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Scott Sinkler enlists local talent to capture the reinvigorated Ballantine House

Scott Sinkler directs a three-minute visual tour of the newly-renovated Ballantine House next to the Newark Museum of Art.

For devotees of vibrant art institutions, the Newark Museum of Art is essential viewing. Founded more than a century ago, the museum emphasizes contemporary arts and ancient artifacts while prioritizing its role as a community arts hub.

During the last few years, the museum has worked on a major restoration of the Ballantine House, the 27-room brick and sandstone mansion located next to the main museum building. Longtime South Orange resident Scott Sinkler filmed and produced a striking three-minute visual tour of the house that now plays at the entrance of the main museum building. The film’s goal is to entice visitors to experience the meticulously revamped three-story home. The museum’s director and CEO, Linda C. Harrison, says the goal of the project was to “wake it up and shake it up.”

Sinkler (far right) used local actors to highlight costumes of the period when the Ballantine House first existed.

In addition to his own talents, Sinkler employed actors and seasoned film experts from the South Orange and Maplewood area. Throughout two decades of living in South Orange, Sinkler was embedded in the arts and culture of the community, using his seasoned talents as an award-winning documentary filmmaker and exploring many angles of the local community.

“I’ve always been documentary oriented,” says Sinkler, who took full advantage of his father’s Bolex camera while he was growing up. Although he attended classes in documentary film and production, he is primarily self-taught. “I learned as I went along, making mistakes along the way,” he says. He has worked for more than four decades as a filmmaker, producer, director, director of photography and editor.

Sinkler’s first film is the award-winning Inside Life Outside, a 1988 documentary that explores the lives of a group of squatters on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. As a protest of New York City’s housing and homeless policies, the squatters sued the city for the right to live in their handmade shacks. Sinkler worked as the director of photography for the film, which was featured in the 1989 Whitney Biennial and is now part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art.

Sinkler filming the award-winning Inside Life Outside, a 1988 documentary that explores the lives of a group of squatters on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

In 1994, Sinkler founded Public Eye, a video production services company that lends its expertise to commercial, corporate, and non-profit clients. The company hires crew members from all over the New York metropolitan area, including many from the local community.

In more recent years, Sinkler served as director of photography for the Katie Couric-produced documentary Fed Up (2014) as well as Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror released in 2021. Both projects landed in Netflix’s top-10 most streamed documentaries for a number of weeks.

Sinkler and his wife, Mariana Giraudo, moved to South Orange in 2001 and raised their daughters, Maia and Sasha, here. “They are products of this community,” says Sinkler. Sasha, 20, lives in England while studying music business at Solent University in Southampton. Maia, 19, currently studies design in Milan, Italy. When stateside, the two enjoy playing gigs as Noise Boys, a self-described “metal-inspired riot grrl” band.

The sisters got their educational start at Seth Boyden Elementary School, which also served as the launching pad for their father’s opportunity to lend his film expertise to the school’s Outdoor Learning Center improvement appeal in 2013. “[Seth Boyden] was really the high point of school spirit, atmosphere, and culture. We spent a lot of time around there and got to know folks,” he recalls. The short documentary includes renderings and interviews with a handful of Seth Boyden students at the time. Sinkler is credited as “Scott Sinkler, Sasha and Maia’s Dad.”

Sinkler has gotten to know the extensive film and media community well. He has hired local talent for several of his professional projects. About five years ago, he became the administrator for the SOMa Advertising, Media, and Entertainment Network Facebook group, which has more than 3,500 members. Local professionals regularly post job positions that can often be the starting point for a neighbor’s career. “I can’t tell you how many people I’ve hired, or who hired me … people who I’ve rented equipment to or rented equipment from,” he says.

His most substantial use of local talent, though, was the film for the Ballantine House. Sinkler’s Public Eye Productions was tapped to be one of the creative partners of the Experience Alchemists, a New England-based company charged with creating a new visitor experience after the two-year renovation of the Ballantine House. The Experience Alchemists described Sinkler’s company and other partnering companies as a “dream team” tasked with creating an experience that is accessible and relevant to the contemporary Newark community.

“Most visitors encounter the house toward the end of their museum visit, when they might be tired or short on time,” according to a blog post on the Experience Alchemists’ website. “We wanted to make it feel like you were walking through the front door. We worked with local filmmaker Scott Sinkler to produce a compelling fly-through

video that includes drone footage of the house exterior and a sweeping one-shot sequence of the interior that captures the gorgeous space. In essence it works like the trailer to a film.”

“They wanted a full tour of the house that would give us a flavor of it quickly,” says Sinkler. He decided to use actors to highlight costumes of the period when the Ballantine House first existed. “This was all a little out of my wheelhouse,” said Sinkler, who has not worked often with actors.

After Sinkler put out a casting call on the Facebook group page, he was contacted by almost 40 actors. “Everyone was just super psyched,” he said. Local actors for the film include Marianna Daley, Franck Goldberg, Jennifer Shannahan Larsen, Carolyne Leys, Fiona McKee and Allison Posner. Sinkler rounded out the crew with a seasoned production staff full of members from the South Orange-Maplewood community: Thomas Chaves (gaffer), Helena Ravix (production assistant) and Martin Benn (colorist).

Sinkler took a historical deep dive into the costumes to properly capture the timeframe. “I spent a lot of time [on costuming], but I don’t regret a single second of it. I learned all about 1890 Victorian clothes, which are different from 1880 or even 1885,” he says. Sinkler said he benefited greatly from the close working relationship he had with Amy Simon Hopwood, the museum’s associate curator of decorative arts. “She was responsible for every detail of the house and costumes,” he says.

The Ballantine House is a 27-room brick and sandstone mansion located next to the main building of the Newark Museum of Art.

While the Ballantine House project brought Maplewood and South Orange to Newark, Sinkler is just as happy to produce work here in the two towns. After another filmmaker had a scheduling conflict, he provided pro bono work for a short video about JESPY House, the South Orange-based nonprofit that enables people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to live independent lives. After the success of the video, JESPY House recently hired Sinkler to shoot a more extensive film that will feature their donors.

Although Sinkler recently moved to nearby Orange, he continues to engage in local projects, which bring him tremendous satisfaction. “SOMa made our kids who they are in many ways over two decades. They’re creative, confident and caring people,” he says. “To contribute a little of what I have to offer is nothing in light of that.”

Donny Levit is a writer and Maplewood resident. He is the author of “Rock n’ Roll Lies, 10 Stories.” You can hear him DJ his indie rock shows and follow him on Instagram: @undertheinfluenceradio and @kindofpoolradio and @newishradio.

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