Friday, February 29, 2008

Improvisational Jazz

This shoot was supposed to happen on January 22nd, but due to some logistical complications we had to cancel. Fast forward to last Thursday and our second go at shooting basketball. The Zions Bank Basketball Center was gracious enough to allow us to film in their amazing facility. The center doesn't typically allow outsiders onto their court, since it's the practice facility of the Utah Jazz. In addition to getting permission to film from the Center, we also had to get permission from the NBA. This was due to the fact that the Jazz logo would no doubt appear in many of our shots. So, I'm also very grateful to the NBA for allowing us to film. And very grateful that we were able have the logo appear in our production. Especially since our talent is the Wheelin' Jazz.

Jeff and Melissa and Tyler arrived early to begin setting up equipment. Several years ago, when this entire production was still in its infancy, Tyler helped Jeff and I shoot some test footage. We taped swimming, handcycling and canoeing and the experience was very positive. However, Jeff and I soon realized that shooting the project in "standard definition" was a disservice to the subject matter, not to mention our original vision. "Standard definition" was replaced with "Hi Definition" in the hopes of making our project viewable for years to come. Tyler and I have worked together for several years. Back in 1999, I had the good fortune of being a part of his masters thesis: a body piercing documentary called "Steel Identity".

There were a few rules we had to follow in order to shoot at the Zions Center. First, all able-bodied crew had to wear sneakers or shoes that wouldn't mark up the court. Jeff's wife purchased shiny new sneakers for him, which he was reluctant to wear since sneakers aren't commonly worn in the Shire. All kidding aside, I had a blast giving Jeff crap about his sporty new fashion. He wasn't too thrilled about his evening least that's what he told us. I think deep down, he really liked the shoes. So pretty.

Second, stay off Jerry Sloan's court. All crew and talent had to walk (and roll) around the perimeter of the Jazz's court to get to the West Court. No problemo. By now, respecting the turf is something we've become very used to. First, the bowling lanes at the University of Utah, then Utah Aikikai's dojo floor. I can't wait until we can finally be free to tear it up on the Coral Pink Sand Dunes. That is, of course, unless we're asked to maintain the integrity and beauty of the dunes.

Finally, we had to wrap the shoot at 10:00 PM. No exceptions. We worked with Patti and she was kind enough to hang out for the duration of the shoot. Patti remained on hand to ensure that everything went okay and she was great to work with. She donated her time, free-of-charge, and for that I and the entire production team are eternally grateful.

We ended up having eight Wheelin' Jazz players, which was great. A few arrived after we had already started shooting, but that wasn't a problem. The biggest issue surrounding the shoot was lack of control over the action on the court. Most of our shoots, up until now, have been somewhat predictable. A bowler rolls a ball or a nordic skier skis across the snow. Prior to Thursday, we've had a fairly good idea as to what we're going to film, prior to each shoot. With basketball, there's no way of knowing what's going to happen once the action ensues. There's no way of predicting where the ball is going to land, who is going to pass to whom, or which player will inevitably take the shot.

To create some sense of anticipation, I asked the team to come up with two or three plays that they could repeat several times. They did their best to replicate the plays, but of course there's no way to perfectly duplicate a play without making it look staged. And we wanted to avoid staged basketball. So, as players came and went and uniforms switched from white to blue, Jeff and I finally decided that the only way to shoot this sequence was to keep the camera moving. Tight shots, tracking shots, cut away shots...we had to improvise more than we normally would. As always, I had created some storyboards for the shoot. Unfortunately we had to stray from the storyboards in order to A) Improvise shots as needed B) keep the momentum of the shoot moving along C) keep the production on schedule D) keep the players engaged. I liked the frantic style of shooting. It brought a new energy to the production.

Production began around 6:30. We shot all of our steadicam sequences first. Then we moved to locked down shots. After that, Jeff and Tyler shot from the floor. It was a dangerous place to be, given the fact that wheelchairs were careening towards them at top speed. Tyler sat behind Jeff and protected the camera.

Following the floor shots, Jeff hopped in a chair to do some handheld camera work on wheels. Tyler pushed him. It was hilarious to watch the two of them weave in and out of the players. Luckily there were no collisions.

At 9:45, we brought in the jib arm for the final shot of the night. The crew assembled the arm and mounted the camera with five minutes to spare. The clock was ticking, Patti was waiting...we were cutting it very close. But we got the shot. An overhead angle looking straight down as players shot baskets. Several of the shots didn't go in, but in the last 10 seconds...and this is no of the Jazz made a basket. We wrapped at 10 PM with less than 10 seconds of footage left.

So, did we get everything we wanted? I think we did. I would have liked to have shot more footage, but we just didn't have the time. More importantly, we wanted to respect Patti and the Center. She gave of her time and that was incredibly generous. The Center also let us shoot for free, so we owe them a huge debt of gratitude. I think it went very well and I don't think anyone has ever shot wheelchair basketball quite like this before. The team was great to work with and I'm thankful to them for giving up their practice time to help us out. I really hope they like the end result.

Next up...Alpine Skiing!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Night Before the Big Game!

Tomorrow we shoot basketball. It's going to be a whirlwind shoot, but I think it will be a lot of fun. This is a great team and I'm looking forward to working with them. We will also be filming at the Utah Jazz practice facility, which I think is pretty exciting. So, that's all I have for now. Time to rest for the big game tomorrow night.

Big update to follow.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Rejected Activities

As with every project, difficult choices must be made. "Should we keep Pitt or should we focus our finances on the set design and opt instead for Busey?" A lot of people have approached me inquiring as to whether or not we would include many of their favorite sports in our project: crew, fencing, table tennis, etc. Unfortunately, we can't fit every adaptive activity imaginable. And believe me when I say there are many that I would love to keep in the picture. Unfortunately, due to a lack of time and money, many of our original choices had to go. Before we roll cameras again this Thursday, I thought I'd share a few of the activities that will NOT be included in our production:

1. Hop Scotch
2. Indian Leg Wrestling
3. Pogo Stick Endurance Run
4. Mechanical Bull Riding
5. Badminton
7. Chess
8. Connect Four
9. Thin Ice Speed Skating
10. Couples Quadriplegic Figure Skating
11. Shot Put
13. Long Jump
14. Inter-gender Wrestling (Classic and Mud)
15. Kite Flying
16. Jump Rope
17. Sumo Wresting
18. Belittling
19. Condescension Suspension
20. Power-lifting
21. Base Jumping
22. Freebasing
23. Baseball
24. Softball
25. Hardball with Chris Matthews
26. Pie Eating
27. Pole-vaulting
28. Pole-dancing
29. Hang-gliding
30. Para-gliding
31. Quad-gliding
32. Staring Competition
33. Eating Competition
34. Fencing
35. Inner Tubing
36. Javelin
37. Football
38. Juggling
39. Balance Beam
40. Distance Cathing

I'm sure there are many more activities that we could have included in our production. What we did choose were familiar activities that we felt could be accessed by individuals, post-spinal cord injury. This video is meant to be an introduction to a wide variety of activities. A sampling of what we feel are the best-of-the-best in recreation. We chose to avoid activities that were too "specialized" in favor of activities that were more readily available. While our choices will no doubt exclude some sports (ex: softball, fencing) it will also feature many other activities that we hope will excite people into recreating. At any level of play.

Hopefully, this project will pave the way for many other projects that showcase the activities not included in our video. So, everyone will have to sit back and patiently wait, until we can get the funding to film adaptive pole-dancing. Hey, it could happen. WILL happen!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Nordic Skiing: Take Two

The original plan was to shoot our nordic skiing sequence on February 14th. Unfortunately a giant winter storm halted our plans and pushed the production back a day. This turned out to be a good thing because the weather for Friday's shoot was unbelievable. The forecast called for mostly sunny conditions, but there wasn't a cloud to be found. It was a bright, bright, sunshiny day. Winter is always an ideal time to shoot video because the sun remains somewhat low on the horizon throughout the day. This enabled us to get morning light for the duration of our shoot.

I arrived at 8:45 AM and met with Tyler and Todd at the Solitude Nordic Center to review our shooting schedule and plans for the day. Jeff arrived shortly thereafter and began assembling the equipment. Shortly after our arrival, a large group of school kids arrived with instructors and family for a day of snow shoeing and skiing. Little kids have so damn much's great. I was hoping to see if we could swing a blood transfusion between myself and one of the kindergartners, just to help me get through the day. The last time I checked, doping with blood is still legal in the filmmaking industry.

Around 10:30, I transferred into my nordic sit-ski and pushed myself out to the course. Today was my first official time nordic skiing and I've gotta's really difficult. The common misconception is that paraplegics have superhuman strength in their upper body. While this is true for many (in addition to having the ability to see through lead objects and camisoles), nordic skiing requires more back and rear delt use. Operating a wheelchair relies heavily on the front muscles (front delts and pecs). I ended spending the entire day in the ski, which was the only feasible way to move around our shooting locations.

Melissa, Sue, Tanja, Jeff and Jenny helped transport equipment out to the lake flat area of the course, taking extra precautions not to trash the groomed trails. Jenny, Sue and Melissa used snow shoes to get around. Jeff had his alpine skis and Tanja used her nordic skis.


The original plan was to use a snowmobile to acquire all of our tracking shots. This quickly became a tricky thing to acquire due to liability issues and budgetary restraints. Since the tracking shots were mandatory, we instead chose to ski with the steadicam. Jeff felt confident that he could get the shots without a snowmobile. Tanja, being an incredible, world-class Paralymic nordic skier, towed Jeff 60 to 90 feet. Take after take, Tanja pulled Jeff and his equipment alongside Chris. Because we were using a wide angle lens on the tracking shots, Jeff and Tanja couldn't ski too close to Chris, for fear of having their shadows appear in the shot. The other issue was Chris's speed. He's a fast skier and Jeff and Tanja had to keep up with him in order to get the perfect shot.

Jeff shot the side and back angles first, then the front shots. This required being pulled backwards.

After shooting our tracking shots, we moved on to our locked-down (tripod) shots. Shooting from a low angle enabled us to capture an amazing illusion of Chris's upper half, skiing between two fields of untouched snow.

Since we didn't have a telephoto lens, Jeff had to trudge through the pristine snow to capture the close-up shots of our skier.

PRE-JEFF = Pristine, untouched snow...amazing.

POST-JEFF = Not pristine anymore, touched snow... unattractive.
NOTE: This should fill in nicely within three or four good snowfalls.

Jeff wanted me to follow him into the snow field, but I respectfully declined.

The last of the day's shooting consisted of a mounted camera shot, looking up at Chris as he skied.

And a low tracking shot from behind. I operated the camera as Tanja pushed. It worked out extremely well.

I think the shoot went pretty well. Because of time restraints and shot complexity, we weren't able to get everything we wanted. What we did get was pretty amazing. The team was great to work with, despite the demands of the shoot. Everyone took time off work to pitch in... and for that I am very appreciative. Thank you everyone.

Next week we shoot our first day of alpine skiing. It should prove to be equally challenging. Luckily today was a good indication that it is possible to capture technical footage on snow.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day...Nordic-Style!

This Thursday (Valentine's Day) our production heads to the Solitude Nordic Center, for the Nordic Skiing portion of our project. Snow or shine, we will plan on filming U.S. Ski Team Cross Country Sit-skier Chris Klebl. Due to the technical difficulties involved in shoot, we needed someone who had excellent nordic skiing experience.

Originally, we had anticipated using a snowmobile in conjunction with a steadicam to shoot all of Chris's tracking shots. Due to logistical issues, we have decided to forego the snowmobile and ski alongside Chris instead. The Nordic Center has been amazing to work with during our pre-production. We chose Solitude because of its beautiful surroundings and accessible terrain.

Thursday should be amazing. This will be our first winter sport, with Alpine Skiing, Snowmobiling and Sledge Hockey to follow.