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Rollerbladers, the Mayor, and Protest
June 18, 2000


Call time: 10 a.m.
Location: City Hall

Cast: Beverly, Nell Johnson, Ramona, Matt Rochester, Mayor Ed Rendell
91 FM series Truth About Philadelphia Interviewees


A dream shoot day. The weather was perfect. Clear. Cool. Bright blue sky. Cotton candy clouds. I dream of days and days like this -- now I understand why the movies moved to California.

City Hall and all the people who pass through make for a very photogenic location. The play of light and shadows on the sculptural elements, the tunnels with people moving from silhouette into the light of day then into silhouette again, the traffic in each direction beyond, the crisscrossing of people, the tourists looking up and around

And the sounds . . . the humming of the air conditioners, the musician in the east hall playing the recorder, the hourly bells chiming from the nearby PNB building, the snippets of lunch time conversations . . .

In the morning we shoot the scene of Beverly walking through the City Hall Courtyard to get to the Broad Street Subway station.

En route to the subway entrance, Beverly passes a musician. I've invited composer and musician Odean Pope to appear in the shot. Odean is actually one of five composers who are writing music for the film. (Each of the composers was commissioned to write a composition for a different time of day. Odean wrote for noon at City Hall)

Also in the shot are very special guests. The whole Philadelphia Project began with a series of interviews with Philadelphians about the drama of everyday life. I shared these interviews with the Philadelphia Diary writers, who mingled the stories with their own inspiration, and our script was born.

spectators We invited all of the 50 interviewees to join us for this shoot. Today, only a handful are able to make it away during a workday. It is a group of people that I'm especially indebted to, and I want to make sure to get some great shots of each of the interviewees.


Philadelphia Project Interviewee Mary Cousar participates in City Hall Scene All goes well down on the ground. We move up to the seventh floor mens room, which has a great overview of the courtyard. It's a funny sight, a film crew in this HUGE bathroom (it's bigger than the first floor of my house), camera pointed out the window. Many tourists on their way up to or from the observation deck in the tower stop to use the restroom. Some are surprised to meet us in the bathroom, and turn away. Others are not phased, take care of business, and then go on their way. . . I've asked a production assistant to go to LOVE park a few blocks away, to recruit any roller bladers. Once when I was filming a video poem about this same location with poet Daisy Fried there were some roller bladers spinning around the map of the city that is painted on the ground of the courtyard. It was a great image, and I want to recreate it for the film. It's easy enough to find some volunteers, and they skate around and around.

Lunch is set up in Conversation Hall, a gorgeous room used for many special functions. The room boasts an elaborate decorative ceiling, painted in many colors. Everyone dining -- interviewees, crew, extras -- recognize that we are in a special place.

After lunch we get ready for an appearance by Mayor Rendell. In the script he appears in a news report about Lucy Wolf's West Philadelphia mural. He was originally scheduled to do the interview at the mural location, but because of the sinking homes in Wissanoming, we've rescheduled. Rendell arrives on time. I'm surprised that he's got his lines memorized,and we do four takes. I'm happy with the second take, but he thinks he can do better. It's quick, but it's exactly what we need.He couldn't be more cooperative.

WHYY Crew and Extra filming flashback to the early 70s scene The real fun begins in the afternoon. We set up a mock protest scene, set in the late 1960s.
In the film, Beverly travels by bus from West Philadelphia to Center City (a scene we have yet to shoot). As she passes City Hall she has a flashback of a television news report in which she sees her daughter, Ramona, protesting with other students for Black Studies to be incorporated into public school education. The protest is based on an actual events that happened, although the protest was based at the School Board of Education building near the parkway.


Ramona (Matt Rochester) is taken away by cops We've found archive footage of the protest. About 2000 students actually rallied on the day. We can afford eight. We will shoot close ups of the activity, and intercut it with archive footage of period protests.

Our costume designer, Monica, has done a fantastic job of outfitting the protesters in period outfits (she says she raided thrift stores in Baltimore -- dressed them all for under $100). Two extras are dressed as cops, and in one scene, they escort Ramona into a police vehicle. It turns out that one of the extras was a police officer for 20 years . . . he's got some tips on exactly how "gentle" the police would have been on such an occasion, and I've got to ask him to not be so aggressive as he pushes Ramona into the van.

I watch the real police that we have as escorts as we rehearse the scene. They don't look pleased as the rest of us at the image we are creating.

Extra actor in police van/bus We use City Hall as a backdrop, and are careful not to let any contemporary imagery (passing cars, new model air conditioners in the windows) in the frame.

I'd love to shoot an entire film in and around City Hall. It's an amazing place to spend an entire day -- internal dramas, the lives that pass through, touch briefly and then move on North, South, East and West. I'm sure I'll be back.

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