Indianapolis Monthly interviewed Aaron Mitchell, the videographer behind the viral haunting images.
Tell us a little a bit about you and your work. What’s your relationship to Indy?
I’ve lived in Indianapolis since 2007 after I graduated from Ball State. Since then I’ve been running Capture Hour Productions, a video production company. I’ve been the producer of thousands of videos, including promo videos, weddings, live events, short films, television shows, documentaries, and much more.
How did you get the idea to shoot this?
I’ve always believed in documenting history, especially during dark times. As a videographer, one of my favorite quotes is from Gedeon Naudet in a documentary about 9/11. He said, “As I looked at the destruction around me, I felt helpless. I didn’t know what to do. But then I remembered that I was holding a video camera, and I told myself that as a cameraman, I can do something. I can film this so that people will know what happened, and make sure that it never happens again.” I’ve lived in Indianapolis for 15 years, and it’s always been a very lively city, so it breaks my heart to see it this empty. Businesses that were the backbone of Indianapolis are now just abandoned buildings. I wanted to make this video to raise awareness of the damage of the coronavirus. I hope that a pandemic and economic collapse like this never happens again. I also knew that seeing the city this empty was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so I had to film it.
What tech and equipment did you use to shoot this?
All of the ground shots were filmed with a Sony a7 iii, and my drone is a Mavic 2 Pro. For both, I filmed in 4K. I also thought that black and white was appropriate to emphasize the depression.
When did you shoot it? Over a day or two?
I live on the southwest side, and I was driving home from Castleton last Saturday night (March 21), and it occurred to me that I hadn’t been downtown since the city had shut down days earlier. I drove through it, and I couldn’t believe what a ghost town it had become. After I got the idea, I wanted to film it in a hurry, because I expected Governor Holcomb to announce a stay-at-home order any day. I went downtown the following evening with my camera and just walked around filming every spot that I could think of that was normally full of people. Then I went back and filmed all day Monday, day and night, and then on Tuesday I filmed my last round of shots, then stayed up until 2 a.m. Tuesday night finishing it up.
How do you hope people receive it?
The whole point was just to raise awareness, which the video has definitely done, and I’m thankful. Twenty-four hours after I posted it to my Facebook page, the video had been shared over 300 times and had over 50,000 views, so I was thrilled that it was getting around. Out of curiosity, I looked through the comments of people who shared the video and saw a mixture of reactions. Some people called it beautiful, others called it heartbreaking, and some people called it both. Other people who live elsewhere gave Indy a lot of credit for taking the virus seriously and staying inside. The video touched a lot of people personally, because I saw comments that read “He filmed my workplace and I started crying. I miss it so much.” Hang in there, Indy. We’re all in this together, and we’ll get through it. When Indy returns to normal, I plan on making a sequel to this video showing everyone happy to be back at work and outside enjoying the city.
What was the most interesting or revealing shot to you?
The shot that breaks my heart every time I see it is the shot of the empty JW Marriott parking lot. I’ve filmed a dozen events in that building, from weddings to corporate events. In addition to filmmaking, I’m also an Uber driver, and every time I drove into that parking lot to pick up a rider, it was overflowing with cars and people. I remember being annoyed by the valets who would walk up to my car like vultures, and I always had to tell them that I’m an Uber driver. Still, I really appreciated the hotel and all of the business that it brings to Indy, in addition to being a major part of our skyline. I would love to be annoyed by the valets again.