Helicopter coverage is a staple of today’s local news, but back in the ’80s and ’90s, Marika Gerrard and her then-husband Zoey (formerly Bob) Tur pioneered the newsgathering technique.
The documentary “Whirlybird,” out in theaters and on demand Friday, chronicles the family business they created together: the Los Angeles News Service.
For nearly two decades, Gerrard shot thousands of videos, ranging from raging wildfires to enraged celebrities — including Madonna and Sean Penn on their wedding day. But two of her videos — the dragging and beating of truck driver Reginald Denny after the 1992 Rodney King verdict, and the 1994 O.J. Simpson freeway chase — forever changed America … and her.
TheWrap’s Lawrence Yee caught with Gerrard and Matt Yoka, the director of “Whirlybird,” to talk about the impact of these two events on Gerrard. “Whirlybird” largely centers on how the Denny footage negatively affected Tur, who was battling gender dysphoria-driven depression at the time (Tur came out as transgender and the couple divorced). But now here’s Gerrard’s take.
“Well, you are a lot more fearful when you’re in the news business just in general, because you see so many horrible things happening,” she explained. “Because you see so much you do get kind of inured to it.”
“It doesn’t really register sometimes,” she continued. “When I was filming Reginald Denny, I was filming it in black and white in the viewfinder. I was looking at it as a news story. I need to get it in focus, I need to make sure I’m getting the right shot. And [I thought] ‘Oh my God, this is like the bookend to the Rodney King beating. This is an amazing piece of video.’ And then I got back and I put it on the screen. And I watched it. And I was taken aback.”
“I could not watch that video for a long time afterwards,” Gerrard admitted of the footage where Denny was pulled out from his truck at an intersection and violently beaten until he was badly bloodied, including struck in the head with a cinderblock. “It was real when it was in color. When it’s in black and white and you’re working. It’s not as real.”
Seemingly just as unreal was capturing football and Hollywood star O.J. Simpson leading police on a lengthy car chase just two years later. Over 80 million viewers tuned into watch Gerrard’s footage of the long, low-speed pursuit that culminated with Simpson’s arrest.
“Whirlybird” captures the conversation between Tur and Gerrard about Simpson’s whereabouts. Gerrard believed that he was suicidal and was going to drive to the mountains. Tur disagreed, saying he would go to his slain wife Nicole’s grave. Ends up Tur’s instincts were right, and they were first on the scene flying above the now infamous white Bronco.
When asked about her role in the most infamous car chase in history, Gerrard said Simpson’s case was unique.
“I never felt bad about publicizing, OJ in a sense, because he was a public figure, and he brought it on everything on himself. But when you look at someone like Reginald Denny, he was just a guy, a truck driver driving from the innocent intersection. He didn’t ask for this. They certainly didn’t ask to be an icon forever. And, and you don’t really think about that until later on you. So thinking, wow, I mean, that person’s like, that person’s the worst moment of their life is now the defining moment of their life.”
While “Whirlybird” doesn’t dive into the cultural/racial implications of either event (read the review here), it does give an inside look into how one family was affected.
Check out more of TheWrap’s interview with Marika Gerrard and “Whirlybird” director Matt Yoka above, and the trailer for the documentary below.