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.