Read Hank and Jilann’s Sundance Film Festival blog,

written as they went through the rollercoaster experience of premiering a film at this world-renown documentary film competition for the first time.





Adventures in Documentary Shooting: Day #4


Day 4 of our first shoot - the final chance to grab footage for our fundraising trailer. The day started with an email directive from Jilann -- “ Don’t forget to grab establishing shots of the home and also production stills”. Why do these things always fall to the bottom of the list?! We have so much to cover in a short time.


But it’s true, we need to show where we are, and stills of the shoot in action, plus character portraits, are a great way to help sell the film. They are also an absolute must for publicity. Fortunately, we ended up getting everything, and I even got to shoot some production stills with Shana's new D5 camera. Amazing quality, hard to focus. A passing fad?  No way. They will continue to improve. Hopefully they will be more user-friendly for doc makers soon.

So this last day was a cleanup day mainly. Besides getting the exterior establishing shots of the home, we needed some B-roll of Doris to go with her interview; and we needed more interviews of potential characters. There was also the weekly acting class that was happening with a volunteer director who has been coming in to work with residents on monologues and scenes.

We filmed Doris going to a bookstore so that we’ll have B-roll for her interview. This involved finding a bookstore in town, and calling and getting permission. The first place I called was an e-commerce place, so no storefront with them. The next was an independent store, and they agreed. It was easier than I thought to find a location, which was nice. If this was NYC or LA, I would have to get a filming permit, which I still needed for this shoot in the town as well, but I figured I would just chance it, and hope I wouldn't run into any authorities. We did not, and we got a nice scene of Doris browsing the store, asking if they had any Jane Austen, and buying a card.

Later, we chose to interview both Barbara and Harold, since we had a great scene of them rehearsing from the day before. These interviews were mainly to intercut with that scene, and to get some background on each of them. Unfortunately, with Harold’s interview, we decided to do it in one of the hallways, so we had a few passersby which created enough interruptions and sound issues to be problematic. Being the end of the last day, I did not have my best thinking cap on. And Harold didn’t either. So between the 2 of us, the interview kind of fizzled. Note to self – don’t do interviews at the end of the day with the seniors, unless absolutely necessary. We were just trying to cram too much in.

Overall this has been a relatively easy shoot to produce and direct at the same time, so I felt very fortunate for that. Usually Jilann and I are working as a team, but as this was done on a shoestring, she stayed back in NM. But there were many times when I had to put on my producing hat to go find a Home administrator or resident, or make copies, or get releases signed, and so forth. This would always leave my crew hanging for a while, which was unfortunate, except that I had an amazing crew. They would use these times to shoot B-roll of the home, or even film a scene if one began happening. A few times I would get them started on a B-roll scene to shoot and have to slip away for a phone call or track down an interviewee. But I felt confident this would be okay because I have worked with Shana many times. There is a great deal of trust and understanding between us, and Mark, my sound guy, just got right on board with the project, was always focused and present—even in my absence.

If I had not had this kind of crew, I would not have gotten as much excellent B-roll as we did and a few scenes would have started later, or just not happened. Another thing that helped was that Shana and Jilann and I met prior to shooting, so we had a dialog with Shana about themes, and she understood some of the visual elements we were going for. That is nothing unusual for a DP and directors to meet before shooting, but Shana works those ideas and notes into her work shot by shot. And she is an amazing listener—something a doc DP absolutely MUST be. I have worked with too many doc DP's that don't listen to the subject during an interview or B-roll, and they miss key, key moments. The only thing I can think of why someone does not listen is they have too big of an ego. Shana brings an open and caring and empathetic approach to her work. I feel extremely fortunate to have worked with her on so many occasions—she is very gifted. And versatile too—she works in episodic TV and commercials as well. Right now she is shooting on the NBC show, Parks and Rec.

The day (and the shoot) wrapped up with filming a sequence of Demo at the piano, playing songs from The Three Penny Opera. He's no Bobby Darin, but he is spending his later years creatively, keeping his artistic spirit alive and well. It makes me feel that there is still lots of time in life to be creative, and plenty of time to make films, act, and make art. Now that is inspiring!

Now it’s time to go home and edit that trailer, and begin the search for production funding…Wish us luck!


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