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!

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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.

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