About a month ago, I worked on a documentary with a very famous director. We followed a family around for a day and asked them questions about their lives.
I was honored to be a part of the project, because I was so excited to work with this director. This was my second project with her as a sound person. I felt important!
I entered the day with excitement. I wasn't sure who our subjects would be, or really what the project was about, but I knew I would learn from her.
Entering a New Project
It tends to happen that you don't know much about the movie you're making when you join a new project. As crew members, we get calls randomly to see if we're available to work on set - never do we really get a good description of the project. We get the title, a brief logline and the names of others involved. Truthfully, that's all we need to know. If there's a script, I of course would like to read it; but that rarely happens!
I know how to do production sound, so all I need to know is what kind of gear will be on set. That's my one job!
Once I get on set, I try to ask as many questions as possible to understand who best to put the microphone on ("to mic"). For example, this particular documentary was about a mother and her two daughters, so I knew I needed to mic the mother and then favor whichever daughter was on camera most of the time (meaning, watch how they interacted before we started filming).
Finding the Best Story
I felt like we were studying them. As a sound person, I focused on how they talked to see if I needed to move the microphone. I'm sure the director felt like she was asking a lot of personal questions - but that's what you have to do to get the best story from a film subject. We need to find the best story, so that YOU will find it entertaining. We need them to feel relaxed with us, so they will open up.
A Day with the Family
It's so interesting to remember this day. We entered their lives for a matter of hours. The husband and son joined us when we wanted to film a "group shot." They fed us their home-cooked Indian food - which was amazing. We filmed their bedrooms as they told us stories about their days - specifically the "make up" topic that most mothers and daughters discuss.
We filmed them as they ate and they started to relax. They told us real issues they have - just like all of us - but they emphasized how loving they were and supportive of each other. It was beautiful.
They were hilarious. I was the sound person and I found myself shaking the boom pole because I was trying to hold in a laugh. The youngest daughter wants to be an actress/singer, and, my gosh, she was good! The oldest daughter wants to be a director, so she was thrilled that this famous director was working with her. It was so cool to be a part of that day!
I was honored to be a part of the project, but had no inclination of what would happen about a month later.
Last week, on May 21st, during a heated argument, the father of this wonderful family strangled the mother to death, put her in a closet and called the police.
Yes, the mother I had spent an entire day making sure we could hear her every word. And the father, who I asked to speak up because he seemed so shy.
The children were not there, thank God. The husband claims they were having marital issues prior to the event. I didn't see that.
There were no issues - no major ones at least - that I experienced. No hints that this would happen. They were incredibly supportive of their children and seemed happy.
I was so happy for the little girls that they had such an amazingly supportive mother. She watched them as they rehearsed. She knew the dance moves. She brought water to everyone, cookies.
That's what hurts me the most by this news. I grew up with a mom like this and it has made all the difference. She is my champion. It hurts me to know these girls won't have their champion, their mom, as they enter such a tough industry.
I just hope and pray that they do not let go of their dreams.
I don't know where the children are now. I know the funeral for their mom was yesterday. I couldn't get myself to go. It just felt too personal. I realize I spent an entire day with them, learning about their lives, joking with them as they sang, but it was just too difficult for me. I didn't feel like I had the right to go. Some of the crew members who worked with the family more often did go to the funeral.
I know the girls will love to have the footage from this shoot.
I walk around my neighborhood in Los Angeles and see families just like theirs. My heart breaks every time. They moved here for a better life, and then this happened.
Domestic abuse is so real. So is emotional abuse. I wish we could have seen it and saved her.