Daniel Klein sounded a bit tired as he wrapped up the editing of 13 episodes of “The Victory Garden Edible Feast,” which debuts locally tonight on PBS.
Tired, but happy, that is, as he and Mirra Fine — his wife and filmmaking partner — completed their latest challenge: a season’s worth of 23-minute films, which serve as the latest version of the long-running gardening series.
This time around WGBH in Boston, which has produced the show since it began in 1975, joined with the national Edible magazine communities to focus not only on vegetable gardening but the people behind it. Under the direction of Klein and Fine, the Minneapolis duo behind two James Beard awards for their online video series “The Perennial Plate,” the updated TV show expands to include the chefs, farmers and gardeners who produce the food we eat (or what we wish we ate).
Last season WGBH interwove footage from the second year of “The Perennial Plate” into its “Victory Garden” episodes, but Klein and Fine had no part in the production of those shows.
This time it’s different. In mid-August they were offered the opportunity to produce a full season of films. Given the short window of production and the even shorter gardening season that remained, they worked with other filmmakers to produce the footage.
Q: How to you produce a series so quickly?
A: It’s been a whirlwind for us. One of our conditions to do this was that the first episode had to be in Minnesota because they needed a pilot right away and we knew people here. We already were working with the co-ops to develop some content for them. So we asked PBS if we could tell similar stories with different edits. Then we went about planning the production of 13 23-minute episodes in a couple of months. Part of the reason we wanted to do this was the challenge of going from the 3- to 10-minute web series we did once a week or every couple weeks to making 13 longer episodes. It was a big challenge to produce that amount of content in that amount of time across the country.
Q: How did you frame each episode?
A: It can be difficult to write the structure of the show so we decided to focus on places in the country and create a format we knew how to do: That included telling brief stories about producers in the first half and in the second half of the show focusing on techniques with gardening and cooking. So we took the big picture and narrowed it down to the small components. We were confident in that style. Each show has four parts with me narrating and Mirra illustrating the words with stop-motion.
Q: How was it working with other filmmakers?
A: This is the first time not everything was filmed exclusively by us. I found several filmmakers whose content I had watched online and enjoyed. We went out with each to film for a week to give them an idea of how we do things and how we like it, and our style, which is a laid-back sort of filmmaking. We think making people comfortable is more important than staging.
Then they proceeded to each film a couple episodes themselves. Because of the time period we had, I and a couple others were filming at the same time across the country. The quick turnaround wouldn’t have been possible without the story base of Edible magazines around the country. They had done all the research and had written great stories about all these people. They were more equipped to understand their local food systems.
Q: How did you handle the editing process?
A: WGBH is the sponsoring station, and they and PBS as the national organization get to have edits of each show or give us notes about the show. Some notes are like suggestions, and others are like “You have to change this.” Generally the notes have been great and easy, and nothing changes in the show. The only thing they don’t want to talk about is raw milk. Mirra, myself and other local editors we hired worked full time in the basement of our house. We got back three to seven hours per segment from the filmmakers. And there are always four segments per show.
Q: What’s different about the updated version of “The Victory Garden”?
A: We tried to make the show be not only about white males. It’s easy to promote what white males are doing in the food world, whether it’s a chef or producer. We have made an effort to change that. Most chefs in the show are women. None of the chefs are cooking in their restaurant kitchen; they are always in their homes or at a friend’s home. Restaurants are horrible places to film — ugly light and it’s so loud with the fans, even if you turn them off.
Q: Did you have guidelines from WGBH or PBS?
A: There needed to be a gardening element. That was the biggest requirement. They wanted there to be a host of the show, as there has been in the past, and we did not want a host. I think that separates us from other shows. It’s about the person who is being featured in the segment, not about making the host famous. I like to tell these people’s stories in a documentary style and that’s where we are in our creative style. And we were lucky to hold onto that. There are tiny segments of narration throughout, but it’s rare to have shows on TV so lacking in narration, so that’s kind of cool. It’s exciting to be part of PBS. That’s always been our ideal network for where we want to show something.
Q: Do you plan to continue with “The Perennial Plate” web series?
A: Yes, we’re not stopping our series to make films only for PBS. We still value and want to have our online content. It’s very important for what we want to do. TV is great, but I still think that the Internet is the future. Hopefully, after the series airs on PBS, it will come out on Netflix. That’s probably where people who follow us would end up watching it.
Q: Do you have a particular theme with “The Perennial Plate” for this year?
A: We’re brainstorming about what we want to do. Over the next couple months, we will release some favorite segments from “The Victory Garden Edible Feast” on our website to continue to have stuff out there for people to watch. Mirra is pregnant and due March 1, so we hope to start a new project a few months after that, once we’ve gained some composure after the whirlwind of having a baby for the first time and figuring out if we can travel with a baby. We’ll be looking for cinematographers who are also nannies [ laughs].
Follow Lee Svitak Dean on Twitter: @StribTaste