99% of Filmmaking

99% of Filmmaking

Working Dogs came out in July, but I was just realizing I never wrote anything about it. I want to tell some of the funny, and amusing stories that contributed to the film getting made. Most of these stories relate to something one of my film school professors told me years ago: “When most people get into film making they initially assume its this very delicate, intellectual process. Turns out 99% of film making is just lugging really heavy shit around.”

The first shoot was in April 2010 and is what became the first 5 minutes of the film. It required flying to England for the first World Cup, taking a ferry to Belgium for the second World Cup, then heading back to the States. My flights were booked, hotel rooms and ferry reserved, but then that big volcano irrupted in Iceland. My flights were on Iceland Air through Reykjavik. Within two days of the trip, my flights were rebooked through Paris, then rebooked again through Belfast, Glasgow, and finally to Manchester after the ash cloud had blown farther south in Europe. I showed up to the airport with a duffle bag of clothes and a large camera backpack with all my gear. As a general rule, I try to carry on as much gear as possible, so I’m not screwed if my baggage gets lost. It also reduces the risk of things breaking in transport. I was bringing a larger camera than I usually travel with. I knew I’d be able to fit it in the massive overhead compartments on the international flight, but there was no way it would fit in the other two small planes once I got to Belfast. My only chance was to play dumb, and bank on cramming it into the first class coat closet. The other option was to pack the gear in a hard case and check it, which I wasn’t going to do because that would leave me without a backpack to lug the stuff around Europe. Banking on getting it in the coat closet was risky though, because if it didn’t work I would have to gate check a soft backpack full of very expensive, breakable gear. That scenario never works out well. I boarded the plane to Glasgow and the flight attendant immediately flagged me down and told me my bag was too big. I played so dumb, that it actually made me feel stupid. As expected, she took it from me and said, “it’s ok though, I’ll just put it in the coat closet.” Nailed it. The exact same thing happened on the flight to Manchester, but this time I was the one that suggested to put it in the coat closet. From Manchester, everything went smoothly, getting a train to Pickering, a bus to the Yorkshire Moors, then a cab to the race venue, just two hours before the pro men’s race started.

The second shoot for the film was a couple months later on Hornby Island, which is where Geoff Kabush first started mountain biking. It’s a pretty remote little island that you have to take three ferries to get to from Vancouver, BC. My friend, Adam Van Voorhis, and I were traveling from Boston to do the shoot. So it was a pretty involved trip. On top of that though, we were bringing more equipment for this shoot than I’d ever traveled anywhere with, let alone internationally. Any non-film gear geek can skip over this list: Sony EX-3 camera, P+S Technik Pro-35 lens adapter, set of Zeiss Superspeed lenses, PL lens doubler, Panasonic LH-900 monitor, O’Connor 1030 tripod, hi hat, Aerial Exposures gyro camera stabilizer, and plenty of other small accessories. The point being that it was all very large, heavy, and expensive stuff.

Adam and I got dropped off at the airport by our friends. We started checking in all of our luggage and gear. Everything was working out, until they put the gyro camera stabilizer on the scale. It was over 100 pounds, which is more than you are allowed to check on an airplane. We briefly panicked, until I thought to take one of the pieces out of the case and bring it as a carry on. Hopefully that would get the weight under 100 pounds. I took the gyro rig out of the case and checked the rest of the contents. Under 100 pounds! But I was left holding a giant black piece of metal that had four canisters bolted to it and a bunch of coiled cables dangling off of it. It wasn’t something most people would feel comfortable navigating their was through an airport with. I was dreading going through security because I figured as soon as that thing came out the other side of the x-ray machine, they would take me into a private room and interrogate me for hours. But in reality, it popped out the other side of the machine and the TSA guy said, “Oh, what is that? A bunch of gyroscopes?”

“Yes…”

Turns out the guy was really into boats, and apparently a lot of yachts have gyroscopes to keep them more steady in rough waters. He knew what he was dealing with right away, and after a quick chat he let us go.

On our way home from that trip we ran into some trouble in the Toronto airport. We connected through Toronto to get back to Boston, so Toronto was where we had to go through U.S. customs. I’d never had much luck with customs in the past, so I probably should have been better prepared than I was. In the lead up to this trip I was doing a lot of research as to how to deal with bringing all of this expensive equipment over boarders. To do it absolutely by the books, you needed to get a carnet, which is a legal document that inventories everything you have, and makes it so the customs officers can confirm you brought back exactly what you brought in. It’s purpose is basically to make sure you’re not importing stuff to sell illegally. But I also heard from a few friends that as long as you had a written inventory of what you have, you’re all good. Because carnets are expensive and a pain in the ass to get, I decided to go with the simple written inventory. It turned out that was the wrong decision. All of our gear was confiscated in Toronto, we missed our flight because we’d been in customs for hours, and all of the gear would be held at Logan airport until I could produce some very expensive paperwork from a customs lawyer.

This might be a good time to mention that all of the gear was borrowed from my full time employer at the time, which was a camera rental house. The only reason I was able to afford to use any of the equipment for the film was because one of the perks of working there was the free use of equipment that wasn’t booked by paying customers. So the fact that our return trip was delayed by a day, and the return of the equipment would be delayed several days was not something my boss would consider good news. I remember sitting at an airport bar in Toronto and calling my boss to fill him in on the situation, and his response was just, “Okay…” which meant it was not okay, but the knew there was nothing that could be done. I was lucky to have a very understanding boss. That was a good opportunity to turn to the bartender and say, “keep ‘em comin’”, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. But I didn’t.

The third shoot for the film was a couple months later at Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec. It was the venue for MTB World Championships that year. I learned my lesson about the carnet, so I got one this time. The problem was that I was taking my two friends, Adam and Jimmy Day, with me, but they were coming up a couple days after me. I learned upon reaching the boarder that, with a carnet, you’re supposed to have the exact inventory that matches the document with you. Two of the cameras were still in Boston and were coming up with Adam and Jimmy. So once again, I was in big trouble with customs, even when I thought I was doing everything right.

The fourth and final shoot for the film was over two years later. It was to shoot the dog sledding pieces of the film. I had originally planned to do this shoot that winter, but I had been pre-occupied by another project all fall called Behind The Barriers. So by the time January rolled around I tried to get a new carnet, coordinate with the dog sled company, and make the shoot happen, but it turned out I didn’t really have the cash to pull it off. I should probably mention that Working Dogs was completely funded by me. No Kickstarter, no bike industry sponsor, it was solely funded by money I saved up by choosing to live in a somewhat pauper-like fashion. The winter turned to spring, and I decided to postpone until the next winter. That next year was a bad winter for snow, so by the time the dog sled company had an opening, there wasn’t any snow left. So in January 2013, between weekends of shooting Behind The Barriers, my friend Sean English and I headed up to Quebec without a carnet, and all the gear hidden in the trunk of our rental car. We got over the boarder just fine, and crashed at a hotel near the mountain for an early morning shoot the next day. We had a very finite amount of time for our interview with the sled dog company owner, and to get sledding footage. They were running a business, after all, so we couldn’t occupy their whole day in the peak of the season. We had from 8 am until 11 am to do an interview, and go out and get all of the dog sledding shots we would need. It was going to be a tight 3 hours, no matter what, but the temperature being -5 degrees fahrenheit made it so our camera batteries were going dead in 5 minutes. Sean and I initially panicked, because we thought that once they were dead they were really dead. We would only have enough battery life to shoot for 25 minutes or so. Turned out the cold was playing tricks on the batteries. Once they warmed back up, they would last another five minutes in the cold. So as we were shooting the interview, we swapped batteries continuously and kept the extras down our snow pants to keep them warm. It ended up working out and we got everything we needed, but it was probably the most stressful shoot day of my life. Sean and I went to The 99 across the street from our hotel that night, and had steak tips and several cold frosty ones.

Be sure to check out the first 5 minutes of Working Dogs in the player above, and rent or purchase the film on the Vimeo page. Thanks for reading.

-Sam

 
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