Her home base might be Los Angeles, but Lisa Curry still has a phone number that begins with the area code 850.
“There are a lot of people out here who still have phone numbers with their home area codes,” Curry said. “You get a sense of where people are from, where their roots are.”
Curry’s are planted firmly in Port St. Joe, a 2002 graduate of Port St. Joe High School, the daughter of prominent local physicians Tom and Betty Curry.
When a request for qualifications and bids for a documentary about the saving and relocation of the Cape San Blas Lighthouse came along, Curry and her fiancé Clayton Long saw an opportunity.
“(Port St. Joe) is a place I love and a place I have always loved,” Curry said by phone from the Los Angeles apartment she and Long, who will wed in Port St. Joe next year, share.
“We feel lucky and very fortunate to be able to do this documentary.”
The documentary is being funded by a $125,000 BP grant won by the city of Port St. Joe.
And beyond her roots in Gulf County, Curry, along with Long, brought plenty of expertise to the project.
After graduating from Princeton, Curry did her graduate work at the University of Southern California’s School of Fine Arts, one of the most prestigious schools for the arts, particularly filmmaking, in the country.
She spent three years in what she called a “trade school” kind of setting that was effectively three years of work in a variety of specialties, from film editing to post production.
Long spent two years doing much the same tasks across town at UCLA.
“We have specialized training,” Curry said. “You learn your craft by doing your craft.”
Curry has spent most of her time since in television. For the past three years she has been a writers’ assistant on the hit show “The Office” which recently ended a highly-honored nine-year run on NBC.
Long was drawn to documentary films.
“I have always loved documentaries,” Long said. “The stories that can be pulled from a documentary can sometimes, well, be better than any fiction.”
The two spent a recent week in the area to begin work on the film, starting with interviewing a host of people about the lighthouse project and the history of the lighthouse.
The documentary form, Long and Curry said, differs from the making a typical movie.
In a typical movie, script is king. The script is “story-boarded” to demonstrate in advance what shots will comprise the movie.
There is no script for a documentary.
“The way a documentary works, you have a framework for what you think the film will be about,” Curry said.
Long added, “You find the stories through the interviews.”
Curry jumped back in, “You look for the common threads. Where is the heart of the movie?”
The two were aware they were jumping feet first into a bit of a controversy as various stakeholders within the city and county continue to make their cases for the relocation of the lighthouse to the city or to another location on Cape San Blas.
They had read about the controversies and part of their pitch in seeking the award to do the documentary was the relative detachment they had from California.
“It is our job to illustrate what people care about,” Curry said. “We were clear from the beginning that we saw ourselves as the objective party.
“The important takeaway for us is that people really care. It is more important to the story when the people really care about the subject.”
Long added, “It really makes our job easier.”
Curry said, “It is not our job to tell a story; it’s our job to find the story.”
That story, they agreed, would begin to take shape in the hours of interviews they conducted over the course of the week; a week that Curry and Long agreed underscored the kind of people that call Port St. Joe home.
“It was just such a pleasure,” Curry said. “People were so gracious and accommodating. We feel lucky.”
Now, with 20 hours of film already in the can, the task becomes what to keep, what to edit out and to identify the key threads to that story.
“We are feeling good about where we are,” Long said.
Curry said they will watch all the ram footage, mark the parts they like.
“Editing is where the movie comes together,” Curry said.
Long noted there is less of a time pressure, as the lighthouse move – which they will return to town to film – remains weeks away and the deadline for the film is still in the distance.
The will also receive input from several friends with extensive experience in making documentary films who live near them.
The sense of pride, of community, crackled through the phone line as Curry spoke.
Long, whose family used to vacation at Gulf Shores, AL, has now been to Port St. Joe three times and was nearly as glowing.
“My impressions have been very positive,” Long said. “The people, the town, the beaches, the clear waters, it is like a more charming version of Gulf Shores.”
Curry and Long will be back in town as filming dictates, including taking in the upcoming Centennial Celebration.