The Big Burn in The New York Times

Promethean Fire, Smoldering Still by Neil Genlinger Jan. 31, 2015

The great fires in American history are generally identified with a city or a building: Chicago in 1871, Boston in 1872, the Iroquois Theater in 1903, the Triangle shirtwaist factory in 1911. But a wildfire in August 1910 in the northern Rockies dwarfed all of those in geographic scope. An episode of “American Experience” on Tuesday on PBS that examines that blaze borrows one of its nicknames for its title: “The Big Burn.”

The fire burned more than three million acres in Idaho, Montana and Washington, destroying several towns and killing at least 85 people, many of them firefighters. The United States Forest Service had only recently been established, its purpose and support in Congress both still uncertain. The program (whose source material includes a book by Timothy Egan, a columnist for The New York Times) traces not only the devastation but also its role in giving the fledgling service credibility. Most interesting are the fire-suppression practices that emerged in the aftermath, policies that more recently have come into question.

Members of the 25th Infantry helped fight a raging wildfire in 1910. Credit The Museum of North Idaho

Members of the 25th Infantry helped fight a raging wildfire in 1910. Credit The Museum of North Idaho

By |January 2nd, 2015|featured, News|0 Comments|

Behind the scenes of Edison’s Lab

Much like Edison himself, we tinkered with tools to recreate scenes from Menlo Park. Take a look below at some of the images we captured on set, and stay tuned for information about the release of Inventing Edison.

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By |May 20th, 2014|featured, News|0 Comments|

Behind the scenes of the “Big Burn”

It took 3 days to build Pulaski’s cave. Take a look at some of the images from the shoot. “Pulaski led his men through the inferno, until, at last, he came to one of the old mining shafts along the creek. “In here,” he ordered, his hand on his sidearm, “everyone inside the tunnel.”   After an agonizing moment of indecision, forty-four men rushed into the opening and threw themselves on the ground.” – an excerpt from The Big Burn, airing on PBS this Fall.
Measuring Focus Lighting the fire

Prepping the cave

Some light reading

Some light reading for one of the Forest Rangers…


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Director Stephen Ives with Cinematographer Michael Chin on set in Colorado for the “Big Burn.”  It was a cold morning in April, but it made for some beautiful footage.

By |April 25th, 2014|featured, News|0 Comments|

Stephen Ives on set for Retro Report

Get a sneak peek behind the scenes of our newest project. Pierre Sprey gives us a tour of the Naval Air Museum for our current Retro Report in production.


Filming in Wallace, Idaho


Check out our camera rig while filming in Wallace, Idaho for our upcoming film, The Great Fire of 1910. We were able to capture some spectacular views. Be sure to check out our website to stay up to date on the progress of this film.

By |December 11th, 2013|News, Uncategorized|0 Comments|

1964 premieres January 14th @ 8pm on PBS


In myriad ways, 1964 was the year when people began to take sides, when the comfortable consensus that had ruled the country since the New Deal began to disintegrate, and when the future of the nation was fiercely and passionately debated.  1964 will tell the story of the momentous choices faced by Americans during that year: between the liberalism of Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater’s grass-roots conservatism, between support or opposition to the civil rights movement, between an embrace of the emerging counter-culture or a defense of traditional values.

In addition to the historical narratives that dominated the headlines – the presidential campaign, Freedom Summer, rioting in America’s cities, The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, and Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement, to name just a few – the film also explores the seismic cultural shifts that first appeared in 1964, from the invasion of the Beatles, the sudden ascendance of Muhammad Ali, the debut of the Ford Mustang, and the publication of The Feminine Mystique.  A half-century later, the events and echoes of change from 1964 are still reverberating through the nation, from the deeply partisan divide in our politics, to the multicultural fabric of our culture, to the unsettled tensions over race and gender that define our society.  1964 was where, for better or worse, the outlines of the America we live in began to be visible.

American Experience, WGBH, Boston

Airing on PBS @ 8PM  January 14, 2014

By |December 11th, 2013|News|0 Comments|

Retro Report: The Truth Today About the Big Stories Then

Insignia was proud to help develop and launch this innovative documentary news organization that serves as a timely online counterweight to today’s 24/7 news cycle. Combining documentary techniques with shoe-leather reporting, it peels back the layers of some of the most perplexing news stories of our past with the goal of encouraging the public to think more critically about current events and the media.

Stealing J. Edgar Hoover’s Secrets

On March 8, 1971, a group of eight Vietnam War protestors broke into a Federal Bureau of Investigation field office in Media, Pennsylvania and stole hundreds of government documents that shocked a nation.

The stolen memos, reports and internal correspondence provided the first tangible evidence that J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI was systematically targeting and harassing hundreds of American citizens then known collectively as “the New Left.”

That discovery eventually led to Congressional investigations, more revelations of secret, illegal FBI actions, and sweeping reforms. But the burglars were never caught — despite a massive five-year investigation by the FBI — and their identities have remained secret – until now.

A new book by Betty Medsger, The Burglary, identifies the Media burglars for the first time. It also details the planning, execution, and consequences of the long-forgotten heist, which was carried out by a group that included college professors, graduate students, and a cab driver. Their story is also chronicled in a new documentary by Johanna Hamilton, 1971.


By |December 10th, 2013|News|0 Comments|

The Great Fire of 1910 in post-production


In the summer of 1910, hundreds of wildfires raged across the Northern Rockies. The Lolo National Forest in Montana was engulfed in smoke and flame. In Idaho, the Coeur d’Alene Forest blazed. Fires burned across Glacier National Park and were torching the mountain slopes above Priest Lake. For every fire successfully extinguished, others ignited. Smoke drifted across the country, darkening skies as far afield as Boston and Seattle, dumping soot on pristine snows in Greenland. Though the fires burned for three months, three quarters of the damage was inflicted over the course of two days when hurricane force winds whipped the flames into a frenzy, house-sized balls of fire rolled through the canyons, trees exploded, and storms of firebrands showered down the mountainsides. By the time it was all over, more than three million acres had burned and at least seventy-eight firefighters were dead

Ignited during the Forest Service’s infancy, the largest fire in American history had profound consequences. The stories of heroism in the face of an unprecedented inferno, increased public support for the protection of America’s wilderness and assured the future of the Forestry Service. But it had profoundly tragic ramifications as well. Rather than prompting debate about fire protection, the fire squelched all discussion. It ended the tussle between those who thought every fire should be fought promptly and aggressively and those who believed that fire suppression was not always the best way to protect the wilderness. And it set the Forest Service and conservationists on a century-long journey away from controlled burning that would in the end harm the ecology of the wilderness it was intended to protect.

American Experience, WGBH, Boston

By |December 4th, 2013|News|0 Comments|

Edison in Production


At 10 o’clock on the night of October 21st, 1938, NBC and CBS offered a joint radio broadcast: an eight-minute tribute to the great American inventor, Thomas Alva Edison, who had died three days earlier, at the age of 84. When the tribute concluded, listeners were asked to switch off their lights. The darkness that descended all across the nation in the moments that followed was meant as “a reminder of what life would have been like if the inventor of the incandescent light had never lived.”

Before Edison darkness, after Edison light––it was a simple formulation often repeated, both during his life and after his death. Edison was a genius, the story went, who had bestowed upon humanity the gift not only of electric light, but of the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and “thousands of other inventions.”

Certainly, his genius as an inventor could not be disputed. The holder of no fewer than 1,093 patents––in disciplines ranging from telegraphy to cinematography to metallurgy and botany––Thomas Edison was nothing if not inventive. But the simple story––before Edison darkness, after Edison light––was likewise an invention, one that obscured not only the nature of the inventor, but also the nature of invention itself, particularly in the feverish turn-of-the-century rush to the technological future.

Edison will restore the obscured bits to the light. Assisted by interviews with biographers and historians, the program will augment Edison’s popular image, and will illuminate the contributions of others––collaborators and competitors alike––to his achievements. Underscoring his significance as a critical, transitional figure between the lone inventor of the nineteenth century and the industrial researcher of the twentieth––an innovator who merged research and development with manufacturing and promotion, and ultimately transformed invention into a methodical, modern business––Edison will offer surprising new perspective on the man and his milieu, as well as on his remarkably durable fame.

American Experience, WGBH, Boston

By |December 4th, 2013|News|0 Comments|