In late 2012 I was asked to shoot a piece which, at the time, was suppose to be a short form industrial piece about people who have found success using various programs and facilities offered by Grand Prairie Parks and Rec.  At the time, I had no idea what I was signing on for.  We started out shooting interviews of local citizens that had amazing personal stories.  Personal stories about tremendous weight loss, the ability to create programs for children in need, and introducing new sports to a city.  We shot 12 interviews and I thought we had great material for a nice, “little” piece about the successes evident in a robust Parks and Rec system.  What I was not prepared for, was what the project was to become.

Sequence 7The director of the Parks and Rec department has a unified vision for his city.  All his emails are stamped with the signature sendoff “Make Life Grand.”  You see the sentiment on all publications and advertisements sent out by the department.  You see it on the city’s billboards and banners.  What I learned in the year that would follow would not only make me believe that they followed that sentiment in everything they did, but carried it out with such precision and dedication that you couldn’t help but be inspired!

I’ve worked with Grand Prairie for many years on various projects.  They were, in essence, my first paying client.  So when I was approached to create video piece on their Parks and Rec department, there was no hesitation.  In my first blog, I talked about my passion for music video and artistic expression.  A close second would be biography and non-fiction narrative.  I love telling people’s stories.  It is one thing to escape reality and become engrossed in make-believe, but I’ve never felt more inspired in life then when I’ve listened to and recorded real stories of incredible people.

NatatoriumAllow me to define “incredible people.”  I truly believe that everyone has an incredible story to tell.  Life is so nuanced and inventive in the things that it throws at us, and listening to how people have triumphed in their daily lives will always win my attention.  This project not only captured my attention, but made me fall in love with the staff of the Parks and Rec department and the people that were able to share their experiences with me.

After the initial set of interviews we shot, I received an email stating that there were going to be more interviews.  “How many,” I asked.  “2o more,” answered a second email.  Each interview lasted between 15 – 20 minutes.  100 minutes of incredible interview footage just turned into 700.  To say I had a potential feature length doc piece on my hands is an understatement.  The project wasn’t to be a comprehensive story about everything the parks department has done, but the number of stories we shot included topics that covered most of what has been accomplished by the city within the past 10 years.  These were not people with sound bytes about how the city is “neato” and “a great place to live,” but people with (pardon the pun) grand stories of life changing events.  This was no longer an industrial / marketing video, and I couldn’t approach it as such.

Frisbie GolfDocumentary film is incredibly challenging.  You can plan for the story arc you want to create only to be blindsided by where it decides to take you.  I’ve learned, through time, to guide but let the interviewee steer.  I still have much to learn in approach, but my style when editing is to let the people in the interview tell the story and don’t include any voice over so I need to make sure there is a connecting thread in all the narratives.  I received a set of questions from the producer to ask each interviewer guided to what they were going to be talking about, but without unifying questions inserted here and there, the narrative would have been a collection of isolated stories.  When I edit these pieces, I never let one person tell their story start to finish, but pick a collection of people that have a global connection and let them finish each other’s sentences and thoughts.  This creates a wonderful pace in the edit:  a sense that we are driving to a point.

Sequence1The people we interviewed represented half internal people (city councilmen, city manager, Parks and Rec admin / employees, the Mayor) and half citizens.  The cause and the effect.  Through this, I was able to craft the narrative arc from global to the individual.  The final project landed at the 45 minute mark.  We could have done more but that felt like a good length.  We start the film with with the people in charge discussing interesting global concepts on how Parks and Rec can drive economic development and improv housing costs.  How attention to citizen needs increases quality of life and creates pride.  How creating infrastructure with input from the citizens creates strong and lasting relationships.  In a political climate as charged as the one we currently live in, seeing politics work can really be inspiring.  Partisan politics be damned.  When local government tirelessly works for the people, amazing things can and will happen.  It’s how the system is designed and how it should be carried out.

Sequence 8After we’ve discussed the purpose, we see the effect.  Story after story of personal triumph through the Parks and Rec department.  A few gentlemen who had severe wake-up calls from their doctor and used the rec centers to loose a 100 pounds.  People who have partnered with the city to create nationally recognized programs for people of all walks of life.  Parents of special needs children who worried that their kids wouldn’t have the same opportunities that other kids have who found open arms and activities that help them interact in all kinds of social settings.  A shy teenager who found acceptance and a love for helping younger kids.  A wonderful young woman with muscular dystrophy who is able to stay close to home for her treatment through the Rec Centers and who sees her time spent there as freedom from her day to day troubles.  All these people, all these amazing stories, a direct result of a department that is recognized as being the best in the nation.

It’s difficult to walk away from this project without being affected.  You can’t pull back this curtain without being engulfed in a wash of sunlight.  I believe looking back at the end of my career, hopefully far far in the future, that this project will be a standout.  Not because it was a personal triumph, which I believe it to be, but because of what it taught me.  The only real currency in this life is how we treat and interact with people along the way.  It’s not a new lesson, but one that needs a constant reminder.

Watch the trailer for “Grand Prairie:  A Community Celebration” here.