Sometimes you meet someone with so much energy, you have to take notice. That’s how it went recently when Andee Arches was helping out around the studio a bunch. Pretty soon, Kimberly Frost suggested I interview her. Andee is a young filmmaker, audio engineer, editor, and photographer. She’s currently working on a documentary called Sister Radio — you’ll hear more about that below — and she works super hard with a sense of purpose. Plus, she is fun to be around, so why not?
Immediately, I had a few questions about her. What is she about? Who does she want to be? Where did she learn all these skills?! I felt like her story could be one other young Richmond creatives would be inspired by — and I was right. Here is my conversation with her.
Andee Arches: Right now I’m a freelancer-slash-director of a documentary which I helped develop while volunteering for WRIR 97.3 FM. I have been volunteering since 2017 and was on the board of directors as a secretary. I’m still involved in there but am focused on this documentary.
R. Anthony Harris: You were born in the Philippines?
AA: Yes, I was born there and grew up there. I did half of my high school there, then moved when I was 15. We lived in the suburbs of DC, West Virginia for two years, then back to DC before I finally moved to Richmond.
RAH: You mentioned your work with WRIR, so I assume you love music. What do you like about American pop culture, music, and film? What interested you in that?
AA: It’s just the creativity of it all. You know, growing up in the Philippines, most of the American music that we would hear on the radio was commercial music. Without any internet access, I didn’t realize that there’s a completely different music culture that was happening here in America — the only little window that I could see that other music that was happening was through movie soundtracks.
When I moved to America, I found out that there’s a whole underground scene that was going on, and different types of creativity outside of commercial music. I just fell in love with it. And I started hunting down whatever interesting music that I could find — the more that I have not heard of something, the more that I like it. [laughs]
So that’s how that passion started.
RAH: And that lead you to your initial interest in [the local] independent radio station?
AA: I’ve always loved listening to it! I was introduced to WRIR by one of my friends, who was going to VCU. [I] used to come to visit Richmond a lot, and I would hear 97.3. Just the randomness of whatever they would play. Also, I was super crazy about krautrock, and there’s a lot of krautrock that I would hear there! [laughs]
I got involved because they had an audio workshop in 2017, a field recording workshop, for free. I was really into hiking and wanted to start my own collection of bird sounds. [laughs] So I went there and got introduced to other things that WRIR was doing. I just fell in love with it.
At that time, I didn’t really have any direction in life and thought that was a good thing to learn — radio production and DJing — and since it’s free, might as well just jump in it! So that’s how I got involved.
RAH: That’s amazing. And that led you into video production?
AA: Yeah, that led into video and it’s all happenstance.
I mean, before getting involved with the radio station, my passion really was photography. That’s what made me move here to Richmond — to get into the VCU Photography Program. But I didn’t get in. I just decided to stick around, and while at WRIR, I met Cameron Robinson, who was talking about video work. It kinda made me think. I was getting tired of photography. Like, there are certain niches that I like to take photos of, but I was tired of it, and I could never see myself doing portraiture. I thought portraiture was the easy way to make money, but that filmmaking is more creative. You can do a lot of things with it. So after listening to a couple of film theories, I’m like, “I should get into film.” I think it fits my personality of problem solving. We can just play around with it a lot more than photography.
So while I was at WRIR, the news and public affairs committee, wanted to do more run n’ gun kind of news in the city. In DC there was a Black Women’s March, and they wanted to take some video of it. So I volunteered, because I was about to get my own video camera around the same week that the Black Women’s March was happening. I did a bunch of shoots up there for the event and it wasn’t really great video, but I was able to compile three minutes of footage for it.
And then when there was an opportunity to create a documentary, Carol Olson, the President of WRIR, asked me if I wanted to take it — and I just took the challenge.
RAH: And you did the editing for The Black Woman’s March too?
AA: Yeah, I did. It took me, like, three days, because my laptop was like, 2012. [laughs] It was a lot of footage. It was mostly a rough cut, really, and was more like, “This is the ‘feel’ of the Black Woman’s March.” There is a marching band. People were very passionate about it. Those are the little shots that I was taking. We had journalists and they were trying to cover it as well, so I had shots of them interviewing people.
But yeah, that’s how it started.
RAH: You mentioned the documentary you’re working on. As a beginning filmmaker, how did you wrap your head around that? You just went from doing a three-minute clip to “we are gonna give you a documentary”? That’s a big jump, right? [laughs]
AA: [laughs] It was! Yeah. I’d say I was pretty ignorant when I said yes. I did not realize that documentary is–
RAH: …and I’m sorry Andee, for people reading this that don’t know — what is the focus of the documentary?
AA: The focus of the documentary is the importance of media representation, and: what does it actually take to bring in marginalized voices into the media? To bridge that big gap that we have as media representation. So that’s the basis of it. There’s still a lot in the works, so I cannot disclose any more information on that. But I did not realize that a documentary is gonna be this insanely hard.
RAH: And this is a full length piece?
AA: We are thinking maybe just an hour now, but it really depends. We were initially thinking it’d be 90 minutes long, but now we have realized it could probably do it in just an hour.
But my instinct was saying, if I’m going to create a documentary, I need to do as much research as possible. So when Carol gave me the assignment and the person who had the idea for the documentary was there — I just went ahead and interviewed him, on the same day, to get an idea of what the documentary is going to be.
On top of that I started having to learn technical skills with the camera. I did not know about the production side either, but definitely the research and the technical side, and I just started hopping into it.
RAH: And that’s been a little over a year now?
AA: It started in 2018, and then in 2019, we went to Mali, because part of the film is in Mali. I would say that’s my first real shooting experience. We shot for nine days and that was kind of like my film school in many ways.
RAH: Because you didn’t go to film school…?
AA: I didn’t go to film school, but I watched a lot of YouTube videos on film theory and technical film stuff.
RAH: Tell me about Secret Bonus Level.
AA: Oh, Secret Bonus Level is Noah Page‘s project. Secret Bonus Level used to be a 1-3am Wednesday show on WRIR. The initial idea for it is have a live band come into the station. Rappers could then cipher with them. But because of COVID, that had to stop.
It was maybe a year into COVID. Noah reached out to me with this idea to do a live stream show in her backyard. So around February or March of 2021, Noah, this guy Mayday, and I came together and figured out the technical aspects of how we could make this live stream as free as possible, as cheap as possible. We did a lot of troubleshooting. There’s a lot of trial and error and trying to figure out the flow of like having a show.
RAH: So let us go back. You have taught yourself how to do a live production, shoot and edit a documentary while creating journalistic pieces — all in the last two to three years?
AA: Pretty much.
RAH: Having talked with you before, I hope that someone will read this story and get involved somehow in the community and see how it can open doors. I hope that people can see that if you want to do creative things, you shouldn’t wait! Just start doing them and if you do them with passion, then that’s what your career is gonna be.
AA: Thank you so much!
RAH: I have one more question for you: what are you looking forward to in 2022?
AA: Oh my god. I mean, honestly, to make money out of this venture, have more opportunities to work, and collaborate with people. [laughs]
A big part of me is just like trying to finish this documentary, which is quite a big, big project, and I want to be able to move forward to other projects. But I really want to just establish some type of stability with all this because right now, all I am doing is all passion projects.
Right now, I’ve been freelancing as a PA on film sets. Sometimes I’d work for like, four or five days straight, and then I’m dead for two weeks. That does not pay the bills if I can’t work at all.
But yeah, I’d like find some stability with it. That’s, that’s my goal, right now, in 2022. And to just collaborate with people; more artists in Richmond.
RAH: So you’re saying if someone wants to collaborate or hire you — to hit you up? [laughs]
AA: Yes! Yay, thanks Tony!
Photos by Kimberly Frost