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  • Writer's pictureWoody Harrison

The Story Behind The Story: The Gathering

The first of a brand new series that describes how these stories came to be. The work behind creating them, great footage that was left on the cutting room floor and things I would have done differently.

With that, I present, The Gathering.

Debbie Wilder, the director, approached me and my former company about telling a story about the group. They already had a video on the website, but it was very "homemade." She wanted the new video to look more professional and more importantly, tell a story.

I love that.

The first thing I did was work with Debbie and her staff to find a handful of willing participants. We all agreed that Bob Richardson would be the best.

Bob Richardson is a well known Austinite. He was a prominent personal injury attorney and also served on the Texas House of Representatives. He was also on KTBC TV way back in the day. This added a unique element to our main character for sure. Also, he could still speak of some of his time in office and his wife was well spoken and supportive of our project.

Bob Richardson

We interviewed her and Bob for a while. Got footage of them at the house, lots of shots of his office which contained years and years of memories from his time as an attorney, in office and on TV news. It's a treasure trove.

Interviewing him and his wife was a challenge. I had never interviewed or had personal experience with a person who has Alzheimer's. Hearing his ask me, several times, what all the camera gear was for was heartbreaking. He didn't remember asking me the same questions 2 minutes prior. His wife had warned me of this, and I in turn warned the crew. We were all very respectful and answered him the same way every time.

The interviews went well though.

Filming the story was a task! It ended up involving multiple days, multiple cameramen. My original vision was to create a more "cinematic" feel, rather than feeling like we just showed up with a camera and started filming. Basically, filming with intention instead of "spray and pray." (That's what we say when you don't really have a plan, so you film EVERYTHING and hope you get something to work with in post.)

The director of photography I hired was very good at movies and commercials.

I found out his strength was not in run and gun/documentary type of work.

We had a great Canon camera and I rented very nice Canon cinema lenses.

They produce a great image and give very shallow depth of field, which means the background is blurry:) But they can't zoom in and out and that wasn't great because when we were grabbing b-roll of them bowling, dancing, etc., we would have to change lenses every time I wanted to get a close up, or go back and get a wide shot. This ended up wasting a bunch of time and was a huge hassle. Also, my cameraman didn't really have a knack for anticipating where the next shot would be, which is critical in this kind of real world environment. We ended up missing some really good shots.

So I went back out there on maybe 2 different occasions to fill in the blanks and get the shots we had missed. That's fine, but from a budget standpoint, it's not ideal.

The original version of this video was very personal and focused on Bob and his wife. We dug into his past as an attorney and House rep. We also had much more personal interview footage with his wife about how Alzheimer's affects her on a daily basis and how hard it can be for a caregiver.

Then we showed the original version.

Debbie, the director of The Gathering, wanted more of a general overview video. I remember practically begging her to keep the video how it was: personal, emotional. But for her needs, a video that had a more general overview would be more useful. So Mike, the editor I worked with, re-cut it, but it still didn't have enough "testimonials" from caregivers or spouses.

This meant I had to hire another cameraman to get a handful of video and other interviews because I had schedule conflict and couldn't film it myself.

Budget blown at that point! But the interviews he got were really good and worked well for the new version.

Even though this story lacked the deeper feeling of personalization that the original version had, I still love this story. The interview where Carrie, one of the volunteers, cries because this group so important to her had me in tears as we were talking. And the original sit down interviews in the upstairs church area are freakin gorgeous! The b-roll is spot on, lots of people smiling and genuinely enjoying their time at the Gathering. The music is also very good.

Debbie ended up liking the new version, which is all we can hope for.

What I learned most from this project is:

  • The power of personalization. Focusing on Bob and his wife was very moving and allowed a far more deep dive into the difficulties of living and caring for someone with Alzheimer's. I still with we had kept that version.

  • I need to be very clear about what clients mean by "story." There's so many different way to create a video like this. I always prefer to focus on a single person, but that wasn't what Debbie had really wanted. Clarifying that upfront would have saved us a ton of time.

  • I would have made it shorter. 4:27 goes by pretty fast, but we could have been even more brutal with the edit. That's another problem with trying to cram too many messages into a single video: you make it longer.

So onto the next story.

Want to chat more about this story or a story you want to tell? Let's do it!

-in putting this story together, I found out that Bob Richardson died in 2017. His obituary is here:


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