Archive for category Filming

Donnie and Amanda take a road trip…

July 1 starts the new fiscal year for the Oklahoma Film Commission rebate program.

That means, if you are an actor, July in Oklahoma means that there are lots of opportunities to get acting gigs.

So, Don and I start submitting. We knew that we had submitted for a gig for Wednesday. Tuesday I head off to my day job, planning on checking messages on my lunch break and again after work.

When I looked at my phone at 4:30ish, I had a ton of messages.

The casting office had texted us at 12:56pm that we had been cast for the gig. They were sending an email. You had to confirm the email by 2pm.

Yep – that was a whole whopping 64 minute window there.

Don had his phone with him the whole time, and got the text in time. But, the email never came through. And you needed to confirm via EMAIL and he never got it.

I went to my lunch break and contacted them back saying that we were available, and was the slot still open? (Yes, I know it was way later than the 2pm deadline, but I wanted to try.) At that point – (by now it’s after 5pm), we learned that the location was way, way, way further away than we knew.

Don still hadn’t gotten that first email. I contacted them after 5. We both figured that we can kiss this gig goodbye.

At 6:36, we got the confirmation text. We got the job!

Yeah!

We knew we had a massively long drive to get there. We can do it. But I am scared of an early call time, and I have done NOTHING to prepare. Haven’t checked over the car, haven’t gotten cash for the day, haven’t prepared snacks/water/drinks/emergency supplies, haven’t prepared wardrobe, etc.

After we are confirmed on the job, we get an email with instructions. It is all basic stuff, bring three outfits (they told the location of the film’s setting and what type of attire is desirable), no cameras on set, don’t approach the main actors, behave on set, etc. Just basic stuff. And luckily for us, the call time is 2:30pm.

Whew!

Wednesday we have a time set when we are going to leave. Each of us has wardrobe, emergency supplies, and we each brought snacks/beverages. 99% of the time, production provides water &/or food. But having been stranded on a gig once, without basic supplies, I will do everything in my power to not go through that again.

We stop for lunch along this (very, very) long drive. At least we are fueled up  – food-wise I mean. The weather is gorgeous. We have had days earlier this month with massive heat already, but lucky for us, a cool front on Monday took the temperature down by about 20* (F).

Since I couldn’t take pics on set, and I can’t share details, here is my one photograph:

We saw a whole lotta highway on the way to this gig! LOL

We got there early. We found a circle of folding chairs under shade trees. We asked if this was where we were supposed to be?

It turned out to be the best afternoon. Everyone on this production treated everyone with dignity and respect. That goes such a long way towards making an acting job be a good experience. At first they said they might get a trailer for us. But the weather was so nice, and it was pleasant, and our green room was a nice afternoon spent under shade trees. The on camera location was close by. They had great craft services. The business next door opened their restroom to the production. Our basic needs were taken care of.

The best part was the other actors that day. We met some great people. It was fun to hang out and share stories (both acting and non-acting stories). We exchanged contact info. It is great to meet like-minded people who do what we do.

We all laughed – a lot!

For privacy reasons, and to comply with our instructions, I won’t reveal any specific details about the gig. We were released a lot earlier than I thought we would be. It would have been fine if we had had to work late. I was expecting to get home about 4 am. Getting home any time before that would have been nice, and we got home well before that time.

That being said, I was still pretty tired. Don drove all the way there, and most of the way back. (Thank you!)

I hope everyone out there is doing great – and I send you all best wishes as you are out there, too, in pursuit of your dreams!

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Movie credits

Do you read movie credits?

I have always read movie credits? I kinda baffles me when you are in the theater, and as soon as the credits start to roll, people stand up to leave.

Back in the olden days…when we had the gentle sloping movie theater floors….I’d have to stand up at that point, just to see the credits. Thank goodness for stadium seating – where I can now sit down to read the credits. But I got in the habit of staying thru till the bitter end…because they put the music credits at the end, and I’d want to see who sang what song.

Then, it became a measure of respect…it takes tons of people to make a movie. If something was on the screen for two seconds, well….that may have taken eight hours to film. People work hard to make movies, even if that amount of time is not proportionally represented on screen.

So, I read names…names that I have never heard before and will never hear again.

Then THIS happens:

A movie that I worked on years ago came on late night cable. I have not yet had the opportunity to see it.

I watched it to see if I got edited in. Boom! I did. Twice – not that you can tell it’s me.

Then you watch the credits. As an actor,  I have made several movies for other people. I have yet to be included in the credits….

Until now! That’s me!

Seventh name down on the list.

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15, 496 and One!

When we were filming the cattle drive movie last September, Don pitched the idea that we should travel Highway 81 in Oklahoma, and film the historical Chisholm Trail sites.

Sounds great!

It only took me a year to be able to execute that. We finalized the movie a couple of weeks ago. Obviously, the “historic sites” video isn’t in that.

But there are so many other video projects we want to do about the Chisholm Trail, and maybe a week ago, we started talking about this trip.

We set a day that worked for both of our schedules: Monday. Sounds great.

“What’s the plan?” Don texted me. I said, “Leave at 9.”

Our plan all along was to make it to Okarche, which happens to have the best fried chicken in Oklahoma, and have lunch. Sounds fun. Drive around some, film, laugh, enjoy the day, take photographs, have lunch.

At 9, Don and I climb in the car and head out. The first thing I wanted to find was when we were out on the trail, I remembered a little metal sign, hanging from a post. Well, we drove around and around and never did find it. Was it actually there? Or did I dream it?

And off we go…down the old Chisholm Trail. Places that are on the trail, have signs telling you the location of the trail, such as this.

That’s helpful. You know you are in the right location. There are several historical markers across the state. We plan to film a few of the historic sites, to use in a future video.

Now, keep in mind…our plan was to eat the best fried chicken in Oklahoma for lunch. So, I had a light breakfast, about 6am. I was hungry. After awhile, Don asks, “How far are we going to go?”

I said that I didn’t have a plan. I had planned to drive around and find some historical markers to film, and we’d eat lunch. But…if we got to such-and-such place, we could do this. If we got to such-and-such town, I wanted to visit a cemetery where I have family buried.

Don said, “Are we going to go all the way to the river?”

And we kinda looked at each other and said, “Why the hell not?”

And I am hungry and we are nowhere close to the best fried chicken in the state of Oklahoma. Don suggested we get a bite to eat on the way, and we’d have our chicken for supper on the way back up the trail.

Okayyyyy….

And away we flew…down the trail, stopping to film things along the way, knowing there were some places we’d stop to film on the way back.

You know what? Oklahoma is a big state!

I started off driving. I had pulled a file off the internet, and when printed, it came to 9 pages. I got the highlighter and highlighted town names, (which were not in any kind of geographic order.) There was an atlas in the car.

I had figured we’d drive and we’d see those brown signs above, then we’d know where to stop.

Yeah, um, not so much. Don read the instructions, then translated them, and  tried to figure out locations.  At one point he was coordinating the printout, the map, a map we got from a museum, and his phone, trying to pinpoint the location of the Chisholm Trail. He took a lot of notes, about where we’d been, what we had filmed, and what was still to filmed.

As he said, this would have gone a lot better with better research and planning.

Planning? What planning? I had no idea we were going to go south of I-40! LOL

We found some amazing sites. History is mind-blowing!

A man named Bob Klemme engineered a project to place these markers across Oklahoma on the Chisholm Trail.

One of the most amazing sites was east of Addington.

This obelisk sits on a hill that served as a lookout on the Chisholm Trail.

If you make it that far, you gotta cross the Red River into Texas! I rolled down the window to breathe some Texas air, and we started back north. By this point, you gotta calculate the miles of where you are, where you need to go next, and how much daylight you have left.

Needless to say, we didn’t get to film everything. But it was fun.

As the sun set, the next worry becomes…what time does the fried chicken place close?

I called them. They close at 10.

At long last, after a FULL day, where we hadn’t planned enough, hadn’t researched enough, and didn’t know enough, we got to the restaurant that serves the best fried chicken in Oklahoma. Eischen’s Bar!

Woo hoo!

There are eight items on the menu. A whole fried chicken is at the top of the list.

The waiter asked what we wanted. I said chicken. Don said okra.

When the food came, we were happy, happy people! (We’d only been waiting All Day to get to some fried chicken!) (We’d only been crawling in and out of the car, in the near 100* heat and lugging cameras around All Day to film a project that we didn’t plan for nearly well enough.)

Don’s phone logged our locations and the trip.

On rest of the way home, driving in the darkness along the old Chisholm Trail, we put some western swing in the CD player, and sang along under the night sky.

FIFTEEN hours!

Four hundred ninety-six miles.

And ONE WHOLE fried chicken later…we got back to the place where we started.

You’d think that would be enough! I mean, geez…come on! 496 miles. Only a glutton for punishment would do that, right?

So, what happens next?

Um…gulp! Kansas!

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It’s done!

We have a completed movie!

It still doesn’t feel real. This movie has been in works for close to a year. That’s almost one year of this project…a project which is so big, it seems like a mountain that is so high that you can’t climb it.

One year of a project so insurmountable, that you can’t even think how to approach it. To work through this, I had to break it into segments, then break that into segments, then break that into segments. Then figure out each segment. Then put it all together. And *hope* that there is something there that people will connect with.

Did we accomplish it?

I have no idea.

I *hope so*!!!

Not only do we have a completed movie, we made it in time to enter the Sundance Film Festival this year. As of today, we have that entry submitted.

None of this feels real yet. Maybe six weeks ago, I had this moment of disheartened anguish that we were not going to have a Sundance submission this year. This Cattle Drive movie is unique. This is our best opportunity to say to the world, “Hey…we make movies!” or “We are artists!” or…”Let us entertain you!”

So, the thought of things being delayed, even further, just sank me to a new low.

Then whammo! It all starts to come together. When those puzzle pieces started falling into place, they fell into place. And made a pretty doggone good movie!

There is still a lot of work on this project to be done (need to build our short film for children, need to build a trailer, press kit, incorporate subtitles in the big movie, build a movie poster, work some smaller youtube videos utilizing some of the other footage.)

My biggest problem with this project – once the movie was actually done, is to figure out the DVD encoding, processing and compression.

Ick!

Why can’t there be a road map for these problems?

I *should* take a moment or two, and savor the “Look what we’ve done so far!” moment. But that moment hasn’t hit yet.

Maybe soon…

In the meantime…imagine your best Don LaFontaine voice:

“Chisholm Trail – Past and Present…..coming soon, to a film festival screening near you!”

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The end is in sight!

Have you ever put a puzzle together? And I don’t mean one of those easy ones with the picture on the box.

What’s the biggest puzzle you have put together – when you don’t know what the finished project will look like?

The editing on the Chisholm Trail movie is almost done!

Whew!

Woo hoo!

(Sigh of exhaustion).

We didn’t have a script. We didn’t a preset story in mind. We went out to film this, completely blind as to what the finished movie would be.

(See the September 2017 archives for blog entries about the Cattle drive and the filming.)

This is a documentary. We tried to tell a story. Did we capture the story of the 2017 Chisholm Trail Cattle Drive?

When you see the movie, you can answer that question!

Editing a movie isn’t easy.

Let me say that again:

EDITING A MOVIE ISN’T EASY!?!?!?!?!!?!

That statement is not intended to be a complaint. But it is a statement of fact. I keep using the line, “If we were in Hollywood, there would be sixty people doing what we are doing.” In our filmmaking endeavors – we have two.

My partner Don and I work well together. We each have our strengths and they dovetail together.

I have to build the structure of the project. But once there is something there to work with, Don can come in and edit it/work it/tear it apart/make it better….and still have enough energy to make me a cheesecake!

…from scratch!

See…I TOLD you we work well together!! LOL

Once we were properly snacked up, fed, fueled up and ready to go…we dove in.

It took a lot of steps to get to this point. And I am not talking about the filming. This is “after” the filming is done, and we have the movie footage “in the can”.

Then what?

Log the footage. View the footage. Evaluate the footage. Make notations.

Then THINK. Think of what this will be. Think of what to do and what not to do. Sometimes the decisions you make about what not to do, are more important than what you actually include.

Develop an intro that will “grab” the audience.

Find *something* that will touch the human. What tells the story? What makes you care? What makes you want to know more about a cattle drive?

Plan your video shots that tell the story.

You don’t just put a bunch of video clips together and then be done.

Plan, build and create your audio track. This was the big job on this movie. A cattle drive happens outdoors – in the wind and bugs and weather (and the cars, humans, dogs, lawnmowers, planes, drones, trains). We knew that a lot of the on-site audio would be questionable.

Plan your music fills. I have a recording studio, so I worked that and built the smaller music myself.

Write the voice over track. Record the voice over track. Import that into the footage and sync it to the video.

So, let’s say that you’ve done all that. Let’s say that you have put months and months of your life into this project.

Let’s say that at some random point….say today’s random point…you know that you are close to showing this project (which you have carried so close to your heart), to the world.

You have to face the reality: what if the world doesn’t like it? What if I didn’t do my job? What if we didn’t tell the story? What if the audience doesn’t care?

You have to get up your gumption and your courage.

Being an artist is about putting yourself out there. It is standing on your feet and making a declaration: Hello, world! I am a filmmaker and I have something to say!

 

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No vocal booth? Um…no problem

One of our voice over artists has attempted to record the voice over (VO) on his own – with his existing equipment. The quality of his performance was great! But the quality of the audio was lacking.

The solution is to record him with actual audio editing software, so that I could engineer the session, and try to record the best original source material at a clean audio.

We met at a hotel this week, and I had all my equipment with me. (It felt like I had more electronics in the car – than I had left at home! Ha)

Now…the problems: an unknown environment. This hotel has a heating/air conditioning system that has a continuous fan. You can turn the actual air conditioner off, but you still have a background noise. Who knows what kind of interference you might get from any electrical appliances?

And you have walls and objects that are going to bounce sound.

At first I set up a location for him to sit on a chair and talk into pillows. Nope. That ain’t gonna work.

There was a recessed area next to the cabinet where the television sat. I got a hotel blanket and we created a makeshift vocal booth. We positioned a chair very close to the blanket, so that he was facing a blanket and *hopefully* that is going to absorb sound bounce/block the fan of the air conditioner.

Make shift vocal booth

Then it took a whole lot of monkeying with the audio software to find the best settings. That just takes time. There is no way around it. Do an audio test. Adjust. Test again. Adjust.

Finally we arrive at  what…(I hope) is a good setting. Again, with audio engineering, there is no “one best way”. You make your best guestimate, and you dive in.

Voice over artist Tommy Ball.

When you engineer a session like this…it takes all your concentration. It takes all your focus. So rather than me running the alternate lines, we had a volunteer who, ever so kindly, offered to help (ie–she said she was leaving the hotel room for us to work and I am going…NOOOOO! You have to stay and read lines!)

Karen Ball feeds lines during the recording.

Her lines will not be used in the final recording. But it is critical to have someone help out in this way…to give your voice over artist something to play off of. You get a rhythm in your dialog, and having those lines spoken aloud really helps.

Bless him…Tommy Ball read take after take after take after take.

He put so much effort into this: first of all–being willing to take the gig in the first place. Then you learn your lines. Then you craft a ‘performance’ of how to sell your character. Then, you attempt to record your work in your own home on your own equipment. Whew!

Mind you – the other voice actor recorded his lines in my studio some weeks back. It’s not like the two voice actors were in the same room – working at the same time, and playing off of each other’s character.

No, it is that much harder – to work solo, to have no idea what the other actor is doing, and still “pull off” the performance.

What is the measure of a good performance?

Well, at our previous session – with different actors, we were outdoors, and the person who is on cam and on mike was so amazing. I glanced behind me, and one man had his hand over his mouth and his eyes were bulging out, trying to stifle laughter while we were recording.

This time?? Tommy “sold” that character soooo well, I had to clap my hand over my mouth to hold back the laughter, and hope like heck that I hadn’t made any noise that would ruin the take!

We have had so many volunteers, giving freely of their time and effort and energy – to help a movie get made.

But things are progressing.

“Head ’em up…move ’em out!”

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It takes an artist…

I was speaking with one of the cattle drive organizers this week. In the course of the conversation about building our footage into a movie, she said, “It takes an artist…”   …to do this. To build the movie. To tell the story. To connect to an audience.

Building this movie is not about stringing a series of video clips together.

Building this movie is about finding that “hook”. What will “hook” a viewer? What will “grab” an audience and make them want to stay along for this journey?

What story do you tell? How do you start? How do you end? What happens in between?

What do you include? What do you discard?

Building this movie is a process that is the complete opposite of any of my other normal work patterns. If I write a mystery, then I know all along what the end will be. If I take an original song and go into the recording studio to build a complete full instrumentation final track, then I have a pretty good idea what I am aiming for. If I am rehearsing a piano performance or a vocal performance, then I have an end result that I already know. The work involved is about getting it “up to snuff” so that the end result is what I want it to be.

On this project…we went in with no expectations. The story evolved as the cattle drive evolved. We were not shooting “to” any particular script.

It is only now…now that the cattle drive is over, that we can start to contemplate what the movie might be once it is done.

And for me…this is so contrary to my normal process, it feels like I am blind. The vastness of the unknown tends to overwhelm.

How do you take this footage that was shot – and build it into a piece of art?

Have you ever watched a movie, and for the entire movie, You Just Don’t Get It? You sit there and kinda stare with a puzzled look on your face, and when it is over, you can go, “I don’t know what happened?” or…”What were they thinking?”

I don’t want that to happen here.

Right now, I am still going over the footage.

On Wednesday, I had a couple of (tiny) ideas about where to take this project and where to go.

We are working with the possibility of using this footage to build three movies. Each will be different. Finally on that Wednesday, I gleaned an idea of how to start Movie #1.

It was about finding that perfect shot. This shot was filmed to the east against a morning sunrise. A cattle drive participant is in the foreground, in silhouette. I have been playing with a guitar line in my head for weeks now. But when I saw that shot, my head automatically played that guitar line.

Then you drop the video of that shot off into a complete fade out to black. Then grab another shot. Hold it for the same amount of time, then do the same fade out. Then a group shot, again in silhouette. Fade to black. Finally, and by complete accident, I have a shot once the sun is up, and it made a beautiful lens flair. The sun is on the horizon. The air is golden, and there is this perfect lens flair. One of the wagon drivers is in the foreground, holding the reigns of two horses, which are not yet hitched to the wagon. I didn’t plan that shot. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

On each shot, you have this same plantive guitar line.

Then boom!

The movie takes off.

If I am going to start it its way, then I will take movie #2 and start it completely different. That is still up in the air, but I thought up how to end movie #2.

Movie #3 will be built to educate and entertain young children – say ages eight and under. We know we can’t keep and hold their attention for long, so this movie will be very short in duration. But we have a great premise, and once we came up with that idea, which was about midpoint through the cattle drive, then we started to look for opportunities to film to that.

On Wednesday, when these ideas are starting to percolate around in my head, I wrote a good bit of the dialog for this children’s movie.

Speaking of how these shots came out (such as the lens flair sunrise shot above)…what is the status of the footage so far?

Well, what blows me away is – of the stuff I shot for the first week – what I thought was good…was probably 90% crap. I knew I was “shaky” on days 1 and 2. I don’t mean shaky camera footage, but I knew that mentally I was not dialed in. On that Wednesday, it felt like I finally “got it”. Out there in the field, it felt like I was finally “on”.

When I looked at that footage. Wow. Not good.

Therefore – what I thought was good – was not.

What has surprised me about the footage? Well…it was when I thought I only had “average” shots and things were rather on the boring side – those are the moments that are leaping up at me, in post production.

In this editing process, what are some of the problems? Well, for starters, I do not possess the face recognition gene. They call it face blindness.

I knew perhaps five of the cattle drive participants before the drive. For the rest, I met them out on the trail. And my head is already full of all the movie details, cinematography, heat exhaustion, sleep deprivation, etc. Under normal circumstances, I can meet someone. When I see them the next time, I am probably not going to recognize them.

On this cattle drive, the problem was amplified. I know that on day twelve, I said to one of the drovers, “I don’t think I have met you yet.”

When I look at the footage…well…now… he and I had a nice conversation on day three!

To all of the drovers, I apologize.

Now that we are editing…it’s the same problem. I am having to vidcap (capture one frame of a video) a still image and email it to find out who is who.

This has become a major problem that I did not foresee.

What else happened out there? On a few occasions, people might take it upon themselves to saddle their horse and ride along. If we filmed this, then we need to be aware of who is who and not edit that person in the movie.

Yes, it’s fun to go out and cowboy. If someone had a horse in a parade, and if that person rode along behind the drive…then …I can maybe comprehend that.
But when people rode their own horses, uninvited, onto private property, and inserted themselves, unauthorized and without permission, into the process…then that offends me.

Another issue: audio.

Yes. I have talked about audio issues for months now. When we were out there, and if the wind was blowing, then I had a “level” of gain at which I would set the microphone.

It turns out that that level worked. We cut the wind noise. But the audio signal was pretty doggone low. I hate it that it is so low. I will have to look at ways to “boost” that audio signal, and then reintroduce that audio line back into the video software. I haven’t worked this problem yet, but I probably don’t have the software nor technology here to do so.

As with everything else in the field of moviemaking, video editing, and audio production…it is all about trial and error. There is no one way to work. There is no one way to do this. There is no one process. There is no one answer.

And to continue along that line…there is no “one” movie. You can take the material we have, and material yet to be acquired (music production, external interviews) and use that data to make a movie. Or a million movies. The choices of possibilities are endless. The permutations are endless.

There is no right. There is no wrong. What you can do…hopefully…is find a way to…tell a story. To connect to a viewer. To capture an audience.

To entertain…

It takes an artist!

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What happens next?

The cattle drive is over.

The active filming is “in the can”.

I took (and desperately needed) some down time. (And in truth, I am still not bounced back from that level of fatigue. Wow – that shoot was intense!)

Now comes the really hard part: post production.

If you are a big studio – with funded financial backing, then you have a full staff to execute post production. What happens when you are a tiny, independent film company?

Answer: You do ALL the work yourselves.

So, we log the footage.

We make notes. We see what is viable and what is not – both from a video standpoint and an audio standpoint.

We went into the project without preconceived notions. We did not have a script. We did not have a storyboard. If we had done that, then we would have been shooting “to” a particular story. In this case, we wanted every option to be open. This is a documentary approach to filmmaking. We didn’t want to “affect” the story. We wanted to “capture” the story – as it was happening.

We could have gone in and asked the participants…do this, do that, make this happen, go over here and do that. Instead, we tried to create the least amount of influence as possible. Yes, I did ask participants to do something for the camera. But it was usually something they had just done – of their own accord, and if there was time and if it was convenient, I might ask them to do it again. Usually, if I made that suggestion, it was something that someone said, but I’d say, “Come over here and say that for the camera!”

After we log the footage, then we need to create whatever external audio that we need. We knew, going in, that audio would be our biggest problem. Shooting outdoors, without an external sound crew, without any control over the production, was our biggest challenge. When your “live” audio is not viable, you need other things to lay over the video track.

We can do external interviews with participants (in a controlled environment). We can do narration. We will record music. In that instance, we will either use old time cowboy songs – that are in the public domain, or we will compose and record new songs – that sound old, but would be created just for this production.

Our plan – at least thus far – is to create at least two different movies. We want to create a documentary for the cattle drive participants. They can show it to their families and friends. They can use it as a teaching tool at schools and civic organizations. It is important to remember history and how things used to be. The 2017 Chisholm Trail Cattle Drive is both an illustration of history, as well as a modern event. Both of those aspects will be covered in the documentary.

But, as filmmakers, we intend to create a second movie with a much more artistic approach. This will be for our film company, to enter at film festivals. After all – how many other cattle drive movies are going to be out on the circuit in 2018? Um…I’d guess, not many?

What happens next?

Work. Work. More work. And…then some work. Post production isn’t for the faint of heart. Ah, heck. Expand on that. Moviemaking isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of guts and grit and determination to go do this. We do this because we love it.

Moviemaking does not have to be about: making non-union talent work 20 hours, giving them 5 hours to sleep, and then making them work 20 hours again. It doesn’t have to be about servicing grown adults and their overblown egos. It’s not about treating the latest wunderkind movie star with kid gloves so that you make back your $250,000,000 investment.

No…for us, it is about getting that camera and using that piece of equipment to tell a story. It’s about the satisfaction of arriving at a location, knowing that you have a very limited time to evaluate and set up, making the best plan you can, splitting up, going to your location with your camera, and doing your best to get the shot.

Then after the moment has passed, and after the cattle drive has moved on, you meet up with your partner again, and one of you asks the other, “Did you get the shot?” There is a tremendous satisfaction in hearing the words (regardless of who said them,) “Yes, I got the shot!”

As my partner Don said, “Anybody can make a bad movie with a big budget.”

In the case of a big Hollywood production, you have staff. Each person has their own duties. The director carries the load on his or her shoulders. The producers are responsible for making the production happen. But when you have staff – a significant portion of the work load is divided.

But then Don continued, “It takes somebody with talent to make a good movie with no budget.”

Time to dive in!

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The finish line

The cattle drive arrives in Wichita!

And that’s all she wrote!

The 2017 Chisholm Trail Cattle Drive was a huge success!

We loved being a part of this experience. As filmmakers, we tried to stay back and not influence the actions of the participants. We tried to capture the legitimate experience on camera.

The drovers embraced us. They treated us as “one of the family”. I think that – for all of us – this experience is one that enhances and enriches one’s life, in ways that cannot be imagined.

I know that I, personally,  have been affected by this cattle drive in profound ways. I have made friendships. I didn’t expect that. As one drover said, “When you make a friend out here, you’ve made a friend for life.”

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Things I learned:

  1. When you just know you have the perfect shot – don’t gloat or pat your own back or congratulate yourself too soon. Someone will come up and ruin your shot.
  2. People really, really like horses and cattle and cowboys and wagons.  Hollywood may have determined that it is not worth the investment to make a western movie, anymore. I will tell you this: Hollywood is wrong. There is a HUGE market for people who like westerns.
  3. The tops of your ears can get sunburned! The first week, I wore my cowboy hat(s), which cover a lot more area. Therefore your ears are fine! This second week, the wind was up a lot more. I could not keep my cowboy hats on. I switched to a white ball cap – which I could scrunch down on my head. (Even at that – it still blew off more times than I could count.) And how many times did complete strangers go run after my hat? More times than I can count! Lesson learned: people have a lot more courtesy about chasing your hat – than about coming to stand in your shot/driving into your shot/talking during your shot.
  4. My movie partner, Don, carried me through this movie. I always knew he was an amazing actor. In that configuration – he is in front of the camera, and I am behind it. That works. But when we agreed to take on this project – it is two of us behind the camera(s). His innate talent at cinematography blew me away. The thing is – he does it automatically. He makes all these decisions and computations fast. And he gets the shot. (And when I have the occasional artistic complete and total meltdown – he has been the strong and stable one who carries me through it.)
  5. Filming this movie was four times more intense than I had anticipated.
  6. Fatigue has kicked my ass. It started in Oklahoma and it kicked it all the way to Wichita!
  7. If you have a low wind day (which is a miracle) someone will fly a drone and ruin your audio!
  8. If you ask a drover what they most liked about the cattle drive – the most common answer you’d get is: “I get to ride my horse!”

What is my takeaway from the experience?

For starters – how did the pioneers do this? How did the drovers on the Chisholm Trail do this?

How did they forge their way into territory with only their horse or only their horses and wagons? In the olden days, there were no grocery stores, nor convenience stores, nor motels, nor feed stores.

What gave a person enough courage to hitch up a wagon and travel to the great unknown?

If I want to go somewhere, I hop in a vehicle, I turn the key and I go. A lot of times, if I have to stop and open a garage door, I resent that level of “slow down”.

What happens when your main mode of travel is equine? If you have to saddle a horse before you go anywhere – that takes time. If you have to hitch a wagon – that takes time.

You always have to take care of your animals first. It doesn’t matter if you are thirsty or tired. You take care of your horse before you take care of yourself.

They have herded the cattle for the last time.

I am in awe of those men and women – one hundred and fifty years ago – who made this journey up the Chisholm Trail. For months, they worked hard, in brutal weather with no shelter. I don’t know about you – but if there is  a storm coming, I find the nearest roof. Those old time trail riders – if there was hail, they’d put their saddles over their shoulders to protect themselves.

If the ground was wet and if there was no way to avoid the muck – they would sleep in a triangle configuration – resting one’s head on another’s knees or lower legs – in order to be able to sleep without having your head in the mud.

Each night of this 2017 cattle drive, I came home. I rested my head on my pillow. I slept in my soft, comfortable bed. Under my own roof. After eating food…a lot of which other people cooked! I did a lot of takeout. Cooking was too much work for the duration of this cattle drive. Every day I’d come home with my brain fried from the level of thinking that doing this gig entails.

The whole time I was coming home to my own bed each night (while driving or riding in a vehicle with the air conditioner on high), those drovers were out there – sleeping on the ground. They had no respite from the heat/wind/bugs.

They ate a lot better than the pioneers did. Those meals cooked over the fire looked wonderful!

But the level of work involved in preparing those meals was astounding!

These drovers taught me what fortitude is. I learned so much about history. I learned a lot about humanity on this drive.

My life is sooo much richer – for having had this experience!

At virtually every corner – observers, crowds, families and friends gathered to watch the cattle drive pass by.

It is such a joy to see the kids out and about – learning about history. Every single one of these drovers took the time to share, to teach, to interact. That’s why they did this.

This cattle drive was more than a ceremonial experience. It connected people.

It connected people.

People from all walks of life would come to see the cattle, the horses, the drovers and the wagons.

Many, many times, I’d film a parade in a town, and when I’d turn around, the people would have a look of awe on their faces.

Imagine the joy, of watching a child get to pet a horse for the first time.

From the past – to the present – to the future, friendships are born. Connections are established.

Joy is shared!

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News article from KAKE about the Chisholm Trail ride.

News article from Sunup Oklahoma about the Chisholm Trail ride.

 

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Modern conveniences

We are lucky, in 2017 to have a lot of modern conveniences to make this journey much easier.

We are so lucky to have escorts along the trail. These law enforcement and highway crews keep us safe.

I personally saw one incident where a driver was not going to obey the law. This driver was going to go around an emergency vehicle and drive – way too fast – into the cattle. That officer stopped that driver and protected us! These good people escorting us have kept us safe! Thank you!

What else do you need for a modern cattle drive?

Food!

The cowboys of old ate beans and biscuits, and maybe some dried beef jerky.

But in 2017, we are lucky. One of the support vehicles is a trailer with a refrigerator and freezer. It is powered by a generator. The drovers have had wonderful meals prepared in the open air over a campfire.

No day old beans and stale biscuits here!

What is another essential?

Down in the middle of the picture, you can see porta potties and blue stock tanks.

Each campsite has had these provided on site. They have hauled in hay and feed for the horses, cubes for the cattle and firewood for the fire.

Every single detail on this drive has been planned for and executed. There are a whole bunch of people – behind the scenes – who have made this once-in-a-lifetime event possible.

But who pulls this together, and keeps us all going? Who is the one out there taking care of business?

That’d be the cow boss:

Carmen Schultz.

Friend. Neighbor. A True Horsewoman!

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