The last time Alom or I set up a shoot like this we got to start phone calls with lines like, “Hello, my name’s Jonathan and I’m working on a documentary for the BBC, I wonder if…”. It’s remarkable how many doors those three magic letters open. Sure, some are slammed in your face too, but at least the person you’re contacting has some sort of mental model into which they can place you. No such luck when you’re working for a production company and charity few have heard of. Several people we really wanted to talk to said ‘No.’
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.
It’s rare to film a script in page order: usually one records whichever bits fit the schedule rather than adhering to the script. This becomes mightily confusing, but not so confusing that one can drive past a city the size of Las Vegas by accident. No, no – we absolutely intended to do that.
This film interleaves several stories, then brings them together (we hope) neatly at the end. There’s the obvious ‘Alom’s road trip summer holiday’, but there’s also the story of that bottle you’ve glimpsed at the top of Pikes Peak, and there’s a little tickle of a story about a remarkable guy by the name of Oppenheimer.
This is going to be another day of your wondering just what we were doing in the US. Running around filming demos in pretty places, certainly, but surely there’s more to it than that? There is, but… well, I’m not going to reveal everything just yet. Partly because I’ve only just finished logging all the shots, so it’ll be a while before we know what’s made the cut and what hasn’t. But also because I don’t want to spill the beans about the main story and content of the film until we’re much closer to publication. And that’s likely a few months away.
So enjoy the holiday snaps, and watch out for clues peppered through.
I remembered two things from the previous day: we did a bunch of props shopping in the morning, and I found out what ‘Chicken Fried Steak’ is. On reflection I could happily have seen out my days without such knowledge.
Day 2 – Thursday 15th August – Buena Vista to Durango/Silverton
OK, so the plan had been for us to blog as we travelled across America filming the segments of this documentary, but… well, that didn’t happen, what with us being back now and all. Jetlag, altitude sickness, thunderstorms and 14-hour days will do that to you. So let me present: the retroproduction blog. Just like what we planned, only two weeks later.
That screenplay we mentioned a couple of posts back? We’re filming it.
We’d hoped to post regular updates, but we’ll have to run them as retrospectives over the next few weeks. The script is fairly straightforward, so we’ve been making our lives harder by trying to film classic demonstrations in fabulous locations. Which means we’ve been up early, filming in morning and evening light, and trying to find weird places to shoot. Several of those locations have been above 10,000 feet, which does wonderful things for bicarb and vinegar but is less pleasant for brains and lungs.
The above is perhaps my favourite shot so far, though we’ve several contenders. I hope you like lens flares.
update: There are a bunch of posts in this series:
 [1a]           [Post]
I wasn’t completely … er … complete in my previous post, in that the demo films aren’t the only thing we’ve been beavering away at behind the scenes. There’s also this:
That’s a screenplay. For a documentary. Which we’re about to start filming. On Friday. Then we fly to America, and film some more. Then we fly back to the UK and … film the bits we missed.
It’s terribly exciting. Once the thin veneer of panic has worn away we might even believe that.
We’ll keep you posted here: expect ScienceDemo to turn into something of a production blog if we can (a.) find a US 3G card for the iPad, and (b.) get any signal. Where we’re going they do need roads, but possibly not modern telecoms infrastructure.