Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Ice Ice Baby!

"A number of images put together a certain way become something quite above and beyond what any of them are individually." -- Francis Ford Coppola

Last Saturday, I dreamt that it was the evening premiere of this project. The audience, consisting predominantly of individuals with disabilities, had just spent the day sailing with several local adaptive recreation programs. Many of these individuals were still wearing their PFDs (Personal Floatation Devices) as they filed into the theater. In my dream, I knew the film wasn't ready, but the theater was filling up rapidly, and we had to show the audience something. So, I decided to run the video, even though the music and graphics hadn't been added. Just before showtime, I made my way to the stage and gave a brief introduction about the project. As I prefaced the film, I noticed that everyone had begun to leave. Apparently, most of the people attending the screening had bussed in for the day and had to leave in order to catch their rides. It was devastating.

So why do I mention this dream, other than to prove how random my subconscious tends to be? Well, I've been obsessing over this project for a while. I constantly think: How will this thing look when the last cuts are made? I'm optimistic, and encouraged by the footage we have so far. Still, I've yet to assemble any of the shots and it's intimidating to think of how difficult it will be to compile 32 different sports into one cohesive display. Usually, a film doesn't even begin to take shape until the images, graphics and sound are combined.


Yesterday, Jeff (DP/Prod) and I flew to Sacramento to shoot sledge hockey (or sled hockey for those who dislike associating with or using words that end in "ge". The whole sled hockey sequence has been very frustrating. Particularly the selection and coordination with willing participants. Originally, we had planned to film our local National Ability Center team. Unfortunately, they don't have many players with SCI on their team right now. So, we had to search elsewhere. Next, we contacted the Colorado team. I met with the team a few months ago and was really excited about working with them. However, try as we might, we could not nail down a commitment from the team, which was too bad.

...And then...the Sacramento Lightening struck. Eager, willing and ready to help us out. Our unit manager made all of the arrangements with the team, and this time we nailed down a shooting date. It seemed that at long last, we were finally going to be able to shoot sled hockey. I'm not sure why it has been so difficult to coordinate with talent, but it has. That's not necessarily any one person's fault. People get busy and windows open and close. It's all about timing and pouncing on those moments when they appear.

Jeff and I brought the shoulder mount and jib arm down for the shoot. That ended up being a lot of equipment for a four hour shoot. I'm glad we did bring the jib because we managed to get some killer shots of players scoring goals and checking each other into the side walls of the rink. I think we may now have to reconsider the rating of our production.

To get around Sacramento, we used a rental car and Jeff's sexy and reliable GPS system, affectionately known as "Nüvi". With her sultry English accent, Nüvi never failed to get us accurately from point A to point B. At times, she got irritable and condescending. But by the end of the trip...I had found a new love. And no, contrary to what Jeff may tell you, I did not sleep Nüvi. You never, ever steal another guy's GPS.

Sacramento is very flat and very spacious with strip malls a-plenty. I'm not used to the absence of large landmarks such as mountains. There were also a large number of people standing around holding advertising. Practically every corner had some kid holding a sandwich board, making every attempt to attract potential customers.

At 3:00, Jeff and I (and Nüvi), arrived at Skatetown Ice Arena. We took a look around and felt very, very old. The average age of everyone in the Center was 13. It was a little awkward. We met and discussed shots and politics before unloading all of our equipment. We dressed warm since we were going to be spending the next six hours in a refrigerator. Ice arenas get very cold. So cold, in fact, that by the end of the shoot, I had lost all sensation in my lower torso, legs and toes.

The team began to arrive around 4:30 and they were a great bunch of athletes. They were easy to work with, friendly and extremely patient, given the nature of a shoot* (see "nature of a shoot").

We began shooting locked down shots first and then moved on to handheld. The team ran scrimmages, three on three with a goalie. It was great. For many of the shots, Jeff and I wore helmets to avoid being hit in the head by flying pucks. And let me just say, I came close to getting nailed more than once.

At 7:30, we took a snack break and offloaded our footage to a backup hard drive. Twenty minutes later, we were back at it. We broke out the jib arm to capture some sweeping shots of players slamming each other into the side walls. I purchased a pack of white Mentos, hoping a few of the players could spit them out like teeth. It didn't work out as well as I'd hoped.

Towards the end of the shoot, Jeff hopped in a sled to shoot some tracking shots. We didn't bring the steadicam because the ice provides a very smooth surface for hand-held tracking.

We wrapped the shoot at 9:05 PM and cleared off the ice as fast as we could. Jeff got a ride on the zamboni and I finished filming interviews with each of the players.

Both Jeff and I had a great time shooting the team. They were a joy to work with and were very accommodating. After all, it isn't easy to play a full contact sport like hockey with a production crew constantly getting in your way. In addition to being very professional, the Sacramento Lightening team is fast. The team name is very appropriate.

The footage turned out great and I'm excited to see how the sequence cuts together.

Jeff and I spent the night and took an early flight back to Salt Lake this morning. We've now shot 11 sports, 10 of which are completed. We still need some pick up shots for alpine skiing, but we will have to shoot those in April or May.

Up next...

*NATURE OF A SHOOT: shoot, stop, wait, setup, shoot, stop, wait, setup, shoot, stop, bathroom break, wait, setup...

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Muffy and the Bird

We met near the Snowbird Tram at 8:00 AM, Thursday morning. Jeff and Muffy agreed to be our talent and I was glad to have them join our production. Muffy had just been given clearance to ski, having spent the last few months recovering from a cooking injury. We met Dr. Jeff and Stephanie and loaded all of our equipment onto the first scheduled Tram. It was a beautiful morning, cold but clear.

The Tram carried our team up to the top of the mountain. I brought my mono-ski, thinking I might join the shoot. I quickly decided against it as I haven't skied for nearly three years, following a cooking accident of my own. Actually, I had some back surgery, which took me off the slopes for quite a while. The surgery completely changed my toreso flexion, making my lower back completely ridgid. This change in body mechanics completely altered the way I do everything. I didn't think that today was the best time to hit the slopes and but my new mechanics to the test. I wanted the crew to focus on shooting, first and foremost. So, I ended up hanging out in the ski patrol shack for the duration of the shoot.

It was hard to take myself out of the production, but without alternate access to the slope, there was no way for me to be with the crew while they shot. This was especially difficult given the fact that Muffy and Jeff are two of my closest friends. While putting this production together, it was imperative that both of them be a part, in some way.

Prior to everyone's departure, I went over some rough storyboards with Dr. Jeff. Shooting skiing consists of three types of shots:

1. Profile shot of the skier coming down the hill. This is typically accomplished with a locked-down shot. The camera pans as the skier comes down the hill, keeping a consistent focal distance the entire shot.

2. Front shot as the skier comes towards the camera. Typically, as the skier draws near, the camera zooms out with the action.

3. Tracking shot. The cameraman skies with the skier.

We only had three hours to shoot, since Muffy and Jeff had a prior appointment. The goal was to shoot as much as possible given the small window of production time.

At noon, when Jeff and Stephanie returned, the three of us reviewed the footage. I was happy with the shots. Jeff and I both agreed that we needed another day for pick-ups, but overall I think Jeff got some amazing footage.

Stephanie helped Jeff during the shoot and I'm glad she was there. She's a fantastic skier. Unfortunately, due to the lack of time and prior planning, we weren't able to bring our photographer, Sue, along for the ride. Therefore, we didn't get many photos. Hopefully next time we'll get more.

Our goal is to shoot on March 20th or 21st, weather permitting. One more day of shooting should give us everything we need in the way of alpine skiing.

We are also making special arrangements to film from the tram.

More to come!