The biggest challenge for many documentaries is finding the right people to film. There are a lot of variables that need to be considered: Are they charismatic, articulate, relatable and, most important, do their stories speak to the broader truth that the documentary intends to engage in? Settling on the wrong subjects for a documentary has ruined many a production.
For “Two Americas,” it was simple to define the subjects we needed to find, but finding them was a daunting challenge. We needed to find two families living on different ends of our nation’s income divide. One family living the American dream, the other seeing it slip away.
When I was brought on to co-produce this episode, the team had been hard at work for a few months and had already found Javier and Lucinda Loya. The Loyas were perfect. They were friendly, sincere and relatable, characteristics not often attributed to affluent people in today’s tense economic climate. Javier and Lucinda, who both came from very humble beginnings, would challenge myriad stereotypes about American wealth that I’m proud our show was willing to tackle.
We had yet to find our counterpart to the Loyas, however, and I was assigned the task of traveling to Houston to pound the pavement and find a family. It was a mission I wasn’t completely sure I was up for, but I suppose I did a good job of faking that I was.
After several days hanging out at places that offer emergency assistance to families in need and chasing a variety of leads, I was no closer to finding my family. Most people I met either were respectfully cautious of my intentions or shut me down before I could even finish explaining our intentions. I couldn’t blame them. It’s an awkward proposition – I was basically asking these people to share their toughest, often embarrassing financial struggles with a national television audience.
So after striking out in analog, I decided to go digital. I did what everyone does these days when trying to find the perfect match. I posted an ad on Craigslist. In less than a few hours I received a response from April Starr, whom I would meet a day later. (Pictured: Producer John Henion, left, with Paul Starr).
The rest is now history, but I wanted to share April’s response to my Craigslist ad. I knew as soon as I read it that she and her family were the people I had been searching for:
(Editor’s note: This email has not been edited)
I don’t quite know why I am responding to this ad.. This is probably just another scam that will get me no where other than back where I started.
Your ad describes my family exactly. My Husband and I are like the couple you have described.. In 2007 we sold our home to move from Texas back to my Husbands home state of Alabama.. We had found the home of our dreams.. A beautiful 3400 sq ft home with a guest house on the property, over looking one of the most beautiful lakes in the state. Things were going very well. My Husband had taken a Superintendent job in the construction field, a field that he has been in his entire life. We got moved and were on top of the world. We decided when we got to our new place to turn our guest house into a B&B.. and everything was wonderful.. We had lovely guests and our first yeary open we did great. By the time that 2009 rolled on through, well half way through, the economy went belly up… My husbands great job, laid him off due to no more work. We went from clearing 5-6K a month to a few hundred dollars… Needless to say we lost it all. We also have two boys, they are 11 and 5 now. this has all been extremely hard on them, school transfers, loosing friends and such. And since 1998 my Grandmother had been in my care. She was 58 years old, had a mojor stroke in ’98, that left her partially paralized on the right side and in a coma for 3 1/2 months out at UTMB Galveston, TX. She did come around but I had to teach her how to walk, talk, eat, dress,etc… It was like having an adult baby for the first couple of years. She got better.. could walk and talk and feed and dress herself again.. We lost my grandfather in 2001, that sent her into a great depression, after being married 43 years, you can imagine. But she got through that too.. When we got moved to Alabama.. we learned that our battle with my Granny was not over, now she had CLL (cronic lymphatic luekemia), which is basically blood cancer.
We sold almost everything we had that could get us back to Texas. My Husbands dad gave him a job with his company, which he had worked for before when his dad needed him. We started renting a home, I got a job outside the home, our son’s were doing great in school again and settled.. Then in March of this year, we lost Granny. We had lost her life insurance due to the cancer.. I had no money for a funeral.. so we are paying on her cremation as her poor body is in cold storage at the funeral home. As if things weren’t bad enough, Dad’s company went under.. cause the economy isn’t getting any better and my Husband is now on Unemployment.. We said ok.. it’s bad but I still had my job and we would be ok, his unemployment, my job (doesn’t pay alot) but we’d get by some how.. Then I got laid off too.. Now here we are, Rent, two truck notes, two boys to take care of.. Granny still in cold storage, still owe $1000. to get her cremated.. can’t find work and trusm me Yes we are looking from moring til night. We are both without a college education, have our GED’s and plenty of experience in the fields we know.. but it doesn’t seem to be enough. So we have gone to get government assistance, but we aren’t poverty sticken enough..
So what now, but to wait for a miralce and we know that God will provide. Thanks for listening..