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How I Shot That (LAFF Edition): Shooting on Sesame Street for ‘I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story’

How I Shot That (LAFF Edition): Shooting on Sesame Street for 'I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story'

Documentary filmmakers Dave LaMattina and Chad Walker like to diversify their fields of expertise and investigation. After capturing the life of MLS star Kei Kamara as he returned to his home of Sierra Leon to play for his national team in “Kei,” the duo have moved on to something completely different. Their new film “I Am Big Bird: The Carroll Spinney Story” explores behind the scenes of “Sesame Street,” delving into the mind of a 78-year-old man who just can’t stop dressing up like giant yellow bird and a garbage-dwelling Grouch.

READ MORE: The Man Inside the Bird: Caroll Spinney and Filmmakers Look Back on 45 Years of ‘Sesame Street’

[Editor’s Note: Indiewire reached out to filmmakers with films
playing at the 20th LA Film Festival (June 11-19) to ask them about how
they shot their indie, and what advice they had for other filmmakers.
We’ll be posting their responses throughout the run of the festival. Go
HERE for the master list.]

What camera and lens did you use? Chad Walker: We used a wide range of cameras but our A camera was the Panasonic AF100 with our Canon EF 24-70mm F2.8 lens. We love that combo! We also have a Blackmagic HyperDeck so we can bypass the camera’s internal compression and record uncompressed.

What was the most difficult shoot on your movie and how did you pull it off?
Dave LaMattina: I think the most difficult shoot was our first trip to Sesame Street. It wasn’t difficult in the sense that there were technical issues, it was just getting over the fact that we were on Sesame Street. We were really lucky: Mr. Snuffleupagus isn’t on set as much these days, but on our first day of shooting, he was in the scene. It was amazing to see that full-size puppet come to life. 

Chad Walker: That same day happened to be a day when our subject Caroll Spinney was going to be playing Big Bird. We had interviewed Caroll before and so we knew him, but to see him disappear and Big Bird come to life was unreal. It’s like there was another being there. We needed some time to let that soak in before we could actually roll.

What’s the one thing you wish someone had told you BEFORE you started your movie?
CW: We did a Kickstarter campaign to get it done, which was incredible. But I wish someone had told us how much work crowdfunding is. We did an insane amount of pre-planning on it, but even with that, it was non-stop work for 30 days–updating the campaign, responding to questions, doing press. We had no idea how much of our time it would take. It was successful, and worth it, but I think we would’ve given ourselves a bit more time had we realized the enormity of the task.

What’s the worst piece of advice you ever got?
CW: I had a professor at film school tell me that I needed to specialize in one thing, because no one would hire someone who didn’t have a narrow focus. I didn’t take that advice, which worked out because, as an indie filmmaker, we sort of have to do everything.

What’s the best?
DL: Obviously, it’s a challenging career and when I was talking about that with my brother (who’s a transplant surgeon, so he knows about tough careers) he said, “Well, people make a living at it, so why don’t you think you could?” He put it pretty plainly and made it clear that the “it’s a tough path” argument shouldn’t be a reason not to give it a shot.

What advice do you have for aspiring or first-time filmmakers?
CW: Get out there and do it. Dave and I decided to do it on our own after we had families–which isn’t easy. If you want to make movies, go do it. Just start making them. You’ll figure out the rest–rent, car payments–in due time. There’s never a time like now!

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