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Meeting West Philly (Or, Kittens, Pigeons and Rain - Oh My!)
June 16, 2000


Call time: 6:00 p.m.
Location: West Philadelphia Mural site, 55th and Christian Streets, Philadelphia

Cast: Jamal, Kamal Bostic-Smith, Jamal's friends, Nieem, Raheem Wilson and Bryan Jones, Beverly, Nell Johnson, Lucy, Hayden Saunier, Nia, Daneen Wright, Shaquille, Ahmad Duncan


When we arrived tonight, the neighborhood was as electric as the day before. Kids were waiting for us. "Remember my name?" I did. Sienna, Dominique, Tiffany, Janee, Marquize. . . Pepsi-Cola and candy become crowd control currency. When I ask the kids to help me keep quiet they're obliging, and are as quiet as kids can be, which will have to be OK. Throughout the scenes in this storyline we'll have sounds of kids at play.

A kid bouncing a basketball unknowingly spoils a sound take. When I ask him to stop, he grumbles. During the next take, like a dare, he bounces again to let us know this is his neighborhood. We're guests here.

There are many older residents who've been watching for the past few days. When I tell them the storyline -- about a conflict between a mural painter and neighborhood teen -- everyone nods with recognition. It doesn't seem far at all from their experience.

We set up for scene 57 - Beverly, Nia and Shaquille arrive back home in West Philadelphia at night. On their way home, they walk past Lucy as she paints, her car headlights lighting the mural in the night. It's no small set up. Five or six lights, a dozen or so people, police blocking traffic, production assistants, walkie talkies and coffee everywhere . . .the alien spaceship lands in the West Philly neighborhood once again.

Glenn Holsten rehearses scene with Nieem Gilmore, Bryan Jones, and Willie Wilson Not so far away there's a group of teens hovering around the border of the production. When I walk past to go to the community center, they call out to me, teasing me. Michael Hollinger's story has a group of teens hovering around Lucy the mural painter. This too, seems right.

Young parents sitting on the summer steps with babies, watching, talking, laughing. Seemingly uninterested, until the actors take their mark nearby. Then, a flurry of questions. "Can I be in your movie?" Nell, who plays Beverly, turns sweetly and says, "Maybe next time." That seems to satisfy.

Shaquille (Ahmad Duncan) is adorable. He's five or six years old, and his first instinct, after he's dressed with a wireless microphone, is to pull the microphone up to his mouth and yell real loud.

Daneen Wright plays Shaquille's older sister, Nia. She plays a fourteen year-old woman/child, who cares for her younger brother in her mother's absence. Sonia Sanchez wrote some wonderful dialogue for her, and Daneen is a bright, gifted actress. . . The character Nia has never had a permanent place to call home. I've had this image of her on the subway headed towards her grandmother's house, in addition to all her belongings and responsibilities, she's trying to keep a kitten hidden safe in her knapsack. The scene we are shooting tonight takes place after the subway scene, so we need the kitten.

Kitten handler Barbara Muehlib, prepares pet for subway scene We've already contracted with Barbara, from Barbara's Animals, for forty pigeons for the upcoming South Philadelphia shoot. Tonight she brings a black and white kitten named Hugo, for the actress to carry in the scene. The kitten looks frightened and is scrambling a bit. I'm not sure this is such a good idea. Barbara directs Daneen to gently sway back and forth to keep the kitten calm. Daneen does this lovingly, gracefully. The kitten looks perfectly at home in Daneen's arms. The shot works beautifully.

What doesn't work so beautifully tonight - the assistant director locks her keys in her car (while it's running - and for some time we think she's got the costumes locked up inside. All turns out OK when AAA arrives a few hours later to save the day. The white spray paint that we need for a pick up shot to match another scene already filmed has disappeared. One of the actors playing Jamal's friend shows up with a big bandage on his chin - he fell. We filmed a scene with him yesterday, no bandage. Was Hayden's pulled back or down? Should Bev be wearing that hat? And what about that darned bandana - was Lucy wearing it the scene before? On my next project there will be no accessories. In terms of continuity, the dream film project to direct would be about a community of bald, nude people.

Glenn Holsten and Michael Hollinger filming night time scene at the mural We're on a break and I'm looking through the shot list to see what we can cut so we can finish on time. A man shuffles slowly towards me. He's wearing sneakers with no laces, like slippers. His eyes are red, glassy. Looks like he and I have had about the same amount of sleep. "What's this all about?" he asks. When I tell him it's a film project for public television he says "I probably won't watch it." I tell him the plot (my attempt to persuade a potential viewer) about a mural that is repeatedly tagged by someone from the neighborhood. He interrupts. "You know what I would have done? I would have worked the tag into the design." I reply excitedly, "That's exactly what happens!" ("I've won him over," I think. "We're connecting.") "Now I really don't have to see it," he says laughing, and shuffles away, a bit quicker than before.

the crew After the meal break we light for Scene 59, the dramatic confrontation between Lucy the mural painter and Jamal, the neighborhood teen. It's a critical scene for the film. We spend some time rehearsing (there's a good deal of choreography involved - the teens have to move back and forth in front of the headlights, Lucy is up and down off of the scaffolding). All goes well until around 12:30 a.m., when the drizzling starts. Soon after, the drizzle turns into steady light rain. After waiting around for nearly an hour, I decide to postpone Scene 59. The alien spaceship packs up, and leaves the neighborhood the way we found it. For the time being.

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