Unscripted community comes together in wake of massive California fires

California is experiencing a record-setting wildfire season, with thousands of firefighters and members of the National Guard on site fighting fires that have thus far burned close to 600,000 acres. ...
November 16, 2018

California is experiencing a record-setting wildfire season, with thousands of firefighters and members of the National Guard on site fighting fires that have thus far burned close to 600,000 acres. The death toll has now reached 63, according to current reports, with over 600 people still unaccounted for.

Amid the tragedy and massive evacuations, the non-fiction film and television community has stood strong, with support coming from across the industry.

Staff at boutique prodco 1895 Films had to evacuate their offices last Friday (Nov. 9), but the threat of fire damage meant that some precautions needed to be taken, and there wasn’t much time to react. Ellen Farmer, co-owner and head of production at the Calabasas-headquartered studio, recalls seeing reports of the increasing threat on Thursday night.

“I basically paced until about five in the morning and got Rob Kirk, our senior producer, up and said, ‘Could you wake up and turn on the news? I really think we have to evacuate drives out of our office,’” she tells realscreen.

Active production drives were suddenly vulnerable, posing a threat to 1895′s slate of current projects. “We don’t have some great cloud version, and there’s so much media. That drama just kept playing in my mind,” she says.

Kirk and a few other producers made their way to the 1895 Films offices to collect the drives in the early hours of Friday, all of which were then stored at one editor’s house. “That took up half his house,” says Farmer, grateful for the team’s commitment.

The team has been back at work for the last few days, with everything back to normal — relatively — as of Wednesday (Nov. 14). “Deadlines don’t wait,” says Farmer. “The troops rallied and got it all back in, and we were functioning, up and running. We are a boutique company, and we are a family company, and our staff is our family. Definitely, I could feel that, and it felt wonderful as I saw people filing back in.”

Support has been strong even between companies too.

Eric Schotz, president and CEO of indie prodco Anvil 1893, had to evacuate his home in Hidden Hills.

“The community has been unbelievable,” he says. “People check in on each other. Social media actually [is being] used for something other than self promotion and a picture of my food. You’re able to check in and tell people in one fell swoop that you’re okay.”

Despite the Anvil 1893 offices being untouched by the fires, the company has still been affected, with staff encouraged to stay home for their safety. “I have no Internet. I’m living in 1981 right now. Have you ever tried to make a deal when you don’t have Internet?” says Schotz.

“The one thing about the TV community, especially on the non-fiction side, we all know each other pretty darn well,” he adds. “Everybody was checking in on everybody. Even people from the East Coast.”

“Facebook became an important lifeline, and all I saw were colleagues reaching out to each other, offering any help they could provide. People offered their homes to my family,” adds Adam Freeman, EVP of creative affairs at LA-based prodco Thinkfactory, who also had to evacuate but is now home safe.

“Thankfully, the networks were incredibly supportive. I was actually on the phone with an exec the exact moment I got word we had to leave.”

Beyond work life, the personal toll for some in community has been high too.

Rachel Brill, head of unscripted programming at Epix, started a relief fund on Facebook for Melanie Moreau, head of premium content development at Complex Networks. Moreau, among many others, lost her home in the fires.

Brill’s fundraiser is just one of many campaigns to garner support for those most affected by the fires, and it’s gained traction outside of California.

“I had a woman call me from Boston last night, and she [said], ‘I really want to donate to your page. I’m having issues reposting it and getting in, but I want to put it on the radio.’ And I asked her how she knew Melanie, and she’s like, ‘I just met her in a pitch meeting once,’” says Brill. “You can’t ask for that kind of support. It’s just overwhelming and awesome.”

Couched within the camaraderie is the knowledge that the situation has been, and continues to be, life-changing for many.

“There are a lot of producers who have lost everything,” says Farmer. “If anything we’re very fortunate out of this whole thing.”

(Photo courtesy of Eric Schotz)

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