One of the few bright spots of 2020 was the reaction in the disaster planning, first responder and wild land fire communities to the first four parts (which can be seen in a combined version here). It turns out taking the lessons we all learned has helped communities around the world.
This entry is about some things fundamental to all the lessons that came before: Information. It’s about how do we take it in, make sense of it and how we use it to make the decisions that will keep those we love, and our community, safe.
I believe films are made to speak for themselves, so I’ll leave it here. Would love to hear what you all think, and for you to spread this far and wide so the lessons we all found can continue to help those who are threatened by what happened to us all.
Update, remembrance & what fellow survivors taught me about enduring
If you’re like me, 2020 feels like a hammer smashing a marble.
I know we’re supposed to talk about rising up, being strong, overcoming, stiff upper lipping our way through it and all of those intentions are valuable.
But… Jesus Christ. I mean… Jesus Christ what an era.
This posting is meant as a reflection on the two-year anniversary of the Camp Fire, as an update on our project Three Days in Paradise and as a personal update for all of you who have become friends through these years. It’s also an update on the bright, if bittersweet, days, months and years to come.
I’ll admit, most of the traumatic after effects of the Camp Fire did not come home to me fully until this year. In the aftermath of the fire it became my ambition, along with my producing partners Laura Smith and Jenna Lane, to tell the story of our town, our history, our people like only those who lived here and held it close.
That work through 2019 allowed me to forestall most of the trauma I saw in our fellow survivors. Working on Three Days in Paradise kept me busy. It’s my ambition to tell such a deep, era-spanning story of what the fire meant to us all that my work dovetailed with a lot of other meaningful projects.
I was lucky enough to make on a very meaningful project, the Emmy-Nominated A High and Awful Price: Lessons Learned from the Camp Fire. I was able to be a field producer on Ron Howard, Xan Parker and Lizz Morhaim’s Rebuilding Paradise, and go to the Sundance Film Festival. As a filmmaker, it’s quite an experience and one I never thought I would have when I settled in Paradise. (It’s premiering on the National Geographic Channel this Sunday at 9 PM).
When I got home in February, I was planning to make several trips around the country to gather the funding and support to make Three Days exactly the kind of high quality, modern, meaningful production our story deserves.
My travel was to begin in late March or early April. Plans personal, career and professional were cancelled. I was forced to stop and think.
I fell apart.
I won’t go deeply into it here because I’m sure my struggles rhyme with your own. Since the fire I came down with an illness that has left half my face partially paralyzed. My boys have had more taken from them than I think I’ll ever know. I’m proud of the men they’ve become, but I can still see the tremors of anger, nostalgia and sadness in quiet moments when they think of their childhood in Paradise. And my ex-wife was rushed into emergency surgery and had a close call.
And that. When the fire happened, we were married and now for a constellation of reasons we are not. While we parted as friends, this was once one of my greatest fears and another one of the things I wonder would be different if it weren’t for the fire.
But we will never feel another day when the influence of November 8, 2018 does not touch us. So we soldier on. In the past months and weeks I’ve risen from my knees and am getting back to work. About that…
While the arrival of Covid-19 has scrambled the lives of everyone, it has done a real number of the film and TV industry. My friends in the industry tell me it’s likely movie theaters will never return to be what they once were. That is not to say anything changes for producing Three Days in Paradise (not a thing in this world or the next will stop me from working on it until it’s finished and worthy), it’s just that the media landscape has changed. We are changing with it, to make sure our story still gets out.
In many ways, that has made the production more challenging… the tastes of streaming and distribution companies have changed. But almost uniquely the events of 2020, with fire in Australia and here in California, the burdens of a pandemic touching everyone on the planet, has made our story of loss and rebirth resonant to almost every other human on Earth in a new way.
One way is we will be producing a podcast with award-winning KCBS Radio reporter Jenna Lane. It will be a kind of sister project to compliment the documentary series. More details on that to come.
Another is that we are going to be going back out into the field for more interviews, more updates, more stories that have cropped up as we have rebuilt. Our ambition is to tell the story of our people from long before the fire to long after. To take all our pain and love and experience and make something meaningful that will be ours, and last long after we are gone.
Our story is not unique. Overcoming is our essential human nature. And no one can tell that story to a world that needs to hear it better than us.
That said, I did want to add a few words about this film. If you’re like me, a resident of Butte County and onetime resident of Paradise, one of the awful worries that arose in the days after the fire is how outside TV producers and filmmakers would portray our story. Would they produce lurid, cheap, surface level treatments, where our homes, lives and friends are just props in a drama.
Or would they come and get to know us? Would they not only tell the story of the fire, but of US.
Well, now we know a lot. There were TV crews and filmmakers who made us their props. There were filmmakers who came to push their agendas. There were well meaning but amateur filmmakers who told earnest stories but were not talented enough to truly communicate what the Paradise Ridge was to us and what we lost.
And then there was the Imagine crew. Director Howard came to listen and talk. Producers Xan Parker and Lizz Morhaim came to get to know us. And they shot and gathered hundreds of hours of our story.
While working on THREE DAYS IN PARADISE, I’ve encountered a broad spectrum of filmmakers from newspapers, TV stations and world wide nes agencies, independent film producers and major Hollywood powers. None of them, not one came close to knowing us as Xan and Lizz did.
I was lucky enough to see REBUILDING PARADISE at the Sundance Film Festival in January. I was lucky enough contribute some small bit of producing for this film in what I think of as the end of my pre-COVID career.
What they did was worthy. This was made with a care and thought and sympathetic eye as though it was made by one of us. You will recognize the Paradise we knew and miss. You will recognize our struggle and strength.
I’m here to say they did it right, and if you have the hope to watch, you should see it. It’s something we can show our friends and family who were not here, did not live through it, to give them some idea what it was really like on that day and the year that followed.
And they wanted to show our Paradise Ridge community first. I talked to National Geographic and Imagine personnel at Sundance in January.
They were planning to show the film in Paradise April 27. There were even discussions of setting up a giant screen at Paradise High School’s Wraith Field and fill the field with survivors and first responders, bringing out community together to see it with the film’s crew. They also talked about showing it over two days at the Paradise Performing Arts Center.
This plan was literally days away from being announced in March. But Covid-19 overwhelmed this along with so much else. This was just another thing we lost, and another blow we had to absorb. I know it broke the heart of the producers and they wanted to share it with us, and do it first before the film rolled out to the rest of the world. But fate, as we know too well, had different plans.
National Geographic is also providing links to a spectrum of organizations still helping Butte County and Camp Fire survivors. You can find that HERE
We here on the THREE DAYS IN PARADISE production team were heartened to learn Wednesday of a bittersweet honor: The spin-off documentary we produced last year, A HIGH AND AWFUL PRICE: LESSONS LEARNED FROM THE CAMP FIRE (which you can watch for free here) was nominated for an Emmy Award.
Near to our heart, we produced the program in association with Butte County, (specifically Shelby Boston, the Director of the Department of Employment and Social Services), with an eye towards passing on the lessons learned by first responders, county workers, emergency planners and regular civilians. Our hope was to give these dearly earned bits of information to disaster planners and citizens all over the world, to help them prepare for whatever catastrophe they may face.
We were also heartened to have Action News Now do a story on the nomination and our director, Christopher Allan Smith. That can be seen HERE. Smith was nominated for another unrelated program as well.
In a way, I suspect my friends and neighbors from Butte County are having a slightly easier time coming to terms with the new realities of Covid-19. Over the last few years, between fires, floods and dam problems (of various kinds) we’ve had to absorb more than our shares of drama and disaster.
Maybe the only fringe benefit of all that is it takes more than the problems of the average bear to rattle us. Right now that means hunkering down until this all blows over. It also means you may already be crawling the walls with boredom looking for something to watch.
You probably don’t need me to tell you, but Ev grew up in Paradise, graduated from Paradise High School before going to LA for filmmaking (and deserved Emmy-winning). He spent 2019 making a film every CMF on the ridge needs to see. It’s available for rent and purchase here on Vimeo.
I’ve bought my copy. It’s something all survivors and friends and family of those who did should see.
For me films on the Camp Fire are too close to personal for my usual critical eye, so I won’t even try. For me, All Its Name Implies plays like the kind of home movie I need to remember a place none of us want to forget. Like all personal things–pictures, films, videos, saved momentos–it will become more dear as time moves on.
So if you’re looking for something to watch, put this on the top of your list.
Today’s update comes as I find myself a knot of emotions.
First, the personal update
I’m sure it’s a place familiar to fellow Camp Fire survivors. You find yourself coming across some happy surprise or some hard earned reward and realize with a pang it would not be possible if November 8, 2018 had been just another day.
For a moment you want to give up everything if that day could be turned into just another forgettable yesterday.
But it cannot, so we all work, to rebuild to tell our story, to pull something worthwhile out of all of this. Which brings me to our update:
Tomorrow I am going to the Sundance Film Festival to find people who might want to help the production of Three Days in Paradise, and also see Ron Howard’s Rebuilding Paradise. I was lucky enough to serve as a field producer on his project, as that work so neatly paralleled the work we’re doing with Three Days.
For someone in my industry, this is the fulfillment of a dream. Having a meaningful credit on a Ron Howard film is exactly the kind of work I originally hoped to get into when I started my film career.
But I know there is no way any of this would be possible if an awful price had not been paid. The word “bittersweet” was invented for just this kind of occasion.
So that’s the personal update.
Now, the project update
Working on Three Days In Paradise has consumed most of the past year for me. It’s been the most exhilarating and excruciating creative experience of my life. And as I see more and more documentaries and specials come out about the Camp Fire and the experience of us on the Paradise Ridge, the more convinced I am the only way the whole story is getting told is for us to tell it.
We’ve all seen some very good documentaries, but even the best only tell a part of the story that impacted us all. And now that our story is being reflected across the globe —in the Amazon where glorious forests have burned—in Australia, were working class people and wild animals have fled waves of fire and animals of all kinds have perished—fires in Greece and Indonesia and… and… and… it’s apparent to me more than ever that something happened in Butte County that people the world over can recognize and relate to.
Like all meaningful stories, it’s small and personal and specific, but speaks to human experiences people of every land and language can understand.
So now I go to rattle the cup and plead for funds to finish. To give you an idea why and how (and to short circuit the inevitable carps on the internet about ‘getting rich’ from tragedy) here’s what a documentary of this scope requires, and this is what we have already done:
Our ambition is to tell story of the people of Paradise Ridge, the causes and effects of the Camp Fire and catastrophes like it in a thorough, emotional and definitive way. As I’ve told our crew, our aim is not to be the first, but to be the best. That kind of storytelling takes an immense amount of work.
What it takes to produce a documentary series
Ken Burns, an influence on the project and creator of multiple well-loved documentaries, released his latest documentary series, Country Music, this last fall. To produce it, Burns and his team…
Did 101 interviews spanning 175 hours.
They reviewed 100,000 photographs.
Of those, they put 30,000 into their editing database.
Of those, they chose 3,300 to go into the final film.
They also gathered/shot 1,000 hours of additional footage.
All of that produced 14 hours that is the definitive documentary on one genre of music.
What we’ve done so far:
To give you an idea of where we are:
We have conducted 45 interviews of survivors, first responders, public officials, and fire experts. We hope to interview at least that many more, to say nothing of the more interviews we want to do in association with the oral history needs of the Gold Nugget Museum.
We have gathered somewhere between 7,000 to 10,000 photos. We estimate the need to review 40,000 to 50,000 more spanning from the 1840s until literally today.
We’ve gathered (thank you friends and neighbors) and hundreds of pieces of privately shot video and film.
We have shot more videos that we can currently estimate, and will need to look through hundreds of hours of archival news station and other local footage stretching back to the beginning of television.
What that will produce is a 5-to-8 hour portrait of the towns in communities we loved–Paradise, Magalia, Concow–a meaningful understanding of why this disaster happened and even more: what tragedies like this do to break and build people.
We’re not doing this so much to find out why, but to find the meaning in all this and pass on what we’ve experienced to others. We know it will help when they face catastrophes of their own.
And I’m telling you, after having reviewed what we’ve done so far, we have found that meaning. I can’t wait to show you all.
So I begin my journey at Sundance to (hopefully) find the checkbook that will make sure our story is told right.
Finally, in a case of great minds thinking alike, we’ll be doing what Ev Duran is doing with his project: Every penny above and beyond the costs of production will be going to fund the rebuilding of the lives of fellow Camp Fire survivors.
Usually, a documentary team finds an idea that interests them, gets funding, shoots interviews/scenes/gathers historical images and sounds and puts it all together. Sometime later, usually years after they begin, they release their documentary.
While sometimes there are behind the scenes extras on the BluRay or DVD disc, it’s normal for a vast majority of their footages/interviews/images and more to never see the light of day.
But for me, and all of us who lived through the Camp Fire, this experience has been far from normal.
That’s why we’re releasing a mini-documentary today, “A High and Awful Price: Lessons Learned from the Camp Fire.” It’s an hourlong program talking to Paradise citizens, first responders and some Butte County officials about the disaster preparedness they executed before the Camp Fire and what hard lessons they took from the experience of living through the disaster.
In the days of DVDs, it would be a big ‘extra,’ utilizing footage that’s useful and interesting but won’t make it into the bigger story. But we’re releasing it now because, frankly, there are people in California, across the United States and even areas around the world who could use these lessons now.
So if you have heard the story of the Camp Fire, and wonder what you can learn from it, here’s your chance. If you’re a first responder, or disaster preparer in the private sector or for a governmental body, there are things here for you. If you’re simply a citizen looking to know what you and your family need to do to prepare, this is for you.
I’m here today with the news a documentary we’ve produced, A High and Awful Price: Lessons Learned from the Camp Fire, is running this Saturday on KIXE. Specifically, it’s running December 28 on KIXE-HD, channel 9.1 at 8 p.m.
While this is not the docu-series we’re better known for–that being Three Days In Paradise to which you’ve all so generously donated interviews, footage and information and more–we’re releasing this now for a special reason.
A High and Awful Price is meant to pass along the lessons we’ve learned to help people think about, prepare for and plan for disasters that may befall them. As the name suggests, we’ve all been through something wrenching and heartbreaking, so the knowledge we’ve gained… and that can help others… is dear. So getting it out now is something we wanted to do even while Three Days in Paradise‘s release is still down the road a bit.
Price was made in connection with Butte County and is meant as a clear, simple explanation of the causes, effects and responses to a disaster as complex, overwhelming and devastating as the Camp Fire–while also communicating the most important lesson: You are not helpless and there is something you can do in the face of danger.
It was made with the help of Sheriff Kory Honea of Butte County, CALFIRE Chiefs David Hawks and John Messina, Director of Butte County Department of Employment and Social Services Shelby Boston, the Butte County Chief Administrative Officer of Butte County Shari McCracken, Emergency Services Officer Cindi Dunsmoor, Retired Disaster Coordinator for the Paradise Unified School District (and PHS Principal after the fire) Jeff Marcus and Executive Director of California Vocations Bob Irvine.
For that, we are very appreciative. You can see a preview here:
One of the few pleasures coming out of the saga of the Camp Fire is coming across all the filmmakers dedicated to telling our stories. With 50,000 people fleeing for their lives in the course of a few hours, with over 150,000 people effected locally and thousands more around the state and the country, the number of stories is staggering.
That’s why every time I see a new filmmaker putting down the tasks of their lives to pick up a camera and tell the world what happened on the Paradise Ridge, I feel a little better.
I just got home from the premiere of one of these filmmakers, and this one is special. This one is made by one of us.
Tonight was the premiere of Ev Duran’s All Its Name Implies, a filmmaker from Paradise, who went to PHS and has been working this last year to produce a film, a love letter to Paradise, through the lens of his family, friends and those he knew.
I’m not going to pretend to be objective or dispassionate in my judgements. It meant a lot to see this, to visit again the Paradise we knew, and to know Ev put his life in Los Angeles on hold for the last year while he worked on this. And to know he’s working so hard to use this film to raise funds for Camp Fire survivors still in need.
Some are coming to Butte County to use us as props to burnish their own reputations. Others are doing the right thing, taking their talents and work and passions to lend a hand and they should be rewarded.
Ev is one of those trying to help. He’s one of us. So help him out. The box office for tonight’s premiere is being donated to those in need, as are the funds from the upcoming January showing.
So head over to these links and find out how to help, where you can see All Its Name Implies and what you can do to help a local boy make good.
If you’re like me, the first anniversary of the Camp Fire was a cyclone of emotions.
There was shock that so much time had already passed and the shock that a whole year could feel like just a few days. The pain and bewilderment of the fire’s aftermath was made vivid again as the anniversary arrived, now mixed with an honest hope for the future and a bittersweet regret at all those who have been forced by economic and emotional circumstance to leave Butte County in the last 365 days.
And if you’re like me, only now are you really ready to talk openly. That’s why I’m writing today.
Since the one-year commemoration, I’ve noticed more survivors sharing their stories for the first time. I’ve also had more than a few say they will talk only to our Three Days in Paradise team, because we lived through it too.
I’m here to say we’re still here, we’re still listening, and we’re interested in hearing your stories as long as you’re content to share them.
While many documentaries have finished shooting and departed the county, Laura and I, along with our Three Days team, are still here. We’re living in Chico while our hearts remain on the ridge.
I know you or someone you know may have been too nervous or in too much pain to share your story of the Camp Fire over these last 12 months. Memories of the Ridge as it was may have been too much to talk about without tears.
Something about the first anniversary has prompted some people to finally share their experiences, and that’s why we’re still here.
We want to hear everyone’s stories. We want to know what happened to everyone, what is still happening, and where we go from here. And when our documentary series is done, when our interviews are donated to the Gold Nugget Museum, we want the world to hear our story and understand it as we do.
So if you or someone you know is only now wanting to talk, we’re here. If you find yourself chatting with loved ones over Thanksgiving dinner, at some Christmas party or some other holiday celebration, please keep us in mind.