Friday, May 16, 2014

Glamis Sand Dunes

Dear Reader,

The sun was slowly rising above the sand dunes in Glamis, California.  At first all I saw were silhouettes of grey mountains in the distance.  An orange mystical sun was rising above the mammoth dunes.  The highway in front of me was eerie and silent void without any vehicles.  Then suddenly the sun rose and I could see the beauty of Glamis.

I turned down the main road to the parking lot.  Soon our caravan of cars, trucks, trailers arrived turning a once vacant parking lot into our base camp.  I positioned my motor home along the fence and open the four slide-outs.  In five minutes I was opened for business. The clothing stylist bought in wardrobe for the shoot, the make-up and hair stylist prep their make-up/hair tables. Production bought in their printers, paper work and computers.  I grabbed some tables and chairs from the motor homes basement and set it up for the crew.  Everyone has a job on set. A set can look like a lot of confusion to those who do not work in the entertainment industry.  The people who work in this business are professionals; they work fast and efficient.  The days can be long and arduous and big budget feature films can take years to complete.  Photo shoots and commercials are as little as one day or as long five or more days.  The longest photo shoot I ever worked on was for five weeks, a car shoot for a German manufacturer. 

Working at a place like Glamis requires the right vehicles to traverse the dunes, a 4 X 4 truck or even a jeep would be no match for the soft sand.  What ones needs is a four-person sand rail or a four-person side-by-side ATV.  Fortunately Willies Off Road 760-257-3734 or 760-953-3303 provides the vehicles and the experience drivers who know how to navigate the dunes.  Willie experience with Klamath and Dumont Dunes is undisputed; this man knows all the tricks in soft sand driving.  He can bring a crew and their equipment all most anywhere they need to go to get the right shot.  A photo shoot does not require the amount of equipment and person power that a large film crew would require.  The producer only bought to set the core group he needed for the shot, they used Go Pros for the action shots that would be used on the Internet.  Canon 1D (full frame DSLR camera) were mounted on the sand rail for the action shots.  This was a photo shoot for a shoe company, so the spotlight was on the young twenty something’s wearing the shoes and having fun.     The pace of the photo shoot was fast; the right light was vital to the look of the shot.  People were running in and out of the RV.  A small craft food table was set up next the RV; crewmembers grab some food off the table as they ran to set.  I kept the coffee coming; since it was so early the crew appreciated the jolt of caffeine to keep them awake.

Glamis is about thirty minutes east of Brawley in Imperial County or about two hours from Palm Springs.  The town of Brawley is the best place to lodge and feed a crew of any size.  Brawley is not Palm Springs; there are no malls or high-end restaurants.  For lodging there is the Best Western 760 351 9800, this motel is nice, the rooms are spacious, the d├ęcor is acceptable and the staff friendly.  There is adequate parking for large vehicles at the Best Western.  There is the Brawley Inn Hotel and Conference Center (866-599-6674) that is a step above the Best Western, we did not stay at the Brawley, therefore I cannot make any comments about this hotel.  In terms of restaurant options you are limited to Nana Dora’s Restaurant, Tai San Chinese, Brownie’s Diner, Johnny’s Burritos and few other establishments.  There is a Vons Supermarket in Brawley, which can serve your craft service needs.  For fuel there are several gas stations in town.  Since I was only in Brawley for one day, I did not need to service my holding tanks until I got to Mecca, California at the ARCO Truck Stop.   However according to RV Dump Sites there is suppose to be a dump station on I-8 at the Sunbeam Rest Area (north and south).











We were finished by two in the afternoon; it took about a half hour to clear the lot.  This was a two-day shoot; our next location was near Big Bear the next day.  It took about two hours to get to Cabazon, the place we lodge at for the night.  What I like about Glamis is, the easy access to the Dunes.  Dumont Dunes which is also about four hours from Los Angeles, there is a rough road to access the dunes, one has to drive slow unless you have a 4 X 4 vehicle.  Glamis, the roads are paved and it is easy parking large vehicles without getting stuck.  Glamis, is substantially massive in terms of square miles than Dumont.  As long as the non-off road vehicles stay in the parking lot, there is little chance that one is going to get their cars or trucks stuck in the sand.  Glamis is about a half hour from Brawley, which means your crew does not have to travel very far back to town on multiple day shoots.  Sheri Davis (951 779 6700) or Dan Taylor (951 232 1271) at the Inland Empire Film Commission can handle your film permits and help you find local crews and support equipment.  If you need a motor home, portable restrooms or you have any questions about Glamis please feel free to contact me Mike Green at 818 317 7099. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

My trip from New Orleans to Los Angeles on Amtrak

The train was pulling out of New Orleans early Wednesday morning on January 1, 2014.  I had slept very little on New Year’s Eve, I party in Mobile, Alabama like it was 1999.  I watched  the bands playing country music, the crowds flocking to the various New Year’s Eve events.  No one knew me in this town, I was incognito, I was having a great time.  I did not want this evening to end. I had some conversations with complete strangers, people in the South are very nice and easy to talk to, they are "real". When the MoonPie dropped from the RSA BankTrust in Mobile, the fireworks light the sky in a thousand hues. People applauded, kids danced around the park as if it was the 4th  of July. Then when the fireworks subsided everyone dispersed.  The climax of the night was over, it was now a new year.

I was excited about taking the train, it was something I always wanted to do.  Unfortunately Amtrak does not stop in Mobile, therefore my options was either take the Greyhound to New Orleans or drive. I decided to drive. I let my exhausted daughter Taunji sleep while I did the driving, it seems like old times, when as a child she would always fall asleep in my Toyota 4 X 4 truck, on our various adventures. We arrived two hours later.  The New Orleans Unions Passenger Terminal as it is called; is bustling with both Amtrak and Greyhound passengers trying to get home or wherever they are going.  It was opened in 1954 as an ultramodern station and rebuilt several times.  It lacks the size of New York Union Station or the history.  It is an airy building with lots of ambient light, there is a mural on the wall that is beautiful, depicting the history of New Orleans.  Your food options are limited to a Subway sandwich place and a cafe that serves typical American food.  The station is interesting, the people that traverse to their destinations are an ecliptic mix of well dressed people to those who have their belongs in black trash bags.  Some are waiting for the train, others are waiting for the Greyhound bus.  Some people are just hanging out at the station because they are homeless and do not have anywhere else to go on New Years Day.  Finally the announcer announces it is time to board the train, I checked in early and I was able to find a nice window seat.  I was hoping to have two seats to myself, unfortunately the train was sold out. I had a guest next to me, a nice young African-American man who had his Android phone plugged into the wall outlet next to me.  When I moved my leg his phone would get unplugged and he would have to reach over me to plug his Android phone back in, he would never have that problem with an iPhone I told him.  He got quite and went back to texting, that’s what they call “iPhone envy.”


The train leached forward, building speed.  I watch New Orleans through my vantage point, it is raining.  The rain drops dance on the window, leaving streaks.  I wish I had a chance to spend time in New Orleans, it looks like an awesome city.  About a half hour later I made my way to the observation car, it has windows on all sides as well as the ceiling.  There are dinette tables and benches, individual swivel seats and plenty of plugs so that you can charge your portable devices.  The observation car is a favorite spot for people to hang out, families, couples and individuals such as me, are mesmerized by the scenery as it changes by the second.  New Orleans gives way to the country side, there are rivers, and small towns.  There are people going about their business unaware of “us” from the train observing them for a moment.  Cars and trucks wait for the Amtrak train to pass at the various crossings.  There are car dealerships and cafes, there are post offices and a main street  with a general stores and numerous  other types of establishments.  The scenery never got boring.   When you fly, one just cannot see such details far below, one is sitting in a cramped seat, with limited room to move.  On a train you can walk around, meet new friends, eat at the dinning car or the snack bar.

I decided to catch up on some business, I organized all of my receipts and entered the receipts into my various spreadsheets.  It is never a fun task, yet it is a vital task of a business person such as myself.  An older man sits down across from me, reading a paper, a family of four are mesmerized by the scenery unfolding in front of them.  An elderly lady works on a crossword puzzle.  Two young cowboys chat with each other from the swivel chairs. A nice looking  fashionable dressed woman walks by; the cowboys watch the woman as she passes by, she gives one of the boys a smile. I grab my iPad Air from my computer bag and check my e-mails, my Facebook status and the read the Los Angeles Times.  The man next to me is impressed with my iPad and engages me in a conversation about the new technology.  The conversation last about an hour, in the end I convinced the man to try an iPad out at the Apple Store.  

Riding a train is an adventure, one really gets a chance to see America, I bought my camera with me and took some pictures and video of the places I was passing.  If you go to iTunes Amtrak provides a podcast for each of their train routes, almost like a guided tour.  I found the information very informative.  The map on my iPhone/iPad was helpful too, it helped me know exactly where I was and what was around me.  I love virtual maps.  I would zoom in and out, the only time it did not work was when there was no cellular service in parts of New Mexico.  I do not understand why Amtrak did not have Wi-Fi on this train, Amtrak has Wi-Fi on their California trains.  

The biggest challenge is sleeping, if you are one of those rare individuals that can sleep in a chair then sleeping will not be a problem.  I could not get comfortable no matter what position I slept in, the next morning my back was aching.  My advice, get a bed or a room, it is worth the cost especially on long trips.  If you book in advance, the cost of a bed or a room is reasonable, an added bonus, your meals are free in the dinning car and on some trips there is wine tasting or other extras you will not get in coach.

Texas is a big state.  It seemed most of the trip we were stuck in Texas, mile after mile of Texas.  From the green part of Texas (Houston) to the brown part of Texas, San Antonio west and beyond.  Yet, I was never bored, there was always something to look at or someone to talk to. Case in point this guy who I met on the second day, he was on his way to Brazil, he was going to take the train to LA, then take the Amtrak Surfliner to San Diego, the light rail to Tijuana, Mexico, hop on a shrimp boat to Acapulco, then somehow walk to Brazil.  I did not know if this guy was insane or he was telling the truth.  He told me he was a wanted man, and he needed to find a country that did not have an extradition treaty with the US.  I did not want to know anything else about this guy, I listened, I smiled and hope he would forget this conversation with me.  I sure hope he made it to wherever he was going.  The two young cowboys, they were an interesting characters.  I could not tell if they were for real.  One claimed he was a clown in the rodeo and he just lost his house to foreclosure, the only problem he was only 19.  I know few nineteen year old guys who own a home, most are in college or flipping burgers at McDonalds.   The other "kid" was sixteen, he had an accident the other day and total his parents cars, his dads truck one day, his mothers car the next day, talking about bad luck.  Eventually the cowboys got kicked off the train for rude behavior to a female passenger.  The red hair fellow, with the wide eyes who was probably hooked on meth was taken by ambulance to the hospital, an overdose of whatever he was using.  

The trip back to Los Angeles was uneventful after we lost our savory characters.  Though the guy who was going to Brazil, his stories got more colorful.  Personally I think he should had changed his trip to Hollywood, he would had made an awesome screenwriter.  I still wonder what happen to him. I was tempted to give him my business card, though I was afraid he would get caught by a "coyote" or the authorities and somehow my name would get me indicted for some crime I never committed or my fingers sliced with an axe from the “coyotes”.  

It was the dreaded evening again, I decided to make a bed for myself in the cafe.  It was a lot more comfortable than my chair, though it was narrow and I was afraid I would roll off of the sofa.  I got up around four in the morning and took refuge in the observation car, along with all the other poor souls who could not sleep.  We look like characters from the "Walking Dead" TV show on AMC channel.  At 5:15 we arrived in Los Angeles.  The commuters were slowly making their way into Union Station.  A train station that has been in numerous movies, commercials and TV shows.  Union Station is iconic in many ways, it represents the old and the new.  The old, passenger rail service, the new the subway, Metrolink, Amtrak and the Pasadena Streetcar use the station as their gateway point.  I took the subway to North Hollywood, then a good friend pick me up from the subway station and took me home.  This was an awesome trip.  

A footnote, I ended up going back to New Orleans three more times this year.  I will do a future blog about my trips.






Mobile New Years Eve

Fireworks





Lous Armstrong New Orleans Station

I can't sleep in a chair.

Crossing the mighty Mississippi


Inside the observation car

The Cowboys and the Old Man

Having some fun on the train


New Mexico

El Passo, Texas

The other side of the tracks-Mexico



Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The USS Iowa; is open to commercial filming

You walk up the gangplank, this is not just any ship; this is the USS Iowa, the ship that ended WW II.  (The peace treaty with the Japanese was signed on the Iowa). The USS Iowa has served in World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and the Cold War. This is a battleship that can hurl a missile fifteen hundred miles; or send a shell the size of a car twenty-six miles.  It is an impressive battleship, a ship that was made to carry the biggest stick to our enemies and come back home to talk about it.   The Iowa is 887 feel long, 45,000 tons with a 108 feet beam.  She is sleek, she is fast, and she had a crew of 2,637, plus 151 officers, before she was decommissioned in 1990.  An interesting fact, the United States never lost a battleship at sea and the Iowa class is the longest serving battleship in the United States navy. 

The other day I decided to take a tour of the USS Iowa, docked at San Pedro, California.  Being a WWII enthusiast I figured this would be the perfect way to spend the day.  As blogger I quickly released this could be an awesome location to film at, there are a number of great places to use as a background.  The great thing is, very few photographers have used a battleship to photograph on.  To use a battleship like the Iowa, the possibilities are endless in terms of coming up with interesting shots.  There is the bow with two battery of 16 guns, which overlooks the entrance to the San Pedro Harbor.  If you look towards the stern, you have one battery of 16inch guns and mid ship you have the bridge.  On the port and starboard sides are 5inch guns, rails, and mired of very interesting places to shoot at.  As a filmmaker doing a chase scene on a battleship is very tempting, there are so many places a character can hide, the possibilities are endless what one could do on a battleship.

San Pedro is only an hour from Los Angeles, well within the zone, parking is plentiful, and the USS Iowa is open for commercial filming.  Just call 877-446-9261 for more information, ask for someone in the events department. 

I am always searching for interesting places to share with my readers. The USS Iowa is worth visiting because it represents such an important part of American history in the Twentieth Century.   It is hard not to become a little patriotic.    If you need a motor home or have any questions please call me Mike Green 818 317 7099.