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!)...it 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!