Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Welcome to Philly

Today was our first day shooting in Philadelphia, and essentially my first time shooting anything anywhere. We're here to learn more about the history and work of the organization we're profiling: the Augustinians. After our first day with them, it's easy to see why their story is so compelling.

What sets the Augustinians apart from other Catholic orders is their incredible dedication to helping the communities they're a part of. So much of Christianity has been politicized to the point that we've forgotten the true spirit of it all. Jesus wasn't about rejection, or telling people what they could or could not do. His most basic and important belief was that all people have a duty to help those in need. That's what the Augustinians believe, and that's what we're trying to show on film.

Our first shoot of the day was at Villanova University. This is where the Augustinians first settled when they came to the United States from Ireland. All I knew about Nova was that they had a decent basketball team every few years. The campus is beautiful, with incredible architecture and an absolutely stunning chapel. On campus we interviewed Fr. Don Reilly, the Augustinian provincial, who really gave us a fantastic overview of who the Augustinians are and what they stand for.

Going from print journalism to documentary has been quite a transition. We rely on the people we're interviewing to tell the story, rather than being able to write it in our own words. We also have A LOT more gear. Being part of a film crew is like being a Sherpa on Everest. Everywhere we go we have to stuff 6 bags and suitcases into a car, then unload them at new locations, then drag them wherever we're going, then set everything up, get the shots or interviews, break everything down, then repack it and do it all over again. It's exhausting, but so worth it once you get that perfect shot or interview.

From Nova we went to St. Rita's Church, one of the Augustinian churches in a rougher part of downtown Philly. There they are building a center that will provide a variety of services to people in the neighborhood. After that we went over to a health clinic sponsored by the "Augustinian Defenders of the Rights of the Poor" that offers free care on Tuesday nights to those without insurance. This was really the first time we had to deal with privacy issues. Sometimes people simply would rather not appear on film, and we have to learn to work around those situations.

I was pretty stoked during set-up at the clinic when a few people we've been working with brought us some authentic Philly Cheesesteaks from Geno's. At that point it was our last shoot of the day and we were starving and exhausted.

The clinic was our final shoot of the day, so once we got back to the hotel cameraman Bruce, Jody and I went to a little French bistro called Caribou Cafe for dinner. The Kronenbourg, Salade Chevre Chaud and Crepes were a nice reminder of home (though not as good as Pain D'Avignon cuisine of course). Going out for meals and staying in nice hotels are some of the perks of this job.

Tomorrow we explore the neighborhoods of Philly and go to a support group for ex-inmates. I'm definitely getting used to lugging gear around, learning the set-up for a shoot and figuring out how all this stuff works. For now though, I really need some sleep.