Video: ‘Greystone Rising’ by Jody Johnson and Lisa Marie Blohm
By Kevin Coughlin
Preservationists could not save Greystone, despite years of effort.
But Jody Johnson has rebuilt the once-majestic state psychiatric hospital…in less than five minutes.
Greystone Rising, her mesmerizing video, is competing in the second annual New York City Drone Film Festival, on Saturday, March 5, 2016.
“I didn’t want to see it come down, either,” Johnson said of Greystone, erected in 1876 and demolished last year. In May she began shooting aerial footage with her drone. “I figured as a last tribute to Greystone, we’ll put it in reverse.”
Culled from more than 10 hours of video, and expertly edited by Lisa Marie Blohm, a Parsippany woman she met onsite, Johnson’s piece puts Greystone’s Kirkbride Building–once the nation’s largest structure after the Pentagon–back together, puddingstone by puddingstone.
Cranes of destruction become arms of creation. Dust rains up instead of down. A magnificent sequence flies the viewer inside the remains of a once-elegant chapel, in what looks like bombed-out ruins from World War II.
“I prayed I wouldn’t hit anything, and went for it. They were taking it down that day. I watched my screen and hoped for the best,” said Johnson, 39.
Snippets of her video have been featured by the BBC and Fox’s Good Morning New York, in previews of the drone festival. Screenings are scheduled for 7:30 pm at the Directors Guild of America Theater, at 110 West 57th St. A day of drone demos and battles follows on Sunday, March 6, at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City.
Johnson bought a “mini” starter drone two years ago, after watching a friend’s video. Several crashes later, she is smoothly piloting a DJI Phantom Pro, a $1,000 rig (not counting several $150 batteries) that sports a built-in camera capable of shooting 4K video.
For now, GlideBy JJ, as she calls her drone adventures, is Johnson’s hobby. The Randolph resident works for Easter Seals New Jersey, caring for people with special needs.
But Johnson has formed an association of drone enthusiasts, Team GlideBy, that volunteers its services for search-and-rescue operations.
So far, she has recorded aerial videos of training exercises by the Randolph Fire Department. She also is a member of Amelia Dronehart, a global network of women remote-control pilots, and a New York drone users group.
Johnson hopes to enlist her 15-year-old daughter as a video editor. For the moment, “she’s kind of indifferent.”
GETTING AN EDGE
Greystone Rising started coincidentally. Johnson knew the area from her Denville childhood, and showed up at the site, on the Parsippany/Morris Plains border, just seeking a place to fly her drone. She came home with footage of the hospital dome that blew her away.
“You could really see the craftsmanship. I thought it was amazing when I saw it on my computer,” recounted Johnson, who said she follows all drone safety guidelines and supports new federal registration requirements.
Other drone aficionados were drawn to the demolition. But Johnson had an edge. She became friendly with the project supervisor, now her boyfriend.
“He told me when big crashes were going to happen,” she said.
Fellow drone buffs were supportive; the documentary team Antiquity Echoes provided narration for Greystone Rising.
Being in the right place at the right time was only half the challenge, however.
Battery life–about 18 minutes–provoked plenty of anxiety. “I freaked out a bunch of times, and pushed it to the last minute,” she said.
Piloting skill counted, too.
“I had to keep my drone still. When something big happened, I had to make sure I was in the right spot. There were no do-overs.”