The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 25, 2011

VIDEO: YouTube video producers document damage

By Joe Hadsall
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — In the days after the May 22 tornado, Christopher Duncan Rutherford tried to navigate around Joplin, but got lost in the town where he has lived for the past 10 years.

“I was driving through neighborhoods, and I didn’t know where I was,” Rutherford said. “There were no street signs. And that made me think about that U2 song. It matched up.”

As people process and begin to deal with the realities left behind by that tornado, a manifestation of that coping has appeared on video sharing sites, such as YouTube. A simple search reveals countless slideshows that feature pictures of the damage set to inspirational or emotional songs.

Rutherford made such a video, only using live-action filming. Set to U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name,” Rutherford’s video features stretches of damage along streets. It shows many of the landmark locations destroyed by the tornado, and ends with a portion of President Barack Obama speaking during a memorial service.

It was impossible to get a sense of the amount of damage from the single shots on TV news programs, he said, and that drove him to make his own video.

“I was not happy with the news coverage of the damage, because they didn’t seem to capture it,” Rutherford said. “Anderson Cooper came but stayed in a parking lot. He didn’t do a lot of trekking around.”

Rutherford said that his video, which is essentially a music video, didn’t really capture that same impact, either. But it still had an effect, according to comments left behind by viewers.

“It took on a life of its own,” Rutherford said. “A lot of people said it was inspirational. This morphed into something a little more than I intended.”

Another video coincided with a June day of national recognition. On Flag Day Geoff Caldwell posted a video featuring all sorts of flags on display amid the rubble and refuse.

Caldwell is employed by Empire District Electric Co. Part of his duties included surveying damage to power lines and substations.

As he was out in the damage zone, he noticed a lot of American flags flying.

“My first day out, I started seeing flags. The next day, there were a couple of dozen; the third day, there were even more,” Caldwell said. “That really struck me. I just started snapping pictures.”

The pictures were meant for personal use at first. But after seeing picture after picture of damage, he decided to share his flag pictures with the world.

Set to patriotic music played by military bands, Caldwell’s video is a collection of his flag pictures. Some of the flags are new and colored boldly; others appear to be as damaged as the debris surrounding them.

“The way I approached it, I was just documenting history,” Caldwell said. “Those flags will be gone, so I wanted something for posterity. This is who we were at that moment.”

‘Editing room’ emotions

Putting together such a video can take a lot of time. Hours are spent sifting through footage, making decisions based on appearance and content, patching together clips and aligning moments with music.

Already a filmmaker, Rutherford knew all about the postproduction phase of making a video. An employee of EaglePicher Technologies, he did what he could in the free time he had. Before the storm, he was spending his free time producing a stop-motion animated feature based on George Lucas’ “Star Wars.”

Rutherford spent hours aligning his footage of the tornado with key musical moments: When Bono sings “Blown by the wind,” Rutherford paired the repeating line with American flags waving and the result of the wind’s wrath on local businesses.

But this movie took a toll emotionally. Rutherford said he was numb as he filmed the damage.

“It didn’t hit me until a week later, when I started putting it together,” Rutherford said.

While Rutherford has some filmmaking experience based on his aspirations, Caldwell was a neophyte. He said he taught himself every part of the production phase.

“This is the first video I’ve ever done,” Caldwell said. “I’m not a videographer, so I was lucky to put that one together.”

Originally, he thought he would have help from his daughter, who could take the series of pictures and make a slide show. But a work-related event took up too much time, so Caldwell took it on himself, he said.

Calling himself a patriotic man, he said he was moved by those who lost so much to “take the time and fly the colors.” Working with the video ended up being hard to do, he said.

“I had to put the blinders on, and focus on what I had titled the video,” said Caldwell, who named his video “Joplin Strong, Joplin Proud.”

“After everything we’ve been through, what that meant to me was that we’ve taken a beating, but we’re still here.”

Personal impact, future plans

Caldwell’s family and property were spared from the tornado’s winds. Rutherford’s home was also safe, but his mother’s home suffered damage, and his brother’s wife was trapped under a plate glass window at the Range Line Road Wal-Mart.

Caldwell said he’s done with making tornado damage videos for now.

Rutherford has bigger plans in mind. He plans to make a documentary featuring stories and testimonials from survivors, emergency workers and others affected by the storm. People who want to share their stories can contact him on his YouTube page,