distributor, who really believed in our project and just kept pushing it. And Starz at the time was trying to expand their LGBTQ library. Yeah. And our distributor heard that and went back to them and pitched them again. And, you know, all of the other documentaries that were at Slam Dance, have not gotten the same national distribution that we have. And that’s just because we have this phenomenal distributor who, you know, has done great work for us.

 

Angela Tuell  21:35

That’s great. So what do you wish you would have known 20 years ago that you know, now?

 

Josh Davidsburg  21:43

You know, I always love documentaries, and I don’t know, I, I wish I had known how to put one together then and like, how to access the equipment and get started, then. I think that’s, that’s my only. That’s the only thing I wish I had known. I mean, there’s a ton of things that like, I wish I learned in journalism school that now I get to teach my students right, like, Yeah, I wish we had more practice doing live shots in school, which they get a lot more of now, like, our students have live news, right. Like, yeah, they can do live shots in there in the newscast. Like we couldn’t do live shots in our newscast.

 

Angela Tuell  22:19

No, it’s amazing.

 

Josh Davidsburg  22:20

Yeah. Like, I wish I had known a little more about like navigating the business when it comes to like finding jobs and that kind of stuff, and which stations to really look at. But, you know, I wouldn’t give up my career path for the world. Really?

 

Angela Tuell  22:36

Yeah. That’s awesome. So in your opinion, I do have to ask, what are some of the best documentaries, we should be streaming right now, besides Queen of the Capitol?

 

Josh Davidsburg  22:46

I love this question. So my two favorite recent documentaries are Boys State. And Minding the Gap. Boys State is all about this camp that the American Legion puts on in every state called Boys State. They have Girl State, too. And it’s basically like a mock election. And so the documentary Boy State, which is on Apple TV, takes place in Austin, and it’s like the Texas Boys State. And it just follows it follows these boys. And it like, looks at our American political system in this one little election, this mock election, right run by high school boys. And it does it in this really subtle way. And it’s really, really good. It was at Sundance.

 

Angela Tuell  23:33

Okay.

 

Josh Davidsburg  23:33

All that may have been nominated for an Academy Award, I’m not sure. And then Minding the Gap is all about domestic violence, but it’s framed around skateboarding. So it follows the filmmaker and a few of his friends, kind of as they grow up, and whether or not they’re able to like break the cycle of domestic violence. And that one was also nominated for an Academy Award. And, you know, I, I explained that one of my students, and then I make them watch it, and they’re like, I never from like the way that you described it. I never thought I would like it. But they all they’ll love it.

 

Angela Tuell  24:12

Okay, we’ll have to include links for more on how to find them. Definitely in the show notes.

 

Josh Davidsburg  24:16

And I have one more. This documentary that screened at Slam Dance with us is a phenomenal indie documentary. It’s called Bastards Road. It’s all about a marine veteran who comes home from the Middle East. And the way that he deals with his PTSD is he walks across the country. And so it like follows him as he walks across the country. And it was an awesome documentary done by a Maryland filmmaker as well. And I can give you all those links too.

 

Angela Tuell  24:47

Please do. Thank you. And before we go, fun fact for everyone. Your wife is also a journalist, and she covers space for Mashable. So I have to know what it’s like having two journalists living under one roof.

 

Josh Davidsburg  25:01

I get great feedback on my work.

 

Angela Tuell  25:04

That’s great.

 

Josh Davidsburg  25:05

I have a live in editor. Yeah. And you know she, her copy editing is impeccable so I don’t have that skill and so we complement each other very well.

 

Angela Tuell  25:16

That’s wonderful. I can say this as a former journalist -I was thinking like two people that know everything. Not saying you do but that’s just my –

 

Josh Davidsburg  25:25

No – that is true. Uh huh, yep.

 

Angela Tuell  25:28

So if you’re interested in documentary filmmaking and or video production, you must follow Josh’s Tik Tok account at Lot1Films. How else can our listeners connect with you online?

 

Josh Davidsburg  25:39

So I’m on Instagram @JayDavidsburg or @lot1films and Twitter @JDavidsburg and lot1films.com or queenofthecapital.com.

 

Angela Tuell  25:51

Great. Yeah, thank you so much for talking with us today. I cannot wait to see what you do next.

 

Josh Davidsburg  25:57

Thanks. This was awesome. Thanks for having me. That’s all for this episode of Media in Minutes, a podcast by Communications Redefined. Please take a moment to rate, review and subscribe to our show. We’d love to hear what you think. You can find more at CommunicationsRedefined.com/podcast. I’m your host, Angela Tuell. Talk to you next time.

Listen as former coworkers, Angela and Josh, talk journalism school, first news reporting jobs, and their love of Ocean City.  Josh also shares about how he turned his recent documentary experience into a course for future filmmakers as well as other documentary projects.    

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