Monthly Archives: October 2012

The Making of DHL: Totally Out of Control

This post documents what I went through during the production of the FLL episode 生命不對秤 Live and Let Live, as well as the website life.fll.cc

There are pictures throughout the post, if you want to view it all at once, you can click here.

NOTE: I also link to different timestamps of the episode throughout the post to pinpoint the specific shots. This way you get an idea the work involved for getting individual shots :P.

How It Began

It all began with an email I got on Apr 26, 2012.

That’s when the first hour of debate on Motion 312 was going to be held in Parliament. Even though I’ve always considered myself pro-life ever since 2001, I wasn’t really aware of this Motion 312 initiative until the day before, when I heard from the news on radio. I didn’t fully understand what it’s all about, but it’s good to have debates being held in Parliament regarding abortion – a controversial issue that so many people are not willing to talk about.

The email asked if FLL is going to cover March for Life this year. For 2 or 3 years in the past, I brought my own camera to March for Life, to film whatever I could (in however amateur way), so that I could post on YouTube to show people how many young people are there each year, because the mainstream media would only show a picture of an old man sitting in a corner instead of the 10K+ crowd. I couldn’t think of any reason to say no to this request, to cover an event that I consider worthwhile, with a proper production crew. So I just said yes.

It turns out I am going to “lead” a campaign on the dignity of human life (code name: DHL). When I agreed to do this, I have to say, I didn’t even know what “dignity”  really means. Killing humans is wrong. That’s a no-brainer. But what is all this “dignity” stuff about?

The Preparation

I started doing research to prepare for the March for Life filming on May 10. I read up on Motion 312, what it proposes, what is going to happen when it passes, what is a motion (vs. a bill), how do the pro-choice people argue against it etc. I started reading up on the past bills that were proposed related to abortion. Little did I know so much effort was put in by pro-life MPs at the Parliament, to introduce legislation that attempts to fill the complete void regarding abortion in Canadian law. I started digging LifeSiteNews: which MPs are pro-life and are still in service (some have retired or lost), what trends do pro-life activists observed etc.

Then I drafted the rundown for the filming. In my plan, it would be *nice* to film some interviews with the pro-life MPs, my candidates are Stephen Woodworth, who introduced Motion 312, as well as Rod Bruinooge who introduced Bill C-510 (against coerced abortions) in 2010. I also wanted to interview top pro-life leaders like Jim Hughes (president of Campaign Life Coalition), Dr. Alveda King from the States (not even sure if she would attend this year), and Angelina Steenstra (from Silent No More Awareness Campaign). I had no idea how it might work out though. They would just get on stage for a brief time, and then they would be gone.

We had a conference call a few days prior to the filming with everyone involved. We discussed the plan: who would operate which camera? what shots would we need?  who would partner up with whom etc. We all knew it’s going to be adhoc (as with filming any events, or in general, any filming) and we were all ready to 執生.

As I studied the March for Life program schedule more closely (which is a multi-day event, not just “the march”), I found that there was going to be a candlelight vigil the night before, which I had never attended. What caught my attention was that it would be held at the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights Monument. I looked up more details in Wikipedia, and I found that the monument has the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights written on it: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. Whoa! Do I still have to think about it? Go go go, let’s film it!

The Trip: Totally Not My Plan

I got off work at 3pm on May 9. And the traffic was sooo bad. I was late when I got home. And when Patrick (the primary camera operator for this episode, a TV production team member) and I finally left my home for Ottawa, the highway was jammed soooo badly. When we arrived, we saw that people already started walking from the church to the site of the vigil, their hands holding candles.  When we were finally ready to film, it was already 20+ min into the 1-hour vigil. It was dark but we filmed whatever we could.

On the next day, we arrived way before the program began. After filming miscellaneous shots, we occupied a good spot in front of the stage (all other big cameras were already there). The rest of the FLL team from Toronto finally arrived when the program was about to begin. Everything on stage was filmed, speeches by MPs and bishops etc. The MPs were introduced one by one and they each gave a brief speech. When they were done speaking, they just left. It was very clear that we wouldn’t be able to film interviews for any MPs, because the main camera occupied the good spot, it was not possible to chase with the camera, and once we left we wouldn’t be able to be back at the spot again.

And then the march began. I partnered up with Patrick who operated the main camera. Daniel (FLL staff who works for TV production) and Paul (aka FLL director) each operated a camera. They would follow the march at different spots so that we could all capture different things.  Patrick and I filmed an interview with Kevin (a friend of mine, who wrote the lyrics for the pro-life song 胎中的呼聲) first, before we joined the huge crowd for the march. When Patrick, Kevin and I left to join the march, we were at the end of the crowd. We decided to find a shortcut so that we could be ahead of the 龍頭, this way we could film the most. So we just cut through the streets, we rushed and we weren’t even sure where we were. But eventually we saw the 龍頭 again, we got ahead of them and could film as the Silent No More people walking toward us as the 龍頭, followed by Knights of Columbus, followed by people holding the giant March for Life banner walking toward us and past us. It’s the first time I could catch that in all my years of attending March for Life. Hohohohoho! I didn’t expect we could catch that at all.

After filming the crowd walking toward us for some time, I tried to look for people from the crowd for some streeters (i.e. 街頭訪問). I was specifically looking for young girls, because for a topic like abortion, it is very important to include voices from women (that’s what I learned after posting my amateur videos on YouTube, commenters would think I must be male, and would accuse me of not including any women speaking on stage in my video). With little effort, I got two young girls to agree to do a quick interview. All went well. Patrick told me after the interview that a pro-choice protester deliberately tried to ruin some shots by holding a sign in the background, but most of it should still be ok. We filmed one other short interview of Kevin’s friend. And then we met Paul. Paul helped us grab Peter Sinn’s son for interview. I love his direct, no-nonsense answer. And I am really impressed that this year is his 4th time of joining March for Life, consider how young he is!

After the march, we went back to Parliament Hill, where members of Silent No More Awareness Campaign went on stage to talk about their healing journey from abortion. We filmed some speeches. And then the main camera went to film interviews of the Chinese participants. Many people were willing to be interviewed, it was quite a line-up. What caught my interest was when Jeannie (from the pro-life group in CMC parish) told me one lady in the group was assigned to do Family Planning stuff when she was in China. I went to talk to her at once. She had seen and performed abortions herself when she was in China. When she came to Canada, she became a Catholic. And she said she learned a lot from Theology of the Body. What a witness! A first-person witness for one-child policy, what more could I ask for?!

After the interviews, Paul suggested Patrick and I to warm up a bit. It was a pretty cold day. So we went to a place nearby to get some hot drinks. What surprised me was that… when we got back to Parliament Hill, the crew was setting up, ready to interview Angelina Steenstra!  I couldn’t help but thank God at once. I thanked Him for how things happened without my presence. I totally got my interviewee for free! Even though it was raining a little (Paul had to hold the umbrella for Angelina the whole time), Angelina gave a complete account of her journey, after I asked one single question (see, it didn’t even matter what I asked! :P). It was a very moving account. I am not a hugger, but I gave her a hug first thing when she finished talking.

We went to eat at Tim Hortons after Angelina’s interview. And before heading back to TO, Paul, Patrick and I went to film shots of the Human Rights Monument. What a fruitful filming trip 🙂

The Website

A big part of the campaign was to put together a website. Paul got in touch with Kwan Ho (also from the pro-life group in CMC parish) to help with that. (He was the originator who asked about covering March for Life.) He was very resourceful and looked up a whole pile of articles, many of them from academic journals which I had no access to. He put together a summary of information. We planned for the website to launch in mid-July, assuming the vote of Motion 312 would take place in Fall. And then on May 16, I found out from Twitter that the second hour of debate would most likely be held on Jun 7, and the vote would take place the week after.

The news made me all 方寸大亂. Would there still be enough time to launch a website before June? On May 17, I got an email from upper management saying that all teams were required to work on the Victoria Day long weekend. Perfect timing eh? Our manager then said our team would have to come in to work in the office for one day, to honor that company-wide commitment. When my team lead discussed with me which day I preferred to come in to work, I said Saturday (coz I still wanted to go to church on Sunday). Then my team lead just told me the majority of the team preferred to come in to work on Sunday, knowing I am a Catholic (and not knowing there is evening mass that I could go to on Saturday :P), he said that I could work from home (since there wouldn’t be anyone in office even if I got there) on Saturday. Bingo! This is how I got on VPN all day Saturday and worked on the website the entire long weekend 🙂

The original plan was to do a bilingual website. But due to the lack of time, the site was only in Chinese.

On Jun 2 6:14am, a mass email was sent out by FLL core team to announce the launch of life.fll.cc

(The vote ended up happened in September because Stephen Woodworth postponed it due to his mother’s illness. His mother ended up passed away in August.)

My Jaws Dropped

After the website was launched, I had to get back to the big question. What should the TV episode cover?

Even though we filmed a pile of stuff from March for Life, most of it were b-rolls (non-interview shots that could be used for inserts). I dug out other footage that were filmed last year. There were short interviews filmed at Life Chain (prayerful, silent protest at an intersection). We filmed the entire Pro-Life Dinner at CMC last year. But for sure all these combined wouldn’t make one 24-min episode.

On Jun 24, I received an email which says that Alex Schadenberg, the executive director of Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, would deliver a talk at CMCC for the cancer support group on Jul 28. A light bulb came up in my head, should he be an interviewee? I looked up some of the interviews he did in the past. He is certainly articulate and he answered straight to the point. The only thing left was that I wouldn’t be available to do the interview on Jul 28. I contacted Jeannie (who is also part of the cancer support group) and Alex accepted the invitation very quickly. And Amy (a good friend of mine, also a staff with FLL TV production currently on mat leave) was available to do the interview for me.

Having an interviewee to talk about euthanasia now, I thought I could really start thinking about the content of the episode.

I started researching more on Alex to prepare for drafting the interview questions. In one of his articles, he wrote about a disturbing TV program that Global TV aired in March. The program interviewed a mother of two severely disabled adult children. They currently live in a long-term care facility. The mother indicated that she would rather have them euthanized, because she was sure that her children wouldn’t want to live like that. The program also interviewed Robert Latimer, who went to jail for killing his sick daughter with carbon monoxide. Alex mentioned in his article that the Nazis opened the door to euthanasia by first euthanizing disabled, mentally challenged people. One of the very first euthanasia was conducted after the father of a severely disabled child wrote to Hitler to request to have his son euthanized.

My mind was still blank, how should I tie unrelated things (March for Life, abortion and euthanasia) together?

In my prayer during morning drive one day, I got an idea, I should go ahead to read Evangelium Vitae (Gospel of Life) in its entirety – the encyclical written by JPII on the dignity of human life. I think this is the first time for me to really read an encyclical with effort. And I love JPII all the more after reading it.

When I had written half of the outline, I said to Paul one day: it would be nice if we could have a lawyer as an interviewee, since we would talk about abortion laws. Paul said there might be a (Chinese) lawyer that he could ask.

On Jul 21, Paul sent out an email saying Peter Chen (who coordinated the Motion 312 effort for Chinese Catholics) could connect to Stephen Woodworth, he would meet up with some people in TO on Jul 28. That would be a good opportunity to interview him.

My jaws dropped when I read that email. Oh my goodness, what more could I ask for? Stephen Woodworth is the lawyer I need! And he is the one who introduced Motion 312. All the pieces of the episode were now in place. Once again, without ANY effort from my part, another interviewee fell from the heaven for me 😀 And guess what, some of the prep work that I did before March for Life filming and for the website would now come in handy. I’ve already done my homework!

Interestingly, both Alex’s and Stephen’s interviews would have to take place on Jul 28. I couldn’t physically be there to conduct the interviews myself. How nice it would be if I could interview Stephen in-person. But that’s ok.

Let the Post-Production Begin

After getting all footage at the end of July, I worked non-stop. By now, I’ve read so much on the subject. I could throw out fact after fact to make my points. The interviewees all gave really good answers. I just need to pick out the best. It’s just the voiceovers that need to be written. Due to the heavy historical content that I would like to include, it means the voiceovers would get really long. It would mean a whole lot of fun during editing. But that’s ok.

On Aug 14 at around midnight, both Bonny (FLL core team & TV team member, Paul’s wife) and Paul have reviewed my first draft. Paul sat down with me to go through his thoughts. He told me a number of things that need to be addressed. One big problem was the tone throughout the entire episode. My voiceovers sounded so strong. Since the interviewees already gave strong answers, if the voiceovers also used such a strong tone, some viewers might be turned off and stopped watching the program altogether. And then there were passages that I copied straight from the encyclical into voiceovers. Those sounded all odd because they were translated, and the viewers wouldn’t understand the content (because it’s originally meant for Catholics). There were many changes to be made. It wouldn’t be a quick fix. It was clear the air date needs to push back for one week in order for me to fix it to an acceptable quality. I was a bit caught by surprise when I heard this feedback. I was so confident with my work. I was a bit mad at first but I could see the issues when I worked on it again the next day. I spent another few days to fix the script. On Aug 21 midnight, the script was finally approved.

The next thing was to get voiceovers recorded. I already had a VO talent in mind: Charles. He has a 雄厚 voice which makes things sound convincing. On the day of VO recording, I worked from home in the morning. Before heading to FLL office, I went to borrow some books. You might wonder why I wanted to borrow books when the script was already written. To a TV producer, books are lifesavers. I ended up borrowing 9 books from 3 libraries. With the books, I could get shots of book covers and inside pages. These shots were super useful.

After the VOs were recorded, the last stage of the post-production began: fill in all the visuals. This episode is heavy on voiceovers. Approx 13 mins of the episode are voiceovers, I had to find things to fill up all this time. What made things more difficult was the kind of pictures that I need were NOT pleasant at all. I had to look for pictures of the holocaust and the Nazis. I had to look for pictures related to abortion. When you search for abortion in Google Images, many pictures that show up are dismembered fetus. So I had to sort through many scary pictures in order to find pictures that could convey the right message but not too bloody/scary. At some point of the editing process, I told Bonny and Paul that I felt like I was working on a 900-page PowerPoint. I believe the episode used over 100 images. On Sep 7 midnight, the visuals were all filled in. I could finally hand it over for final audio mixing/touch-up before broadcast.

Afterthoughts

  1. Divine Help: This is the first project that made me really aware of divine help. I said yes to agree to take on this project. The more I worked on it, the more I became aware that I was actually fighting a battle. When I asked for help and inspirations, God provided the weapons for me to continue with the fight. When things went out of my control, He is in control. Without His help, nothing could be done.
  2. God’s Time: Many years ago, Maria (a good friend of mine) and I tried to put together a pro-life website for CMC’s pro-life group. We tried to cover many topics all at once. We did research. We were halfway into implementation. And then the project 爛尾 because we ran into issues with customizing the content management system. I felt pretty bad about it. I certainly let people down. This time around, the resources were all there for me. Web-hosting is free. I had someone who helped me with research. And it’s so much easier to put together a website with WordPress in 2012. I feel like this is God giving me a chance to complete a project that was abandoned. And this time around, the website got to serve in the Motion 312 campaign. God’s timing is the best.
  3. Putting My Fire to Good Use: People who know me probably know of my 火爆 character. Ever since I became aware of the evil of abortion, I had tried to commit myself to help in the cause. As I was doing research for the episode, I came across so much evil things: how the Nazis lured midwives and doctors to register disabled infants with monetary reward, how Dr. Henry Morgentaler performed abortion for a TV program to air on Mother’s Day etc etc. My entire self was burning as I read pages after pages of horrendous crimes committed against humanity, and I told myself that I must expose this evil for the world to see. I found the channel for my fire to serve constructive purposes.
  4. Putting My Loud Voice to Good Use: During the summer, ever since I came across the Motion 312 postcards, I kept thinking how I could utilize them. And then I realized maybe I could talk about Motion 312 in GT (ECCCLC, Eastern Canada Chinese Catholic Living Camp), and then I could give out postcards to engage the youths to contact their MPs. I contacted the GT committee and they accepted my offer. Even though it was tough to prepare for the GT presentation and work on the episode at the same time, I was so glad to be able to share with the youth. I am really thankful for this opportunity because my own “pro-life conversion” was a result of me attending a talk in 2001.  After I gave my presentation, Paul Tam (FLL core team member & radio team coordinator) came telling me that my voice is really suitable for “lobbying” and it’s full of passion. (Finally I can consider my loud voice a gift – usually people would complain I talk too loud.)
  5. God is Kind: After all the hard work, on the Sept 15 weekend (when the episode went on air), I got a little reward in the form of a fortune cookie message. 😛

All Pictures