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.

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.