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|In the Air, On the Ground
July 7, 2000
The shoot day is split in two - helicopter and bus.
First we began with nighttime and dawn shots of the city from a helicopter. We've coordinated with PECO to have the PECO tower read "GOOD MORNING PHILADELPHIA" from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. If it works out, this will be the first shot in the film.
We rigged something called a Tyler mount for the film camera on the helicopter. The mount is complicated -- something like a steadicam -- the camera needs to be balanced. We shoot out the side of the helicopter (the photographer is strapped in, the door is open). There's not a lot of room - we fit the pilot, the cameraman and myself (I'm sitting up front, with a monitor on my lap). It takes nearly one-and-a-half hours until we are ready to roll at 5:30 a.m., minutes before the sun peeks out. This turns out to be perfect timing. We fly through a dark blue sky, spin around the skyscrapers downtown, then weave around the PECO building. The electronic morning greeting looks wonderful. It's loud in the helicopter, and we communicate via headset and microphones. I resist the urge to report traffic updates from up high.
We've got one 400-foot roll of film loaded, and after that's finished (it lasts about 10 minutes) we travel back to the helicopter pad (on the Delaware) to re-load. The sky is light blue now, the sun is rising in the East, and the city looks pretty impressive. We're back up in the air, spinning around Liberty One and Two, looking at the reflections of other buildings. As we spin around Billy Penn, I ask if we can look into the City Hall Courtyard. Before I know it, the helicopter is on its side spinning around, I'm holding on to the helicopter door (as if that's gonna do anything), and the view into the courtyard is incredible.
Next we travel over to 55th and Christian Streets, the site of our mural, to see if we can find it. From above, the view of the homes in West Philly is amazing -- house after house, seated side by side, in tidy rows. Amazingly enough, the bright colors of the mural pop out - and we spot it from 500 feet in the air. Almost by accident we film a wonderful shot - pulling wide from a close up of the mural to a wide shot of West Philadelphia, then pulling even wider to see the downtown Philadelphia skyline in the distance. On the black and white monitor I'm holding in my lap the shot is breathtaking -- I couldn't have planned a more beautiful shot . . . I'm anxious to see it in after the film is developed.
We've hired a SEPTA bus for a scene that will bring Beverly from her West Philadelphia neighborhood to City Hall. We all meet at WHYY -- actors, makeup, crew, driver - and travel together to 55th and Market. There is a great view from this location looking east that encompasses the Philadelphia skyline and the structure of the elevated train. Beverly looks so small waiting for the bus there . . . When we're on the bus, traveling east, we film close ups of all of the extras riding on the bus. One of the women is sleeping, and we sneak a shot. After she wakes up, I ask her look like she's sleeping. She tries, but it doesn't look as good as before. There's something about the bumpiness on the bus that makes for a very moody close up. Another extra, a lively lady named Rose is wearing big pink sunglasses. She's looking out the window and the whole bus ride is reflected in her lenses. I have high hopes for these shots. As I stare at the various faces on the bus, it dawns on me that we should create a soundtrack for this sequence using the voices from the Philadelphia interviews I conducted last summer . . . I love the moment when the bus comes out from under the El at about 50th Street, when light streams in the bus and the skyline appears out from under the metal structure.
An important shot today is of Beverly on the bus as she passes City Hall, when she has a flashback of her daughter, Ramona, as a young woman at a protest. When we finally get to City Hall at lunch time there is a massive traffic mess that stops everything - we drive around City Hall three times, hoping the traffic will clear up. When it doesn't, I settle for a static shot. We've been on the bus for about 4 hours, and some crew members are a little woozy. I decide it's time to call it a day.
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