In March of 2020, shelter-in-place orders were just beginning across the United States. In St. Paul, Minnesota I was mentally preparing myself for the uncertainty of what a pandemic means in the modern age.
And then, I received a phone call from Blair Woodbury. He was a friend I knew back in undergrad days at Colorado College, who later pursued a career in emergency medicine. Not only was I surprised by his call but also his proposal, “I think you should be out there filming in the pandemic.” After long discussions, we both agreed that this period of human history needed to be captured in an intimate and personal level across the country. And we needed to do all of this carefully and safely.
Blair referenced articles and research that would serve to inform us on how to keep safe while filming with characters in the field. I started filming in Sioux City, Iowa to test these protocols but also demonstrate to other cinematographers how we were hoping to tell these stories. From there I had conversations with several cinematographers about capturing this period through a character-driven lens. I wanted to encourage filmmakers to engage with this unknown that we’re all sharing together and find some meaning through the experiences of people around us.
Over the course of several months we have been following approximately 20 characters in 12 states tracking the events of the COVID19 pandemic. We followed our characters through personal milestones like weddings and business closures to nationwide events like the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing.
A week before the presidential election, I received a phone call from Andrew Metz and Raney Aronson at Frontline | PBS. They had a bold proposal — produce a 50 minute post-election special broadcast. This meant 5 days of filming and 10 days of editing for it to release on Nov 17th, 2020. Blair and I both felt like this was an impossible endeavor. But our original plan seemed impossible as well so we thought, “let’s try this too.”
The Frontline team tasked with assembling the film in post-production consisted of 4 senior producers, 7 editors, 2 co-producers, 8 assistant editors, an archive producer, a director of post-production and so on. Andrew and Raney recruited an incredibly talented team of individuals who worked efficiently and with sharp precision. To work alongside their team felt like watching a close-knit family at work. It was an inspiring experience.
Blair and I, along with the cinematographers, are still intending on making a feature-length film or series about these Americans during the pandemic. But there’s no doubt we were happy with this brief but also powerful collaboration with Frontline | PBS.
Watch full film on Frontline | PBS
AMERICAN VOICES: A Nation in Turmoil
Writer, Director & Producer | Frontline - PBS | 2020
Behind ‘American Voices’: How 2 Dozen Cinematographers Followed People Across the Country for FRONTLINE’s Latest Film Documenting 2020