When I was working on my demo reel I got to reminiscing about all my past projects, and for a while now I’ve wanted to recount some of my experiences. I decided to start with what could probably be classified as my “worst” experience, although I don’t really look at it that way. There are actually more stories from this shoot that I’m not going to put in writing here, but talk to me in person some day and I’ll tell you. Anyway, here goes….
I remember it fondly: the 14- to 19-hour days in a dark tiny room with a sink connected directly to a backed-up septic, the 3am walks back to my cabin in freezing temperatures, the low-voltage electric current running through my body if I touched the computer equipment and a nearby metal counter at the same time.
We had just come off a project for ESPN at the Winter X-Games. I had returned to New York to start editing the footage while the other guys from 21st Century 3D had flown to Lincoln, Montana to begin shooting an independent feature film. It had a modest budget, but it was our first feature-length movie, and possibly the first independent film shot in digital 3D. About a week in I received news that I would be flying out to join the crew; long shooting days were leaving no time to log and backup the footage, so they needed a dedicated guy (i.e., me) to do it.
Upon arrival I found a situation far from ideal. Organizing and archiving the footage would not be a difficult task in itself, as I’m pretty good at appraising a situation, implementing an action plan, and modifying that plan based on what works. The surrounding conditions were the killer.
This was apparently the only room that could handle the power draw of the computer and accessories (drives, tape machine, etc.), and it was still one of those dicey scenarios where running the microwave and television at the same time would blow a breaker (which wouldn’t be a problem for me since I didn’t plan on watching TV while working, and I got most of my lunches at the local 7-11 clone). Plus there was a weird grounding issue where touching the metal sink and the computer would complete an electric circuit through my chest, which was unpleasant to discover and even more unpleasant to diagnose. Please note that contact with the sink happened often (at first), since it was prime real estate for counter space.
Now that I think about it, the sink was pretty much the source of all evil. It was connected somehow to the septic system, sealed off only by numerous layers of gaffer’s tape that had thankfully been applied before my arrival. Still, air freshener and an ever-burning Yankee candle (and another, when we had completely used up the first) were required to make the room habitable, and lunch was consumed elsewhere (hence the previously mentioned trips to the convenience store).
Every evening the crew would return with new footage, then retire to the local restaurant/tavern for food and camaraderie. I would log the day’s magazines and get them into the copy/backup rotation before heading over to join the rest of the crew and have some human interaction. Afterward I would work late into the night to get the camera magazines ready for the next day, walk back to my hotel (note: 3am + winter + Montana = cold) for a few hours of sleep, then head back to continue catching up. Meanwhile, the ESPN project was still being edited in New York, so I was simultaneously keeping that on track via email and phone calls. Crazy hours, crazy schedule, and it was great.
It was great because we were making something. The rest of the crew had it tough too, trudging through the snow, keeping the cameras warm, trying to work as quickly as possible. This was a shared adventure on an untrod path, and regardless of the end result, the process provided so much to learn. Making that movie informed all our future productions, and certainly kept me from complaining about working conditions, because not a whole lot could compare to Evil Sink And Its Shocking Lair.
And if I had to do it all again? Well, I’d probably want to arrive a bit earlier.