How to Carve a Sundance-Worthy Doc from Hours of Archival Footage

If you want to make docs or learn about LA, Matt Yoka and Whirlybird are perfect for you.

I first spoke to Matt back before Sundance 2020, in a very different world. He had finished his first feature, the documentary Whirlybird, that follows a family and the city of Los Angeles via archival footage of high-speed chases. It's a crazy story, not just the story of the film's subjects but the story of Matt making it. 

He started out with an interest in documenting the city of Los Angeles via archival footage, and it took him eventually to a chopper and a filmmaking couple that truly innovated news coverage. 

Matt has had to follow this thread patiently, and carefully, for years as it unspooled. But even as he was nearing a certain finish line, a world premiere at Sundance, new curveballs came his way... and the familiar Hollywood refrain of "hurry up and wait" was back at the fore. 

COVID-19 grounded Whirlybird, and now finally it has its release. It was great reconnecting with Matt after all the additional roadblocks to discuss how he's handled that aspect of this at times maddening industry. He's learned the hard way that good things come to those who wait. 

In this episode, we talk about…

  • How Los Angeles Plays Itself sparked the creation of Whirlybird 
  • Focusing on high-speed pursuits and providing an emotional character-focused experience vs. intellectual experience  
  • 45 minutes of beautiful VHS glitches 
  • Matt’s experience at the Sundance Film Festival and COVID’s impact on marketing the film
  • How excessive film-watching during quarantine inspired Matt as a filmmaker
  • Why it’s almost impossible to end a documentary     
  • Advice to approach filmmaking focused on the story you want to share with a “less is more” mindset 

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This episode of The No Film School Podcast was produced by George Edelman.

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