‘The Scrapper’ follows the nightly routine of one of Philadelphia’s scrappers. Scrapping is a way of life in many urban areas where a tremendous wealth disparity exists in close proximity. After the sun sets the Scrapper traverses the urban landscape in search of treasure. The film sheds light on a hidden yet pervasive sub culture through a man who desires to be understood and respected for doing the activity that he loves. As the secrets of his shadowy activities become revealed so do the details of his surprising past.

For any questions or comments please email me here: jonolshefski@gmail.com


Short Documentary – 32 minutes

Vimeo Password: scrapper


Prints Signed by Joe
"There are times I'm so tired at the end of my night pushing the cart I close m eyes while I'm pushing a heavy load. From time to time.""It's a hard life. It can take a toll on you. I think things have to get better. Some days are better then others.""Hurry up and wait. That's what I seem to do often when I go to cash out the metal that I scrap.""I found a Rolex one time. I got $2000.00 for it. I can't understand why people throw away such things. I can't see what I'm writing, I have no glasses""Sometimes I'm not able to stop the cart as quick as I'd like. Im lucky I haven't run in a car or something.""I'm getting too old for this. I find myself having to rest more often than not. I can reflect on the day/night.""I brought in 562 lbs. of iron one time. It was the heaviest load I ever pushed in a cart. The cart broke a wheel on that trip. ""I pray often when I'm out scrapping. I ask the Lord for help and he's there all the time."
Random Stills


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Philadelphia City Paper – Matthew Schantz

The abrasive sound of metal and the visage of a scruffy middle-aged man. The camera pans out. He is rollerblading up a hill pushing a shopping cart loaded with metal scrap. This is how the subject of The Scrapper, Joe a Germantown Academy graduate, two war veteran and one time vice-CEO of a company — now lives. The 30 minute short captures a day in his life. Joe rummages through trash, grabbing metals and “antiques.” He is the personification of the idiom “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” showing off his collection of finds including a bottle of whisky, an old toilet,and the game Simon. He had a good job and good pay for a time, but Joe was laid off. The screen fades to black with the same shoulder-wide shot that it began with, the rattling sound of metal lingering through the credit reel.




Molly Eichel

When filmmaker Isaac Williams inquired about how to go about screening his horror film, The Mind, the response he received was that it takes careful planning and a lot of money.

“I have a lot of time to plan,” says Williams, “and not a lot of money.”

But by tag teaming with 941 Theater, Williams and two other local filmmakers will get the chance to screen their movies on a large scale. “None of us delude ourselves that thousands of people are going to see these movies,” says Williams. “But it lends a certain legitimacy.”

The informal night of premières begins with Joe Kramer’s 20th Century Boy, about a man who claims to be a soldier from WWI who mysteriously shows up in the present. Kramer made it through two weeks at UArts before defecting for a job at TLA Video, which he calls a mini-film school boot camp. He initially submitted his film to 941’s Backseat Film Festival, but missed the deadline. The 941ers liked it enough to ask Kramer to return.

The Scrapper, a half-hour documentary directed by artist Jonathan Olshefski, is about Joe, a man who glides around Philly on a pair of roller skates with his shopping cart searching for metal to sell to scrap yards. Olshefski was performing a screenwriting exercise at the Steak and Beer under the Somerset El stop when the gregarious Joe struck up a conversation with him. “He approached me and we just sat around and talked about hockey for a couple hours,” says Olshefski. Days later, Olshefski saw Joe again, this time with roller skates and shopping cart in tow, and asked if he could document his life.

Williams’ film, The Mind, rounds out the program. In this horror movie told in vignettes, six average people are mysteriously driven to exhume parts of one skeleton and slowly descend into murderous madness. Williams, who also did time with Kramer at TLA (they worked on each other’s projects), first met 941 co-owner and lead film programmer Zafer lkücü when the two were undergrads at Temple.

Each filmmaker reiterates the importance of having a theater to show off their films.

“For a venue like this, it’s a showcase for your work as it is, how you envision it,” says Olshefski. The big screen treatment is one rarely afforded to independent filmmakers.”It’s incredibly difficult, time consuming, expensive and painstaking to make a bad movie, let alone a good movie,” says lkücü, who plans on making local screenings a recurring event. “I know these guys — they put their hearts and souls and personal relationships on the line to get these movies made. Once this happens, I think they just deserve to be seen and hopefully enjoyed.”


Local Film Premieres | Sun., May 17, 6 p.m., $3-$10, 941 Theater, 941 N. Front St., 215-235-1385, 941theater.com

The Journal of Underground Film…

Meet The Scrapper

Like a modern-day Sisyphus, Joe bursts into the first frame of Jonathan Olshefski’s documentary The Scrapper. At first we don’t see Joe’s “boulder,” but he describes it to us: A shopping cart loaded down with 100 to 120 pounds of scrap that he’s dug out of the neighborhood trash. Joe is initially framed from underneath in a powerful close-up of his head and shoulders. He performs his duty boldly and proudly. He is not resigned to his fate like in the Greek myth and he repeats his task simply because other people will keep discarding their unwanted and — to them — worthless junk.

Thankfully, Joe uses the phrase “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” so we don’t have to sound cliché inventing it for him. The documentary alternates between verité travels with the cheery scrap collector and sit-down interviews — usually on somebody’s stoop — in which he ruminates on his lot in life. During one of the sit-downs, Joe tells us that he’s very passionate about scrapping, that he loves the thrill of the hunt. But he doesn’t need to say that explicitly. We see the joy in his work during his travels. He’s like an antiques dealer given free reign to grab whatever he wants out of a 14th-century European castle. However, instead of Europe he cruises the mean streets of Kensington, a rough neighborhood in the northeast section Philadelphia.

Joe doesn’t just pick up plastic bottles and aluminum cans. He grabs still functioning children’s toys, perfectly good furniture and, most valuable, precious metals. With his trusty magnet, plus keen eyes and ears, Joe can determine the metallic composition of any object. In one key scene, he picks up a a serving tray, runs through all the possibilities it could be made of and excitedly reveals that it’s made out of copper, one of the most precious metals he could have found. Another time, he drops cutlery on the cement sidewalk to determine if it’s made out of silver by the tinkling noise it makes. It tinkles, so it is.

Extremely chatty and personable, Joe comes across as an incredibly charming, nice guy. But during a few choice moments, he proves that he’s tough enough to brave the dangers that lurk while combing through garbage from midnight to the wee hours of the just barely rising sun. Through words, he swiftly disarms certain guys who are looking for a fight and the drunk homeless guys trying to butt their way into the film … not that Joe hasn’t had a few libations himself before embarking on this night’s scavenger hunt. And if push ever came to shove, one gets the impression that he could more than hold his own if a confrontation ever became physical.

But there’s a battle weariness to Joe and, at times when Olshefski gets him to let his guard down, we find out why. He’s a veteran of two wars: Grenada and the first Gulf War. He’s also a veteran of two marriages. And, strangely, Joe tells a long story about the time when he held a powerful position in a major corporation. He had money. He had success. Sounds like he had his life on track. Well, a different track, anyway.

However, we don’t know if Joe is being the unreliable narrator of his own life. The documentary is structured as if the entire film takes place on one night of scrap collecting. Joe is a garrulous guy and he talks about having drinks with friends, so he must be a social person. But we spend the night mostly alone with Joe. Through the camera’s non-obtrusive style, we feel as if we are hanging with Joe ourselves, as if we are his personal confidant for the evening. Joe tells us a lot of stories. Does it even matter what’s true or not? They’re good stories, nonetheless.

One of Joe’s favorite memories is the time he got married barefoot on the beach. Although the marriage has since ended, Joe wants us to know that he’s a romantic guy. And Olshefski has crafted a sensitive, romantic portrait of him. At the end of the film, Joe is your new best friend. The guy who’d give you the shirt off his back to help you out, or if not the one he’s wearing, then a perfectly good used shirt he’s picked up along the curb.


The Scrapper
-A Documentary by Jonathan Olshefski-
Production Notes

“The Scrapper” follows the nightly routine of one of Philadelphia’s scrappers. Scrapping is a way of life in many urban areas where a tremendous wealth disparity exists in close proximity. After the sun sets the Scrapper traverses the urban landscape in search of treasure. The film sheds light on a hidden yet pervasive sub culture through a man who desires to be understood and respected for doing the activity that he loves. As the secrets of his shadowy activities are revealed, so are the details of his surprising past.

I have always been interested in scrapping and the guys with the carts. My Grandfather scrapped all of kinds of things out of the garbage for me when I was a kid. That’s how I got my first big wheel. As a teenager I used to scrap every Tuesday night to get old televisions and appliances for the movies I made in high school. After moving to inner-city Philadelphia I was always curious about the people who made their livelihoods by pushing carts through the city.
“The Scrapper” came about serendipitously as I was doing an observation assignment for a screenwriting class. I was sitting in this beer store that sits under the el tracks in Kensington taking notes on everything that I was observing. Joe (the scrapper) came in and sat next to me and we talked about hockey and rollerblading for the next hour. He ever bought me a beer. At that point I did not know that he scrapped. Later I saw him with his cart and told him I had always wanted to do a project on a scrapping. Joe agreed to let me document his nightly journeys and said that he was happy to have the company.

Stylistically, I was most influenced by the Direct Cinema/Verite movement and specifically by cameramen: D. A. Pennebaker, Ricky Leacock, Albert Maysles and Ed Pincus. I believe that there is something profound about experiencing the moment as it happens as opposed to structured talking head essays that deal with the past, but don’t really reveal anything happening in real time. With verite shooting there the opportunity to really experience life along with the subject, which I believe creates an opportunity for greater understanding, and which I would hope leads to greater empathy.
Conceptually I was influenced by: Marc Singer’s Dark Days, Edet Belzberg’s Children Underground, and Zana Briski’s Born into Brothels, in the sense that I wanted to compassionately reveal the life of someone whom society negatively stereotypes. Unlike these films I chose to simply deal with Joe and his perception of things rather than finding distraction in a larger picture. Rather than Jonathan Olshefski putting out an argument, I wanted to give Joe the space to speak for himself and share himself with an audience on his own terms.

The Scrapper was shot over the period of three months from January to March 2008. Due to the fact that Joe’s lifestyle lacks routine or consistency I could not plan to far ahead when it came to securing equipment. I had to shoot with the camera that I had on hand when Joe was available to shoot. The piece was shot primarily on HDV, but also includes an SD section, which was bumped up to HD for screening. I shot with the Sony V1U, Panasonic HVX200, and the Panasonic DVX100B. For sound I had a short shotgun microphone attached to the camera and I tried to stay as close to Joe as possible when trying to capture clear audio. I considered a wireless lavaliere microphone, but with the run and gun style it seemed like it would be too cumbersome to employ and I didn’t always have one readily available when Joe was willing to shoot.
Since Joe travels on rollerblades there was the dilemma of keeping up with him while simultaneously shooting. A car would be too cumbersome and distracting, so I decided to ride a single speed bicycle with foot brakes to follow Joe. I originally constructed a rig out of a milk crate and inner tubes in order to set the camera up on the handlebars. This would allow me to use both hands when riding and it would also be a discreet way of shooting when in rougher neighborhoods, but the test footage proved to be too bouncy, so I had to resort to hand holding the camera while riding with one hand and regulating speed with my feet. I kept the milk crate and with a small blanket on top I had good place to hide the camera when not shooting in order to avoid unwanted attention.
I also brought along a 35mm still camera and covered different locations with this in order to capture the events of Joe’s life through another medium. Shooting stills also slows me down and gives me a chance to really consider composition and shot angle. This practice keeps me grounded and helps me to remember what it takes to be a disciplined shooter when I am shooting moving images. It keeps me from being tempted to move the camera more often than is necessary and it keeps me from being lazy and satisfied with mediocre shots. I intend to use the stills to create book that will be released alongside the distribution DVD.

Visual Style:
The first 28 minutes of the film take place at night. Therefore natural, low light shooting was a main concern. As I had no control over location or time I had to make do with the lighting situations that presented themselves along Joe’s nightly route. The moments where the light and the content of the moment came together were the ones I used for the finished pieces. There were moments where interesting things happened, but the light levels were so dark that the shots were unusable. Streetlights were the savior of the piece and determined many of my angles. There were many moments where it was impossible to get a good exposure except to shot at a low angle and use the street light as a backlight so silhouettes became a bit of a motif.



low key stills from “The Scrapper”

As still images these compositions may seem flat, but in the context of the piece where Joe is constantly moving through areas of light and dark this play between light and shadow creates a sense of tension. This is a stylistic mirroring of the structure of the piece. Mysteries are constantly laid out and revealed. This occurs visually when it is revealed that Joe is on skates and when a streetlight illuminates a hidden portion of Joe’s face. This also occurs through the narration as Joe slowly shares his thoughts and his story piece by piece.

I wanted to create the simple experience of hanging out with Joe for the viewer. I know that the core audience for this piece are not people who would normally interact with someone like Joe, so I wanted to give them a taste of what it would be like to spend time with him one on one. This is the reason why I cut my dialogue completely out. I felt like my voice was a distraction from the relationship of Joe and the viewer. I mediated this relationship through shot choice and camera angle, but I didn’t think it was necessary for me to become a character in the piece. Though the creation of the piece was only possible through the interaction I had with Joe as we were shooting. The shooting process was the story of Joe and Jonathan. “The Scrapper” is the story of Joe and the viewer.
I originally edited the piece to an eight-minute short, but this lacked the depth of the longer cut where you really get to spend time with Joe. In the shorter cut Joe seems to be presented as a quirky guy with rollerblades. I believe that Joe is much more compelling than that. I think that the longer cut gives the viewer time to get to know Joe in a much more intimate fashion.



Joe and Jonathan Olshefski at the 941 Theater for Philly Premiere

After shooting and editing the project I shared my cut with Joe and he approved it. He feels like it was a good depiction of himself and he prides himself on his narration. It went on to premiere at the Chicago Underground Film Festival in Octocer 2008. I still see Joe from time to time and we will have the occasional beer. Last Winter Joe broke his skates and a woman who learned of this from the project’s website (http://thescrapper.org) and bought him a brand new pair of skates. On May 17, 2009 “The Scrapper” had its local premiere and everyone treated Joe like a celebrity. It was a wonderful time. This event served as an opportunity for viewers to become actual people and engage with the subject and actually interact with him, not as a stereotype, not as a distant subject projected on a screen, but as an actual person. This is what it is all about.