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Meet the Finalist: Stacey M. Zipfel, "My Friend: Standing Strong"

Tell us about yourself, and about My Friend: Standing Strong.

First let me begin by telling you about CLEAR - the organization that Executive Produced My Friending: Standing Strong. CLEAR is a 501 C 3 non-profit dedicated to spreading education and awareness of canine cancer. CLEAR also contributes funds to canine cancer and comparative oncology research. Which leads me to Terry Simons...CLEAR's founder and the film's EP and co-writer. Terry is a internationally recognized dog agility champion and trainer as well as television commentator in the field of agility. He created CLEAR when his heart and soul dog was diagnosed with lymphoma. Through the course of Reveille's treatment he learned a few things...1) Finding information on the disease can be tricky, 2) 50% of dog owners don't even know dogs get cancer and 3) there are huge misconceptions about the treatment of the disease which lead people to make poor choices for their dog in many cases. Terry set out to change that...enter me, Stacey Zipfel. I have been in the business for a number of years and met Terry when I was just dipping my toe back in the business after a serious illness. The sizzle reel we filmed Terry for in our initial meeting never took off, but Terry and I became friends. When Terry formed CLEAR he got in touch with me and pitched a crazy idea...make a film about canine lymphoma to help educate dog owners. My first love is animals, so I was all in. Our first film My Friend: Changing the Journey did exactly what Terry had envisioned and after it's success I prodded him to expand his vision to include more than lymphoma. He agreed and the idea to cover osteosarcoma (bone cancer) and My Friend: Standing Strong was born.

My Friend: Standing Strong follows the journey of three dogs and their humans as narrated by Dr. Avenelle Turner. My goal with the film is to show the viewer in real time the reality of the disease and the toll it takes on the pet parent and the veterinarians that treat these dogs while weaving valuable medical information in the stories. Essentially teaching the viewer without them realizing it. My other goal is to pay tribute to dogs' incredible spirit. These animals go through what would devastate us and continue to thrive and be happy until the very end. I believe humans can learn a lot form them.

Share a memorable moment you experienced working on this project.

There were many memorable moments! Some heartbreaking, some touching, some oddly funny. I guess the fondest and most lasting memory is very general in nature. The one thing that will always stay with me is how invested the entire crew was in the three dogs we followed. They road the same rollercoaster of highs and lows as the owners and vets in the film. I am so grateful for that because I think that commitment of caring flows through My Friend.. We ended up being a family that supported one another throughout the film and continue to do so. I can't think of many other projects I have worked on in my career in which that bond has ever taken place.

Name 3 collaborators that you'd take with you to any other project.

This is the easiest question in the world to answer.:

- Terry Simons (EP, Producer, Co-Writer) I have worked for a lot of personalities in my life. I have never in my career worked with someone who has complete trust in letting me do my job. No ego, no tantrums, no unattainable demands. Terry has put his faith in my ability to do what I do best and allows me to trust my gut (even if he sometimes might disagree). For that I will follow him to the moon and back. I will work on any project at any time if Terry is involved.

- Greg Byers (Editor, Co-Writer) Greg is the bomb! It is rare to find an editor as talented as Greg that is so willing to collaborate. The give and take of ideas in the editing of My Friend was one of the best experiences of my career. Anything I do from this day forward will have Greg involved. Period!

- Drew Thomas (DP) Drew is another collaborator without ego. He is a director. He has worked on pretty impressive projects and never once did he try to take over. He allowed me to do my thing. He loved the dogs and the people and he was a joy to be around. He will always be my first call.

3 tips you’d like to share with aspiring artists in your field:

- Embrace adversity. By this I mean...99% of the time, the moments where everything has gone wrong and I've had to scramble and think on my feet have produced the best work. My Friend was a classic example...scheduling changes, story name it. But those little hiccups produced some of the best moments in the film.

- Treat everyone with respect. Get the best people you can to fill the many jobs needed to make a film and then trust them to do their job. Never belittle anyone...your PA is equally as important in the machine as you are. My crew is my team and I have their back no matter what and that means they will have mine too.

- This may sound cliché...but believe in yourself. This is a business of hearing no more often than yes. There is always someone there to criticize or try to make you doubt your ability. But those are opinions, not facts. Take constructive criticism to heart and use it to improve, but never let anyone's opinion undermine your confidence.

What do you hope to achieve in your career in the next 5 years?

I think the dream for all of us at CLEAR is that the work we do will no longer be needed because cancer will be defeated. The reality is not the dream, unfortunately. I will continue to create documentaries to spread education and awareness. There is so much that can be gained, not just for dogs and cats, but for people too. As far as myself and ZipperyZoo Productions, I'd like to write more. I have a couple of scripts I'd love to get made and even more ideas rattling in my head. Terry and I have some television programming we'd like to get to the masses. Ideally I'd like ZipperyZoo to be the go-to for any animal related projects.

My Friend: Standing Strong is nominated for Best Documentary Feature of the Year at the New York Film Awards.

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