BUFFALO’S VOICES OF STEEL
Q&A with Producer Andy Grant
How did the project originate?
The “Voices of…” concept is an idea that Driftwood Productions [a contractor of WNED] has had for sometime now and finally found its expression in Buffalo’s Voices of Steel. The idea is to take a group of people, in this case former steelworkers, and really let them tell their story.
How many people appear in the final version of the film?
We interviewed twenty-three people for the program and all are in the final version of the film.
How did you find/decide who to interview?
Selecting the interviewees was one of the more difficult parts of the production. I spoke to, either in person or on the phone, more than 100 former steelworkers and had to whittle it down to the twenty-three we interviewed. Many of the steelworkers I talked to helped to put me in contact with other former workers. In addition, I attended meetings and get-togethers of former workers, and the Steel Plant Museum in Lackawanna was very helpful in getting the word out about the production.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in State College, Penn., but moved to Burke, Va., when I was very young. I grew up in Burke, which is a suburb of Washington, D.C.
How old are you?
Twenty-seven; I will be twenty-eight by the time the program debuts.
Do you know any steelworkers or were you familiar with the industry/culture?
My father grew up in a Pennsylvania steel town, so I heard stories from him most of my life about what life was like in small-town industrial America. My grandfather on my mother’s side was not a steelworker, but worked most of his life in a chemical factory. So prior to this production, I had had little direct contact with steelworkers, but I was familiar with the industrial culture.
What did you learn from producing this?
One of the things I will take away from this production is that everyone has a story and most of them are really interesting. Deciding on the final interviewees was incredibly difficult, mainly because so many of the people I talked to were such interesting individuals. People that worked in the same plant, sometimes even the same department, for years have totally different memories and stories about the plant.
When you saw the finished film, what was your impression of it overall?
One of the things I was most nervous about this production was getting it right -- really capturing what life was like for this group of people. After having shown it to a small group of steelworkers who are in the final program, I really feel like we did that and that is the most satisfying part of the finished film.
Why should someone (even those not connected with steelmaking) tune in?
This program is really about more than just what it was like to be a steelworker. The program looks at Buffalo, and Lackawanna, and the surrounding towns, and tries to capture what that era in Western New York’s history was like.
What do you want people to walk away with after seeing this?
The “Voices of…” idea is in many ways an oral history. My hope is that after viewing this, people share their own stories and reminiscences with their family and friends.
What makes the film significant from a historical standpoint?
One thing that makes this film historically significant is that this is a group of people that is slowly disappearing. One of the steelworkers we interviewed told me that [his group’s] annual meeting gets smaller by three or four people every year. Manufacturing helped to build Western New York and in many ways steel was the king of manufacturing in this region ― and the people who worked in the steel mills represent a diverse sampling of people from all over Western New York.
What makes the material so emotional?
A couple of the people interviewed were moved to tears while telling their stories. I think what makes this material so emotional is that this was more than just a job. The steel mills represented something for the people of this region. They represented work, they represented a future, and they represented a lifestyle that has largely disappeared with the demise of manufacturing.
Are there any other “Voices of…” productions planned right now? What makes the concept work?Right now we are in the planning stages of other “Voices of…” style productions, but nothing concrete. I think what makes the concept work so well is the fact that you are hearing history first hand. The people are telling their life stories and life experiences directly to the viewer. Those first-hand accounts really make this a powerful storytelling concept.