Netflix has acquired the 9/11 biopic Worth for release in the United States, Canada, Latin America, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Turkey and select other countries.
Higher Ground Productions, President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s production company, will present the film alongside Netflix in September 2021, for the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
Directed by Sara Colangelo (The Kindergarten Teacher), the film stars Academy Award nominee Michael Keaton (The Trial of the Chicago 7, Spotlight, Birdman), Academy Award nominee Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada, The Hunger Games), Academy Award nominee Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone, Lost Girls), Tate Donovan, Talia Balsam and Laura Benanti.
Based on Kenneth Feinberg’s memoir What Is Life Worth, the film follows Kenneth Feinberg (Keaton), an accomplished lawyer appointed Special Master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, tasked by Congress to allocate financial compensation to the victims of the tragedy — to calculate incalculable loss in the face of cynicism, bureaucracy and the politics of division.
Viewers often neglect to appreciate how important sound is to a production. At its most effective, a soundtrack can be as important to the experience of a film as the picture.
For the Netflix/Higher Ground documentary Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution, it was crucial to match home movie footage from a summer camp in the 1970s, and sound supervisor Jacob Bloomfield-Misrach was tasked with creating a soundtrack that evoked the times.
Crip Camp, which began streaming on Netflix March 25, chronicles the history of a ramshackle summer camp down the road from Woodstock that galvanized a group of teens with disabilities to help build a movement. Executive producers include President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, Tonia Davis and Priya Swaminathan, and Oscar nominee Howard Gertler.
The film is co-directed and produced by Emmy Award winner Nicole Newnham and film mixer and former camper Jim LeBrecht.
“During the spotting session, the sound team, along with sound designer Bijan Sharifi, and I spent a lot of time talking with Jim about what certain moments would have sounded like and how he’d like us to approach it. Jim played a huge role in the conceptual work, mixing and enhancement of audio,” said Bloomfield-Misrach. “Our philosophy for the sound design on Crip Camp was to enhance the audience’s experience as much as possible, without it ever sounding artificial. We absolutely kept everything as true as possible. Things like bird sounds that we added needed to be confirmed as authentic to a particular region, or certain insects that might be prevalent in upstate New York during the summer. We also had to distress the Foley and SFX to make sure it sounded consistent with the camera footage from the appropriate decade.”
The key was to restore, augment and amplify the sound without making it noticeable.
“Pretty much every archival scene in the film, of which there are many, has some degree of additional sound design in it,” said Bloomfield-Misrach. “It was our job to help the viewer feel close to those scenes, so a lot of work was put into adding a closeness or intimacy to the sounds of the film, while making sure that all of our work was invisible. You never want an audience to notice sound design in a documentary.”
One of the biggest challenges, he said, was re-creating the sound of a manual wheelchair rolling on a wood-slat deck in the 1970s. The sound design department took a manual wheelchair and drove around until they found a public boardwalk made of wood.
“It also had to be abandoned for us to get a clean recording on it,” he said. “And then further distressing it to sound like an old recording — that took a little time.”
Finding a balance between the original sound recording and necessary amplification was a challenge, especially with footage recorded in the 1970s by teenagers.
“The footage of Jim at Camp Jened was all recorded with a 15-year-old’s handheld microphone,” said Bloomfield-Misrach. “There was a lot of handling noise, background noise, wind noise, and kids screaming into the mic for fun. That footage was the most challenging but also the most rewarding to clean up. We wanted to retain as much of the innocent nature as we could, but we also needed the audio to be intelligible. So we gave a lot of attention to that scene, to find the perfect balance between the two.”
Still, the team didn’t want to lose the character of the footage in forming the soundtrack.
“Imperfections are what make us human, and documentaries tend to have lots of imperfections in their production audio,” said Bloomfield-Misrach. “My team at IMRSV Sound understands the importance of retaining the raw character and humanistic feel that is captured in production. So for Crip Camp, it was the imperfections in the production audio that added so much character to the film. Keeping a lot of that in was very important. Often times we would minimize it or clean it up, but we’d prefer to keep in some of the film’s quirks, and in doing so, be true to the spirit of the film and its filmmakers.”
Higher Ground Productions, President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s production company in partnership with Netflix, announced its initial slate of upcoming projects, encompassing fiction and non-fiction productions; scripted, unscripted and documentary series; and full-length features and documentaries.
Priya Swaminathan and Tonia Davis are co-heads of the company.
The documentary American Factory, from Academy Award-nominated filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, will be the first release on the slate. Acquired by Netflix in association with Higher Ground Productions out of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Directing Award: U.S. Documentary, the Participant Media film takes a deep dive into a post-industrial Ohio, where a Chinese billionaire opens a new factory in the husk of an abandoned General Motors plant and hires 2,000 blue-collar Americans. Early days of hope and optimism give way to setbacks as high-tech China clashes with working-class America.
“Bloom” is an upstairs/downstairs drama series set in the world of fashion in post-World War II New York City that depicts barriers faced by women and people of color in an era marked by hurdles but also tremendous progress.
Higher Ground is producing a feature film adaptation of author David W. Blight’s Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, for which he won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in history.
The company is adapting a scripted anthology series from The New York Times’ ongoing obituary column “Overlooked,” telling the stories of remarkable people whose deaths were not reported by the newspaper.
“Listen to Your Vegetables & Eat Your Parents” will be a half-hour preschool series from creators Jeremy Konner (“Drunk History”) and Erika Thormahlen. The show travel around the globe to tell the story of our food.
From Michael Lewis, the best-selling author of The Big Short and Moneyball, and based on his book The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy, the non-fiction series “Fifth Risk” will aim to portray the importance of unheralded work done by everyday heroes guiding our government and safeguarding our nation.
Crip Camp is a feature-length documentary film in production that is supported by the Sundance Institute and acquired earlier this year by Higher Ground and Netflix. Just down the road from Woodstock, in the early 1970s, a parallel revolution blossomed in a ramshackle summer camp for disabled teenagers that would transform young lives and America forever by helping to set in motion the disability rights movement. The film is directed by former camper Jim LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham.
The Obamas launched Higher Ground last spring.
“We created Higher Ground to harness the power of storytelling. That’s why we couldn’t be more excited about these projects,” President Obama said in a statement. “Touching on issues of race and class, democracy and civil rights, and much more, we believe each of these productions won’t just entertain, but will educate, connect, and inspire us all.”
“We love this slate because it spans so many different interests and experiences, yet it’s all woven together with stories that are relevant to our daily lives,” Michelle Obama said in a statement. “We think there’s something here for everyone — moms and dads, curious kids, and anyone simply looking for an engaging, uplifting watch at the end of a busy day. We can’t wait to see these projects come to life — and the conversations they’ll generate.”
“President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and the Higher Ground team are building a company focused on storytelling that exemplifies their core values,” said Ted Sarandos, chief content officer of Netflix. “The breadth of their initial slate across series, film, documentary and family programming shows their commitment to diverse creators and unique voices that will resonate with our members around the world.”