The things they don't tell you at film school...
It's official. Frank Senior and I are dating. I started filming him last week. It commenced with a trip to the Bronx and ended in a bar called Arturo's in Soho which is an institution akin to Pelligrini's and where Frank can occasionally be found singing.
I am quickly discovering that my initial assumptions and ideas about being blind in NYC were quite misguided. Frank is teaching me that being blind is really not a deficit but rather a whole new way of perceiving the world. I have learned that being blind in NYC is actually much more convenient than one would imagine. There are people everywhere all the time to help him if he is lost or needs an arm to cross the road. He explains the intricacies and nuances of feeling the energy of the street, the personality of people through the sound of their voice, the space of a room, the lines on the footpath that keep him on track. I am learning that in fact he feels blessed to be alive and is a person that puts more emphasis and gratitude on what he has, than what he is missing.
Apart from learning many unexpected things about Frank I am also learning many unexpected things about trying to film a blind guy. These are the things that they don't teach you at film school. They don't teach you that when filming a blind guy not only will you be filming but you will also be trying to ensure that your subject does not get hit by a car as you are trying to film him cross the road. There's dangers for both of us in this precarious situation. As I chaotically danced around him with my house-sized camera, behind, in front, to one side and then the other, I ducked as a ball of spit came unexpectedly in my direction. "Oh, shit Frank you nearly got me!" I exclaimed in disinhibited shock. "Oh, dam I thought you were on the other side of me I was sure I was too close to the wall for you to be there".
Yesterday we filmed on the corner of Fifth avenue and 42nd street. This is where Frank's Newstand is located. It was peak hour in the city as I was attempting to film on one of the busier street corners of NYC. As I juggled the tasks of setting up my tripod, dodging a mass of agitated, busy new yorkers desperately trying to get from work to home, and ensuring that Frank was calm, I wondered whether any film scene could justify this level of chaos and stress. I had planted my tripod outside the windows of Zara, this process usually takes five minutes to ensure you have captured the best angle and that the camera is aligned correctly. As I was about to start shooting, a man from the Zara shop approached yelling at me to move my camera out of the way of his storefront. "Gimme two minutes I pleaded". I set up the shot and gave Frank the okay to walk towards his stand. As my eye finally rested at the viewfinder I gasped as I saw a woman in high heels catapult across the pavement and onto the ground amidst a sea of marching business men. I looked up to see Frank trying to bend his cane back from its disfigured shape. She ran up apologizing, I ran up apologizing and he just stood there calmly, laughing and unfazed by the chaos around him. She walked off with a face full of humiliation, shame and shock. Can you get angry at a blind guy for tripping you up with his cane? Frank asked me if I got that on camera. "That shit happens all the time man, if you don't put that in the film, you ain't showing the truth! Normally I don't hold my cane so tightly so when I feel someone step into it I give it some slack, but she came at me just as I was gripping onto it, that's why she fell so hard."
We all recovered from the incident, I fixed Frank's cane and we were about to film the last scene of him leaving his newstand. I positioned myself for the shot and waited as he opened the door of the stand which was elevated from the footpath. The door opened and Frank took a step misreading the level of the ground, and dropped to the pavement. David (my zen like crew member from Barcelona)and I looked at each other with absolute embarrassment and pain. Frank got up without flinching, walked over to us laughing and explained that his Pakistani worker had been so nervous that we were filming, he had pushed him out the door and not warned him of the recent changes to the steps of the newstand. I couldn't believe the sequence of events and decided to end the shoot while everyone was still smiling.
Frank gets his dog next week. I wait in anticipation for the next adventures and challenges that will bring for both of us.