Midway through the Shoot
I wrote a long journal entry about mid-way through the 3 week shoot. Sadie was down the hill at a dentist’s appointment, Jerred was down the hill taking a much-needed day off, and I was alone in Government Camp, staring into another rainy day. This is from March 6, 2014:
Shooting has been an amazing experience so far. Our lead character Sadie Ford is a beast. Our DP Jerred North is a stallion. It’s rained almost every single day of shooting, and yet so far I couldn’t be happier with our footage, and the experience of making this documentary film.
Sadie has been an incredible subject. Not only is she adventurous and straight out fun to hang out with, she is patient with the crew as we work to set up shots. She is great in front of the camera – so unselfconscious, so giving of her time, and able to perform herself in a natural way. She’s so gifted at this task, it’s almost like she’s an actress playing herself. Her naturalism shines through, and the footage we’ve shot has an incredible intimacy about it.
Sadie also has a preternatural sense for ‘continuity’ and knowing the different elements required for getting a whole scene (entrances and exits especially) – it’s like she has a innate sixth sense for filmmaking. It’s been really cool, too – she’s been observing us as we observe her, and picking up bits and pieces of information about filmmaking. She’s interested in it, and I could easily see her directing a film of her own one day. She’s quite the director and good at envisioning the scene (and telling people how to get what she wants).
The weather has been absolute shit. I think it’s rained every single day so far except for two. Sadie gets depressed every other day about this. Then she goes snowboarding and usually gets the blahs out of her system. It’s incredible that she is willing to camp out in the snow in this winter. She’s a real trooper. While the film was intended to capture the essence of winter, it’s become more a film about the transition from winter to spring, and the effect that this has on the psyche. Spring has come far too early this year. The skiers and snowboarders are miserable with waiting for the weather to change, for snow to come. The town is dead. The locals are down in Portland, staying out of this gray wasteland. The snow that had accumulated in February is rapidly melting, too fast, and without more new snow to fill it in. There have been avalanche warnings. There is the constant sound of rain and snowmelt, and big sheets of snow sliding off of condo roofs.
We’ve snowshoed a lot. Sadie’s campsite is in the woods, through the deep snow, undetectable to the casual passerby. The first few days, Jerred and I hauled our Red Camera and enormously heavy and unwieldy tripod up to her site. We quickly realized we needed snowshoes after a couple of tumbles with the tripod, and went back down to get them. Next trip up was better. We also met the genius Haley at the Mt Hood Adventure shop in town while renting the snowshoes who overheard us talking and asked us if we’d like to see this sled they never rented, but had two of. Lightbulbs flashed and Jerred and I were so excited to see this Polk sled. Normally used for skiing adults hauling small children behind them, this seemed the perfect device to lug our tripod up the mountain, as well as to use to get smooth tracking shots of snowboardeing at a constant distance from the rider, something Jerred and I were trying to figure out how to do. The sled was a miracle, a gamechanger. We were in good spirits that day.
The rain has been a tough opponent. We haven’t gotten nearly as much footage of snowboarding as I’d expected to by this point, mostly because the conditions have been horrible. To her credit, Sadie gets out there more than most, and we do have some footage of her riding. But the conditions for woodsriding have been sketchy, and the snow uninspiring for the bigger hiking trips Sadie wants to do. There has been a lot of campsite caretaking.
Somehow, though, Sadie’s resilience and spirit in the rain has inspired us. The bad weather has showcased her incredible spirit, dedication, tenacity, ruggedness, and inner responses to the weather. This has given us a character with levels of depth I was not necessarily anticipating encountering, and because she’s been so generous and patient with us, our footage really showcases this depth in a way it might not have otherwise without the shitty weather. Challenges and gifts come in all shapes and sizes. The environment truly does shape our spirit day to day. These truths have become evident.
The first day we were supposed to come up and shoot, Tuesday the 25th, was riddled with problems. Jerred was waiting on a computer to arrive at his house that we needed for dumping footage – they said it would arrive before day’s end, and it came at 6:40pm, no joke. Jerred’s car broke down on the Ross Island Bridge, 15 minutes into his trip up the mountain, and I had to come back down the mountain (having already traveled up, impatient as ever) to get him. Two trips in one day. Other packages scheduled to arrive at the Thunderhead Lodge where we were staying had trouble arriving. And other bits and pieces I now can’t recall. It was a rocky start. It felt unfairly rocky. Equipment was crapping out left and right. The rain. Oh yeah, and Sadie’s uncle passed away the first full day of shooting, just as we got into our groove, and she had to go back down to Portland. I worried we’d lose her presence completely. I felt for her. I tried to be supportive without freaking out. She felt bad for ‘ruining the movie’, she said, but I told her not to think such thoughts. Family came first. We made the decision not to ask to film her and her family at the hospital while her uncle was literally dying, and I feel really good about that decision. It was the right, respectful thing to do.
Oh yes. I’ve had to make 5 trips to Portland in 7 days. However on the final run down, it felt like everything finally strung into place. Perhaps it was AC (Assistant Camera) Neil who brought the good luck? On the day we picked him up, we had a run of good luck that ran the gambit – zoom recorders found, producers located, good deals to be had on snowshoes, lavalier microphones delivered to our hands – the gods bestwowed us with gifts and we made sure to take note. Not every day is like this in filmmaking.
After much discussion with Jerred, I feel like we found the film’s style, pacing, and heartbeat. I am significantly less worried about missing ‘shots’ than I was on Burning In the Sun. I only want to shoot if we can make a scene out of it. Screw entrances and exits. And not every single moment needs to be filmed. It’s a lot easier on everyone this way. Sadie gets a break from the camera. Jerred’s back gets a break from filming. And I get more time to spend talking with Sadie, getting to know her better, connecting and earning her trust. It feels wonderful. It’s a much more intentional approach to filmmaking, with artistic intuition and emotional integrity, especially in light of the documentary factor. Sadie feels like a collaborator more than a ‘subject’. Even though the subject matter has moved from a film ‘about snowboarding’ and ‘the mountain’ to a film more about Sadie, she seems to inherently understand the shift, the reasons for it, and continues to be on board, even though the focus has shifted, and she has to personally carry more of the load. I’ve discussed it with her, and I give her so much credit for continuing to want to be a part of this project. It’s not easy. But she is down for the journey. I still can’t say what motivates her , but I am so grateful that she continues to say yes to this project.
It’s a wonderful feeling to just settle in with her in various scenes. There is no dogma. There is just her, her environment, and her actions. We have no agenda, and this too feels like a distinct departure from BITS. Character is revealed through action, and Sadie is all action, non-stop. I would complain that she is too challenging to keep up with, that she often has 10 things planned in a day, enumerates all of them, and then inevitably only does half, adding in some surprises for good measure. But she is so great about staying in touch, and keeping us in the loop, that I can’t complain. Not every documentary character does this. And she almost stalks us more than we stalk her! It’s a funny predicament. It’s sweet. I will miss her when this is over.
Jerred North is a ridiculously talented cinematographer. I knew I thought we were on the same page when I brought him on, but didn’t realize the extent of his talent, and his ability to DO the thing I SEE. I feel like not only does he share my artistic sensibilities, and understand completely my filmic references, and the emotional qualities I’m looking for in a film, but he understands how to execute the vision with the camera. For me this is an unparalled collaborative experience. I am consistently stunned by the quality of his work, by his intuition with camera movement or staticicity, and even by his ability to relate to the characters. He too has gained Sadie’s trust. I trust that he understands my vision for the film, and yesterday felt totally confident leaving him with Sadie for the day while Ben and Forrest came up to visit. I am so grateful to have him on board! We’ve talked a lot about Kelly Reichardt’s films, and Sofia Coppola and Steve McQueen (and Matthew McConaughey – for the record, who IS the female Matthew McConaughey??) and he’s said things like ‘I feel like this is Wendy and Lucy meets Jeremiah Johnson (a snowy Western with Robert Redford) , and that this film is a love letter to the Pacific Northwest.’ We also talked about McCabe and Mrs Miller, and Silent Light, among others. In general these observations make me happier than a clam. It’s hard to believe I’m making a film that can remotely take on these comparisons and references, but I’m happy to grin and suffer what I consider to be HUGE complements. I suppose I shoudn’t take them personally, but anyway it’s nice for the film to be seen in such good company. In my mind Sadie, Jerred, and the beautiful moody landscape are doing all the heavy lifting.