How the Sacramento Bee created its Camp Fire documentary


Footage from last year’s deadly Camp Fire in California has been turned into a moving documentary by The Sacrmento Bee.

Yes, a newspaper, created what is one of the more impressive documentaries you likely will watch on the Internet this year.

We caught up with the producer of the documentary, Alyssa Hodenfield, a video producer at the Sacramento Bee to learn about the project and talk about what the future looks like for news organization and documentaries.

Tell us about how the idea for this documentary came together?

One of the Bee’s photographers, Hector Amezcua, had been in Paradise and sent back hours of drone video featuring the town’s destruction. I was trying to edit the footage into about a three minute video for the top of a story and found it to be difficult. I realized that the magnitude of what happened in Paradise really couldn’t be summed up into a few minutes. We had so much video footage and so many stories that I realized the story of the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history needed to be told in its entirety.

The coverage of this story must have been amazing. What stood out to you when McClatchy newsrooms were covering it?

I was truly blown away by the quality of coverage, and I think the dedication is what stood out to me the most. When the Camp Fire broke out, the entire newsroom was on board in coverage efforts. Reporters and photographers were in Paradise for countless hours talking to people, getting stories and footage. The obligation my colleagues have to this community is inspiring, and that’s exactly why I wanted the Sacramento Bee reporters and photographers to be the main narrators in the documentary.

How did you approach the creation of the documentary?

I knew right away that I wanted to interview Bee reporters and photographers and hear them tell the stories I had read throughout our wildfire coverage. They’d been covering it day after day, so I knew their firsthand experiences would bring a really powerful aspect to the documentary. Then, I spent hours collecting video from our stories and archives: drone footage, victim interviews, body cam footage, etc. From there, it all came together.

What were you trying to accomplish with the documentary?

I had friends and family members from my home state of North Dakota asking me about the Camp Fire, and I struggled to find the right words to explain what was really happening. I wanted to create a big picture story of the Camp Fire. It was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history, but what exactly does that mean? I wanted to combine all of the Bee’s powerful stories with those of victims to convey what a wildfire of this magnitude is truly like and how it affects a community.

Newspapers typically don’t create video like this. Do you see The Bee doing more work like this in the future?

I do. I think visuals are an extremely important component that help tell a story, and McClatchy and the Bee have made video a priority in all of our news efforts. Documentaries take time to produce, so they will always be reserved for stories that warrant that amount of attention. But we demonstrated here just how important documentary-style storytelling can be in our coverage.

Anything else you would like to add?

This documentary was the product of many hours of work among an entire newsroom, and I am glad I had the privilege to bring these stories together.