A Year After the Boston Bombings with Mashable

We spoke to Mashable’s  Evan Engel and Bianca Consunji (Columbia Journalism School alum, ’12) about their latest short documentary, the story of two survivors of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.

Columbia Visuals: What made you pursue this story? And how did you pitch it to make it fit into Mashable’s style?

Evan Engel: We knew we wanted to do a story around the Boston Marathon anniversary, and initially we thought about finding a wounded survivor and covering the tech side of their recovery process. But as we looked at possible candidates, we realized that the story would be much better served if we scrapped the tech angle completely.  That’s new for us, and we were lucky that we were given the green light to run with it.  I think it speaks to the way that Mashable is generally increasing its scope and covering stories that were once outside its purview.

CV: How long did it take to produce this short? 

EE: Bianca and I started looking for subjects in December, and Bianca found Pete and Rebekah in January. We met them for the first time in NYC on Valentine’s Day, but we didn’t really have confirmation that we’d be going to Texas until a couple weeks after. So in some sense we were in pre-production from December all the way until March, though we were on a ton of other projects in that time, too.

Production started in mid-March, when we spent 4 days in Katy, Texas, with our subjects.  Then we spent about 12 days editing, though some of that time was spent waiting for footage from third parties.  It was more like 9 days, and it went fast.

CV:  How much time did you spend with your characters?

Mashable's Bianca Consunji films Rebekah Gregory, a survivor of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.

Mashable’s Bianca Consunji films Rebekah Gregory, a survivor of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.

EE: We went ring-shopping with them on Valentine’s Day in NYC, but aside from that it was just those 4 days in Texas.

Bianca Consunji: We kept in touch with Rebekah before we flew to Texas to ask her about her upcoming wedding, medical treatments, etc. That way, we had a sort of relationship before we even set foot in her home. It was also important for us to turn off the cameras once in a while and hang out with them as people, and not just as subjects.

EE: We didn’t film anything with them our first day, but instead just hung out in their living room and talked about their story for over an hour.  That was a really helpful conversation, because it meant that we didn’t waste much time in the long interview shoot the following day, and I think it helped them get comfortable with these three strangers in their house.

CV:  How many people worked on the short?

EE: Bianca and I are credited as the producers/editors, but she really spearheaded this story. We also had writer Eric Larson along with us in Texas, and he was a big help. Then there were all the people who sat with us beforehand and helped us figure out what we wanted to get out of this story, like our Editorial Director Matt Silverman and Features Editor Stephanie Buck.

CV: What equipment did you use?

EE: We shot on a Canon 5D Mark III and a 1D which we had on loan from Canon. For audio we used the Tascam DR-40 and a couple Sennheiser lavs. We had everything in backpacks, which is awesome when you’re moving from shoot to shoot so quickly.

CV:  What did you learn from producing this short?

BC: Always shoot your own footage whenever possible. For this video, we had the option of either sourcing footage from a third party, or fly out to North Carolina for their wedding. We opted for the former, because we were also working on a couple of things back in New York and didn’t know if the expense of flying out for the wedding was worth it. It took the third party a while to get us footage, with a lot of back and forth and even more red tape. Their stuff looks great, and they had access that we might not have been able to get, but it was definitely a lesson in relying on your own material.

EE: It’s hard to come away from Rebekah, Pete, and their family without feeling overwhelmed. They’ve been through so much this past year and they haven’t spent a moment feeling sorry for themselves. To see them master this new reality and do it bravely, on their own terms, just makes you feel like your problems are so insignificant. I guess you could say that I learned how lucky I am.

BC: Rebekah told us that our video is “the best story anyone has done” on them, and that’s the highest praise we can ever get.

Mshable's Evan Engel and Eric Larson during production in Katy, Texas.

Evan Engel and Eric Larson during production in Katy, Texas.

CV: Will we be seeing more documentary-style pieces from Mashable? 

EE: Yes, if you subscribe!  We’ve got a long list of stories we’re anxious to pursue, and we’re hoping to put out some great stuff in 2014.

BC: For sure. We’ve had some successes with short documentaries, and it seems that the audience is receptive to them. The Boston video has a fairly high audience retention rate, with people watching almost to the very end. That’s unusual for YouTube, and it’s heartening to realize that we can produce good stories and have people watch them.

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