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October 2010

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what’s up doc? Waiting for Superman H OLLYWOOD — Producer Lesley Chilcott and writer/director Davis Guggenheim, the powers behind By RANDI ALTMAN EDITOR-IN-CHIEF the Oscar-winning documentary An Inconve- nient Truth (climate change) as well as It Might Get Loud (awesome guitar players), take on the American educational system in their latest,Waiting for Superman. How is it that Americans can be so high Producer Lesley Chilcott looks at the state of education in this new documentary. in confidence but so low in test scores? When did the educational system stop being about the kids and turn into a political arena? These are just a couple of the many questions asked in this powerful new docu- mentary, which was shot entirely in HD, and makes you question how in the world things got this bad? Waiting for Superman follows five families from Harlem, the Bronx, East LA,Washing- ton, DC, and Redwood City, CA, along with some education reformers who are doing their best to right this ship.There was a ton of footage and multiple formats used. Here, Chilcott walks us through the pro- duction and post process. POST: What did you shoot the film on and did you employ a lot of stock footage? LESLEY CHILCOTT: “We shot all HD, and the majority of the movie is original footage, although we did use about 20 min- ally chose to shoot a lot on the classic Vari- cam, which is tape-based and 720p.” POST: Why did you go this route? CHILCOTT: “We chose it for its look, and it’s a favorite of our cinematographer Erich Roland, who has developed his own settings.We were very lucky to have many wonderful cinematog- raphers work with us, but Erich Roland and Bob Richman shot the majority of the film. “Also, we knew, or hoped, the movie would end up in theaters, and we found from working on other projects that the classic Vari- cam is really beautiful and easy to run around with, and it films out nicely.We used the two Sony EX3s as second cameras or when we were literally running down the street after someone, covering the lotteries in the film, and when we were in smaller places. It’s an amazing camera.” POST: How did you go about gathering the stock images you needed? CHILCOTT: “Things are so much easier now with You Tube as your preliminary search source (laughs).There is a part in the film where we talk about where Americans are interna- tionally in terms of education. We are 21 out of 30 in sci- ence and 25 out of 30 coun- tries in math. There is this other study that shows that out of eight developed coun- tries, we are last in math, but when asked about how confi- dent we are in our math skills, we are number one. So we started looking for stock footage of crazy stunts, and sure enough we found our best stuff on YouTube as well as from a couple of movies and other sources. “We had a full-time clip re- searcher, Shannon Costello, Leslie Chilcott and Davis Guggenheim on set. utes of stock and historical footage.We talk about some things in the history of educa- tion and have some montages helping ex- plain how our school system got to be such a mess. Our original stuff was shot on the Panasonic Varicam and two Sony EX3s, so all HD ranging from 720p to 1080p.We actu- 16 Post • October 2010 and our outside expert, Deborah Ricketts, who did a lot of pulls and requests from the networks and the archives, but I think this is the first time YouTube was used as ground zero for things. “Our assistant editor, Michael Azevedo, and our associate producer, Michael Birtel, even got in on the game.We emailed who- ever posted the clip, tracked down the sources and licensed it. The best clip is a home video of a stunt that was posted on YouTube, and through many, many emails, Shannon tracked down the owner and the person who shot it.” The film was shot on Panasonic Varicam and Sony EX3s. POST: Is there any animation in the film? CHILCOTT: “We used a heavy amount of animation and stats and charts and graphs because there are a lot of concepts that are difficult to explain visually. One great moment in the film is when we explain how our education system got to be such a mess. We have the school boards of education and we have money coming in from the local level, the state level and the federal level, and all of these buildings and systems and groups that were created to help with everything, and then one day we had so many systems trying to help that we choked the system.Too many competing and en- trenched interests that got us to a crisis point, and that’s a difficult thing to explain. We have a two-minute animation to show how that came to be.” POST: Who did the animation? CHILCOTT:“We have this amazing ani- mator named Sean Donnelly who runs Brooklyn’s Awesome and Modest. He did al- most all of our charts and animations along with his small team of ubertalents.The ani- mations are the backbone of the film and bring everything together.The rest of the film involves following these amazing reformers and five families that are desperately trying to get into the only good school that is avail- able to them.The animation weaves us in and out of the personal stories we are fol- lowing. Sean has such a simple style that is used to communicate complex subjects and boil them down to their essence.”

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