This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots. Sparked by the acquittal of 4 LAPD officers in the beating of Rodney King after a traffic stop, the city was in turmoil for almost a week as the rest of the world watched. To commemorate the anniversary as this divisive event in American culture, the production duo from Sleepy Puppies, Molly Gale and Jancarlo Beck, gathered photos and experiences from the event and did it all in 360 video. We caught up with the team about finding a story within the chaos, working with The Los Angeles Times on the project, and how the cinematic realities can give audiences a sense of empathy that could change the world.
How were you approached to develop the project? Where did the idea for ‘Flash Point!’ Come from?
Jancarlo Beck: [laughing] The Idea came from an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show!
Molly Gale: As ridiculous as that is, it’s totally true. Anthony Bourdain interviews Roy Choi on an episode of “Parts Unknown” about living through the riots in Koreatown and I was astonished. I had NO idea the extent of the violence and destruction.
Jancarlo Beck: Molly growing up in Washington didn’t really have much knowledge on the subject and to be honest I myself only knew what I had heard from others as well as some research I had done a few years prior. I grew up in the Southeastern suburbs of LA and was pretty young at the time so I didn’t experience any of this firsthand.
Molly Gale: When we dove into research, we couldn’t believe the stories we were hearing and the images we were seeing. Things that had never been taught to us. So, in the end, it was our own lack of understanding and education that inspired this project. After that night, we just couldn’t let it go.
Now more than ever remembering the origins of events fueled by bigotry, hate, and racism in this country are important to address — where they started and why they are happening in particular. Why do you think now is the time for more people to learn about the LA Riots through Flash Point? What do you hope people learn from this film?
Jancarlo Beck: When we started this project, we were seeing many examples of civil unrest as well as hate both in the news and amongst our community and even friends. The further we dove into the riots the more we realized how many more facets of them mirrored what is going on today and how we still struggle as a country with many of the same issues.
Molly Gale: We wanted to create a project that didn’t just teach another history lesson, but rather let our audience consider their modern lives in LA through the lens of the 1992 Riots. The film highlights so many landmarks so we wanted people to remember as they visit their favorite ramen shop in Koreatown what happened there 25 years ago and have a greater appreciation for their community because of it. We started asking questions: How did your neighborhood develop? Who was here first? Who was displaced to make room for you? How did they suffer? These questions can be uncomfortable to face, but repeatedly ignoring them and the communities that have been effected is how things like the 1992 Riots happen.
Jancarlo Beck: It’s really quite sad what happened to so many people during the riots. I hope that the people who watch our film gain an appreciation that things aren’t always so clean cut and that we are dealing with complicated issues. Drawing a line and picking a side only leads to anger which can very quickly lead to violence and that violence can leave everyone involved victimized in one way or another.
Molly Gale: This was a multi-faceted, deeply-complicated breakdown of society that started long before the Rodney King verdict. It’s frightening to see how very similar wheels are in motion all over our country. The 92 Riots should serve as a haunting, cautionary tale for what will happen if we don’t face the deeply systematic bigotry and racism in our country and take accountability for the impacts of that. We all have a unique responsibility to help solve this problem.
Did you interview anyone who had personal stories to share?
Molly Gale: Everybody has personal stories about the 92 Riots. Wherever we filmed, we would get a mix of questions, stories, praises, criticisms and advice. Most people can tell you exactly what they did those days. What they were wearing, where they heard the verdict read, where they saw the first structure fire. In many of these neighborhoods, the wounds are still open — and justifiably so.
Jancarlo Beck: I grew up in Downey which isn’t too far from here but I was only 3 at the time so needless to say I don’t have any first-hand knowledge. As I grew up I would hear stories from different people that I knew that lived through the riots and gained much knowledge that way. One of my first jobs in LA was working at a retail store on La Brea. The security guard who worked there had worked at that store forever and he use to tell me stories. He himself had been on the rooftop with a shotgun looking out for looters. This story really sparked my interest as it was a glimpse into how crazy things became.
Talk about your partnership with the LA Times and how they helped you with assets for the film?
Molly Gale: The LA Times’ coverage of the riots is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalistic masterpiece — so they were our obvious first stop. We straight-up bothered them until we got their attention. We called, emailed, tweeted — whatever it took to get in the door. When they gave us a chance, we were ready. The LA Times is such a pillar in the world of journalism and working with them was an incredibly humbling experience — these people work so hard to make sure that we know the truth of our city and our world.
Jancarlo Beck: After a couple of meetings they were on board and really helped connect us with all the people we needed to talk to and get the assets we needed to make this happen. We are grateful to all the folks there who really believed in this project and did what needed to be done to make this a reality.
Molly Gale: We are endlessly grateful to them for even taking our call in the first place. From sifting through photo archives to connecting with the photographers, they were ready to help at any/every turn while still giving us the kind of freedom that a director can only dream of.
How do you feel the immersive nature of 360 video enhances documentary filmmaking?
Jancarlo Beck: VR is a really powerful tool for documentary film.
Molly Gale: It sounds cliché and dramatic — but it truly lets you step back in time and “recreate” moments in history. 360° video is a game-changing tool for documentary filmmaking and education. It’s is like a brand-new frontier for a creative mind. It allows you to stretch your imagination in ways that were previously incomprehensible. If you can build what you’re imagining, you may be the first person to do something like that and that’s a pretty exciting thing to wake up and do everyday.
Jancarlo Beck: It’s the closest we can get with today’s technology to having someone experience something first hand. With traditional film making you get to tell someone a story, but with VR I feel you get to show someone a story. You aren’t telling someone where to look and the experiential part of it makes it more real for people. This makes it great for trying to show someone what is was like to be in someone else’s shoes or what it was like to be somewhere during a crazy event like the riots.
Molly Gale: You’re really letting audiences experience and interact with a moment. In a screen-saturated world that pushes multi-tasking and productivity, the VR experience is much more engaging and impactful.
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