Grad Jeff Pinilla Directs Documentary on Hurricane Sandy

Film graduate Jeff Pinilla has had a close relationship with the television news industry throughout his career, having been a producer and editor with CW affiliate WPIX-11 in New York City. As someone with a great respect for the medium, he recently offered an engrossing portrait of a news crew in action with his documentary The First 36 Hours: An Inside Look at Hurricane Sandy.

The 22-minute film was selected as a Vimeo Staff Pick, and follows reporter Arthur Chi’en and cameraman Kenton Young as they captured the events of the tragic storm that ravaged New York this past October. It’s a powerful reminder of what these people go through in the field, and we recently caught up with Jeff to learn more about this special project.

Full Sail: How did The First 36 Hours come together?

Jeff Pinilla: A year ago I went out for the coverage of Hurricane Irene with Kenton and Arthur, and it was so eye-opening to me. This time I wanted to show how hard these people work in situations like that. They’re not seeking thrills out there, their jobs are important – they need to tell people what’s going on in their neighborhoods.

FS: It’s hard to imagine how you were able to capture the images you did during a storm that violent.

JP: I was so focused on the shots that I wasn’t really paying attention to what was going on around me. I know there was a moment when the flooding was pretty bad, and I was filming these transformers that were exploding in the distance. I never stopped to think about how scary it was.

FS: What kind of reaction has it received?

JP: Right now it has around 83,000 views, and it’s just amazing the number of people who have responded to it. It’s also given me a lot of other opportunities, and I’ve been speaking at different colleges about it.

FS: Looking ahead to 2013, do you have any other projects coming up?

JP: There’s this story I’ve been working on for the last two years. It started with one of my coworkers who has a clothing line – he had a sketch on a t-shirt of an astronaut holding two mermaids, and I thought it was so otherworldly.

That image stayed in my head, and I started writing this story about an astronaut lost in another world trying to discover himself. The script kept changing and eventually it became a story of a little girl dealing with a death, and this astronaut is actually her brother in spirit form trying to leave the planet. I’m really happy with it.

FS: When will you start production?

JP: We’re looking at crowd funding now, then we’re shooting to start production at the beginning of February. Crowd funding is great because you build this equity with your community. When you frame it as they’re following you on this journey, they become as much a part of it as you are. It’s really done great things for young fimmakers.