A water ballet staged in a wading pool for kids is the featured event of a video on The Seattle Times website that celebrates life through the spirit of an artist who had whimsical last wishes.
“Beautiful Mad Art Until the End” tells the story of 42-year-old artist Briar Bates who died from cancer and had elaborate ideas for how she wanted her friends to remember her. One of those requests was inspired by a chandelier she had made featuring Barbie dolls in swim caps fanned out in a circle as in the synchronized swimming routines in old-time movie musicals.
Times photojournalist Erika Schultz had seen a Facebook event for Bates’ water dance dream and went to coworker Lauren Frohne, a video editor at the Times, knowing that Frohne has an interest in the “alternative death care industry” and non-conventional burials and memorials.
The pair brainstormed the story, pitched it, found a writer and then worked to make it more than just a wacky event story.
“It’s not about this one thing that is happening. It’s about something that’s more universal,” Frohne said. “It’s about the community of people, confronting death, about how you live your life.”
Before the event, Schultz and Frohne tag teamed to get interviews and recorded several rehearsals that helped them prepare for the big day. They were able to paint a picture of the artist’s spirit, even though she had died before the journalists had started on the story.
Frohne said she has never been “a photographer per se” but in college at the University of North Carolina discovered an aptitude for moving pictures. To edit this video, she said the challenge was organizing the elements to form a narrative for the 7-minute video.
She found the answers through screen writing. Frohne has studied “Save the Cat,” a book by Blake Snyder that outlines how to structure any movie through “beats.” She used a “beat sheet” to parse out the assets for the best placement and to keep the story moving forward.
On the day of the celebration, Frohne and Schultz were joined by Corinne Chin, another Times video editor, to record the memorial. They had four cameras running plus drone footage donated by a photographer working with the event so they had lots of footage.
Along with interviews and footage from Bate’s home, Frohne estimates that they had 10 hours of footage to work with. She edited over the course of five days, with three of those days being full-time on this project. Along with the days spent shooting, it was a commitment that Frohne said is part of the Times’ approach to video.
“We try to make enough time to do it right if we’re going to do it,” she said.
Frohne credits this culture Danny Gawlowski, the director of digital images and innovation at the Times. He also doesn’t micromanage the video projects.
“He trusts us that we are going to use our time in productive ways,” Frohne said.
Even though she was the editor, Frohne emphasizes that this video, like all their work at the Times, is a team effort and that is an important part of successful video at newspapers.
“Our industry for so long has been very individualistic,” Frohne said. It is important to move away from the idea of a photographer working on their own and towards more collaboration, she said.
The “Beautiful Mad Art Until the End” video turned out to be an inspiring story that people were drawn to. When the video posted online it took off, gaining more than 30,000 video views the first day on seattletimes.com and tens of thousands on other platforms such as Facebook. Even in the newsroom there was an emotional response as Frohne had colleagues came to her offering hugs, sometimes through tears.
In the video, men and women in green and purple swimsuits and flowered swim caps dance and splash to a soundtrack that included “Happy,” by Pharrell Williams, and “Let’s Go Crazy,” by Prince. The artist Briar Bates had left a celebration for her friends and it grew bigger than just that group. By the end, bystanders in the park who had been caught by surprise by the performance waded into the pool to join the dancing.