Storytelling: Duo uses video to record memories for posterity

January 2019 Posted in Business, Community, People

Michael Turner and Zach Esperanza,
owners of Pass It On Productions.
Melissa Wagoner

By Melissa Wagoner

Zach Esperanza has witnessed a lot of goodbyes during his tenure as a Registered Nurse in the Emergency Department at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, most of them involving distraught family members unwilling to let their loved one go – a situation he wishes he could remedy.

So when Esperanza’s own grandmother, Shirley Irvin, was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer in 2018 he knew he wanted their imminent and final farewell to be a peaceful and memorable one.

“I asked myself – how could I get myself and my family to grieve in a healthy way?” Esperanza said. “The only thing I came up with was to do a full interview.”

Esperanza hypothesized that by creating a video documentary detailing his grandmother’s life, he could both create a space for the two of them to say their final farewells and also produce a memento that his entire family would cherish.

“I wanted to film my grandma from start to finish – from birth to illness and even beyond that,” Esperanza said. “Luckily, I live with a guy who does documentaries.”

Esperanza, his wife Allie, and their two-year-old son Atlas moved to Scotts Mills from Portland two years ago to raise their son in a more rural environment. They currently share property with independent documentary producer Mike Turner, his wife Alyssa Burge and their two-year-old daughter Osa.

Turner and Esperanza traveled to Irvin’s home in Warrenton, Oregon where they spent more than three hours recording her reflecting on parenthood and past relationships, and relating memories she had never told anyone before.

“It was interesting as an interviewer to hear her be that honest with me,” Esperanza said. “It was really cool. After the first couple of questions she wasn’t there anymore, she was in downtown Warrenton in the first-ever post office.”

Although Esperanza was initially surprised by how comfortable his grandmother became in front of the camera, Turner was less so, given his experience.

“What’s so cool about the medium of film is sometimes people think the camera makes people shy but in my experience the camera allows people to ask questions they wouldn’t normally ask,” he explained.

For Irvin, the interview took place at a crucial time because in less than two weeks after the recording she was placed in hospice and passed away a week later.

“That’s when I felt like the lightbulb really went on,” Esperanza said. “We realized, ‘Oh my God, this footage that we have of this individual you can never recreate. We should probably offer this to other people.”

Turner readily agreed because he, too, is in possession of a similar reminder of his own grandmother and also appreciates the value such a memento holds.

“My grandma, a survivor of Auschwitz, was interviewed in the ‘90s by the Shoah Foundation, and asked not just about her experiences during the war but about her childhood, and immigrating to America as a 17-year-old orphan,” Turner said. “All questions that I was too young to ask while she was alive, and I only learned her story after her death. I consider her interview the most precious thing I own.”

What came next for Turner and Esperanza was the rapid development of a new company they are calling Pass it On Productions in which the duo interview clients, of any age, creating a professional oral history that can be passed down.

“I love making films and documentary films and these are such a meaningful cross-section between those things,” Turner said. “And to have Zach, who’s such an intuitive interviewer and conversationalist, it allows me to focus on the subtleties. It’s nice to be able to focus on the aesthetic part of it. That’s why the two-person setup is so nice.”

Esperanza, for his part, although a novice to production, is actually quite practiced at conducting interviews due to his work as a nurse and that comes in handy when he is questioning clients about potentially private and delicate subjects.

“They all come in their most vulnerable and raw moments but they still trust me,” Esperanza said of his ER patients. “This feels like an extension of that. It’s such
an honor.”

Although Pass it On Productions is a relatively new venture, a list of clients is already forming along with ideas about future community story-telling events that they hope to hold.

“I really believe that stories are the most precious thing we have,” Turner said. “[T]his could be a special thing for
the community.”

Pass it On Productions 310-874-9011 www.passitonproductions.com

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