June Update & Announcement: A Rough Stretch of Weeks

Our June update comes at a time where, and it could just be us, the summer is starting with some harsh blows.

Maybe this month is not much different from those since the fire, and the hardships could just be a coincidence. But some rough run of luck seems on a tear for many of the Camp Fire survivors (us included, see below). Regardless, we’ll all push on together.

As we’ve all heard, Phil John, chair of the Paradise Fire Safe Council (and husband to Paradise Unified School District’s Superintendent Michelle John) passed away June 11.

As with many of our emotions these days, to pinpoint just why this event hit us harder than others is difficult to say. Maybe it’s that it’s the kind of normal heartbreak we all feel, but absorbing it under the shadow still cast by November 8 places just a few more straws on the camel’s back.

Or for us working on Three Days in Paradise, it’s echoed by more ‘normal’ heartbreaks on the home front. Producer Laura Smith (my peerless wife) has seen her father pass away May 26–two weeks before her mother moved into assisted living with Parkinson’s.

Then there was the development I’ve announced to the crew and now I’m letting you all know. I’ve been diagnosed with Bells Palsy, a temporary condition brought on by a variety of factors. While it’s stroke-like effect on the muscles of a person’s face can be unnerving, my doctors have expressed their hope for a full recovery (though it could take up to six months).

So what does this mean?

In the long run, nothing. We continue to work. We continue to write and edit. We continue to plan for more interviews (on top of the dozens we’ve already done).

We are still convinced Three Days in Paradise will be a documentary on Butte County and the Camp Fire unlike any other.

But in the short run, it’s taken some rescheduling while we consult with doctors about the best way forward in terms of recovery and work. The sizzle reel we’d hoped to release in June will now be out sometime in July. The push for funding (including showcasing some editing passages of various episodes of the series) will now be a few weeks later than originally hoped.

So we work while we mourn. We work while we heal. We push on because as we know, that’s what we all have to do now.

Bittersweet Rebirth of Bobcats Football

So our Paradise High School Bobcats are on the front page of the Los Angeles Times.

It’s bittersweet to see their work and grit and hustle recognized, but under circumstances we would never choose.

Here’s an image of the front page, and a link to the story. It had me tearing up in the middle of a restaurant, so be careful.

The LA Times is not sold in Northern California, so yes see what we can do to get all the players/coaches their own copies.

The Surprises Guests at Paradise High School’s 2019 Prom

When things are just right, the world feels like a small town.

Filled with neighbors, friends and at farthest friends of friends, at these moments we  hold each other in our thoughts and exchange kindnesses large and small. Those moments are what make our small town lives, our journey through this chaotic world, bearable and even uplifting.

The world was a very small place last night at Paradise High School’s 2019 prom. A special collection of people put together a message for the students of PHS, with some of the biggest personas in sports, music and entertainment (yes, Steve Carrell apparently is that nice in real life) lending a hand.

No amount of description will suffice for letting you see it for yourself:

Paradise Prom 2019 – Celebrity Messages from schlicken on Vimeo.

Tell your Tales from the Paradise Ridge

Like many of my fellow Camp Fire survivors, I have been torn up since the morning of November 8, 2018.

The filmmaker in me… that part that’s worked to tell stories since Star Wars and Snow White and Ken Burns’ Civil War kindled my love of cinematic storytelling… wants to tell the whole story of what happened to our Paradise Ridge communities.

The citizen in me… that part of me who raised a family with my wife on Scottwood Road, took our boys to Paradise Elementary, watched little league games at Egleton Field and fled the town with neighbors and friends… wants to make sure the world remembers what befell us. I want our stories told whether or not it’s me telling them.

It’s that part, the town resident, that wants to help my fellow citizens tell their story to every worthwhile reporter, author, documentarian, director, etc. who cares to listen with respect. That’s why as we’ve been working on Three Days in Paradise, we’ve been looking to partner with other storytellers to ready to tell the story of the Camp Fire as we knew it.

Which brings me to Lizzie Johnson, the San Francisco Chronicle. She’s a reporter known for her coverage of wildfires. We’re happy to announce we’re partnering with her on a new initiative to capture your stories.

In a book she’s working on, Johnson is working to tell the story of the fire and what it’s meant to us all in facts and prose. In our documentary series, we’re looking to do the same thing in images, music and sound.

So we’ve created an easy to use document you can fill out to start telling your Camp Fire story. What happened to you. What you went through. What you saw and what we should all remember. We’ll be using those to get in touch and make sure your story is known.

So please take a moment to add your story. We want to hear it, and take it to the rest of the world.

And the Gracie Goes to…

As we cross the T’s and dot the I’s on some announcements coming up, we wanted to shine a special light on one of our team: Jenna Lane.

Lane reached out to us shortly after we announced this project to volunteer as part of our production team. With every project reaching to make something special, every ounce of hard work and talent needs to be assisted by lucky breaks and gifts of fate.

When Lane joined us, we knew fate was lending a hand.

See, she’s a reporter for KCBS 740 AM in the Bay Area. A great reporter, a hell of a researcher and the kind of team member you wish for on a project like this, she’s task oriented, optimistic and smart.

We’re saying that to say this: Congratulations Jenna Lane. In April she was recognized by the Alliance for Women in Media with a Gracie Award for her coverage of the Camp Fire. The Gracies recognize achievements in all forms of media across the country, so landing one is no mean feat.

We’re excited to get back to work with her and honored she’s here to help us tell the story of the Paradise Ridge and the Camp Fire the way it should be told. To get a taste of what she’s done to deserve it, take a listen here to some of the work she did in the wake of the Camp Fire.

 

A word about shady documentary crews in Butte County, Part 1

Hi friends,

After coming home from a very emotional series of Gold Nugget events today, I wanted to share some hard-earned wisdom with my fellow Paradise (go Bobcats!) and other Butte County neighbors.

There may be documentary crews asking your to sign something that sounds reasonable, but will actually exclude you from our story in many ways. It may also be a barrier to rebuilding some of the institutions we all love.

I’ll explain.

I came to Butte County in 1993 for college and in some ways never left. I chose to live here, my wife and I chose to raise our kids here. I love Butte County.  But much of my professional work has been in Hollywood.

Because of this I know the openness, earnestness and honesty (well, mostly, LOL) we all love in our Butte County neighbors. I also know the openness, earnestness and honesty (more than you’d assume actually) of people who work in Hollywood.

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s I made my living as an entertainment journalist (journalism degree from Chico State 1996. Go Wildcats!). I interviewed many of the people who inspired me into filmmaking. I got to talk to directors, writers, actors. I talked to Will Farrell about his first movie (Superstar). I talked to M Night Shyamalan the week before he released The Sixth Sense. And I interviewed to Ron Howard as he prepared to release Ed TV (yes, he’s as nice as his reputation). But by this point, you don’t need me to tell you that.

In the mid-2000s until now I’ve been running my own production company out of Butte County, dividing my time between making my own documentaries and educational programs while also contracting out for various companies across the nation for various reality TV and documentary crews.

So I’m not coming at this from assumptions or things I’ve read. I know my way around Butte County and I know my way around the film and TV industry. What I learned was this: Almost all TV and filmmakers in Hollywood is trying to do a good job to make something people will enjoy. For the crews working on those films and shows, it’s a lot like any other job: People are just trying to get through their day.

And like every other job, there’s some people who just make things hard for everyone. We’ve all had that bad boss, that dullard co-worker, or that schemer who makes office politics awful.

That’s why I’m here now.

Watch Out For This:

When a documentarian talks to you, they’ll probably ask you sign what’s called a release.  Among other things, it allows them to edit you into their documentary without the fear of you suing them. Many networks, streaming services, etc. require releases for every interviewee in a documentary or they won’t air it. 

As I make Three Days in Paradise, I ask everyone to sign a release because eventually I want it on the biggest network or streaming service I can get. I want the world to know our story, to know Butte County, to know our history, and to know what this fire did to us.

But there’s another, shadier kind of release that screws things up for everyone. This kind of release is called exclusive release.

What an exclusive release says is you can ONLY talk to the documentarian for which you sign it. You can ONLY appear in their documentary. But what’s worse is it binds you even if they never use your interview. Documentarians shoot a lot of interviews they never use. So if you sign an exclusive release, that documentarian talking so nicely to you now can literally leave your story of the Camp Fire on the cutting room floor. No one will ever see your story. But here’s what’s worse:

If you sign an exclusive release,  you cannot give interviews to anyone else. 

You cannot talk to other local documentaries. Not just me, but the many others who need your stories.

You cannot talk to other non-Butte County documentaries, who we need to help keep our story alive.

You cannot talk to the many interviewers looking to record our stories for the Gold Nugget Museum, the Butte County Historical Society, or other local history institutions.

You cannot talk to the crews from Chico State looking to record our oral histories.

You cannot talk to the local news.

You cannot even talk to the video crews from our local high schools.

If you sign releases with exclusive clauses, you take your voice out of our local community. You are silenced.

Maybe that’s something you want to do. Maybe it makes sense for you. I’m not telling you what to sign or not to sign.

I’m saying I would never sign one myself.  I would never ask anyone to sign one. There’s no good reason for a documentarian to ask you to sign one. If you appear in Three Days in Paradise, it’s no skin off my nose if you also appear in any other documentary.

I’ve never seen a filmmaker I respect ask someone to sign an exclusive release for a documentary.

So if anyone asks you to sign an exclusive release, think long and hard about it. It doesn’t guarantee your story will be told. It DOES guarantee you will be silenced for local projects and may be silenced forever.

MARCH UPDATE: Production powers and some interesting meetings…

Since we began pre-production in December 2018, just days after the last embers of the Camp Fire were extinguished, we have been working tirelessly to gather the stories, moments and images to best tell the comprehensive story of what happened to all of us in Butte County.

We have already conducted dozens of interviews, shot at many county, town and public events and are looking to conduct dozens and dozens more interviews in the months ahead. If you’ve contacted us and we have not yet scheduled your interview, fear not.

The feedback and interest in Three Days in Paradise has been nearly overwhelming. But we will be here for the long haul, and currently are managing with a small and professional crew, so please know we will get back with all of you. It just may take a bit.

On that note, we want to let you in on some early indications for some very big things coming. While we cannot yet share details, the Three Days team has had some very hopeful meetings with parties well placed to get this series funded and then shown to the world in the way we all hoped.

Our ambitions are high, but our calling to tell this story is higher. We hope to be able to tell you more soon.

We are also working on a very interesting project which would gather imagery shot by all of us during the Camp Fire to help planning agencies see that this kind of disaster never happens again. We hope to have something to announce soon on that too.

Our final announcement is we’re revamping the way you can share your videos, pictures and historical imagery with us. That should be in the menu bar of this website in the next day or so. To tell the story of Butte County before, during and after the Camp Fire, we’ll need you.

Until then, thank you for your attention.

How it Burned: The Camp Fire from start to finish

Since posting the animation of the Camp Fire’s November 8, 2018 progress (from SimTable’s illuminating data visualization system) many people have asked if there was a way to see the entire fire.

I’ve now done some more digging on SimTable’s site and found two animations: one shows November 8 from the start of the fire until midnight. The second one shows the progress form about 5:30 p.m. on November 8 until the end of the fire.

I haven’t been able to find or tweak these links to show the whole fire in one animation at one constant speed.

With that said, here they are:

Day 1 from 6:44 a.m. to midnight.

Here’s the direct link:

https://www.simtable.com/apps/fireProgression/CampDayOne/CampDayOne.html?playback=240

And here’s the animation:

Day 1 (November 8) from 5:37 p.m. to Day 18 (November 25) 6:22 p.m.

Here’s the direct link:

https://www.simtable.com/apps/fireProgression/output2018/CABTU_016737_CAMP.html

And here’s the animation:

Watching the Camp Fire in Real Time (Day 1, 06:44 am-12:00 am)

There’s a panoply of flowery quotes about why humans love storytelling as they do. All of them boil down to our need to answer these tangled questions:

Why do people do what they do, and why do things happen as they happen?

The Camp Fire is the most impactful thing ever to happen to my family and our community. As a storyteller, doing my part to tell this story is impossible to resist. Why we all acted as we did on November 8, cowards or heroes, valiant or vain… these I’ll answer in time.

But as our team works, conducting interviews and research, gathering everything a person could know, sometimes we come across something we feel the need to share now. This is one.

It comes from a company called Simtable a company which makes animations and simulations of complex physical events based on real data. This one shows the progress of the Camp Fire. The embedded version below is eye opening, but the link below might be easier to see.

To see the progression at a slower rate,  click the link below.

https://www.simtable.com/apps/fireProgression/CampDayOne/CampDayOne.html?playback=240

For me, the best view was found clicking on the Map Base Layer button and choosing the Bing Hybrid option. It allows you to see road and landmarks laid over satellite photos of the actual landscape.

Something about seeing minute by minute (the timestamp can be seen in the lower left, going minute by minute) is both comforting and goulish. I can’t explain it, awful as it is, some part of me wants to see what actually happened when our lives were all hurled off course.

Now I know my home was destroyed around 12:30 or 1:00 p.m.

Nothing to add to a sentence like that.

These #CampFire survivors are being asked to carry a burden for all of Paradise, Magalia and Concow… and need our help

Usually, this a blog dedicated to tracking the production of Three Days in Paradise, a documentary series about our Butte County communities before, during and after the Camp Fire.

But today, this is a call to help a group of #CampFire survivors to which fate (and the Federal Government) has dealt an especially cruel hand.

Let’s call them Camp Fire Survivors 2.0. They are the first people who moved back to the burn area in RVs and trailers to begin the recovery and plan for rebuilding… and are now being ordered to evacuate again. The health of the recovery… of the entire town and all our fates… depends on them. So they need our help.

Here are a few stories about the situation:

Paradise Post, Sacramento BeeAction News Now

I’ll explain what I know.

The Background

One of the contracts for my business, RocketSpots.tv, is to record and broadcast the Butte Board of Supervisors meeting. So I’ve been to these meetings, listened to the presentations, and talked to almost all the players involved.

In December, they passed urgency ordinances which allowed people with RVs and trailers to return and live on their own parcels in the county’s jurisdiction located in the Paradise, Magalia and Concow areas. This was to help them get back to living near home faster, get a jump on the community rebuilding and to free up living spaces in Chico, Oroville and other areas for people without access to RVs and trailers. These rules were passed in good faith after county staff and supervisors discussed the rules with the Federal Emergency Management Administration and Cal Office of Emergency Services and there were given verbal assurances the rules would be OK as long as the RVs and trailers were more than 100 feet from burned structures.

The Town of Paradise passed similar rules while also consulting with the county, FEMA and Cal OES. They did their due diligence to make sure these rules helped our community while at the same time making it possible for FEMA funds to help with the clean up. After all, the declaration of disaster allowed billions of dollars to be available to help clean up the unprecedented destruction of the fire.

As we all know, the cost to clean up over 15,000 destroyed structures far outstrips what the towns of Concow, Magalia, Pulga, Paradise, the county and all the other affected areas can afford. If we have to pay for this ourselves, these areas will remain in ruins for decades or more.

And so, with the rules in place, citizens returned. Thesy did what the county and the town asked. They applied for permits to return. In many cases, they paid thousands of dollars beyond their insurance payouts to make sure they were following the rules laid out. They did it the right way.

These were the first citizens of Magalia, Concow and Paradise to begin the rebuilding.

What FEMA gives FEMA takes

Well, apparently last week new leadership at FEMA overseeing the recovery informed county and town officials these rules would make it impossible to use FEMA funds to do this clean up. In fact if FEMA did fund this clean up, to the tune of $1.7 billion, there was a very real possibility the General Services Administration (which oversees the Federal budget) would audit the payouts in two or four or six years time and decide the payments were made improperly. At that time, the GSA could and would require the funds be returned.

The logic goes like this: The town and county can’t say these areas are so toxic and dangerous they require emergency disaster funds to clean up while at the same time allowing people to live in RVs and trailers the same areas. If they are allowed to live there, the funds cannot be used. If they don’t live there, the funds can be used.

My understanding is the FEMA leaders also provided examples of past disasters where the GSA had pulled back hundreds of millions of dollars from local cities, towns and counties.

The situation is stark: Get these Camp Fire survivors out of RVs and trailers on burned parcels, or lose this money. And as we all know, though it is hard to admit, if this money doesn’t come Paradise, Magalia and Concow will never be cleared. We will never have our communities to be rebuilt.

Two irritating side-notes… FEMA is fine with people living in unburned houses just as close for some reason, which is a point of illogic I’ve seen frustrate Paradise and county officials alike. Also, though FEMA was demanding these changes and was aware of the disruption to Camp Fire survivors, they did not send representatives to either the county or Paradise town meetings discussing these rule changes.

The burden these Camp Fire Survivors are lifting for us all

So here’s where we are: The fire’s pain was distributed almost equally. Rich and poor, old and young, new resident and 5th generation townsperson all lost. We all ran. We’re all looking for a place to live and a moment of normalcy.

We all wait for the day when we can return to the places we loved.

But the burden to make sure these funds are safe is not shared equally. It is falling on those most eager, most ready to return and begin the rebuilding. They are being asked leave the area of the Camp Fire again.

All of us survivors, those in Chico, Oroville, Gridley, Red Bluff and farther out are depending on the town, the county and these few survivors to get this right so we can rebuild.

That’s why these survivors need the help of all of us.

What we can do for them

I don’t have this all worked out, but listening to the hardships these citizens shared at the Paradise Town Meeting and Butte County Board of Supervisors Meeting, moving again is as cruel a blow as we can imagine.

For many, it’s a move too much. They spent what hard cash they had getting their RVs and trailers back to their parcels. Some just can’t afford to move again, and none deserve it. But they must so we can all have a town again.

The best information available is they need to move for as much as three months, while the CAL OES teams clear their plots first… which allows them to return in their RV and trailers with the minimal possible disruption.

So what’s needed? I think we need a movement of Camp Fire survivors to help these newly displaced neighbors. We need a portion of the funds, resources and programs already donated to be dedicated to these Camp Fire Refugees 2.0 to make it possible for them to move as easily and painlessly as possible.

I’m not in the position to orchestrate all this, but the internet is a beautiful thing to organize a lot of people quickly.

Please post below if you know someone who’s in this tough spot and could use help.

Also, please post below organizations or people who could help.

And if you have suggestions on how to do this, please let’s get this organized.

These are Camp Fire victims who are doing something tough, unfair and painful which will help us all. They are taking the hit. Let’s do what we can to help them.