The Best Laid Plans

March 2001 – Journal entry by Jennifer Raikes, Director of Research

Today was our first “Scholar Shoot.” We filmed interviews with two experts on the life of Benjamin Franklin: Keith Arbour and Claude-Anne Lopez. A lot of preparation goes into these shoots. The writer comes up with penetrating interview questions. The producers decide how the shots should look. The line producer schedules the film crew, juggles travel arrangements, parking permits, equipment rentals, etc. And importantly, a production assistant scouts out the nearest deli for lunch.

But when it comes down to it, in New York City, life revolves around real estate. This is particularly true when you are trying to come up with a place to film interviews for a documentary. We have a lot of particular requirements for the space: it needs to look appropriate to the subject matter of the interview, be big enough to fit the crew and our camera, sound and lighting equipment, without a lot of stairs to climb with all that heavy gear, and preferably, be free. The hardest requirement to meet: the location needs to be very quiet. Despite all the wonders of technology in this day and age, it really isn’t easy to edit out the sound of a cab honking just as the scholar makes a brilliant point. For a filmmaker, the best friends to have are those with large apartments in peaceful, elevator buildings.

One of our producers, Ellen Hovde, had a friend with just such an apartment and she’d generously allowed us to invade it for the day. At lunch at our office yesterday, over the sound of jackhammers pounding the pavement below, we chatted about our good luck. “Watch out,” our line producer joked. “Tomorrow, those jackhammers will follow us up to 93rd Street.”

Halfway through the first interview of the day, the road crew arrived. The noise made it impossible to continue the shoot.

With some quick thinking – and packing — the day, though delayed, was saved. We made a last minute scramble over to producer Muffie Meyer’s apartment (calling ahead to be sure there were no more road crews to surprise us) and jammed ourselves and our carts of equipment into the living room. It was tight, but we didn’t miss out on Claude-Anne Lopez’s fascinating stories of Franklin’s youth. (Muffie was very glad she’d washed the dishes last night.)