Alom strides out across the salt crust at Badwater Basin

Demo: The Movie – Production Blog 6

One of the things you typically do when you’re making a documentary is scout out locations ahead of time. The recce is a crucial time-saver, but this project clearly didn’t have the budget for it. That’s one of the reasons we shot the film in Colorado, Las Vegas, Death Valley and San Francisco: as you’ll have gathered from these posts, I’d done the whole ‘road trip’ thing before and hence had a bunch of locations in mind already.

Now, the last time I was in Beatty was three years ago, and at that point it had a couple of motels, a couple of bars, a crossroads, an implausibly-grand carpark, and a gas station. It’s since added a vast casino with a 24-hour Denny’s. So, you know, pancakes happened.

Day 6 – Monday 19th August – Death Valley

If you haven’t already worked out what’s going to happen to the bottle, it’s maybe a bit clearer when I say that the reveal happens at Badwater Basin. You hear often that Badwater is the lowest-lying land on the planet, which it quite clearly isn’t, but it’s the lowest place in the continental US and hence the greatest altitude difference we were going to find from Pikes Peak. It’s also a damned cool place.

Wait, no. It’s damned hot, obviously. Today, as it turned out, a relatively mild 112°F (44.4C) – which made us so much happier than we might have felt. Though that temperature was for Furnace Creek, a little to the North, and Badwater is usually a few Celsius warmer. Toasty.

Alom strides out across the salt crust at Badwater Basin
Alom strides out across the salt crust at Badwater Basin

It’s remarkably hard to think in these sorts of temperatures, and we also encountered the same type of tourist challenge/masochism we’d seen at the Hoover Dam the previous day. Our tactics had improved, however, and we managed to feint out a group of French tourists, whirled around, and got the piece we needed just as they fell silent, gritting their teeth against the looming heat exhaustion.

One of the things that fascinates me about Death Valley is that there’s a surprising amount of life there. Which is to say: any at all. Badwater itself is named for a pool just beside the road, which plays host to weed, a specific species of snail, and – most prominent on our visit – caddisfly larvae:

The wiggly thing to the right of centre is – a friendly ranger assured me – a caddisfly larva.
The wiggly thing to the right of centre is – a friendly ranger assured me – a caddisfly larva.

Wikipedia tells me there are around 12,000 species of caddisfly, so perhaps I’m being underspecific, but the point is: something lives here. That’s… ridiculous.

We weren’t the only people trying to get stuff done at Badwater: Death Valley in the summer is a regular hot-weather proving ground for next year’s cars, and we spied some disguised preproduction vehicles parked up:

Disguised prototype car testing at Badwater Basin
Disguised prototype car testing at Badwater Basin

Finished at Badwater – or at least, finished by Badwater – we headed back up the valley and filmed a couple of demos. One of which saw me looking through my viewfinder at this:

Alom demonstrates thermoregulation
Alom demonstrates thermoregulation

Alom, I intuited, was not particularly happy in the heat, so we scuttled back to our base in Beatty for a siesta before heading out to the ghost town of Rhyolite, where I’d hoped to shoot the previous sunset.

I overslept. We made it out of the motel well before sundown, but Rhyolite was already in hill shadow by the time we made it there. This didn’t look too bad:

Alom delivers the first part of the bottle story wrap-up in Rhyolite
Alom delivers the first part of the bottle story wrap-up in Rhyolite

But then it all got a bit flat, and we had to wait for other visitors to walk up and down the town too, losing precious minutes.

Alom delivers the second part of the bottle story wrap-up in Rhyolite
…and the second part…

In the wide shot of this you can see the moon rising above Alom’s shoulder, arcing higher from one take to the next. It’s kinda cool, but showing it would reveal a little more about the bottle than I want to.

Anyway, the third shot of this sequence looked like this:

Alom delivers the third part of the bottle story wrap-up in Rhyolite
…and the third part, in the dark.

Er… that’s just plain night-time.

We’d failed to get the piece.

I gamely tried lighting one of the buildings with the larger of the two LED lamps I had with me:

Exterior "lighting"
Exterior “lighting”

…but that wasn’t really usable. So we trudged back to the motel. We’d planned two chances to get this sequence at sunset, and we’d blown them both.

We were dusty, hot, tired, and dejected. There was only one thing for it:

Sourdough Saloon, Beatty
Sourdough Saloon, Beatty

The pool bar, and some emergency planning.

Miles travelled: 288 (total 2006)
Footage shot: 01:12:20 / 11.72Gb (total 05:43:19 / 55.97Gb)

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