WATCH: West Philly Man’s Frantic, Mesmerizing Time-Lapse Commute
Anyone who commutes into or out of Philly on a daily basis knows that the term rush hour is something of a misnomer. Everyone may be in a rush, but just ask John Butterworth: Nobody’s getting anywhere fast.
Ryan Godfrey of West Philadelphia commutes to Hybrid Software in Langhorne a couple of times a week. (Full disclosure: I’ve known Ryan for years.) As part of a program at Penn’s Kelly Writers House in which presenters were invited to explore the concept of “Rush,” he decided to play with his own rush hour by recording his normally one-hour-or-so drive to work with his iPhone, condensing it to seven minutes, adding some wry text commentary in the editing room, and setting it all to John Coltrane’s frenetic “Mr. P.C.” The results are at turns mesmerizing, humorous and, for anyone who’s completely lost their head in an I-95 gaper delay, crazy-making.
We asked Godfrey to tell us a little bit about the project.
Philly Mag: Why’d you do this?
Ryan Godfrey: The Kelly Writers House at Penn does an annual program called 7-UP, which is seven different people each presenting a seven-minute speech around some variation in a topic. This year the theme was the word “Rush.” There was a talk on Deadwood’s take on the Dakota gold rush, an undergrad talked about sorority rush, a drummer wrote a thing about the band Rush, Dick Polman talked about Rush Limbaugh, and so on. My wife Jessica Lowenthal puts the program together, and as I was the person she knew with the longest commute, she asked me if I was game to cover rush hour. I thought about it and thought it might work as a film thing. I’d been experimenting over the past few months with a few window-seat time-lapse videos of airplane take-offs and landings, so it seemed like an obvious approach here.
PM: How did you mount the iPhone? I’m assuming this was done safely and hands-free and all.
RG: I wish I could say I 3D-printed a mount in my basement machine shop to exacting specifications. The truth is I bent some coat-hangers into a gangly wire blob with a vague phone-shaped slot in the middle and fit that into the top dashboard vent of my car. I used some plasticine modeling clay to stick the wire to the side of the vent and the edge of the phone to windshield, but it was not really what you would call stable.
PM: Was this a first take?
RG: I did about eight runs over a few weeks until I got a take I liked. Hyperlapse, the time-lapse software I used, only records 45 minutes of video before quitting, so a few trips didn’t work because the seam between the shots was too large. The first time I did it I had the car heat directed to the top vent to defrost the windshield and my phone overheated and stopped working entirely.
PM: And your commute normally takes an hour?
RG: On an absolutely perfect day I can do it in 50 minutes. Generally it’s an hour to 70 minutes.
PM: What’s the longest it’s ever taken, roughly if not exactly?
RG: A few times a year it gets to two hours. Usually those are due to particularly horrible accidents in the construction zone. Don’t text and drive, people.
PM: Why’d you go with Coltrane?
RG: I had a mandate of seven minutes. It was as simple as listening to everything in my music collection that was within a second or two of that length. I nearly chose “Riding to Work in the Year 2025” from The Flaming Lips’ Zaireeka just on the strength of the name, but I liked the simple repetitive Coltrane riff that felt like a particularly jaunty commute. His connection to Philly was a nice bonus, I thought.
PM: You used a couple of programs called Hyperlapse and OSnap. What are they?
RG: Hyperlapse is a free time-lapse generating app made by the Instagram people that allows you to control the speed-up rate after the video is shot. It also does a nice bit of stabilization that the native iPhone time-lapse function doesn’t quite get right. OSnap Pro is stop-motion animation app. My commute video ended up being just 6:30 when sped up 12x, so I needed 30 seconds of filler. A 450-frame stop-motion green-screen dream sequence using my daughter’s art supplies was the obvious solution.
PM: How often do you make this commute?
RG: Currently two times a week (down from four). It’s not awful at that dosage.
PM: This is the fabled “reverse commute.” Is the drive home to the city better or worse?
RG: Usually worse, especially if anything is going on at the sports complex. The home drive probably averages 1:15 or 1:20. I get in a lot of podcasts and audiobooks.
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