Susan Harris
All about gardening the eco-friendly way, by Susan Harris and 22 other garden writers and experts.

Film Production Team Tackles New Urban Space

February 11, 2010 · 6 comments

My adventures in video continue!  After all my troubles buying the wrong stuff, it came time to learn to DO something.  My first grown-up move was to admit that when it comes to either hardware OR software, I’m not what you would call an autodidact.  So I ignored the advice of my videographer friends to “Just do it” and signed up at the nearest teaching facility that looked promising.  (After my Photoshop class at the nearest community college ended up teaching me exactly nothing I needed to know, I learned to do some research before payment.)

So voila the film school - Docs in Progress, a nonprofit promoting and teaching the art of documentary-making, and it’s right in my ‘hood.  I caught one of their free salons – on the subject of point of view – and noticed the atmosphere was welcoming to beginners.  Same thing at the work-in-progress screenings they hold at the Geo. Wash. U. Film Department. (The screening I saw included a rousing 3-camera-crew doc about Obama’s inauguration.)

So I signed up for their “Film Production” class – really a workshop because only the first class is classroom-style.  The instructor (Adele Schmidt in the photo right) has created over a dozen films for PBS, so has actual cred as a  filmmaker .  Now, can she teach?

Class One – The Rules

Turns out the workshop is rigidly defined and limited by rules.  With the 3 video teams having only 6 classes and the weeks between to plan, film, edit and show a 3-4 minute video, ya gotta have limits.  I totally support that.  But it’s scary to only be allowed to shoot 30 minutes of video.  Oh, we can shoot more if we want, but it won’t be downloaded for editing (gotcha!).  Up to 3 still photos can be used, as well as a limited amount of music.   Also, we can only use one location, and we have to use their cameras and editing equipment.  Kinda like those survivor-type reality shows, and may the best team win!

The Hiphop Garden Production Company is Born

I swear I had nothing to do with being paired with Mario Starks, my smart, savvy and personable partner – we were teacher-assigned.  He’s a young web designer in the nonprofit world using his off-hours to inspire people his age to acquire the skills they need. He’s also part of Global Soul Power, which showcases the “creative works of musicians, filmmakers, writers, and activists who promote world awareness messages of unity, self-respect and peace.”  Good lord, how cool is that?

Asked what our new “film production company” should be called, the class decided quickly – Hiphop Garden.  Okay!

Our Assigned Topic? A Civic Center

At first I thought the other two teams had been given much more promising, artsier topics – a local stage for plays, and an artist (of some sort).  (All subjects were in Downtown Silver Spring.)  Our topic was to interview a government worker about a new government building.  Oh, goody.  Like that’s anything new in this government town (DC and ‘burbs.)

But we did the research about this new civic center and the guy in charge of getting it ready for its July 1 launch, and learned it’s intended as a “tool for social transformation” and that the “government worker” is an experienced community organizer.  So when we met political appointee Reemberto Rodriguez  we were pleasantly surprised by his friendliness and dreams for the project’s impact on the town.  Like the image of Latin Americans gathering in the large outdoor theater to watch the World Cup, or seniors hanging out in the media room and picking up skills – cool images of a lively communal space.  But really, you can build a wonderful facility – indoors and out – but it’ll only succeed if people use it. So he knows he has his work cut out for him – and he’s super-happy that we’re creating a little video to help publicize it.  (We learned that these student projects sometimes end up on websites, like this one for a tap-dance company.)

But can it Compete with Astroturf?

Turns out there’s an interesting landscape-related twist on our story.  This this isn’t just any government building we’re talking about but one replacing an incredibly successful public “garden” called the “Silver Spring Lawn”, though the lawn was a fake.  That’s right – the entire site was covered with synthetic turf for a couple of years waiting for the project to begin and to everyone’s surprise, it became a wildly popular space to hang out.  Reports in the local media included residents’ rhapsodizing over its utter fakeness – no grass stains!  No bugs!  Landscape architects despaired at the popularity of something so devoid of actual plants, with several long reports on its popularity in Landscape Architecture Magazine, no less.

Next – the Interview w/B-Roll
More rules come into play the next time we meet with Reemberto because we can use only 40% of our 30-minutes of video interviewing him (only 12 minutes~!) and have to use the rest for B-roll (background shots).  But Mario and I dutifully did our homework – creating a list of shots and questions for Reemberto – and I’ll report back after we’ve nailed those 30 minutes, so stay tuned.  It’s not like you’re gardening anyway, right?

Astroturf photo by M. V. Jantzen.


1 Judy Lowe/Diggin' It February 12, 2010 at 11:38 am

I think you're very brave to tackle all this, although I recognize the benefits for all of us who want to communicate about a topic dear to us. I know I should be doing it, too, so reading your account is probably pushing me in the right direction. It kinda demystifies the subject and lets us all see how things work in the video world.
And the story about the Silver Spring Lawn is hilarious! (Kinda sad, too, of course, but it really says something about society today, doesn't it?)

2 Yvonne @ Country Gardener February 12, 2010 at 11:57 am

Fascinating, Susan. I love the back story of the project and the fake lawn.  It sounds like taking this course was an excellent idea. We are all being told to do video, or get left behind, but the prospect of ever more time at the computer is daunting for this webmaster/blogger/writer/photographer, who has been sidelined for months by repetitive strain injuries. Thanks for sharing your experiences. Looking forward to the next episode, and the finished product.

3 TC February 12, 2010 at 1:30 pm

I reckon I'll have to stay tuned to see how y'all do. And maybe be inspired to do some videography myself.

4 Mario Starks February 12, 2010 at 2:15 pm

And I've got an awesome partner who happens to be a business-savvy blogger… how cool is that? ;) Great write-up Susan. I do wish the class were less rigid, but I think we'll learn a lot from Adele. Can't wait to get behind the camera.

5 susan (garden-chick) February 12, 2010 at 8:49 pm

I'm taking a documentary workshop right now as well.  I thought ours was restrictive, as we only have one 10 hour day to shoot, but reading your account makes me realizing I'm rolling cadillac style.  I chose my own topic, then my classmates crewed for me while I crewed for them. I agree with you that it has been so worthwhile taking a class.  I appreciate the "Just Do It" point of view, but I also appreciate that there are a lot of crappy videos out there.
You're inspiring me to post on my own experiences so far.  One of my favorite parts has been learning the lingo.  I don't think filmmakes call ANYTHING by its actual name!  My favorite is the renaming of the lowly clothes pin (essential in setting up the lights) a C47.
Can't wait to see your finished masterpiece!

6 Shirley Bovshow February 20, 2010 at 2:22 am

Great story Susan. Can't wait to see your video!

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