When the filmmakers at Media 360 accepted the challenge of making a commemorative documentary about the Port of Long Beach’s first 100 years, they knew they wanted to take the audience on an extraordinary journey.
That’s no small feat given the Port’s dramatic transformation over the last century. Still, Media 360 focused its lens and captured 100 years of grit, innovation and ingenuity.
The making of Faces of the Port: Remembering 100 Years took about a year. The Port’s archive was a treasure trove. “The magic for us was going through all this footage. We also had to transfer it because it was all film,” said Sandra Holden, president and CEO of the award-winning multi-media film company based in Long Beach. Media 360 also produces the Port’s award-winning Pulse of the Port cable TV show.
Holden’s business partner, Ken Winkler, likened doing the research to sorting through a memorabilia-rich attic. One box of footage donated by Metro Ports, formerly Metropolitan Stevedore, really was found in an attic. “It had been sitting there for years, and someone happened to walk it into the Port,” he said.
For on-camera interviews, Media 360 worked with Port staff to identify 35 individuals whose work and life experience span much of the Port’s history. The interviews, which generated more than 15 hours of raw footage, represent a wide range of perspectives from the docks to the executive office. “We wanted to talk to people who have different memories of different times during different periods,” Holden said.
Two dozen of those interviewed made the final 28-minute cut. However, Media 360 is producing a companion piece that features five-minute summaries of everyone who spoke on-camera.
Holden and Winkler estimate they had hundreds of hours of material from which to fashion the documentary given the interviews, footage from the archives and recent footage they’ve collected from projects such as Pulse of the Port that Media 360 has produced for the last six years.
Another source, which lends a newsy feel to portions of the film, was the library of Cleat Roberts, a former L.A. radio/TV reporter and anchorman who had his own production company that made promotional videos for the Port. In one segment, the camera pulls away to show Roberts narrating while perched atop a container sliding backwards along the boom of a gantry crane. The scene captures the dizzying size and scope of the Port’s operations.
“He covered the entire Port with a touch of humor,” Winkler said. “He adds a bit of magic to the whole documentary.”
Landing actor Robert Wagner as the narrator was another stroke of luck. Media 360 was looking for “a really cool narrator,” and an industry colleague who is a personal friend of Wagner’s made the introduction.
Working with Wagner was a treat because he is so professional, Holden said. “He wanted the script a week ahead of time so he’d have time to prepare for it. He actually made a couple tweaks to sound better or read better for the audience.”
Wagner’s commitment to the project extends to the Port’s 100th Birthday Party where he will serve as master of ceremonies. The celebration will take place Saturday, June 25, on Pier E.
As with most creative endeavors, the unexpected played a role. Footage of the Port’s 50th anniversary party was among the gems Media 360 uncovered, Holden said. “Who would have ever thought of building a cake on a barge, floating it in the harbor and filling it with beauty queens?”
What did the filmmakers enjoy most? Listening to people’s stories, such as the one about the boxcar filled with ripe animal hides or former Harbor Commissioner Carmen Perez vowing to “eat the damn thing” if overseas trade partners serve a fish head in her honor. Those moments capture the human element that is the heart of the Port.
Camaraderie and a sense of family come through, even when people speak of enormous challenges such as dredging and reconfiguring docks, shoring up sinking piers due to subsidence, loss of the Navy after Long Beach was its homeport for nearly 60 years, the advent of massive container ships and the infrastructure needed to accommodate them, and the Green Port Policy under which the Port has launched landmark environmental clean-up programs. “They are all such a problem-solving group of people,” Holden said.
What also comes through is a sense of pride, she added. “It wasn’t just a job. It was something that had value to people and had an impact on their lives and they’re proud of it. They’re proud of the Port.”
Sandra Holden, president and CEO of Long Beach-based Media 360, is a former television news producer for CNN, ABC and Univision. She founded the film and communications company in 1997 to do projects that “inspire people and make them feel better about their world.” Working with national, state and local government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as well as corporate clients such as IBM, Kinko’s and UnitedHealthcare, Media 360 has produced hundreds of award-winning programs ranging from broadcast commercials to full-length documentaries. Holden was born and raised in Mexico City and came to the United States to study at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism where she earned her master’s degree. She lives with her husband and two children in Palos Verdes.
Ken Winkler, writer/producer, joined Media 360 six years ago and brings a directorial/filmmaking perspective to the company and its projects. His background in filmmaking includes his training at California State University, Long Beach’s Department of Film & Electronic Arts where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in film production. Winkler’s own production company, Risen Pictures, released its first feature film, Kiss the Abyss, in 2010. The award-winning independent movie, a love story about bringing someone back from the dead, is expected to be distributed this year in the United States after having been released in Europe and Asia. Winkler lives with his wife and three dogs in Norwalk.
Other Port projects:
Media 360’s work for the Port of Long Beach includes programming for the Port’s website, marketing initiatives and educational outreach to schools. Other major projects for the Port include:
A Tale of Two Bases: A retrospective film documenting the history of the Long Beach Naval Station and the Shipyard (1999).
Pulse of the Port: A regular half-hour news magazine broadcast on the web and local cable television since 2005. The program offers a behind-the-scenes look at the Port, its operations and the people involved in moving cargo (2005 to present).
Air: The Search for One Clean Breath: A biography of air that features the Port of Long Beach as one of several environmental stewards showcased in the film (2008).