04 June 2008

Burning Down the House...Almost!


As you’ll read in future editions of the Production Journal, making a documentary film does not necessarily just mean shooting interviews and sifting through archival materials. Every now and then, we get to do something a bit different! That was the case when, recently, we got together with director of photography Clay Westervelt for a special “shoot.”

Some back story on this. During a screening of our “rough cut” of the film a few months ago, Clay had made an interesting, and highly creative, suggestion. In Clay’s mind, the segment of the film recounting the fire at Pancho’s ranch (see 1-16-08 production journal) and its aftermath wasn’t dramatic enough. His suggestion? Shoot something that would evoke that terrible day, and give a sense of what was actually lost in the fire.

Sounds like a great idea. But just how do you do it — when you have no money to spend on building sets and doing a re-enactment? Simple, said Clay: burn some photos of Pancho and the Happy Bottom Riding Club, and shoot them with a video camera in slow motion!

Ahhh, the miracles of the modern world. We quickly made a bunch of photo dupes at the local Costco, bought a small welding torch at Home Depot, picked up some used picture frames at Goodwill, and proceeded to burn through a stack of 8x10s. For effect, we mounted some of the frames on a weathered picnic table turned on its side. With its bare wood surface, it looked just like the wall of the Happy Bottom Riding Club!

Oh, and did I mention, I brought a fire extinguisher, just in case? That turned out to be one of my slickest moves as producer, since during the shoot we did have a little, uh, incident. Thanks to some quick reflexes, the damage was limited… (Hey Clay, sorry about your picnic table!)

Clay’s shots were exactly what the doctor ordered — stunning, emotional images that get across the intensity of the fire on a visceral level. Plus, we had a lot of fun, and no one got hurt.

Want to see the results? Well stay tuned, they are featured in our film in a couple of places.

By the way, special thanks to Markus Lodewyk who helped with the shoot, and provided the photos.