Every filmmaker knows that the greater life lessons on any documentary are often experienced by the people creating and shooting the project.
I had the opportunity to shoot and produce a series of short pieces documenting the making of the epic third installment of Universal’s “Scorpion King” franchise in Thailand. The film is directed by Roel Reine and features an all star action cast – Ron Perlman, Billy Zane, Dave Bautista, Victor Webster, Bostin Christopher, Kimbo Slice and Selina Lo. There were two hundred and sixty of us crewing the cinematic adventure and then another four hundred actors and extras in front of the camera populating the majestic and often dangerous locations throughout this eastern jewel.
One of the things I love about being a documentary filmmaker is figuring out how to capture the stories unfolding every day regardless of the obstacles that pop up. From the first moment production has called “action” to the last moment I’m turning off my camera something is often there blocking the way. These “obstacles” are what provide some of my greatest life lessons as a filmmaker. I knew things were going to be challenging but had no idea how far that concept would be pushed.
In Thailand we had daily cobra infestations at all the outdoor locations – from monkey infested jungles to thousand year old temples – ‘twas the season for snakes. Oh, and the monkeys – if they weren’t stealing our garbage and then raining it down on our heads they were stealing camera gear and throwing it into the waterfalls below. Did I mention that monkeys carry rabies in Thailand? There were also some amazing yellow butterflies that peed acid when they landed on your skin – that venom paralyzed some of the hardiest men on set and sent them to the hospital. Did I mention the heat? The kind of moist, furnace-level-sun-flare heat that melts down EX3’s, RED’s and gives you a sunburn through long sleeved shirts and pants?!
We had two ambulances in constant rotation between the heat stroke level weather, dangerous animal actors (oh, yeah, the tigers), Hong Kong style stunts with complicated rigging, violent SFX explosions and tricky ankle twisting locations. Throughout, I had to keep rolling. I had to keep on top of the stories I was chasing. I had to deal with massive equipment failures due to unrelenting heat. I had to keep an eye out not to step on a snake, tempt a gear-loving monkey or get squashed by one of many stunt elephants I would run between chasing Roel Reine (who not only directed but shot as well).
Did I mention that I had the time of my life? I learned that no matter how hard it got, we were all there to tell a great story – so we all just dug in, leaned on each other and experienced the joy of a grand shared and sweaty adventure. All captured forever by the main camera team and me as I shot the behind-the-scenes of this epic quest. Would I do it again? You bet.Learn More
Shooting behind-the-scenes on Universal’s holiday movie for the Beethoven franchise was invigorating and inspiring. However, it was the first time I shot all day, almost every day, outside in temperatures that would chill Santa to the bone. I’m a Canadian by birth (but a Californian by choice) and I’m familiar with the winter wind-chill of the great white north. But I wasn’t prepared for what was the record-breaking lows Winnipeg offered up on a project that shot primarily outside for over a month.
Day to day, the crew would have a wager that placed “Winterpeg” head to head with the freezing temps of Siberia. With conditions that brought the North Pole to mind (did you know that minus 40 Celsius is the equivalent of minus 40 Fahrenheit…) Winnipeg not only lived up to its nickname, it broke one hundred year old records for a Canadian deep freeze and left Siberia in the dust.
Hollywood is used to inconveniencing the locals when making a movie. Winnipeg flipped the script on all of us. Due to the record breaking temps, everything started to freeze up and breakdown. For me, the external components of the Sony EX3 I was using started to snap off. My adapted wide angle lens took a plunge; the aluminum jerry-rigged cradle holding a giant brick of a camera battery broke off; and the loop securing my external mic snapped off so many times I started to wrap grip tape around the entire camera before I left in the morning. This actually worked. Grip tape, like it’s all-purpose cousin duct tape, is a handy solution to many production-induced inconveniences.
The old adage of never work with young actors and animals simply didn’t apply to “Beethoven’s Christmas Adventure”. Special padded walkways were created for the canines who took the ice and snow in stride. Actors Kyle Massey and Munro Chambers worked shoulder to shoulder with the crew, toughing out the most challenging conditions whether it was hanging from a crane as a Christmas elf or standing for hours in nose freezing sleet.
The big finale featured a Christmas parade that was shot during a snowstorm (looks great on camera). It shut down the city but didn’t stop lead actors Kim Rhodes and John O’Hurley from hitting marks they couldn’t even see. Through all of this I marveled at the tenacity of everyone involved. The crew, the actors (Kim Rhodes, John O’Hurley, Kyle Massey, Robert Picardo, Munro Chambers and Curtis Armstrong), the dogs, the never-say-die producer, John Freilich and the movie’s very funny director, John Futch, took it all in stride.
I now have some very big white Arctic boots that sit in my closet in California but remind me everyday that movie-making invites everyone to stand a little taller, dig a little deeper and be proud that they made it through a grand adventure. Not only that, because of their extraordinary efforts, they have something they can share with their families for years to come.Learn More
Production designers and decorators have a unique challenge when they’re creating an environment for a television series or a movie. The set design and décor must be believeable but creatively distinct. It must reflect the story of the characters that populate the space and support the overall arc of the story being filmed. One of set decorator’s challenges is what to put on the walls of their sets as fine art. The art must compliment the story, be affordable, easily accessible and the studio must be able to license the images from the artists that create them. These requirements make the acquisition of fine art for a show a real challenge and has created a cottage industry specific to the needs of Hollywood.
I’ve had the good fortune to become a part of this Hollywood fine art industry. I shoot high end photography images that are licensed and hang on the walls of many sets around town. I have an extensive library of fine art photos as I shoot images when I’m traveling around the world on other assignments. I am also hired to create specifically themed images for a set that needs a certain visual tone. The great thing about both scenarios is I create and own everything and can sell or license my art as I see fit.
Recently I created images for Rob Lowe’s on-set office on NBC’s hit series “Parks And Recreation”. Julie Bolder, the award winning set decorator I often work with, had a basic theme in mind. She wanted images that would play to Rob Lowe’s hyper intelligent athletically inclined character. So I visited a few sports stores for inspiration and gathered some architecturally specific athletic gear. Old school barbells, racks of weights and Frank Gehryinspired bicycle parts looked great as black and white prints.
I talked one of my actor friends into posing on a local mountaintop perched on a bike for a full color sunset silhouette. It’s helpful that I live in the Santa Monica Mountains so this was literally shot in my backyard. The assignment only took a few hours. I posted the completed images for Julie to see on online. She “walked” through the gallery I created sitting in her office in Hollywood and cherry picked the images that she knew would serve the set design and the show.
Speed is key to this type of creative photo assignment, as the show will often need to print and frame the images in 24 hours. I saw the framed images on the show recently as Rob Lowe played out a great scene with them behind him. I was thrilled to see that the art I created supported his work without stealing the focus. I’ve been creating fine art images for “Parks And Recreation” for a couple of seasons now. It’s a wonderful way to stretch creatively and continue to build my fine art photography portfolio. Other shows I’ve created fine art photo images for include six seasons of “Weeds” for Showtime, “Notes From The Underbelly” for ABC and “Haversham Hall” for the Disney Channel.Learn More