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As a part of our Break Free theme in 2013, we launched the GlobetrotterGirl of the Month series where, each month, we interview one super-inspiring woman who has successfully incorporated travel into her professional life. This month, we interview Amy Montalvo, a former TV news reporter who cast off on her own to create ONEPASS, a production company creating video pieces which highlight people making a difference around the world. We are seriously inspired by this Texan firecracker who often heads off into remote locations with all her gear to capture incredibly inspirational and heartwarming stories! A true GT Girl, she took 72 flights in 2012 alone. Read on to find out how she broke free, started her own business and what’s in store for her in 2013.
Where are you from?
Forth Worth, Texas, USA
Are you based there now or entirely nomadic?
I crash in Ft. Worth when I’m in the US, but I was out of the country for 7 months last year. So maybe a little of both?
What is your ‘job title’? How would you describe what you do for a living?
I’m technically President and CEO of ONEPASS. But I’m also videographer, reporter, editor, marketing manger, head of networking, etc. I’m what they call a one (wo)man band.
I create productions with a purpose – videos that tell the stories of people trying to make a real difference and impact lives all over the world. My vision is that these people and their organizations will use the videos to help further their missions – to raise funds, volunteers, and awareness, and to educate others about their causes.
How did you get started working in media production?
I actually got a degree in Anthropology from Yale University. I always wanted to be a news reporter, so I did internships at news stations during college. When I graduated, I immediately started working as a TV news reporter in small markets in Texas. That was my initial intro into media and where I learned many of the skills that I use in my business today.
How, and more importantly why, did you launch ONEPASS?
It didn’t take a lot to get ONEPASS off the ground. What I needed most was a camera and a plane ticket. News reporting in small markets didn’t allow me to save much money, so my parents decided to pitch in to get me started. (Thanks, Mom and Dad!) The rest was a lot of work done for free in the beginning – painful but necessary. I put a portfolio together and networked like crazy.
You never know who you’re going to meet and how they’re going to impact your work and your life.
I started ONEPASS in May of 2009, after 3 years of TV news reporting. I had realized just how much you could affect people by telling a compelling story, and help people who truly need it. Once I put a story on air about a family who had lost everything in a house fire. We told viewers that there was a fund set up in their name at a local bank, and the next day there was several thousand dollars in it. The story I had told made people take action and give back. It was somewhat of a revelation. Why not do this all the time? It was quite rare for me to do those stories in news, and I just felt like I couldn’t justify staying in a profession that didn’t allow me truly impact people in the way that I had always hoped to. I wanted to use my skills to make a difference in this world, and starting ONEPASS allowed me to do that.
I think that often we’re so focused on the constant stream of negative news, that we forget about the good that does exist, the lives that really are being changed for the better. I decided I wanted to focus on that good, to highlight those stories, to show how people are stepping up to make change.
How does OnePass provide an income for you?
I do charge the groups I work with to create these videos, whether it’s a non-profit, a business, a school, or a church. I work primarily with non-profits, but often they have budgets for marketing or they’ll find a donor that can help fund a video. I’ve never sold a story to a TV network, though it’s definitely something I’ve thought about for the future.
Can you tell us a story of an interviewee that truly affected you on a personal level?
Honestly, the last year was full of those stories, but I’ll just give you one example. There was a man in Rwanda named Jonas. He’s 30 and started a bakery through the help of Opportunity International. He started by himself but now has 20 employees, and he specifically hires local youth and mentors them to start their own businesses. The truly amazing thing to me was this: down the road from him was a Congolese refugee camp. Every single day, Jonas lets them line up at his water pump and take clean water back to their families. And when the bill comes, he pays for it all. All of it. For hundreds of people. He told me, “I know I can’t take care of everyone, but when I see the line stretching all the way back to the camp, and I know I am helping some, I feel like I have done a great thing.”
He does not have to do this. These aren’t even his countrymen. But he saw a need, and he is meeting that need to the best of his ability.
Did you have fears related to not living a conventional life?
A “conventional” life is not something I’m terribly interested in at this point, though I don’t think I knew that at 18 or 22 or even 24. I think that kicked in around age 25, when I really saw all the possibilities the world had to offer. There’s a quote by Helen Keller that’s fantastic:
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”
I feel like I have been blessed by so many opportunities in my life, things that I don’t necessarily deserve, and because of that, I feel that my only option is to take advantage of those, to help those who don’t have the same opportunities, to try to impact people for the better. I think this can be done whether you live in the suburbs or a village, whether you are rich or poor. You can always give back in some way. For me, it has just involved more travel, and less convention. 🙂
That said, there are absolutely things I still worry about. Finances, a retirement fund. As far as friendships go, I am lucky that a constant stream of technology has allowed me to maintain friendships and relationships with family. While a Skype conversation is not the same as sitting next to someone on the couch, it really allows you to maintain at least some level of normalcy. One of the best connection moments was when I Skyped with my 93 year old grandmother. She was amazed that she could see me while I was in Africa! I took a screen shot of her reaction – priceless.
From your website it seems like you go to some very remote places with a lot of media equipment. Do you (and your team) feel unsafe or like a target?
I never ever ever check a bag with equipment in it. That’s key! Everything stays with me – too much risk otherwise. The great thing about my equipment is that it’s very portable, and I can fit almost everything in a backpack that can then go in an overhead bin. I’ve never felt unsafe, but I always try to keep everything inside my backpack until I absolutely have to take it out to shoot. Brandishing expensive equipment in some of these locations could definitely make me a target.
I shot with a small team (2 amazing guys + myself) in 2012, and that was fantastic. Before last year, I’d always worked by myself. It’s pretty funny showing up on location sometimes when people are expecting more than just a one-person camera crew. “Wait, it’s just you? Also you look like you’re in college.” Okay, they don’t say that last part. But I did have a client tell me that after email-only correspondence, she assumed I was middle-aged and would arrive with a whole crew! Wrong on both counts. 🙂
What books have influenced you?
We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch
Half the Sky by Nick Kristof & Sheryl Wudunn
What is the What by Dave Eggers
What music is playing on your speakers right now?
Currently I’m back and forth between Mumford and Sons, Ed Sheeran, and William Fitzsimmons. I like chill music for work and for fun, I am a Top 40/pop/rap fan – anything you can dance to.
Who is your role model/mentor; whom do you look to for leadership?
My mentor is a fabulous, wise, amazing woman – Rene Syler. I interned with her at a Dallas-Ft. Worth TV station back in 2002, where she was anchoring the local news. I later interned for her in New York City, where she was anchoring the CBS Early Show. She was one of the first people I called when I was trying to make the decision to leave news and start ONEPASS. It has been amazing to have the constant support and encouragement of someone who has been exactly where I was – from being in news, to leaving news, to starting your own business – she’s done it all too! Her advice has meant so much to me over the years. I’ve been lucky to have her as a consistent cheerleader as I’ve embarked on my career adventures over the years.
How many countries have you been to?
24 countries so far:
South Africa, Namibia, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Malawi, Mozambique, Morocco, India, China, The Philippines, Turkey, Spain, England, Chile, Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Mexico, Canada
What’s on the horizon for OnePass Productions?
My plan at the moment is to move to Cape Town, South Africa within the next month or so. I am in love with the city, and I’d very much like to expand my business network within Africa. It’s much easier to email someone saying you’d love to work with them and then actually be on the same continent rather than in the States. So I’ll take that step, and see where it leads! There’s no telling, and that is both terrifying and exciting. And I can’t wait to get started.
Are you a GlobetrotterGirl or do you know someone who would be perfect for this series? The calendar is getting pretty full, but we are always on the look out to connect and feature GT Girls! Remember: GlobetrotterGirls of the Month don’t need to be bloggers – they must live large, dream larger and, of course, trot the globe in some way or another. You can email us info at globetrottergirls dot com or click ‘Contact Us‘ above.
Want more inspiration? Check out our interview with January GlobetrotterGirl Natalie Morawietz of Infinite Adventures.