Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Streets of Philadelphia

Today was day two of our Philly shoot, and a big goal for the day was getting some B-roll of the city. B-roll is just pictures to go with words. Anytime you watch a movie, especially a documentary, you obviously aren’t just watching interview after interview. Pictures must illustrate the words people say or the audience is going to lose interest pretty quickly.

So our first stop of the day was at the ministry offices for the Augustinians. There we interviewed Fr. Jack Deegan, who founded “Augustinians Defenders of the Rights of the Poor.” I think he’s 75 years old, at least, and as Jody said in his interview is “taking on the biggest challenge of his life at a time when most people are looking to retire.”

Setting up an interview isn’t as easy as you might think. It’s not just plopping the subject in a chair and rolling tape. The lighting has to be perfect, the acoustics of the room must work, the chair can’t squeak, the heater can’t be running and on and on it goes. My job this shoot has been to do the audio. Essentially it comes down to being a good listener. It’s hard because my inclination as a reporter is to listen intently to the interview and the words being said, but with audio you have to be listening for everything else too. Did a Blackberry just cause interference with the mic? Should we wait for this truck to drive by the window, or just keep rolling? Are those just the voices in my head, or are there people talking in another room?

It’s an intense job, since the words are so important when you’re making a documentary. It’s also incredibly cool, since you have these fascinating interviewees literally talking in your ear all day.

So after we left the offices we did a driving tour of the city with Fr. Jack. He showed us the rougher neighborhoods in Philly, the authentically old Italian areas, and the areas that have been heavily influenced by new immigrants to Philadelphia and, of course, by poverty. It’s funny, whenever you go out on the street with a camera people are immediately aware of you. Some people make an effort to avoid being on film, while others, especially kids, make a point of doing something notable to get on screen.

Before our next stop we took a “quick” detour to the top of the Ben Franklin Bridge to get some B-roll of the city skyline.

After, we headed back to St. Rita’s Church for an ex-inmate support group meeting. Before the meeting we smuggled a camera on the subway in order to get some B-roll of one of the group members heading to the meeting. Apparently Philly Subway police are really sensitive about people filming on the trains, so we had to be wicked discreet, or risk having our camera confiscated. Which would have been a bit of problem…We filmed the meeting and, expectedly, some of the members were concerned about confidentiality. We tried not to be too invasive, so the meeting would run as it normally does, but whenever you set up gear and start filming people become more aware of their words and actions. However, I think what we got was fantastic.

It was a late night for us, and tomorrow we have a 6 a.m. wake-up before heading to prison. Cameraman Bruce joked that we’re lucky to be going to, and leaving prison on the same day.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to get the “Streets of Philadelphia” outta my head tonight, both the Springsteen song and the neighborhoods we saw today. More later.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. yes Bish, those were the voices in your head