The First-Hand Adventures of a First-Time Filmmaker, Part 5: Back in the Spin
Written by Lorre Fritchy | Posted by: Anonymous
Basketballs have an up-and-down existence. So, too, is the life of a filmmaker. Last month’s Adventure practically melted in the earth’s core, while my shoot last week was the highest Up yet. For the Northeast Spin Tour, I followed Sandy "Spin" Slade — professional basketball entertainer, motivational speaker extraordinaire and my humble documentary subject — to K-12 school performances throughout New England. I shot about 14 hours of footage, complete with a rarin’-to-go attitude and some new equipment in the arsenal. But here’s how it almost began….
As you read in February’s article, the November shoot was practically nonexistent; everything was pushed off until February. But a couple weeks before Slade was due to fly east for filming, I got a phone call. Slade had severely injured her back during a performance, causing her to stop mid-show (a first) and cancel weeks of performances (another first). It was questionable whether she would make the trip here at all. Naturally, her healing was the first priority, but the filmmaker in me understood the touch-and-go; I was beginning to think I’d never finish this shoot and just have to work with what I had. It would have been FUNCTIONAL, but it wouldn’t have been SPECIAL. Always get more footage and sound bites than you think you need.
The thought of all the time, money and energy that went into setting up this shoot — well, I can’t say I wouldn’t have been disappointed if she was too hurt to work. But at the same time, filmmakers need to accept the realities (especially in documentary film) and possibilities that your once-in-a-lifetime story may go unrecorded. Have other ideas or a backup plan. Slade spent weeks in physical therapy and canceled all shows leading up to the Northeast Spin Tour in order to rest her back. Out of practice and still somewhat achy, Slade called me again and said, "You know, this doesn’t just affect me; it affects your project." And darned if she didn’t cowgirl up and fly out here for an exceptional week of shows filmed by yours truly.
Things felt more organized and less rushed on this shoot. Several weeks before the shoot, I contacted all the schools we were shooting at (Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and coincidentally, my backyard in Newburyport, Mass.). I asked the teachers to select a couple dozen kids who would talk on camera after the show. (This way the appearance release forms could be signed by their parents and given to me upon arrival instead of having to track them down later — Working With Minors, Fun 101). This went for site releases as well. That was a savior in terms of less worry for me. I couldn’t emphasize enough how glorious it is to get the paperwork out of the way before you get there so you only have to worry about the creative and technical once you arrive on set.
Jean-Paul Ouellette of Yankee Classic Pictures (Brookline) loaned me his Steadicam JR for the shoot. Since the JR was not built with the TRV-900 in mind, it was a real challenge to balance the camera properly on this gravity-defying piece of steady-shooting equipment. But I got it to a point where it was usable and I couldn’t believe how fluid some of the shots were, even though it FELT incredibly awkward while filming. Remember how much spinning is involved here; with the Steadicam, I could do things like encircle Slade while she spun, making for some smooth, interesting (but not annoyingly creative) shots. I would never have guessed how much bounce was removed from the actual shot, based on how uncoordinated it seemed while working with it.
Before Slade’s arrival, I rented a shotgun mic from Rule Broadcast Systems in Watertown, Mass. (Nice folks. Quality equipment. Hey, that should be their new slogan). They recommended a Sennheiser ME-66 shotgun for my Sony TRV-900 camera. I wanted to interview a bunch of different students after Sandy’s shows to get some reactions. In the production house, we plugged the mic into the camera and had a listen through the headphones to test it. The sound was good and came through both earpieces. I used a DXA-4 adapter box that attaches under the camera, an XLR cable to connect the box to the mic, and plugged it directly into the camera’s mic jack as instructed.
Unfortunately, just as I needed to use the shotgun mic on set, something weird happened. Fancy that! Suddenly my audio was only coming through one ear in the headphones. There is a split on this box; one is for Line and the other for Mic. At Rule, we talked about my needs and that I would probably never need the Line input. My first mistake was writing that off as an option right away. And based on my panicked description over the phone, Rule had no suggestions. I didn’t give Line a second thought. Imagine my surprise to discover the one thing I had not tried was the solution. As it turned out, I should have plugged it into Line all along. I didn’t figure this out or experiment with it until two out of four schools later. The kid interviews I did get were terrific, but I will need to reschedule some other children’s interviews, and therefore rent the equipment again. A costly bummer. Never did solve the mystery of why the audio suddenly one-eared on me. I guess you could say my rental equipment, uh, got mono.
People have told me it’s better to have a second crew member with you to operate the camera, freeing me up to direct and plan. But folks, sometimes that ain’t possible. Also, part of this adventure is about doing the work myself. Some people learn in class and then apply; others learn as they go. I have been known to do both, and this time it is the latter. I did notice how much harder it was alone, as opposed to the previous shoots. To get release forms signed, post-videotape release signs, talk with kids and teachers, film Slade in action, break down equipment, rush to the next location and set up again, take stills of me filming for behind-the-camera shots and articles like these — and most importantly, to have a person to discuss a quick idea with, someone who might have slowed me down just enough for me to say, "Why don’t you plug the mic into Line anyway and see what happens?"
The buzz around this Spinumentary is growing. Enough people have seen me filming and asked, "When can I get this?!?!?" There is still fund-raising to be done, as well as planning of the video cover graphics, ISBN#, etc. But people are interested; there is definitely a market for this unique, positive, energetic subject. Case in point, Slade used the Brown School gym in Newburyport to practice her halftime show for an upcoming University of
Tennessee Lady Vols appearance. Parents, kids and teachers who happened by were absolutely mesmerized not just by Slade’s skill, but by her energy level. One of the parents was Mayor Lisa Mead’s secretary. She was impressed enough to call the Mayor and have her drop everything to come immediately to the gym, which she did. In two minutes, Mayor Mead was watching in awe with the crowd that had gathered for a glimpse of the person whose aura is apparently not only seen by me.
This video is shaping up. I can envision the story coming together. I have 35 hours of footage and interviews, eliciting the biggest compliment from Slade herself. This uplifting woman who performs phenomenal stunts in front of 20,000 people at NBA games looked at my volume of footage and shook her head saying, "I wouldn’t want YOUR job!" But ultimately Sandy Slade and I share the SAME job: putting a new spin on the everyday.
All Parts to the Series:
Part 1: Starting Out
Part 2: On the Set
Part 3: Wireless lavs. Editing choices. Airport redtape. Time code hell.
Must be your first film.
Part 4: Burnout — Hang in There
Part 5: Back in the Spin
Part 6: Post-Production and the Discomfort Zone
Part 7: Happy "Adventures" Anniversary
Part 8: From Gigabytes to Soundtracks
Part 9: It Ain’t Over Even When It’s Over — From Music to Film Festivals
Sandy ‘Spin’ Slade: Beyond Basketball is now available on video at http://www.spinumentary.com.
If you've missed any part of 'First-Hand Adventures,' please check out the complete series below. All Parts to the Series: Part 1: Starting Out Part 2: On the Set Part 3: Wireless lavs. Editing choices. Airport redtape. Time code hell. Must be your first film. Part 4: Burnout -- Hang in There Part 5: Back in the Spin Part 6: Post-Production and the Discomfort Zone Part 7: Happy 'Adventures' Anniversary Part 8: From Gigabytes to Soundtracks Part 9: It Ain't Over Even When It's Over -- From Music to Film Festivals Sandy 'Spin' Slade: Beyond Basketball is now available on video at http://www.spinumentary.com.