Selling Stories to Inspire Us All

Article excerpt

An old adage says that politics makes strange bedfellows. Volunteer work does, too, often with consequences beyond what anyone dreamed of.

When a prominent Enid doctor and a prison inmate started working together on a volunteer project, little did they know they would inspire a multipart national television documentary on community projects.

It won't be finished until mid-2000 and, no, there's no market for it -- yet. But that's not stopping Jack Quirk, owner of KJ Productions of Enid and writer-producer Cherie Greethurst. They have begun work on It Takes A Community, with an eye toward selling it to a cable television channel or the Public Broadcasting System. Already the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority has expressed interest in it. What is now the background of several episodes was the beginning of the project, which started small. "We were working on Adventure Quest in Enid and felt like this would make a good documentary, probably an hour long," says Greethurst. "But the more we looked into it, the more we interviewed people and talked to professionals involved in this sort of thing, we began to realize there's more here than just a simple one-hour Oklahoma television program. It's a story that needs to be told. It's just too good to pass up." What they are doing is on a little less than a shoestring budget. Following in the footsteps of some well-known documentary producers such as Roger Moore and Ken Burns, they are doing their first production, literally, on a credit card. While they would like to have some investors, the business they are developing is not one to inspire a lot of confidence that there will be a major return on investment. "One of the problems is that PBS doesn't pay for programs people bring to them," she says. "If they like an idea or a project concept, they will fund its development, but once a program is completed, they don't buy it. "Of course, the cable channels will pay for it, but usually not a lot of money. It depends upon the amount and types of commercials they can sell to go with it." Even so, they are undaunted, almost like a couple on a mission. Their two-person firm is developing a shooting schedule so that the five-part documentary is completed and in the can within 18 months. They also are looking for foundations that will offer grants to help them complete the project. "We would prefer foundation money, for if they make a grant, that's a sign that they like what we're doing, that they believe in us and that will help us complete the project the way it should be done," Greethurst says. Of course, there's also the possibly of corporate sponsorship. "We would prefer not to go that route, if possible, because we're afraid that would give the sponsor the idea they can tell us what to do, how to write it and how to present. We would be under their thumb, so to speak." The story will span the United States, with interviews from people in several other countries about how community projects have inspired local citizens and made a difference in their lives. It was the construction of Adventure Quest, a children's educational playground and park designed in Enid, that lit the spark for this small company to embark upon a major endeavor. Greethurst was a volunteer team captain on the community project to build an educational, yet entertaining, play place for children. Quirk was a news photographer for an Enid television station, filming the work's progress for nightly news reports. "The more he filmed, the more interested he became and the more involved he became," Greethurst says of Quirk. "Finally, he put down his camera and picked up a hammer and that was the beginning." They started talking about the phenomenon known as community build projects and what this meant to Enid, and how people from diverse walks of life were working together. "`We should film a documentary for OETA about this," one of them said. …