by Tom Sims
On December 24, Christmas Eve, Jeff Aiello posted these words to his Facebook friends: “Christmas Eve marks the official end of the Creek Fire.”
It was a great Christmas gift after four months of High Sierra burning.
You may not know that you know Jeff and Jill Aiello, but you probably know their work if you have spent any time watching Valley PBS. I have been a viewer of their documentaries for several years. They have kept me informed with well-planned, carefully-researched, colorfully-photographed, and artistically-edited footage.
The same quality of work will show when their documentary about the Creek Fire is released sometime this year. This season, however, they were about minute-by-minute, second-by-second reporting and analysis that drew upon a lifetime of personal and professional experience.
Jeff is an Emmy Award-winning writer, producer, editor, and cinematographer. Jill is an expert in research, design, marketing, media, public relations, web development, and all things digital. Together, they are a winning communications team.
Jeff and Jill own 18THIRTY Entertainment, where they produce television specials for such clients as Valley PBS, National Geographic, ABC, Disney, and The Travel Channel.Recent projects have included the ongoing series American Grown: My Job Depends on Ag, Silent Sacrifice about the internment of Japanese Americans in the Central Valley during World War Two, and Outside Beyond the Lens. Their mission is to “Connect with Your Audience Through Inspiring Visual Storytelling.”
Their byline is “Real People. Real Life. Real Storytelling.”
The real story of this past autumn was, for the Aiellos, the Creek Fire.
Jeff’s roots are in the Valley and in the High Sierra. He knows the roads, the trails, the canyons, the towns, and the wildlife. He understands the forces of nature that dominate the terrain. His heart is attached to the landscape, the geography, the towns, and the people of the place. It is personal to him. He also has property there.
He knows and loves the people and was intimately connected to their concerns as this monumental monster of a fire raged.
What he also knew was the anxiety of being evacuated from home and community. That anxiety is amplified by isolation and dearth of specific information. Hundreds of families had to leave the mountains, look for temporary housing, and wonder if they would have homes to occupy when they returned. This fire covered so many acres and was moving so fast that it was difficult to receive reports.
So, Jeff and Jill sprang into action.
It was a perfect storm of need, preparation, and calling for this couple. Knowledge of the area, preexisting relationships with first responders and community leaders was combined with the technical expertise, communication tools, credibility, visibility, and research capacity. These were already in place to access and pass on information in a timely manner.
Then, because of social media, Jeff’s presence and delivery were not only real-time, but were interactive and conversational. He became the source of up-to-the-minute data and interpretation for me and for hundreds of people in the community.
When the Aiellos were online, it was like friends visiting with friends. There were no strangers nor outsiders. Even the news media used him as a primary source.
Concerning his motivation and passion for this, Jeff said, “The main thing is this: we were evacuated from the fire on September 5th. The local media coverage of the fire was just not enough for us and I felt there was a real need to break down the info for so many people that were desperate for real-time news.”
He was able to offer that and more. Because the reports were delivered on social media live, and were recorded into message threads, he could answer extremely specific questions as they were asked.
Because he had his hands on the same satellite feeds and data streams as the media and government, he could zero in on a specific geographical area as soon as the question was asked. The answers would be the most accurate available to anyone whose feet were not on the ground in those actual places.
Jeff continued, “Information is a form of comfort.” Information is, indeed, a form of comfort. Whether the news is good or bad, it is better to know than not to know.
In his broadcasts, he taught people how to use the same tools that he had accessed. There was no proprietary information. There were no ulterior motives. Everything was to be shared.
He observed, “My background with television production and knowledge of the areas the fire was burning in helped me navigate new websites available to the public, like www.Caltopo.com and www.Flightradar24.com. We just decided to use Facebook Live as the distribution method and began helping people understand what was happening, while showing folks how to use these resources themselves.”
During the most intense days and weeks of the fire, the Aiellos were online multiple times a day. Between those times, they were researching, using telephones, and even getting on-site looks at the situation. All of this was going on while some projects in their business were still in progress.
At one point, Jeff reported from a boat on the coast because one of his production projects had demanded his presence.
Jill was generally off microphone managing details, hosting the chat box, manipulating software, and keeping up with everything that was going on. Though less visible, she was no less busy and engaged.
Through the people, groups, and pages they facilitated, others shared contacts and ideas for people helping people, public resources, and networking tips. The community came together organically, and folks made it through the crisis.
This couple demonstrates why, when you need to have something done and done well, you look for busy people who are already in demand and totally committed to what they are doing. Their business, on an ongoing basis, includes television shows, documentaries, commercials, marketing, design, consulting, and the mechanics of operating a family business.
They describe their company this way, “18THIRTY Entertainment is a full-service marketing and production company specializing in documentaries, television series, commercials, corporate videos, web videos, social media, and marketing consultation.”
“Real People. Real Life. Real Storytelling” is a theme that was truly put to the test during this crisis.
Jeff and Jill Aiello are most definitely real people telling real people real stories about real people. They are not looking into our community from the outside, but are our neighbors freely giving of their time and efforts in a time of real need—the way real neighbors do. They have earned the trust and respect that good neighbors deserve.
Check their website and the Valley PBS website for upcoming broadcasts of their programs.
See Samples of Video on Vimeo: vimeo.com/user11165303
Emails: jeff@18THIRTYEntertainment.com; jill@18THIRTYEntertainment[dot}com