Film director/producer, Matt Yoka, with his feature directorial debut Whirlybird, could not have asked for a better topic to document with his love for the city of Los Angeles--the town in which he was born and raised. Yoka just had to wait for the right timing, then the right connection with the right subject that would explore the city in all its glory.
"It was six years in the making and I'm still trying to figure out a simple way to describe Whirlybird, let alone what it means to me," Yoka notes and adds, "It occurred to me that the life of perhaps the greatest reporter Los Angeles has ever know would be an interesting way to explore the city." This idea, concept and research allowed Yoka to meet with just the right subjects--Hanna Zoey (formerly Bob) Tur and Marika Gerrard. Yoka recalls the first time he met Zoey, "It was like I was sitting across from Los Angeles--one person who encompasses the city." Yoka continues, "It was the way she spoke of her personal life that made me realize Zoey could be more than a tour guide, she could take us on an emotional journey."
Yoka meets Marika (Zoey's former partner) at a public storage unit and unveils their video archive comprised of over three thousand beta tapes--"a time capsule of a city and family." While looking at the labels reading footage of the Los Angeles riots, Yoka observes Marika reaching for a specially marked tape, “Bob and Marika baby tape”. Yoka notes the smile on Marika's face and then her response, "This is a video we made when I was pregnant with Katy."
It was at this moment Yoka knew he had discovered the core of this narrative with the relationship of renown breaking news helicopter journalists. Yoka meets Zoey and Marika at an interesting time in their lives. The two are both able to openly reflect on their relational past and present. Their marriage, family, and careers intertwine using the city of Los Angles as the backdrop. Yoka notes, "Through their vast personal video archive [library] we were able to bring their L.A. story to life. The film wouldn't be what it is without the vivid interviews of the film's subjects--Zoey and Marika." Yoka acknowledges with gratefulness the trust each had in him to tell their story and concludes, "Getting to know these two remarkable people has allowed me to reflect on so much more than Los Angeles."
The city of Los Angeles, California has for decades offered many people amazing career choices. In the '80s and '90s, opportunity knocked-on-the-door of a young married couple, Zoey (then known as Bob) Tur and Marika Gerrard who revolutionized breaking news with their helicopter reporting. They were pioneers in the field. A dynamic duo!
The two met in college both drawn to investigative journalism. Marika recalls with fondness, "Our first date, Bob (now Zoey) asked me if I wanted to come along with him to a crime scene. Curious, I agreed. Our date consisted of taking pictures of blood on skid row." Reminiscing she smiles, "Never a movie date with Bob (now Zoey) but, you could count on being at the scene of a car crash or a building on fire." The two were inseparable.
Eventually, Zoey and Marika would change the way news would be broadcasted with their action-packed live coverage style of journalism. Zoey would operate the helicopter and Marika would do the filming. It was tough at first when the two started using the helicopter mode for filming because Zoey was the better camera person. Marika had to literally “learn on the fly” taking initial lessons in the air from Zoey. Pretty intense! But, their tenacity and expertise allowed them first-hand coverage of breaking news stories due to their quick response to be on the scene and the live-visual journalism. They were ahead of their game due to the methods of gathering monumental situations by looking directly at it from above the ground. Some of the most historical include the 1992 Los Angeles riots and O.J. Simpsons Ford Bronco chase in 1994. Zoey and Marika and Lawrence Welk III tell in detail this crazy episode.
The work was addictive for Zoey. The adrenaline rush to be the first on the scene and get the first coverage out to the media stations was the thrill of the hunt. Seconds mattered: to get to the scene first, to get the live visuals, to get the story. It was a chase and the success to capture was exhilarating. They became slaves to breaking news. Zoey says, "You can miss the greatest news story in the world in a minute, so you have to be ready to jump in the helicopter at any given moment."
The duo has many accolades to their credit in the world of helicopter journalism, but the thousands of hours spent chasing breaking news took its toll. Whirlybird documents a very intimate story of a relationship within a marriage and family keen on loving each other, as well as, their beloved city but to what extent did fame alter their destiny?