Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ranch Camping Trip

It was a full moon this past weekend. I got a call from Andy. We had been talking about camping up at the ranch with the idea that we could just sleep in the back of our cars in leu of having any tents or other camping equipment which burned up in the fire. Originally, we had considered spending the night after the Ranch Reunion II party, but Andy found out that there was literally no moon that night and walking around would be virtually impossible without flashlights. So, we made a snap judgement to just pack what we could into our cars and head out there for the day to see what we could see and then maybe spend the night if we were feeling it.

Independently of that, I had been talking with Andy, Mangs, and Miller about shooting a ranch commercial or several for the upcoming reunion. Mainly for nostalgic reasons, but also to flex our creative muscles while CCCC is on hiatus. The plan was to go up to the ranch on Tuesday and to bring all of our filming equipment (minus lights since there's no power up there) and to come up with something on the spot.

When the camping idea came around, the thought was to kill two birds with one stone and just film during the day and camp at night. However, when we got up there, we became so caught up in whimsey, we spent most of the day hiking around and lounging at the river. We kicked some ideas around at the river, but nothing was sticking. We did decide that we wanted to peruse an attempt to get in bed with Funny Or Die by shooting and combining several sketches to showcase our style. But perhaps that was too long term a goal to take action on. Maybe that'll be the topic of another blog post.

Being motivated by guilt, as I often am, I decided as the sun was setting that I had to get something shot. It was looking less and less likely that we were going to meet up to shoot on Tuesday, and if I was going to waste my weekend playing at the ranch, I should walk away with something to show for it. All I wanted was a simple idea. Not comedic or touching or dramatic, just a chance to show the ranch as it is now. So much time passes up there with virtually nobody around that it has an almost tangible empty feeling. More than ever, you can actually feel what the valley must have been like long before there were any people or cities for miles in any direction. So what if you woke up one day in this place? You have no idea how you got there or what happened or how long ago. It just is what it is. There's nobody around, possibly for miles and the sun's setting.

Originally, I was planning on being the main character, and taking more of a personal spin on it: as I walk around the ranch now, with no one around, how do I feel, what are my thoughts? But the sun was going down, fast. We literally only had an hour at most to shoot everything before the sun went down behind the mountains and we would lose the golden look we were going for. So we made the snap judgement to have Mangs be the subject so I could be behind the camera to line up shots without having to run back and forth. And so we began shooting. Andy started by setting up a timelapse shot with his camera out in the valley to satisfy his own guilt, but shortly after he setup his cam in the valley, he came up the driveway to help us out. After describing the basic ideas of showcasing the ranch backgrounds, the calm and the quiet, the waking up and wandering around, we set to shoot what we could get.

We didn't allow ourselves more than two takes on any given setup. Even so we ran out of light about half way through, which can be seen in the cut since we essentially shot it chronologically. I used apple Color to shift the blue post-sunset shots to match the orange of the stuff shot before the sun went down. I also put in some artificial grain and a mild soft filter over the image to soften the harsh HD video look without losing the sharpness. We shot on my Canon 7D with a 50mm prime lens and a 10-24mm zoom for the wide shots. Because I had forgotten my ND filter at home we had to shoot at a high shutter speed to keep the shallow depth of field.

The sound was created by combining many different types of wind sounds with a little bit of the production audio for Matt's footsteps etc. There's such an empty calming sound up there when everything is silent and I wanted to try to recreate that. The music went through many different iterations before settling on a sparse Tosca piano score. At the beginning I wanted to feel like this was a dream and that there would be some sort of ethereal build to the score that would eventually take over the sound in an overwhelming fashion. But I decided that that approach was too overt and I wanted to complement the sound design rather than contradict it. It took a full day to get it through post including finding a compression rate that yielded a good image without taking up much more than 100mb of space. Ultimately, the compression blurred more of the film grain than I wanted, but that was the compromise for a small size video.

The more we shot, the more ideas for different shots came up. If nothing else, we really started to wrap our heads around what could be shot up there and I think we left with a great desire to go back and shoot more. There is some sort of a phobia I have had for the past two years that I am only now starting to identify and understand. I was afraid to go up there. I certainly didn't want other people to go up there either. It's a dangerous place if you're not careful. But it's been sitting there for two years now and it's not getting any use. Don't get me wrong, I can't afford to do anything substantial with the place. There's nothing to connect power to, there's no water system up there anymore, and I'm not really able to build anything up there. But this camping trip with Andy and Mangs really took down some mental barriers about the viability of the ranch. It's beautiful up there, and now that the public areas are opened up once again, there's a lot of people making use of that beauty.

So anyway, I'm thinking about new ways of using the ranch to make assets of what I have and not to consider it a burdon or blemish. So stay posted. Who knows, there may be another ranch party in your future...