Friday, March 1, 2013

New Zealand 2013 - Leap of Faith

Our first week of the New Zealand shoot is officially in the can, and we've all earned a proper day of rest. That means, of course, that everyone else is sleeping while I'm writing in my blog. Honestly, I couldn't leave you guys hanging for too long. It's worth dragging my butt out on a Saturday morning, grabbing a coffee, and going over the week.

Last time we chatted, we were in a holding pattern waiting for gear to come back from Customs. We were scheduled to have it back by Monday, but ultimately we got our gear late on Tuesday. Because of that, we lost 3 days of shooting (and, on this shoot, there's no room for lost days). If I learned anything from that ordeal, it would be these 4 things:

  1. Customs agents are lazy. It doesn't take 6 days to clear gear when we have all our documentation in order.
  2. Don't trust immigration. Always double check what they say, because one missing form (like in our case) can lead to your gear getting confiscated.
  3. New Zealand Customs Officers are super nice. They smiled and answered my mountain of questions with enthusiasm, and they never turned me away when I would prod a little bit concerning the $20k worth of gear stored in their office. US Customs should learn from these guys, as even as a US citizen I feel like I've always done something wrong when I land.
I learned later that I could have had my gear in my hands as I left the plane if I had claimed the gear as my own personal gear. While tempting, I don't condone lying or tiptoeing around the law. 

What filmmaking is really like....Photo by Steven Mortinson
It wasn't a complete loss. We spent plenty of time getting our ducks in a row and doing some on-the-ground producing. We got to spend some quality time at the beach and enjoy the summer weather...or, in my case, huddled on a couch answering emails about when I can get people footage.

Our first shots came on Wednesday in Raglan, New Zealand. Raglan is a surfing town located on the West side of New Zealand, about 30 minutes from Hamilton. It was a location I was familiar with, as I studied in Hamilton in 2008 and spent some time surfing and relaxing in that town.

We came out cameras blazing, but ultimately fell short of our targets. This was tough on me and my colleague, Steven. We each have a different way of filmmaking, but that's easy to mesh. Our hardest obstacle was getting use to the new gear. Because of the situation, this was our first time using all this gear together. We literally were buying gear the day before flying to New Zealand. For the filmmakers reading this blog, you are probably scoffing or cringing at that thought. The key to any shoot is spending less time setting up gear and more time setting up shots and working with actors. Even for a guerrilla film shoot like this, it's too difficult to just take gear and mesh it into a workflow that is, even at it's core, absolutely absurd.

That night, we came back a little defeated. We both have done better and know we could do better. Even though we are beating all our competition in this genre, we weren't satisfied. True filmmakers want perfection.

The next day we woke up on our game and with some bounce in our step. At this point, we were already behind by 4 days, and we had to shoot triple the amount of footage to catch up. It was a 6am-8pm kind of day, consisting of us only taking a break for lunch and a small surf break to let out some steam.
The office
We came back to the hotel and, although we weren't blown away by the footage we were putting out, we were satisfied. Unfortunately, because of how this shoot was structured, we don't have the luxury of getting re-shoots. Getting the shots and sound at a passable quality is sufficient enough for us, and getting those flair shots when we can really makes us happy.

There wasn't alot of time celebrating, however. We had to do the same thing again on Friday, dealing with similar issues. This time around, we were a bit more prepared. We also were going to a location pretty unique: in a little pod under the Auckland Bridge.

We had a hookup with Auckland Bridge Bungy, and we were going to shoot a scene based around our actors jumping out of this 'jump pod' resting in the belly of the bridge. It was a pretty simple shoot in that, for the most part, whatever we shot in that location would be something unique. It's hard to fail when they've granted you full access and you're allowed to drag your cameras around while walking on a catwalk floating 30 meters above the river.

I look goofy even when paralyzed with fear...
Our jump pod was 40 meters, or 131 feet, above the ocean. We got some shots of our actors climbing up into the pod and walking along the catwalk dressed in their bungy gear. It was a windy day, but remarkably clear and absolutely perfect for jumping.

For each actor, we strapped a GoPro Hero 3 to their hand as they jumped. It's been an overused shot, but like good cliches it's a money shot. We were able to get their reactions as they fell, and in good taste they would play it up by positioning the camera so they can scream and smile for the kids at home.

Now, as much as I claim that I'm an adrenaline junkie, I'm actually irrationally scared of heights. I don't know where it comes form, or why it's only standing on tall things...but getting near a railing and looking over makes my knees buckle and my heart pounding a mile a minute. And, just as irrational as it is to be afraid of high places, I couldn't pass the chance to jump off a bridge. Steven, our Korean coworker, and I also suited up for a bungy jump.

Steven made me look bad: he did a swan dive backwards, basically launching himself off the platform like an Olympic diver. It was awesome, and the footage we got from that was amazing. Before I could comprehend what was going on, I was already strapped in with a GoPro and standing on the edge of the platform looking at a watery grave down below.

As my feet waddled to the edge, however, I started to get some clarity on my situation. It might have been the adrenaline pumping to my head, or me just trying to not look down as my knees trembled to keep me standing tall. Negative thoughts would jump in my head, but would be decimated by fear and my survival instincts telling me how this was a bad idea. The man started to count down, and right before 1 I looked straight ahead and blacked out...just for a moment.

There was some perspective to be gained in this moment, and I only had a breath to grab it before it got lost in the adrenaline that was soon to come. I thought about only one thing: fight or flight. For most of my life, I've been a flier. When things get tough, I stick around long enough to validate the time spent there and get the heck out of there. Life's too short to be dealing with crap, and it's too short to be spent in a situation that makes you unhappy. For the most part, that mentality has lead me to some amazing places and pushed me to do things I wouldn't normally do. Flying makes me feel alive, because as long as I keep running I can keep experiencing and growing, right?

I regained myself just a split second after my feet left the platform. It was as if I wanted to run away but my body said "No, Ryan. You're doing this." That moment when you're falling for the first time is absolutely exhilarating. Your body freaks out, telling you that death is imminent. Your mind is racing, but all you can think about is how wonderful it feels to be this free. All that stress, all that anger, and all that drive I had came out in screams of joy. Your breath is stolen from you, and you try to figure out how you can remember this feeling forever. You are truly taking a leap of faith, as your life is dangling by a string (or, rather, a giant rubber band).

And, just like that, it's over. Next thing I knew, I was pulling my cord and sitting in my harness overlooking the city of Auckland. They pulled me up and, knees still trembling, I stood back up on the platform.

We all left the jump pod feeling relieved. We got the footage we needed, and we all did something we've never done before. The rest of the day was much easier as we got more of the shots we needed with a little less stress and more appreciative of our situation. We're going to need that drive in the coming weeks, as things are only going to get more intense from here.

Our next stop is in Rotorua, where we will be Zorbing (think giant Hamster Ball for humans), spelunking, and partaking in some Maori culture. Once our internet is stable again, I'll update you with some cool video and pictures. See you there!

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