Wednesday, April 1, 2009

My First Documentary

So I haven't told you guys about my documentary. Greg was approached by a company in New York about making a doc about an old Cinematographer named Eugene Laurie. They gave him a copy of some footage he shot around Bunker Hill in the early 60's. The footage doesn't really tell a story, doesn't really say anything but see what you can do with it. They company wanted the footage included in some supplemental material for a DVD release of The Exiles later in the year. After some digging, Greg surmised the footage to be used as supporting material for a doc about Bunker Hill which is where The Exiles and Laurie's footage was shot.
This is The Angel's Flight funicular that used to ferry people from the hill down to street level. From the "Wiki": The first Angels Flight operated from 1901 until it was closed in 1969 when its location was redeveloped. The second reopened nearby in 1996, and closed again in 2001 after a serious accident. The second funicular still exists but does not operate, and it has been scheduled to reopen on several occasions. In early 2008, the Los Angeles Downtown News reported that the railway would reopen "soon". Soon may mean Summer 2009.
So Greg and I get out his video camera and stand to schlep up the hill to the office park that is currently residing on the spot that used to be a thriving neighborhood of Victorian Mansions and rooming houses until the city fathers finally got their way in the early Sixties and tore it all down for office towers.
First day: shoot goes well, get some things eyeballed, Greg looks presentable. We get home and nothing is on the tape. Everything is lost so we have to try again the next week. And the next. We returned every weekend for a month with fair to some success. One time, Angels Flight was being worked on to get it in running order so we thought 'Perfect! It was meant to be.' We could get some shots of the cars in action or maybe even ride. No Dice. We asked one of the engineers and he called down to his supervisor who came running up with his hand out ready for a kickback thinking we were some Real crew. Once he understood the story he calmed down a little but his ego wouldn't let us shoot around the site because we'd 'distract' the engineers. So, fine we shot in the park not 20ft. below the landing. For free.
We wandered all over the area shooting from the front, in the park, from the parking garage across the street overlooking the Hill and from the landing at the top where we were assured we'd be chased off or arrested by the Plaza Security. Never saw one. Ironically, when we got a grab shot at a bank building down a couple blocks for the closing credit shot, Security was on us in 20 seconds. We could shoot from the sidewalk but not 20ft. closer of the same shot. Petty.
If you can imagine, the demolition of Bunker Hill included shaving 100 ft. off the top of the hill. This patch is the low end of the Original hill but towards Disney Concert Hall, it would have been inside the hill. So Greg found a historian guy from Big Bear who knew a lot about the Hill and it's place in the city history. Invited him over and did an interview shoot in his living room and lit it within a inch of its life.

He's still compiling photographs and cleaning up the old footage and trying to build a narrative about the history of the Hill and it's effect on the city and downtown. Downtown L.A. is not very big, kinda run down, bustling ethnic merchants, a fair to middling Farmer's Market and tons of empty office and lofts space. There's not really a reason to go downtown. It's not a destination and there's not much to live for. The powers that be lament that there's no life downtown ever since they bulldozed three major organic stable neighborhoods in the name of progress. 50 years ago.

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