Woodsrider Films

WOODSRIDER screens in Portland

Oh hi!  Guess what? It’s happening!

WOODSRIDER is finally screening, for a local crowd as part of the Northwest Filmmaker’s Festival.  Thanks to Ben Popp and the NW Film Center team for taking the plunge with me and this little bitty baby film of mine.

Nov 12, 7:30pm @ Skype Live Studio

Nov 13, 3:10pm @ Whitsell Auditorium

I’ll be there, I hope Sadie will be there, and I hope you’ll be there!

Thanks especially to Ian Clark and Richard Beer, my cheerleaders and support system in this late stage of the game.  It kinda felt like the darkest hour was just before the dawn there for a little while, ‘nah mean?

Oh yeah – and if you happen to be in La Grande this coming weekend, you’ll catch me hanging out at the Eastern Oregon Film Festival too amongst some pretty mean cinematic company….shhhhh, it’s a secret!

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Part 2: El Nino Rises

It’s been a long time since I posted anything here, but I wanted to let everyone in on what I’ve been thinking about since my last post.  The Woodsriders is currently in a picture lock state.  There was a lot of editing that happened in summer 2014 with Janique, and then a lot of grant writing, and then a lot of rejections.  Then, some major life changes.  My husband and I bought a house in Portland by the skin of our pants (thanks Proud Ground)!  I quit my dayjob in September (thanks to Salt and Straw for helping me float the family boat until then).  Then, I edited my tush off.  Now, some final components remain – music, sound, color. Those are in the works.

But the interesting part has been what has gotten me through to this moment.  To this effect, I thought I’d share some of my recent inspirations and influences in film and the filmmaking process.  I’d like to think that all of what I’m about to share have somehow been poured energetically into The Woodsriders.

At a certain point, I wanted to edit The Woodsriders like it was a mystery, to leave the viewer asking questions.  I also thought about using sound to create mystery and mood.  Lucretia Martel and Ian Clark both use sound so intentionally and masterfully in their films.  I’d like to play with that some more.

I’ve been reading a lot of essayist Rebeca Solnit – super badass – and then I watched The Royal Road, a personal/historical essay documentary by San Francisco filmmaker Jenni Olson.  This pertains more to future films, but the essay form is really staring to intrigue me and occupy my mindspace.  I’d like to make an essay-style film in the future.  So far the film that might fit this style is the Ecuador film about my sister.  More on that later – could be much later, but the film is beyond percolation stage, it’s just a matter of when.

I saw A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night.  Did you see that?  So freakin badass. Ana Lily Amirpour said “I thought, I’m going to write something where everything people say and do turns me on”   So unafraid to follow her own passions, I dig it.

I watched a hybrid documentary called Stop the Pounding Heart that I thought was lovely, definitely an inspiration for The Woodsriders.  I can’t remember if I saw it before or after shooting – wait now I think it was after.  No music whatsoever.  Gorgeous natural sound, a simple story with long takes, my kinda movie.  Also Empire Builder, a slow burning narrative from Kris Swanberg, made a big impact on me via the vibe it creates, again doing so much with so little.

Jauja was divine – From director Lisandro Alonso, Viggo Mortensen as a Danish military officer loses his daughter in the 1880’s Argentine desert – I could have watched it forever.  The end is weird but I forgive most weird endings.  The guitar music in the film was beautiful and I told my composer Ronen Landa about it as he set up to write tracks for The Woodsriders.  I also rekindled my old affections for Yo La Tengo (who did the soundtrack for one of my favorite films, Old Joy by Kelly Reichardt) and Vincent Gallo (no comments, please).

Then there was Leviathan, the fishing boat documentary from Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab’s Lucian Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel.  I’ve been obsessed with Sweetgrass, also from the Harvard gang, for years (ahem Mike Neal), and so was excited to see this new film.  One critic wrote:  “What Leviathan leaves in its own wake is a nonfiction film culture now utterly changed, much how viewers might have felt watching the Free Cinema experiments of the mid-1950s or the vérité masterpieces of the Maysles/Pennebaker/Wiseman era. Documentary filmmakers must now answer to Leviathan’s new combination of direct cinema, experimental ethnography and abstraction. The game is over. Let’s restart.”  Leviathan wasn’t so much a pleasure as a confirmation of an attitude: Game over.  Let the games begin.  Do whatever you want.

And then there were the influences that I had going into this film that I wanted to hold close: Sweetgrass, Kelly Reichardt, Lynn Ramsay, Lake Tahoe (from Mexican director Fernando Eimbcke),  Lucretia Martel, Frederick Wiseman (especially La Danse), Claire Denis (especially White Material), Sofia Coppola, Ian Clark (an Oregon filmmaker whose latest A Morning Light I can’t wait to see), Lee Isaac Chung… also Ben Rivers’ Two Years at Sea, which made me come up with the phrase ‘No drama is drama’ as a creed.

I’ve thought about how radical it is to show a female character in voluntary survival mode.  We never see this onscreen.  (Okay, then Wild came out.  But she was a recovering addict and played by Reese Witherspoon.  Can’t a regular girl just go hike in the snow?)  I read a comment recently about Wendy and Lucy’s Wendy being the female answer to Christopher McCandless, the protagonist from Into the Wild.  Not Reese, but Wendy.  But McCandless just wanted the adventure, right?  No healing required.  I think Sadie (The Woodsriders‘ lead character) is an even better answer than Wendy.

This excerpt from an interview with Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave, Hunger) really resonated with me:

His reluctance to revisit past wounds seems to have led to a blanket embargo on curiosity about himself, which I think has leaked into his work because, despite having made three films about human survival in states of extremity, none has even begun to unravel why people behave as they do. His protagonists’ pain is always privately contained, never shared with an intimate or explored through dialogue, so we scarcely know them any better by the final scene. Instead, his films just show what people do – in unflinching detail. So we saw exactly what excrement smeared over prison cell walls and crawling with maggots looks like, or a sex addict masturbating in a toilet cubicle, and now we see exactly what a slave looks like hanging from a noose, while other slaves avert their gaze. But we never see inside their minds. For McQueen, the visual artist, showing what they look like is what matters.

When I ask what new ideas or emotions he thinks the film offers, he admits, “I don’t know. I was just interested in telling the truth by visualising it. Visualisation of this narrative hasn’t been done like this before, and I think that’s the thing. I mean, some images have never been seen before. I needed to see them. It’s very important. I think that’s why cinema’s so powerful.”

And then this from David Whyte:

“Hiding is an act of freedom from the misunderstanding of others, especially in the enclosing world of oppressive secret government and private entities, attempting to name us, to anticipate us, to leave us with no place to hide and grow in ways unmanaged by a creeping necessity for absolute naming, absolute tracking and absolute control. Hiding is a bid for independence, from others, from mistaken ideas we have about our selves, from an oppressive and mistaken wish to keep us completely safe, completely ministered to, and therefore completely managed. Hiding is creative, necessary and beautifully subversive of outside interference and control. Hiding leaves life to itself, to become more of itself. Hiding is the radical independence necessary for our emergence into the light of a proper human future.”

And then I watched Nina Simone’s performance at the 1976 Montreax Jazz Festival and wanted to use Little Girl Blue over the film’s closing credits.  I still kind of do, but likely won’t.

I’ll leave it at that.  I went bonkers with the links, hope you have some fun with that.  The Woodsriders is coming.  May your El Nino winter be cold enough for snow.

Feeling inspired to get lost

I just started reading Rebeca Solnit’s ‘A Field Guide to Getting Lost’ and it’s already remarkable and exquisite and changing my life.

Work on The Woodsriders has been slow going. I spent the bulk of my film-work time last year, post-production, creating a handful of short trailers and a longer scene assembly with Janique, and writing grants and various other applications to markets and pitch forums.  That process has just about come to a close.  None of the grants have panned out yet,  but there is more waiting and praying to be done.  While I’m waiting and praying, the plan is to make use of my brand new laptop, and start churning through all of the footage, some of which I haven’t even seen yet.  I need to down-res the footage, and I need to find a workspace with a desktop that can handle it.  I’ll start making a rough cut of the film.  Hopefully I will have the opportunity to bring an editor onboard.  Spring and summer will see music composition, sound work and color work happening.  August 31 I want to have a finished film.  And I want to show that film in January 2016.   There you have it.

I met up with Sadie over Thanksgiving, and she was all smiles and radiating joy.  She’s taking an outdoor EMT college course, which she can handily combine with her robust set of wilderness survival skills.  She’s signed up to fight forest fires over the coming summer.  And she spent last summer as a river raft guide, nearly knocking herself out, but she had a total blast and is A-OK.  She wants to see the film and so do I!

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.

The End of Snow

The End of Snow

In the midst of the Kickstarter push to make The Woodsriders a reality, the Olympics in Sochi, Russia have begun.  Shaun White dropped out of the Men’s Slopestyle event because he declared the course too dangerous for riders.  Jamie Anderson, an American woman, won Gold in the Woman’s Slopestyle event.  Portland and much of Western Oregon have experienced two giant back-to-back snowstorms, blanketing the city in snow and bringing much of functional urban life to a standstill, while allowing for some serious snow days full of fun, coziness, and shifted perspectives.  A dessert of freezing rain sealed this adventure in with an icy layer of reality and warning.  This article by Porter Fox seems an appropriate transition from the events of the last week to the winter/spring era of shooting for The Woodsriders that is to come: “Poets write of the grace and beauty by which snowflakes descend and transform a landscape.” 

Launch

Hey! We launched the Kickstarter campaign!

Here’s the link to the Kickstarter page:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/45396309/the-woodsriders

Yay!

Kickstarter is coming!

Holy wow, preparing for this Kickstarter has been quite the nerve-wracking and fun experience.  We are launching soon and I can’t wait to share with everyone some of the footage that has been shot already for the film, my goofy yet heartfelt plea for help, and well….to hopefully be able to shoot this film!!

I can see so much of this film in my head already.  It feels like it simply has to get made or I’ll explode.  I’m taking this as a good sign that there are images and ideas that need to get out into the world already.  If I die tomorrow, hopefully the Kickstarter will give enough of a blueprint for someone else to take up the mantle and make this dang film.

 

It’s all happening

Okay so things have really been picking up steam recently with The Woodsriders and I’m getting excited!  REALLY excited!  Is this film getting pulled off?  You betcha!

All of the sudden everything started happening.  I found my lead characters, two amazing, fun, fearless girls who live in Welches, right on Mt. Hood — Sadie and Sara!  They are so down.  They could have started filming the moment I met them, and in fact asked if I wanted to soon thereafter.   But patience, friends, patience.  All in good time.  I know, it’s so hard for me to wait to. I wish I could quit my job and move up to the mountain and hang out with you all day every day this season. 

Then, I began the DP search, and found a super talented DP who sadly is not going to be able to come on board for the shoot due to illness in her family.  For that I am sorry.  However I think I am on the brink of a really excellent next choice and if that works, all will be golden. 

Via the process of putting the word out for a DP, the lovely Janique Robillard and I became connected.  Janique is a seasoned local producer and an avid snowboarder from Vermont.  We’re a natural team.  I’m the luckiest!!  Janique is going to add clarity, resources, connections, logistical support and an extra brain to the crew, all of these things much needed. 

And then there is this Kickstarter campaign to plan!  We’re launching a Kickstarter campaign in January to fund production.  I’ve been getting ready for the launch, and just filmed the initial video segment this morning, where it was cold and starting to rain in the woods of Mt. Tabor in good ‘ol dependable Portland.  We made it through just as the storm factor was really kicking in.  Couldn’t shoot in my apartment as there is mega construction happening across the street and periodic forklift beeps and hammering didn’t seem ideal for the vibe of the video.  In a few weeks we’ll head out to the mountain to catch a day of shooting with Sarah and Sadie for the second part of the video.  Also, there are not one but two Kickstarter parties in the works!  One at Base Camp Brewing in Portland, which is the jam – S’more Stout with blowtorched marshmallow, anyone? – and another hopefully at Charlie’s up in Government Camp.  

The goal is to start shooting around mid-February.  I’m stoked!  Also it goes without saying that I can’t WAIT to get up on the mountain and get my ride on for the season.  It’s already snowed a bunch.  This year is gonna be a good one.   

Oblivion by Grimes

I’m checking out Paste’s top 25 music videos of 2012, and it’s pretty interesting – I haven’t watched MTV or music videos in at least a decade, but from a filmic perspective it’s fascinating to see what’s being made these days. At least for this group, what a tremendous amount of talent, creativity and energy on display. I’m really digging this video from Grimes, a band I’ve never heard of before. Apparently I like electro pop. This video reminds me of Friday Night Lights meets Drive, meets some of the vibe I’m going for with The Woodsriders, especially in terms of the contrasts between the long shots, almost surreal, of the sports activities, and the intimacy and fun of the inside/closer shots with Grimes’ lead singer and the people she hangs with. From Paste: ‘In this beautifully shot clip, director Emily Kai Block places Grimes’ Claire Boucher and her dancy electro-pop within the seemingly opposite world of violent, masculine sports and physicality. But “Oblivion” is a video not only of presenting dualities, such as masculine and feminine, but of subverting preconceived notions regarding such opposites. Split between the spontaneous on-location shots of football games and motocross races, and the highly staged interiors of a locker room and a slam-dance house party, Grimes is placed at the center of it all. Rather than settle as a spectator, Boucher instead performs to the arena itself. Grimes’ music has often been described as feminine, and perhaps in many ways it is, but “Oblivion” displays a welcoming, inclusive nature where such definitions prove to hold little meaning.’

Michoacan

The new video off Y La Bamba’s most recent record, Court The Storm. These guys are one of my favorite new bands. I’m a little obsessed. But you can see why!

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