Tuesday, July 28, 2009

PGS DVD Production: Day One (Part 1)

On Sunday, we traveled about 70 miles Northeast of Los Angeles to El Mirage Dry Lake near Victorville, CA, for the first day of production of the PGS DVD project. I say "we" as our expedition force included a gorgeous model, a crew of four, and myself.

It was hot. Brutally hot. The closer we came to our destination, the higher the temperatures climbed.

For the last 5 or 6 miles of our trek we were on a dirt road. Actually, to call all of what we were driving on a "road" is a slight exaggeration. Some of it was more akin to off-roading. No problem. I was behind the wheel of my Toyota 4Runner. My son-in-law, Kyle, was driving a Toyota Tacoma pick-up. My pal Rick, a photographer who would "play" the photographer in the commercial spot we were also producing, was driving his restored, '67 Chevy pick-up. All the vehicles in our 3-vehicle caravan were suitable for the terrain.

Naturally, I had Dalia, our sexy, gorgeous, model, riding with me.

That's how I roll.

We arrived at our destination, Calloway's Ranch, about 10:30 AM. Immediately, we set up our base camp: A 10' x 10' pop-up canopy, table, chairs, two, large, ice-and-drinks-filled coolers, and a whole bunch of photo, video, grip, and lighting gear.

Did I mention how freakin' hot it was?

Well, it was.


Boil-your-brain hot.

There were also sporadic wind gusts, sometimes reaching (I'm guessing) 20 or 30 MPH, plus plenty of dirt devils reaching a hundred feet or more into the air and kicking up plenty of sand and dust. (I'm still cleaning my gear.)

George Calloway, who was our host for the day, is a friend of Rick's. His ranch is adjacent to the dry lake with its own entrance to it. The Calloway ranch is part ranch and part scrap yard. Actually, mostly scrap yard. There's plenty of interesting old relics scattered about: Mostly junked military gear and all kinds of bizarre, scrapped vehicles and other hardware from days gone by. Rangers control who does and doesn't get onto the dry lake bed. But they don't control it from Calloway's side of the dry lake bed. I had offered some cash to Mr. Calloway for allowing us to use his property as a location but, instead, all he wanted was a 30-pack of "Natural Light" beer. Ya gotta love that, right?

Our day's work had three objectives: Shoot content for an Innovatronix commercial spot, shoot content for the PGS DVD, survive the heat and have a fun time doing it.

I decided to shoot the driving footage for the commercial spot first. This meant going out on the dry lake bed with two vehicles: One would carry the "actors" and the other would be a camera car. Shooting the driving stuff included using a Delkin Fat Gecko camera mount on the vehicle that Rick, playing the photographer, would be driving with Dalia, playing the model, riding shot-gun.

I wasn't sure of the Fat Gecko's reliability--it was my first time using it--so, instead of risking my expensive Sony Z1U HD video cam, suction-cupped to a speeding truck on the desert floor, I decided to use another, older, smaller, cheaper, 3-chip mini-DV camera I have: A Sony DCR-TRV900. In the end, I could have used the Z-cam. The Fat Gecko performed like a champ and I was able to get some really cool footage with the video camera mounted, for various shots, on the hood and the sides of the truck Rick was driving, quite fast, on the lake bed. I also shot, with both vehicles moving, from the back of my 4Runner with the Z-cam mounted on sticks and a fluid head and set on a rack attached to my truck's tow-hitch, as well as lots of drive-by stuff with the camera stationary on the dry lake bed, again on sticks.

After shooting the driving sequences, we headed back to base camp and set up for the first round of shooting for the DVD. The BTS shot, above, is from that set up.

What I did, with Rick shooting, was demonstrate three different ways to light a model in an environment like the one we were shooting in. It was mid-day, with the sun overhead, when we shot these sets. BTW, I had Rick doing most of the photo-shooting for the video while I abused mentored him and our two, intrepid, video-cam operators, Kyle and Patrick, recorded the model, the lighting set-ups, Rick shooting (and profusely sweating in the hot sun) with me barking orders making suggestions to Rick, as well as commentary to the cameras... while I was sitting in a comfy folding chair, sipping ice cold beverages with a beach umbrella shading me from the broiling sun.

That's also how I roll.

First, we lit up Dalia naturally, using a flex-fill reflector and knocking down some of the sun with a medium (42" x 72") Scrim Jim. Next, we lit her with one-light, using a Buff/Zeus pack-n-head, modified with a medium softbox, overpowering the daylight ambient. Finally, we added a ring light into the mix, on-axis, for some gentle fill while still using the modified head for a main light. Each set-up yielded a distinctively different lighting-look to the images.

The Zeus pack, powering the head and the ring light, was efficiently powered by Innovatronix's ExplorerXT portable power system. (As seen in the image above.) BTW, that's Lewis, my partner in the DVD, holding the soft box & stand and preventing it from blowing over--even with the two 25lb. sand bags anchoring it--during the frequent wind gusts.

Well, that's all I have time to write at the moment. I'll continue writing up my account of our day at El Mirage in the next day or two, including our encounter with law enforcement while our model, Dalia, was posing, uhh... in all her glorious nakedness. Here's a shot of beautiful Dalia below. I snapped it out on the dry lake bed later in the day, sunlight only, with Canon 5D, Canon 17-40 L @ 40mm, ISO 100, f/8 @ 125th.


Ed Araquel said...

Wow! Sounds like a great location Jimmy...a scrapyard filled with military junk AND a dry desert lake bed? My mind is reeling! :)

Anonymous said...

Wow I bet it must have been a "you have to be there" moment all day! I mean you got to shoot and doing video in a super cool location, , with super cool props, with super cool models!! although also with super mad heat :P

The photos are beautiful specially the last one! it is a magnificent photo really, oh my god! I can´t wait for the DVD to be out!!!

My best wishes Jimmy!


Ariston Collander said...

Looks like that DVD is going to be a Must Buy with all the work you're putting into it. Can't wait to see more of the results!

jimmyd said...

@Ariston Collander,

I'm trying to put some production value into it. The day at El Mirage will, most likely, only be about ten minutes of the finished program. Its not gonna simply be a dog-n-pony show in a studio, tho there will be some of that as well. I see it as a sort of hybrid between informational & instructional programming, documentary, and realityTV. We'll be shooting two more full production days plus a bunch of other stuff--interviews, etc--to round out the DVD. Leastwise, that's the plan.

Stephen Cupp said...

Do you have any idea where the DVD is going land cost wise?

Also is there going to be a Blu-Ray version?

jimmyd said...

@Stephen Cupp,

Probly in and around $20 retail. Doubtful for the blu ray.

EleganceAndChaos said...

How are you finding the Zeus system in terms of weigh and portability? I am told that that Speedtrons are build and weigh like a tank. I am curious about the Zeus system.

jimmyd said...


The Zeus gear is quite light-weight and very portable.

Anonymous said...

I have to expect your DVD to be about double that price. Even with sponsor support, the relatively small market will limit the amount of units to be sold. I think if the content is there, no one would balk at that price as well.