Filming a Documentary in the Ghetto - p2

Yesterday I filmed a scene in the Pork & Beans district of Liberty City, Miami.

It's, notoriously (and statistically) one of the most dangerous areas of Miami.

The days leading up to the filming, and now the day after, I kept thinking...

What Would Nick Broomfield Do?

Here's what happened:

The area is formally known as Liberty Square.

It was constructed during the 1930's as a part of Roosevelt's New Deal, intending to be a utopian community for African Americans.

For a variety of reasons across the decades, it has degenerated into an area filled with extreme poverty, violent crime, and territorial gangs.

Across the city of Miami there is a thought-stopping technique employed where people simply tell each other never to drive there, never to go there.

The news talks about it like an apocalyptic wasteland.

Since it doesn't touch the lives of 99% of the people, by all measures the area doesn't exist.

Out of sight, out of mind.

So the short of the story is that I filmed a staged scene inside Liberty Square. 

One minute into filming we were chased out by a group of about 13 guys. 

Luckily, I had a car on standby with a driver.

We ran into the car and sped away.

The nightmare scenario came true.

I assume that happened for a multitude of reasons involving historical, socio-economic things, plus my own lack of integration into the community and pirate-like behavior, and blah blah.

This post isn't really about that stuff.

It's more, like, I did this crazy thing, another crazy thing happened... here's what I learned.

If you plan to film inside a dangerous neighborhood on the down-low, meaning with no professional crew, no police escort, no union, no insurance, no permit, no nothing - just your balls, camera, & wit - here's a few things I learned:

  1. Run the entire situation in your head the days before.
    Anticipate the worse, then build a plan.
  2. Have an escape driver on standby.
    (Luckily I saw "Drive" the week before).
  3. Often, the thing that goes wrong is way more interesting than the thing itself.
    Be open-minded to using (or getting) the scene where everything falls apart.
    (As a friend of mine put it after hearing the story, "Wow. Life and Death. Cinema.")

What Would Nick Broomfield Do?

This is a situation he seems to get himself in often in his movies.

His quests start scattered, often in dangerous situations, and he narrows his focus as he finds interesting characters to follow.

So "Heidi Fleiss" "Biggie & Tupac" "Tales of the Grim Sleeper"...

These all began with him wandering around in, essentially, ghettos; talking to unseemly characters, getting closer to danger.

But is there a method here?

Would he've gotten out of the car in the same part of the neighborhood I did?

Would he have spoken to the guys from inside the car to suss out the situation?

Would he have driven to a different area?

Would he have come back on a different day?

I have no idea, as he (ironically) doesn't answer my e-mails, but I wonder this.

There must be a subtle method to this thing - this, filming in dangerous places thing.

The good footage lies beyond your comfort zone.

This is where you'll find your movie.

It's so important to do these kind of things.

Film something everyday that scares you.

Three Random Thoughts About 21st Century Cinema

No Safety