Telling Our Story by way of Sundance

Hi there friends and neighbors,

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.
  • It’s already helped producer a spin-off informational project, A High And Awful Price: Lessons Learned from the Camp Fire (watch it here).

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.

Thanks for reading.

One thought on “Telling Our Story by way of Sundance

  1. My thoughts & prayers will be with you at Sundance film festival ! We still love our beautiful mountain , “Come Back “ town of Paradise 🌲❣️

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