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!


researcher said...

My name is Ramelle. I'm a researcher on a documentary called Reel Injun. . It is a High Definition feature length documentary that will employ classic film footage, interviews and documentary sequences tracing the image of the Native American in film from the silent era to today.
We plan to do some filming in Monument Valley adn were considering working with Orville Sisco as our fixer/location scout. I wondered if you could tell me more about your experience working with Orville and if you recommend him.

Reel Injun is being produced by the native-run company, Rezolution Pictures ( ) in association with The National Film Board of Canada ( ).
Please feel free to view our promotional trailer on You Tube at:

Let me know if you require more information.
Many thanks,

Spinal Cracker said...

Hey Ramelle,

Looks like an interesting project. Orville Sisco was great to work with. A really nice guy. He gave us a very thorough tour and always kept us aware of the rules and protocol for respecting local customs and property. I would definitely recommend him!

Let me know how it goes!