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Exploding Colors
July 6, 2000


Call time: 1 a.m.
Location: West Philadelphia Mural site, 55th and Christian Streets, Philadelphia

Cast: Jamal, Kamal Bostic-Smith, Jamalis friends, Nieem, Raheem Wilson and Bryan Jones, Beverly, Nell Johnson, Lucy, Hayden Saunier


Tonight (this morning?) was our last shoot at the mural site.

It was 101 degrees today, and my hero, mural painter Parris Stancell, has worked all day in this unbearable heat to complete the mural in time for this shoot.The mural looks amazing. A remarkable effort.

We get to the site at 1 a.m. When we arrive at the location, there is a big kind of truckcar parked right in front of where we need to be. We had arranged with the Philadelphia film office to have police put up signs that afternoon reserving the space. Other times when someone has parked on the set, we've been able to track the license plates, find out where they live, knock on the door and ask the owner to move the car. This time, this cartruck has Georgia plates - must be someone visiting - and we, unfortunately, have to arrange to have the vehicle towed out from in front of the site. Its new resting place is a block away. I reserve a little energy for a potential confrontation with the owner in the morning, when he/she finds out what we've done.

Our goal tonight was to shoot two scenes in the dark, and two at dawn. In the night, LUCY, the mural painter, and the teens from the neighborhood collaborate on redesigning the mural. Lucy's husband, Bob, pulls up in the night and helps out.

In the middle of shooting the second of the two night scenes, our generator (we rented the cheap one [live and learn]) konks out. It was quite a scene -- the mural is finished, the scaffolding is up, the actors are in costume in place, the crew is ready, we've got two prop vehicles in place, lights have been set, we're in the middle of a take. Then the generator coughs, and lights slowly fade out . . .

Without any other option, I shoot the scene in close ups, using little lights powered by batteries. Who knows how long they'll last . . .

Soon enough, however, it's dawn. When we break for a meal at 6 a.m., the scaffolding comes down and the mural is finally, fully revealed. It is gorgeous. The morning light bounces off of the scenes trees, flowers, water, and a lone figure. Parris has met the challenge of the script n that a landscape incorporates some tribute to a young man (ZAP). Parris is with us and he looks pleased. Exhausted, but pleased.

Our dawn scenes (Lucy and Jamal at the mural, Jamal and his grandmother, Beverly on the porch) feel right. In the story, the characters have been up all night. In real life, the actors have been up all night. Everyone is tired.

I'm glad to have writer Michael Hollinger join us on set. His attention to detail is remarkable (plus he's had a bit more sleep) and adds a fresh perspective on the shoot.

Light changes so quickly at that hour the sky changes from a Maxfield Parrish dark blue to a Crayola Sky Blue within minutes . . .I love being up at this hour. When the city's waking up. Folks on their way to work walk by and check us out briefly.

It's nice to have the mural scenes completed. I'm relieved when the neighbors have many positive comments about the final product. It's an explosion of color. The location was a surprisingly challenging one - made possible by the remarkable coordinating efforts of COORDINATING PRODUCER GRACE RAYNOR and ASSISTANT DIRECTOR ERIN KNIGHT, and production assistants EMILY TOPPER, DARLENE STERLING, and super production interns ELAINE CHEUNG, DOMINIQUE PRIDE, and BEN GOLDSTEIN.

It's around 9 a.m. when we film our final scene for the day. There are morning birds singing throughout one of the takes. I love the sound, although our audio engineer tells me they are way too loud.

It's early morning, the sun is full strength. "It's gonna be a hot one today," everyone says, quoting the script, and meaning it.

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