“The Flint Project”, that is what we first referred to it as. Not because it lacked validity, but because of the mystery surrounding the direction of the project.
Being from the Detroit area I had heard of Flint of course, mainly because I am a hoops fan and the “Flint Stones” were huge when I was growing up. I was approached by our project manager Nick, who basically said, “Yo, we have an opportunity to do a piece for a non-profit in Flint. What do you think?” My ignorance immediately kicked in, and I thought, well, ok it’s probably about the water crisis, right? To which he responded, “No. It’s not actually. It’s deeper than that.”
Communities First, Inc. has taken on the challenge to flip Flint’s narrative upside down in times of great difficulty. The automotive industry was decimated, the population was cut in half. When there was a glimmer of hope for real estate and job growth, the water crisis hit and brought any momentum the community had gained to a screeching halt. However, when there are young leaders in the community who refuse to accept the cards they’ve been dealt radical change is always possible. CEO and co-founder Glenn Wilson said it best, “Some people might call me crazy. I guess I’m crazy for progress, crazy to see change happen.”
I decided to be brutally honest with our approach, so as to challenge the audience's perception of Flint. CFI co-founders Glenn and Essence Wilson also took us on what they call “The Real Flint Tour”, a 5-6 mile drive outlining the history of Flint and its distinctly known neighborhoods. Rather than creating a stereotypical, corporate brand video for Communities First, I completely immersed myself in the lives of the Flint citizens. I had lunch at Torch Bar several times, probably more times than would be considered healthy, but I really can’t say enough about their burgers. I chatted with locals who fished in the Flint River, which initially I thought was crazy. When I asked why they would fish these waters they told me “We do it for fun, we don’t eat em’ no more. We know brothas that do though, they don’t give a (insert explicative word here).” They told me they had already been drinking it for a few years without knowing, “So what’s the difference anyway?” That really put things into perspective for me.
Having that shift in perspective and communal understanding, production began. Our crew was a team of incredibly passionate professionals that are the best in their craft, which is something that truly cannot be beat. It was freezing cold most days and when we were in need of clear sunny skies, we were unexpectedly hit with snow. Our Producer Stevie Ansara led the way with the utmost class and charisma. He recommended embracing the weather to challenge ourselves creatively. The opening scene ended up being a slow motion shot at 100FPS utilizing the snow to our advantage, which was not initially planned for. Director of Photography Tommy Daguanno is quite arguably one of the most talented up and coming DPs within the entire Midwest region, if not the country. During production we shot with the ARRI Alexa Mini and super speed lenses by Zeiss. Tommy also used some additional hard edge ND filters to help maintain consistency with the soft, somber tone throughout. This was our third consecutive project together. We generally take a deep dive into the script beforehand and Tommy will send over a look book to make sure that what I see in my head matches our plan going in. He is extremely passionate and technical in his approach, which I can deeply relate to and appreciate.
Glenn and Essence of CFI are incredible people. Flint’s narrative is widely known, both nationally and internationally, due to the publicity surrounding the water crisis. However when we sat with the Wilsons, they wanted to make sure we did not make that the focal point of the story, which spoke volumes to their character.
In gaining an understanding of the community we were ultimately able to create a cinematic, passion-piece that was honest, authentic, and remarkably genuine. When creating content we try to push ourselves to be different, to explore avenues that are outside of the norm. Molding the experiences and emotions we attained for Flint into a beautiful and compelling story – that's what I’m proudest of about this project. To quote Glenn once more, “Where people see dirt, I see diamonds.” Diamonds are certainly on the horizon in Flint, MI. I cannot wait to look back in 5 years and say we were able to capture the initial phases of the movement in this historic and beautiful American city.
To view the Flint Communities First Story, click here.