the outer wild (part 2: gunnison, colorado)

Well I'd have to say that Dean was on the right track! From the time we arrived in Gunnison, CO to the time we left I was wowed with the beauty of central Colorado. I'd been here as a teenager, Colorado that is, but only really around the Denver, Colorado Springs and Boulder area when I was racing and training at the Olympic training center....I'd never been this far south...and the sky was huge!!! 

When Chidel, Ashley and myself got in, Dean met up with up with us and it was off to a ranch that he'd actually taken Chidel to a couple of months earlier. Now it was time for us to make our way through the property to see if we could make it work...I mean, amongst such beauty, how could we make it all look gritty enough to be post apocalyptic?

Upon arriving at the ranch which was a forty-five minute drive from Gunnison, we took about an hour to walk the property, talk potential scenes, take pics and send the drone up to get aerials to help us plot out where everything could potentially take place. It was a killer location in this beautiful valley...Dean had done good :) Then we headed back for some local Gunnison Italian food and to turn in for the night because with travel it had been a long one.

The next day we drove up to Kebler Pass to see if we could find a cool location for the big stand off scene in the film...did I mention that this was a Post Apocalyptic/Western/Ghost story?...yea, well if it's going to classify as a western, you have to have a stand off in the movie right? Then we headed back down to the ranch to meet up with the owners of the property. We had a delightful time with the family in their beautiful home... :)

Then we ended the day at the Blue Mesa Reservoir which was absolutely amazing at sunset. I think we all knew at that point in time where we'd be shooting the film :) 

The Outer Wild (Part 1: Pre-Pro)

This summer I had the pleasure of shooting for Director Phil Chidel on his feature film "The Outer Wild". Phil's last feature film, "Subject Two," played at Sundance in 2006 during one of its midnight screenings, and was a hit getting distribution domestically with First Look International.

Phil and I had the opportunity to collaborate on a few projects before this one, including his award winning short "Til' Death," starring Ramon de Ocampo. Everything up until "The Outer Wild," had been shorts or music videos we'd shot together, and when he asked if I'd be on board with shooting a low budget Indie, I said absolutely, and jumped at the chance...I really just wanted to see if he could tolerate me for three weeks on set :)

I asked Phil who was coming onboard, and he told me former collaborators Christian Oliver and Dean Stapleton from "Subject Two," would not only produce but star in the film. He also said Ashleigh Snead would be joining the producing team which I was super excited about!!!  Chidel, Ashleigh and myself met a few years back at the DragonCon film festival in Atlanta, and became fast friends, all hoping to end up on a project together one day!!!

During the pre-production process, one of the big concerns early on was where we were going to film...Chidel wanted an epic backdrop for the film. Subject Two had been set in the snow covered mountains of Colorado, and he was hoping to have another setting that would stand out for this film. I initially thought Alaska would be an amazing place with extraordinary light, especially in early May when production was originally hoping to shoot. I had been there a year earlier with my dad and loved it!!! You couldn't point the camera in a direction where there wasn't beauty! After a bit of research we found it might challenge the indie budget we were working with, so it got shot down early on. California and Colorado were next up on the list. Most of us were based out of Northern or Southern California so naturally that would have been the place we could have pulled the most resources and all around logistically it would be easier...but then there was our lone producer Dean Stapleton in Colorado...Maybe, all by his lonesome, he could pull off an amazing location....I had my fingers crossed :)

First Chidel and I flew down to Los Angeles to check out the Salton Sea which was a couple of hours outside the city. Chidel thought this would be a great place for a few scenes in the film but especially for the last big scene. We met up with Christian in LA and we were on our way. By the time we arrived at the Salton Sea it was dark and it seemed like we were on this long deserted road forever! We then pulled into a little town on the shores of this ecological disaster called Bombay Beach and as we did a wind storm hit...I thought at this point that I might be on camera in some kind of horror reality show...As we pulled into this town we checked in at one of the two local bars to get the keys to where we were staying in town. There was a bartender and that was it...after a few minutes a lady pulled up to have us follow her to our accommodations for the evening. All I could think about was the movie "The Hills Have Eyes"....It was that creepy! 

We ended up surviving the night fortunately and we even had the opportunity to go to the other bar in town to meet some of the locals who were all very nice people :) The next morning we had the opportunity to see the beauty and smell the stench of the Salton Sea with it's mounds of dead fish on the shores.

We also made it down to the Imperial Sand Dunes an hour south to scout! Man it was beautiful but it was going to be a nightmare to shoot there! Sand and cameras don't mix well. Christian did, however, score us rides on the sand dunes with expert Dune Buggy drivers! I literally thought I was going to die riding these dunes that reached 8 stories high!!! Chidel's ride got stuck at one point but luckily he was able to dig it out (see video below!) would have been a long walk back if not!  

On our way back to LA we finished our scout in Joshua Tree...wish we had more time there as it was my favorite location we'd scouted all weekend! Then it was back to LA and a flight up to San Francisco.

Next on the pre-production agenda was a scout in Colorado!...sounded like Dean might have found us a location! 


photo credit: Gloria

photo credit: Gloria

So I wanted to back track to this past April where I had the opportunity to shoot in China again...specifically Xishuangbanna which is located just above Thailand, Laos and Burma. I can't spill many details about the project because it's a bit top secret but the stuff we shot will for sure be some of the most amazing things I've been able to film overseas. 

Everything I had the opportunity to shoot had some cultural significance to Chinese culture....and where we shot, I think our team happened to be the only westerners present at any of these events! Talk about amazing, getting to see all of these deeply embedded traditions, take part in them at times and to literally be the only westerners present was such a gift! 

The big event we were covering was the Water Splashing Festival where the Dai ethnic minority have their New Years celebration, according to the Dai calendar, where over a three day period thousands of people engage in playful religious rituals that ultimately end up in everyone getting doused with water...including me!!! Luckily I had rain protection for my gear, a great Assistant Camera and Chinese handlers who would rush me out of situations when they got a little too crazy! At times, because I was the only westerner present with this big camera on my shoulder, I actually became the target!!! Although it was with all good, playful intentions I'm sure, it got a bit sketchy at times....By the end of it I was literally soaked from head to toe! ...and yes my camera survived :) 

My favorite part of the celebrations was the Kongming Lantern Festival held at night! You know, the lanterns you see people lighting in movies that fly off into the night sky...yea, it was pretty freaking amazing!!! This was one of the events I also got to participate in and getting those things to fly is no easy feat!! I saw a number of people dodging lanterns on fire that didn't quite have the take off they had hoped for. Still pretty magical though :) 

photo credit: Gloria

photo credit: Gloria

Lastly, my favorite part of my overall trip and it's what's most important to me, yes, more than the cinematography itself, is getting to work with great people! The producers, director and team we had on board were a ton of fun to film with! I also had the opportunity to shoot with a friend I went to school with that is now based out of Shanghai.  Lin Yueh is a Cinematographer himself both 2D and 3D and has been doing some amazing projects in China over the time we've been out of school!...which has been quite some time now that I think about it..... Yueh and I worked together on a boxing short film set in the 1930's when we were in school together, another one of my most memorable projects. Yueh was kind enough to come out and assist me on this project and having him on board made the project that much more special. Thanks again for coming on board Yueh! Until the next one :)


Photo Credit: Tim Denin

Photo Credit: Tim Denin

Working with friends has to be one of the best perks of my job! Who cares about the free car washes, the unlimited food from gourmet chefs and the cool bowling alley Google has on campus!!! Working with good friends is way better than all of that :)

Photo Credit: Tim Denin l L to R Client, myself and Mike on location.

Photo Credit: Tim Denin l L to R Client, myself and Mike on location.

The past couple of days I've spent time down in Long Beach, CA working with COTU Media which was started by a good college buddy of mine Mike DeLano. Mike and I worked on productions in school together and have been shooting many projects together over the past few years from here in the States to China. Just over the past decade his company has grown to include companies such as Kelly Blue Book, Volkswagen, Mazda, Lexus, KUKA and the list goes on! Working with Mike and the team he has built over the years has been such a privilege! The one thing Mike does that's as impressive as his work is that he knows how to bring really good people together. I don't just mean talent wise, I mean truly good people!

So if you're lucky enough to find those teams out there that make you happy beyond the work itself, hold onto them because in an industry filled with ego, these people are gold!!! I consider his entire team at COTU great friends and hope I'm lucky enough to work with them for years to come :) 



A little about me :)

Hey Everybody! So I'm starting a blog!!! As if you don't already have enough crap in your life to fill the day with ;) Anyway, I've strategically timed this post to come out on the day that French Press Films released their podcast they did with me talking about how I got started in the film industry, what my thoughts are on being a filmmaker and my process as a cinematographer. This podcast will give you insight into what my background is and why I'm so messed up ;) So if you are at all interested in spending an hour with me or even ten minutes then click the link which will take you to the podcast. I had a great time hanging with Andrew and Roman over at French Press and if you take a listen maybe you will too :)

Steaks, Cakes and Cooks: Director of Photography Phil Briggs

photo credit: Chelsea Christer

photo credit: Chelsea Christer