Culture Shock

‘Timelapse Toledo’ is speechless


And how did you spend your summer?

For several college interns at WGTE-TV, Channel 30, the seasonal sun and fun included working on Timelapse Toledo, a two-years-in-the-planning documentary of a day and night in and around the city.

“We had a talented group of interns this summer who really wanted to get out in the field and do some work on our HD field equipment,” said Darren LaShelle, WGTE director of content and creative services.

“We thought, wait, this may be the perfect time to launch this idea we talked about so many years ago.”

Premiering at 8 p.m. Thursday on WGTE, Timelapse Toledo is the latest installment in the station’s award-winning TV documentary production, Toledo Stories. It’s also the 12-year-old series’ most unconventional.

For starters, there is no compelling narrative. Or words.

And rather than sharing Toledo’s rich and colorful past with viewers, Timelapse Toledo offers instead a half-hour visual celebration of the area’s here and now in super fast motion. This is Zen on speed, a be-in-the-moment meditation made possible by HD cameras shooting at a rate of one frame per second, instead of the usual 30 frames per second used for standard TV, with the footage sped up during editing to make hours pass in mere seconds.

“We thought, wouldn’t it be interesting to let Toledo speak for itself visually without putting a specific history or a specific narrative on top of that visual storytelling,” he said. “Really, it was an interesting experiment to see if we could create a piece that was evocative of Toledo but still interesting to watch.”

Timelapse Toledo is meant to be a “love letter” to the city, LaShelle said, that “says something about Toledo and our pride in Toledo comes through in the program.” It’s also the successful marriage of artsy documentary with the mass appeal of time-lapse photography and its godlike observations of our busy world.

Much more than passive cameras pointed to Toledo skies to chronicle the rise and fall of the sun, the documentary chronicles in hyper real time the hustle of modern life at more than 20 locations, among them Fifth Third Field, the Old West End, Sundance Kid Drive-In, Toledo Museum of Art, Lucas County fair, University of Toledo, Cedar Point, Maumee Bay State Park, Wixey’s Bakery on Glendale Avenue, and familiar downtown sites.

As such, the documentary renders the ordinary rather extraordinary, including a baker decorating a wedding cake and a rising draw bridge as seen through a camera mounted to the side of the elevating bridge. The latter sequence, Timelapse Toledo’s most memorable, was a favorite of LaShelle’s even before filming began.

“When I first explained this project to the group, I used the Cherry Street Bridge as an example of what would work through time-lapse photography,” he said.

But not every sequence as envisioned made it through the final edit.

Such was the fate of cargo ships unloading and loading.

“We did shoot that, but it turned out it was not a compelling visual,” LaShelle said. “We thought it would be but it turns out it was wasn’t.”

There are some things even timelapse photography can’t make cool.