Sep 25, 2019

Behind the Scenes of the Clay Documentary

It's been a week since my documentary Clay, Creativity & the Comeback debuted at Medalta Potteries in Medicine Hat, Alberta and subsequently went live online. In that relatively short amount of time the feedback has been incredible, and with it has come a variety of questions.

While I'm sure there will be further updates down the road as I began to promote and share this project with a wider audience, in the meantime I wanted to answer some of the questions I've received and provide some context for how all of this unfolded.

Clay Documentary Editing Luke

How was this documentary financed?

Money is always a popular topic, and in this instance I can certainly understand the curiosity because of the scale of what had to happen to produce this. 

Earlier this year I received a message through the Editing Luke business website from a content producer working at TELUS HQ in Vancouver. I was essentially told that they were looking for Alberta filmmakers, had seen some of my work online, and were motivated to produce something before the end of August 2019.

They already had a budget in place and asked if I'd like to pitch them a documentary concept. This resulting project about how the industrial ruins of Medicine Hat's former clay industry were saved was that idea. We signed a contract, and by April I was in pre-production.

Medalta Documentary
Was this a TELUS Storyhive project?

No. I've been asked this a couple times because I think a few people are familiar with filmmakers campaigning on social media for votes to get their ideas produced.

Part of what made this experience so unique is that it was TELUS who reached out to me and initiated this collaboration. I didn't apply for anything, I've never worked with TELUS before, and I've never done a Storyhive project in the past. Not bad, right? lol. 

All that said, TELUS does a great job of investing in content production in the various markets they serve and I think they contacted me just to see if there was potential. It's cool that this worked out and that now we're both able to benefit from sharing an Alberta story that may not have been told otherwise.

Abandoned Medalta
What was the most challenging part of creating this documentary?

The time in which all of this had to happen was by far the most challenging aspect of this documentary. We signed a contract and my research began in April. I was in production through May and June, and then edited through July and August. 

That's not a lot of time to find your story, connect with and schedule all your subjects for interviews, dig through archives, source music, footage, images, shoot b-roll, etc. etc.

I wasn't in this completely alone mind you - but I think you'll find that most feature length documentaries have more than 5 months between initial concept and delivery date.

Vintage Medalta

Did you find anything you weren't expecting?

Surprisingly, yes. Some of the archival images of the abandoned factories and the vintage footage that was found for this documentary had never been widely released or seen before. Because my material was coming from various archives and often the interview subjects themselves, there was actually a lot that was uncovered, scanned, and digitized specifically for this film that probably won't turn up anywhere else. 

What was the most memorable part of shooting this documentary?

There were a lot of memorable parts to this project, but the moment that sticks out because of how surreal it was has to be filming with James Marshall when he got the call that his friend Jack Forbes had passed away.

James and Jack are credited with starting the movement to save the old Medalta factory, so to be interviewing James as he shared stories about Jack and then to receive that call - that was a crazy bit of coincidence to capture on camera.

Medicine Hat Clay District

What was the biggest lesson you learned on this documentary?

I think that compelling stories can be hiding right under your nose. I'd been exploring the clay district for years, had grown up in Medicine Hat, and actually had no idea how elaborate the history of the clay district was or how it was saved prior to researching for this documentary. 

I knew there was a big gap between when the factories had closed and when the Medalta museum had opened, but there was no formalized story written out for me to comprehend what had really happened in that time. From a narrative perspective, it was an amazing story to uncover. 

Historic sites like this can be found all over North America in various stages of decay OR redevelopment - and in sharing the success of what's happened here, you never know who it might inspire to take a second look.

Editing Luke Documentary

The introduction for Clay, Creativity & the Comeback can be viewed below, and to watch the complete 75 minute documentary CLICK HERE.

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