Geoff Yaw, creative director at Think Media Studios, shares some insight into the creation of “Dazzle the District: Lighting the Legacy,” premiering on Cleveland’s own WJW Fox 8 on Saturday, April 26 at 3:30 p.m.
What is your role?
As a writer/ producer/ director, it’s my job to come up with a vision for a project like this and to see that vision through to the end. That is probably the most basic way to describe it. It’s my job to figure out the story that should be told and what the audience will eventually see on screen before we start. Will there be interviews? Voiceover? How should the images we create look and feel? What are the aspects of the story that are important to focus on? How will we establish tone? These are all questions that need to be answered before we unpack the cameras. On set, I am generally the person directing the crew and putting the camera into situations that will help to tell the story. I’m very lucky to work with a bunch of very talented people. When we’re documenting a process, the construction of one of the gateways, for example, I tell my crew what I’d like to see and then I generally get out of the way. If we’re interviewing someone, it’s my job to guide the on screen discussion. My responsibilities then extend into the editorial process.
How do you approach a project like this? Where do you start?
The most important step is to understand what it is that you’re documenting. You have to get the lay of the land and understand who the characters are. Once I feel like I have my arms wrapped around that I develop an outline. Having this outline is a big help in guiding what we should be focusing on in any given situation. What the outline doesn’t cover is the unknowable, and sometimes the unknowable has potential to give you something much more entertaining than what is found in the outline. When making documentary projects, you are inundated with unknowable situations. It’s a constant decision-making battle between using your time to capture outline topics or choosing to go “off script.” Sometimes you choose and pray. Viewers of this special will definitely see some unknowable situations that came to light during production.
You captured a lot of footage. How do you decide what makes it and what doesn’t?
As I mentioned earlier, I have the privilege of working with very talented people. For editorial, I’m teaming up with editor/producer Keith Potoczak on this project. It’s true: you shoot a lot of footage for a project like this. This is where the outline comes back into play again. As we go through production, I make changes to the outline that fill in the blanks and account for the unknowables that we encounter. This information generally dictates what stays in and what goes. It’s basically a matter of finding the best stuff that tells the story in the best way and then using craft to shape the story in the most compelling way. Simply put, if it doesn’t advance the story, it goes.
Aside from possibly having too much footage, what were the major challenges?
Editorial is always a challenge and this project was no different. In production, I’d say the biggest challenges for us were the same ones the installation crews faced. The physical elements began their installations in February and many installations happened at night…in Cleveland…during one of the coldest winters in decades. ‘Nuff said.
Did you have a vision for this project from the outset? Or did it evolve over time?
There was definitely a vision and it did evolve. The thing you generally don’t know from outset is who all the players are and how they will come across on screen. There are some big personalities on the team that provided some opportunities for humor that I didn’t necessarily anticipate. Also, in the beginning I was on the fence about using voiceover narration as a storytelling tool. As the edit started taking shape, it became pretty clear that we would need it to advance the story in a concise way.
What do you hope people come away with after watching this?
My goal with this project was to get the audience to understand the broader importance of this undertaking. I think that it could be easy to see this project through the lens of “PlayhouseSquare decided to build and install some impressive looking things.” This is in part, of course, true, but to me there is a much deeper symbolic meaning to the project that speaks to the identity of PlayhouseSquare and greater Cleveland as a whole. I hope that the audience sees the heart and soul that PlayhouseSquare and the team put into the project.
What is your favorite “Dazzle the District” element and why?
I think my opinion on this may be controversial. I don’t like to pick favorites, but I really love the retro sign. It’s extremely visually impressive and I love that it’s a throwback to the origins of the district.
The story we’re telling with “Dazzle the District: Lighting the Legacy” is part vision, part design and part engineering. If you know anything about PlayhouseSquare’s past, you’ll start to detect a theme for most of the important moments in the organization’s history. This story is about people coming together to get something done that hadn’t been done before or was thought to be impossible (like building the world’s largest outdoor chandelier).
Learn more about the Dazzle the District project and May 2 celebration and lighting ceremony at playhousesquare.org/dazzle.
Think Media Studios, Cleveland’s leading video and event production company, produces award-winning video, feature films, and multimedia assets for a wide range of uses.