Shooting indie films in Philadelphia: a tip on sound

apple boxes and slateIn September 2014 I directed the first two episodes of a web series I wrote called Bailout. It was a terrifying–but exciting–choice to do this shoot. I did it because I realized the only way I was going to get any good at directing was by practicing.

I spent all of my time in the MFA program I did years ago hiding behind my skills as a producer rather than challenging myself to experience new things as a director.

I played it safe.

I was scared of making mistakes.

In recent years, several things inspired me to face my fear of making public mistakes–my mom’s death and resulting reflections on my mortality, my daily meditation practice, and about a million inspirational quotes from artists on the creative process like this one from Neil Gaiman.

I plan to write a series of short blog posts over the next few months reflecting on some of the experiences of the shoot, the highs and lows, the practical and the theoretical. Enjoy!


Thinking about sound when you don’t have the budget to shut down a road

After working enough small-to-no-budget shoots, you start to build a list of potential sound obstructions to look out for in a location that could slow down your shoot. Is the location on an airplane flight path coming into the Philadelphia airport? Is there a church near by that rings bells regularly? Is there a guy on the corner in the summer time who has blasted music while sitting in his fold up chair every hot evening for the last 10 years who can’t be moved?

It would be funny–and actually kind of useful–to start a public shared google document that is a location scouting check list of Philadelphia specific sound obstructions for indie makers.

For this shoot, I discovered a new one to add to this list: SEPTA. How I’ve gone so many years in this city and not encountered that challenge, I’m not sure.

But yeah. No. Don’t pick a location on a one way street that is on a bus route. Not only do you get the distinct voice of “WELCOME TO. ROUTE XX. SERVICE TO. YY” what feels like every 10 minutes (though they never seem to run that frequently when you’re actually waiting for the bus), but you also get the start and stop of traffic on the street as the bus inches its way from block to block. It forces you to rush takes in small chunks when there is an ebb in standing traffic and no bus, and also requires dedicating a crew member to staking out down the road with a walkie-talky to notify you when a bus is approaching.

Sound tip: check the SEPTA bus route map before picking your shooting location.

Less affirmation, more failure: The Film Director’s Intuition

FilmDirIntuition_website_largeI’m wary of compulsive optimism, the idea that you have to always “turn your frown upside down” and be positive. I think it’s a damaging way to move through the world.

It’s no surprise that the first chapter of Judith Weston’s book The Film Director’s Intuition, which I started reading recently, resonated with me. Weston goes against the grain of affirmations and compulsive positive thinking, and offers what I find to be a much more useful model for approaching creative projects: permission to fail.



pgs 6-7

“If we approach a project declaring , ‘I trust myself. I’m going to nail it. I’m going to do it perfectly.”–that’s not trust, that’s bravado. And bravado is a form of denial; it’s pretending we’re not afraid when, in fact, we are. Denial is a little lie to ourselves. And when we lie to ourselves, we shut down our creativity.

If, on the other hand, our mindset is, “I trust that whatever I do will be worth trying”–that is, worth risking–we give ourselves permission to fail. Permission to fail is exactly the same as permission to learn.

I’m Attending Flaherty Seminar As A Philadelphia Fellow This Summer!

2013-Seminar-CoverI honored to share that I’ll be following in the footsteps of some amazing Philadelphia women I know and attending this year’s Flaherty Seminar as a Philadelphia Fellow, funded by the Philadelphia Foundation!

Flaherty Seminar is an annual gathering of over 160 filmmakers, academics and curators for a week long seminar watching and discussing films. Each year there is a different theme and curator. This year’s theme is “History, It’s What’s Happening” curated by Pablo De Ocampo. I’m excited for this theme as it’s directly connected to my exploration of a possible multi-media installation on the CIA coup of Mossadegh that has been brewing on my creative back burner for a while.

The only thing I miss about graduate school is getting to geek out on films in this focused kind of way –I’m looking forward to the opportunity to immerse myself like this for a bit.


Animation Inspiration

The Norman film is still in process. But like any creative process, it’s kind of excruciating. Luckily I have an amazing and ever growing team of people helping with collecting visuals and animating. I kind of feel like I’m conducting a visual animation orchestra. Dah dah dah. (That’s the sound of an instrument).

Voice on the Line by Kelly Sears

I’ve been looking for inspiration from other animators using unique and lo-tech techniques and recently discovered Kelly Sears. Several of her pieces incorporate archival footage that is altered to have a sort of extra lush saturated feel against these colorful and textured backgrounds.

Paper Mountain Man by Kelly Sears

Other pieces are hand done collage that are colorfully layered to create images that are visually engaging without being overwhelming or chaotic. She some how manages to create a depth of field through her use of scale and layering in a way that makes me more conscious of how flat the images I’ve been producing are.

I suspect that some of her work was done on an optical printer, which gives me that slight twinge of “things-I-should-have-taken-more-advantage-of-while-paying-a-million-dollars-to-be-in-film-school.” (It wasn’t really a million, but either way it’s more than I’ll probably be able to pay back in my life time.)

I love learning about new artists whose work triggers a flurry of ideas for me. If you’ve got other suggestions please share!

Hello? England?

This post is not about the World Cup. . . though I’ve been having a fun time watching games, catching up with friends, and having a legit reason to have a beer before 3pm.

And besides, I’m not really rooting for the UK anyway.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, I’ve been learning After Effects together with fellow artist bex, which by definition also means learning more Photoshop as well.

Yesterday we imported all our assets and did our first basic animation. I am so thrilled.

Here’s a very crude still from our sequence about Mossadegh’s attempt to nationalize Iran’s oil supply.

"Hallo? England? We're taking over the oil supply. . . .I mean, since it was ours to begin with anyway."

“I thought your film was about Norman Schwarzkopf though?” you ask.

“Indeed.” I say back.


“So, you’ll just have to wait and see. . . “

Housewives and collaborators and creative process

I haven’t done a Wednesday-Where’s-Your-Film update in a while.

When you just need some desperate housewives.
I went through one of those dark spells in the creative process where I lost my vision, almost gave up, all the while beating myself up for not meeting my self-imposed deadline to be done by June.

Then, last week I read through some old journals–a process which gives me the best insight on the crazy habit patterns of my mind–and read through this exact same moment in producing Cusps. Those of you who work on long-term creative projects know exactly what moment I’m talking about. Weeks of evenings where pledge to go exercise and work on your experimental film and instead stay at home in bed with a pint of ice cream and watch 5 episodes of Desperate Housewives.

But you have to trust that one day you’ll emerge. That rest is important. And every cliche that you can think of about needing to go through the dark to get to the light.

When you need some help.
In the spirit of my theme for 2010, asking for help, I did just that. And it all lined up kinda perfect. I’m now collaborating with bex*, who already in two sessions has come up with some brilliant animation ideas for the film and breathed new life into it. Stay tuned.