Saturday, May 24, 2008

Southern Utah Part 4: Journey's End

Alright, I don't really have any photos for this blog entry. Sorry about that. I've been trying to get the photos (HINT, HINT), but it's been harder than I thought. I'm not sure what it is about folks and their photos, but they're much better at taking them than giving them. So, you the readers of this blog, don't get to see any of the stills from the wheelchair racing shoot. Sorry. If you would like to see photos from this shoot, feel free to leave a strongly worded comment. That way, collectively, we can guilt the keeper of photos into sharing them with us. Sound good? Excellent. "VIVA LA PHOTOS!"

On April 30th, Jeff, Melissa and I enlisted the help of my mother and drove over to the local Shell gas station to meet up with Vance, our wheelchair racer. Jeff's dad had gone back to L.A. so we were in dire need of transportation. My mom was gracious enough to be our driver for this shoot. Which means that she now has a credit in the film. I had a general idea of where I wanted to shoot the sequence, but we never officially scouted the location. I hate going into production without a location, but today we got lucky. We found a great stretch of road leading up the LaSal Mountains. Once Jeff and I settled on the location, we pulled off the road and unloaded the gear. Vance loaded into his wheelchair racer while Jeff and I discussed our plan of attack.

I always storyboard before a shoot. It helps me visualize what I want, so that I can better communicate with the videographer. Today, I went into battle without storyboards. It made me a little nervous. Luckily, the shoot didn't call for any overly technical shots. We basically needed to film a racer pushing down a stretch of road, from several different angles. Not too difficult. Jeff and I discussed a few ideas and then gave Vance some basic instructions. "Roll up the road, out of view of the camera. Turn around and push back as fast as you can." Vance was great. He had the classic "intense" look on his face the entire time.

I was also extremely happy with the location and lighting. Because we started around 9:00 in the AM, we managed to capture some amazing, early morning back lighting. From one angle, the LaSal Mountains loomed in the background. From the opposite angle, the red sandstone rims filled our shots. I was most impressed with was a static, locked down shot of Vance rolling over 3/4 of a mile towards the camera. The red rock encompassing the entire background. It was amazing.

After shooting several pass bye's, Jeff came up with an interesting shot. We placed Vance on the side of the road and filmed him from every angle. An entire circle of camera setups. 360 degrees of coverage, carefully measured so that the lens remained the same distance at all times. The hope is to speed the film up so that it looks like the camera is spinning around at lightening speed. We'll see if it works once it's edited together.

This shoot took no time to complete. In fact, we managed to end early. I enjoyed working without storyboards for a change. It allowed me to work a bit more "on-the-fly" with Jeff. That's not to say that I don't like storyboards. I do. They've been extremely critical during this entire production. It's just nice to try something different for a change.

Up Next...Murderball. With Photos!!!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Indy Film

Alright. I realize I'm a geek. But I had to say something quickly about the new Indiana Jones flick that opens tomorrow. This is the fourth film in one of the greatest cinema cereals of all time. And although the reviews have been polarizing, I'm still excited as hell to see the thing.

The original Indy film, Raiders, is why I got into video/film in the first place. It was 1981... opening night at the Villa Theater. I was 5 years old, standing in a line that wrapped around the building. Completely unaware that in just a couple of hours, I'd be watching a guys face melt down to the bone. Awesome! Not to mention one of the coolest rolling things (aside from wheelchairs) I would ever see. I'm talking about the boulder at the beginning.

So, will the fourth installment be as amazing as the first? Probably not. Raiders of the Lost Ark is THE film. But I still think Indy IV will be better than anything else released this year. Except of course our adaptive sports video. I mean, that goes without saying.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Southern Utah Part 3: Apocalypse Now?

With every great shoot, throughout history, there are always the occasional moments of frustration. Brando was said to have been a complete pain in the rear, demanding exorbitant sums of money up front, and then refusing to show up for the shoot. For many productions, if the shoot goes over, tempers flare. If the shoots end too soon for cost reasons, the director throws a tantrum. No shoot ever goes off without a hitch. It's the nature of the business. What matters most is that everything works out in the end.

So far, we've lucked out. That is to say that we really haven't had too many issues during the course of shooting this project. We, the production team, all come from different backgrounds. Jeff is a doctor, Melissa is a doctoral student in rec. therapy and I am not a doctor. But every once in a while, I play one on TV. The three of us have all come together with the same goal in mind: to create an amazing short film that will show individuals with SCI what's available in the arena of sports and recreation. This is a lofty goal, but very do-able. And we're doing it! No longer is this project mere talk or speculation. We've all committed an enormous amount of personal time to bring this baby to fruition. So, it's only natural that at some point, all of us were bound to reach a moment of frustration. Today, that frustration reared its ugly head and I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that we were running on a tight shooting schedule, with very little time for R and R, and a lot of distractions.

Jeff, Al and I had already found the ideal location for the One-Off cycling sequence. So that was taken care of. Chris Waddell, our talent, had driven down the night before and stayed in a motel. Chris is a great guy and I was excited that he was helping us out. Jeff and I had briefly gone over the game plan, so the day of the shoot, we had an idea of what we wanted to film. I had already been a little frustrated with the late starts on each shoot and that's because I've always been a firm believer in starting on time. But I also realize that things happen, which can always delay the start of any day's shoot. On the 29th, we had another late start and I was concerned about having Chris wait around for our crew to arrive. Chris was very cool about things and followed us up to the location, which was a 35 minute drive. It took another hour to get our talent and crew out to the actual shooting spot. It was a beautiful morning and despite some strong gusts of wind, Jeff managed to get some amazing jib arm shots of Chris pedaling over patches of slick rock. After the jib shots, Jeff and Chris took off to shoot some free form coverage shots, which ended up looking great. But since I couldn't see what Jeff was capturing, I began to worry that we were straying too far from the storyboards and shooting schedule. Morning was also becoming afternoon rather quickly.

Next, we loaded up the gear and drove down the canyon to capture shots of Chris speeding down the dirt roads. This guy can cook. I don't mean food, because that would be silly in this circumstance. I mean, this guy can move down some gnarly switchbacks. But Chris is a world class athlete and flying down hills is in his blood.

I'd envisioned several shots, which we were in the process of acquiring. And then Jeff received a call from his wife and the shoot had to wrap. I won't go into specifics, suffice it to say, Jeff's call to wrap early was appropriate and totally justified. I just felt bad that we had to scrap so many of the shots, but I also understood the circumstances.

We returned to base camp (a.k.a. my parent's place) and everything ended up being okay, which was a relief. Crisis averted.

But I still couldn't let go of the fact that we'd lost some potentially killer shots. That's the perfectionist in me. I tend to obsess about certain shots whenever I'm in "production mode". Jeff sensed my frustration because it was making him frustrated as well. Melissa too. I think it even affected one of my parent's dogs. Maybe even one of the hens. In any case, Jeff and I touched base and everything got resolved.

So, what have we learned in this blog entry? Well, for starters, Stan can sometimes be OCD about production. That's in his blood. We also learned that not every shoot can be 100% perfect... but 97% ain't too bad. And finally, good communication is the key to happiness and understanding. Once Jeff showed me the footage, I felt a little better about the day's shoot. Jeff is a great videographer and I trust him implicitly, despite my perfectionist nature.

Apocalypse? Not really. Just a small bump in the road. Which is great considering we've come so far with no issues to speak of. This shoot put us over the halfway point of our production, with 17 activities "in the can". And the next shoot ended up being one of the best of the trip. Unfortunately, you'll have to wait for the next entry to hear that story. As well as the story of how my mother became a part of our production, officially.

Stay tuned for the exciting Southern Utah finale in Part 4!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Southern Utah Part 2: Location, Location, Location!

Okay. Welcome to Part 2 of our Southern Utah shoot. When last we saw our fearless production team (Jeff, Melissa and I) we had just finished shooting in the treacherous sand dunes of Coral Pink State Park. Our original plan was to drive to Monument Valley, do some location scouting and park the tour bus. After getting a late start, we ended up rolling into Monument Valley well after dark. The second leg of our road trip included a stop by Page Arizona to pick up U-Haul Trailer, and last-minute coordination with our Monument Valley film contact and talent.

The U-Haul Trailer, not pictured below, turned out to be slightly different than Jeff (Producer/DP) and I had originally envisioned. The trailer, which was built for vehicle transport, had a gaping hole running straight down the middle. We'd hoped for a trailer with a flat bed so that we could pull a handcycle and simulate cycling. After discussing the issue at hand, Jeff raced off to the local Page lumber store to purchase plywood. The hardware store employee wasn't too sure about our little trailer improvement. Nevertheless, they begrudgingly cut the wood and filled the space. Making Jeff and I very, very happy. Having solved the trailer problem, we headed off towards MV, and day 3 of our production.


The Monument Valley area is the destination spot for many film productions. Jeff really wanted to shoot there and I'm glad we did. But it wasn't without a few hiccups. For starters, we had to get permits to shoot in specific areas. We also had to get permission from the Navajo Film Commission, since we were filming on Navajo land. The last thing we had to coordinate was our police escort. Because we were going to film on the highway, we had to hire a police officer to help control traffic.

After breakfast, we met with our film contact Orville Sisco, a local who was amazingly helpful. Sisco took Melissa, Al (Jeff's dad) and I location scouting. Our first stop was the overlook to Monument Valley. Unfortunately, the road through the actual park wasn't paved, so we couldn't shoot there. Road handcycles don't handle well on dirt roads. That was too bad, because the scenery was amazing.

I asked if Sisco could take us up the highway in search of other possible locations. He gladly obliged and we drove, he shed some light on the some potential issues associated with filming in the area. First and foremost, the locals. Sisco warned us not to pull into any driveways or shoot on any side dirt roads. These areas belonged to the local people and they are, as we later found out, known for approaching all film crews and asking for money. I guess it's the hazard all productions face when filming in Monument Valley.

As we drove around, we pulled off to a safe area and caught a glimpse of the "Forrest Gump" shot.

Yep... that's the one.

After finding some great stretches of highway, we returned to our RV Park to pick up Jeff and the equipment. We met up with our talent at a local grocery store. We also met Sgt. Greyeyes, our local officer in charge of traffic control. After getting the equipment ready, we headed off towards the highway in search of our first location. Everyone pulled off to the side of the road to coordinate our first shots. I talked to Jeff about the location and it soon became clear that he wasn't too excited about shooting on the highway. There was a lot of traffic and he felt that it wouldn't be the safest place to shoot. Perhaps a second officer might have helped, but we only had one on the payroll.

Yes, I admit, I was a little upset about having to scrap our location. I joked with Jeff that the shot comes first, safety second. But Jeff eventually won me over and helped me see that the busy highway was no place gimps and cameras. So, I rolled over to Sgt. Greyeyes and asked him if there were any other paved side roads that we could use as an alternative locale. He suggested a spot that we had passed on our way to the "Forrest Gump" pull off. This new spot ended up saving our butts big time. It also proved to be an exceptionally beautiful shooting location.

Our handcyclists for this shoot were Amber and Emma. Both brought their significant others, who cycled with them for a few shots. Shooting the tracking shots was the most difficult portion of the shoot. Jeff sat in the back of the Tahoe and shot the cyclists as they peddled down the road. It was tricky keeping the exact same pace as the cyclists, but Al did a great job. After shooting the tracking shots, Jeff shot some coverage with the steadicam. As the sun went down, we moved to locked down shots. Before sunset, we managed to get some amazing evening light footage. Including a killer sunset silhouette shot of each handcyclist. The shoot ended up going really well.


We started early on day four. Same location. Except this morning, we broke out the U-Haul trailer. We placed a handcycle on on the trailer and hooked up the front wheel to an indoor trainer. Our first cyclist transferred onto the bike and began to pedal as we drove slowly down the road. I sat at the front of the trailer and Jeff shot from the side. He kept the camera low so that we could simulate cycling. Now, why would we go through this process? Why not track with the cyclist and ditch the trailer? Well, there was no way to get the close ups we wanted without loading a cycle on a moving platform that we could film from. It was the best way of getting our lens in for the tighter shots. And it worked great. We shot Emma first, then Amber. Amber helped us with an experimental time lapse shot that I think will look great.

Everything was going swimmingly, and then we had a visitor. An irate local who demanded to speak with the "person in charge". Jeff and Al went over to see what she wanted. The woman was upset that we had filmed without her permission. She also mentioned that a fight had broken out the night before and our production was the chief instigator. "People got hurt because of you!" This was of course total nonsense, but then again, the whole interaction made no sense. We took special precautions not to film on anything except the paved road. Sgt. Greyeyes was with us the entire time, lights flashing. The woman wanted money and we told her that we didn't have any. This was the answer that Sisco had suggested we offer to any locals looking for a free handout. Perhaps if we were Paramount Pictures, we could have offered her something. But this is a very small production and we used up our travel budget on lodging and permits. The woman eventually sped off. Right past Sgt. Greyeyes. That was the only issue we encountered on our second day of shooting handcycling.

We wrapped production around 11:00 AM and then headed back to base camp. Our talent were great to work with and I think we captured some amazing "John Ford-like" footage. I also want to thank Sisco and Sgt. Greyeyes for their help. Looking back, I wish that the process had been easier, but I guess that's the price you pay for filming in such a popular location.

Up next...Part 3!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Southern Utah Part 1: The Spice of Life

April 24th, 2008: The production team drove south to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park and arrived around 8:00 AM after a quick rest stop at a rest stop. All of us were running on approximately two hours of sleep after an all night drive. After Jade and Todd arrived, we set up camp near the rangers station. Michael Franklin, our contact, said it was alright to camp in a non-camp area. It was extremely generous and very convenient, given the proximity to the park entrance.

For this trip, our transportation and lodging came in the form of a 54-foot RV. This gigantic HQ on wheels was convenient for keeping all of our production equipment in a central location. Jeff could easily offload our video cards, recharge batteries and keep the equipment out of the elements. The RV also offered a nice pad to kick back and relax after a long day of shooting. Since Jeff's family came along for the trip, our ride was perfect for dining, sleeping and changing diapers. The Willie Nelson Mobile was a beast to get into. For me especially. Luckily Jeff's son helped me up and down the stairway from Hell. The bathroom was also very difficult to manage. Do-able, but very tricky.

Our original plan was to begin shooting at 9:30. But because everyone was exhausted, we decided to push the shoot back to 1:00. This gave Jeff and I time to get a grand tour of the dunes. Mike took Jeff and his son out first. Then I headed out for the ride of a lifetime. We drove in a Rhino, which is like a two-person cart. Mike tore off over the dunes and I could feel the vehicle slip sideways on the steep hills. It was better than a roller coaster ride.

After finding a couple of spots it was time to get on it. Jeff suited up in his steadicam rig and hopped in the back of the Rhino. I hopped (figuratively speaking) into the passenger's seat. We headed out to a beautiful spot with our first participant. Jade and her family followed us out to the dunes and we paused to go over the game plan. Tracking shots first, then locked down shots. We had Jade make several passes down a long strip of gentle dunes. This allowed us to film from the front, side and rear.

After filming some tracking shots, Jeff hopped off the rig and hobbled over to film Jade from her vehicle. Jeff had been thrown around quite a bit while filming from the back of the Rhino. He was in a considerable amount of pain. Still, he continued to shoot. No pain, no film.

Jade was incredibly patient, given the demanding work of the shoot and the waiting around that often comes with elaborate productions.

Next up, we shot Todd. Todd was also very patient. Todd uses ATVs when hunting, but he'd never driven the shifting sands of the Coral Pink State Park. His family was along for the ride as well.

We shot in a large bowl and Todd circled the perimeter. All was going swimingly until Todd's thumb slipped and his vehicle stalled and rolled. He came off the vehicle and landed in the sand. The rest of us raced towards him in a panic. Todd quickly waved his hands to signal that everything was okay. He wanted to see if Jeff had captured the moment on film. Jeff hadn't.

Jeff stuck to locked down shots for all of Todd's footage. We considered some jib shots, but didn't want to get sand in the equipment. We were already experiencing issues with sand finding its way into our camera gear. Damn sand.

Safety is a major concern for any film or video production. Anytime you film individuals engaging in a sport or recreational activity, there is always the possibility that something could go wrong. I always joke that the shot comes first, and safety comes second. But of course I don't believe that. And I certainly don't want anything to happen to any of our participants. Todd was okay, but it gave us all quite the scare.

The ATV shoot went really well despite the sand, pain and near misses. Both Jade and Todd are amazing riders. Jade has a thoracic injury and Todd a cervical. The state park rangers were also very helpful. We wrapped at 7:00 PM and everyone was able to get home early. We retired to the RV for burritos and rest.

Now, here's the thing: I realize a lot of people are against ATV's for environmental reasons. I certainly believe in protecting the environment. But we have to realize that not everyone has the opportunity and ability to access difficult areas in nature such as sand dunes and mountain trails. ATVs give many people, who cannot hike, the option and freedom to see some of the most beautiful places in Utah. Just something to consider.

Up next...Part 2!