Omaha 'Webisodes' to promote Buffett book

"Action," Evan Ferrante says softly as he zooms his lens out to show Alice Schroeder, wired with a microphone in the Paxton Chop House, a golden statue of a bull in the background symbolizing steaks, not stock markets.

Ferrante, an independent filmmaker and today a one-man movie crew, steadies his hand-held camera with his elbows on the white tablecloth as Schroeder relates a story told to her by Warren Buffett about his early days in Omaha, in which the former Paxton Hotel played a part.

No details yet, please, Schroeder requests, charmingly. She wants her readers to savor these Buffett tales in her coming biography of the Omaha investor, which goes on sale Sept. 29.

For a few days she is revisiting places where, over the past five years, she tracked down Buffett's story — his childhood homes in Omaha, his junior high in Washington, D.C., the offices of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., and the museum reconstruction of his uncle's Dundee grocery store.

"Omaha is so much a part of what he is," says Wilson Cleveland, who thought up the "digimentary" project to promote Schroeder and her 976-page book, titled "The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life."

Click to Enlarge
Warren Buffett biographer Alice Schroeder visited Omaha to film a "digimentary" to help Buffett fans visualize the places she mentions in her book that comes out later this month. The project will be on YouTube and other sites. Ferrante and Cleveland will post eight to 10 "webisodes" on networking Web sites such as YouTube and Schroeder's Facebook page, as well as Cubitt, Jacobs & Prosek Communications, the New York PR firm where Cleveland works, represents Schroeder.

The three-minute videos will come out over the first several weeks of the book's sale. For Schroeder, a former insurance analyst who worked nearly five years on the book, narrating videos is a change of pace from her fact-gathering Omaha visits.

There's a hairdresser who grooms her a bit before the camera switches on.

She tells a Buffett story that evokes a time when everything was simpler and financial events were less earthshaking than today.

Buffett, now 78, was a youngster then, and Paxton's corner at 14th and Farnam Streets was different — no Gene Leahy Mall, no downtown library, no state office building. The Paxton today hosts condominium owners, not hotel guests.

As the scene ends, Schroeder relaxes and says the videos will help people understand Buffett.

"This is the best way of explaining Warren Buffett's Omaha," she says.

People who read the book will be able to see the places where he grew up, began his business career and still works. When the book tells of Buffett's unhappiness living in Washington when his father was elected to Congress, readers can call up a visit to the Buffetts' house in Washington's Spring Valley neighborhood.

Schroeder's assistants show up as the Chop House segment wraps up. Ferrante gets scene-setting video in the kitchen, then takes down his lights and packs up his gear. The group heads for the Douglas County Historical Society, where Schroeder had spent hours poring over old clippings and photos.

She'll be back in Omaha later, for an Oct. 12 book signing, the start of a nationwide tour. Bantam Dell Publishing Group reportedly has printed a million copies.

Buffett has read the book, Schroeder says, smiling but giving no clue as to what he thought of it.