Sunday, March 28, 2010

El Mirage Aviation Warehouse

Dear Reader

Aviation Warehouse in El Mirage, California; is acres and acres of everything aviation, from helicopters, to mock-ups, all sorts of planes from prop driven planes to jets. There are burned out shells of military and commercial aircraft, even a Russian helicopter used in the Tom Hanks movie “Charlie Wilson War”. I could not stray to far because I had a job to do, which is to stay with my motor home and help out the crew.

My call time was 6 in the morning, according to Google Maps, an hour and half drive from North Hollywood, my base. I decided to give myself twice that time to play it safe, I am glad I did, there was a five car pile up on the I-14. I arrived at the yard at 4:45 AM and pulled over to the side of the road and waited for the crew. Mark the owner of Aviation Warehouse and a friend, arrived at 5:30, and opened the gate. I hung out with Mark until the crew arrive about forty-five minutes latter, the Producer was surprise to see me waiting for them, but I explained I missed the accident because I left at 3:15, she was impressed. Because the yard has soft sand, I decided it was safer to remain on the shoulder of the road, which has steel grating. I am glad I listened to my instincts; one of the big five-ton trucks got stuck in the sand. My motor home weighs 34,000 pounds or 17 tons; I am always skeptical when driving on terrain that is questionable and with good reason.

The sun was slowly starting to rise over the foothills, revealing snow on the San Gabriel Mountains to the south. There was an abundance of life all around, desert flowers were blooming, a creek that was normally dry, had water flowing. One could hear coyotes in the background, and birds of prey flying above. Aviation Warehouse is not really a warehouse in the sense that it is not a big building, rather it is acres of fenced off open land with every imaginable plane and helicopters, and as I wrote many are striped down and some are whole.

After I knew my crew was set up, I decided it was time to explore the grounds, of course I had my camera and I took a ton of pictures. Since I am aviation illiterate, Mark guided me through the grounds and explained to me what I was looking at. For instance that helicopter next to my motor home look like an Apache helicopter to me, but it was a Russian attack helicopter.

The interesting thing about movie magic is the use of static objects. This is where blue screen or green screen (known as Chroma key, a technique that takes two images, one image is removed usually the background and another image is added) composing comes into play. One of the shots involved the talent flying a plane, the cost to rent a plane, the pilot and other such cost would have been expensive, a simple green screen and a composite shot, one has the picture.

I had a chance to do a little skydiving with some friends; it is the latest fad, skydiving without a parachute. I positioned myself at the end of the ramp, the green screen in front of me, and I jumped. A second latter I touched ground, this was the most exhilarating feeling, of course the plane was only a few feet off the ground, but for a few spilt seconds I was airborne. My feet touched the ground, the audience applauded me, or were they applauding that truck driver who finally gets his pick-up out of the deep sand. On film I would look like I had actually jump out of plane thousands of feet off the ground.

The day was coming to an end, the director got his shots, “it’s a wrap,” he says. Suddenly a whirlwind of activity ensues. Men and women scurry to put their equipment back into their trucks and cars. Since I am driving the production motor home I will be the last to leave. It is expected, the first to arrive, the last to leave, fortunately it will not be dark when I leave, the location has an easy turn around point, therefore I will not need a spotter to assist me when the producer allows me to wrap.

If you are interested at shooting at Aviation Warehouse or you need aeronautical props call Mark 760.388.4215. For multiple day shoots at this location or nearby El Mirage Dry Lakebed, Victorville is about thirty minutes south/east and has excellent lodging and restaurant accommodations. At the intersection of highway 395 and Palmdale Rd there is a grocery store and eating establishments. For film permits and more information call Sheri Davis 951.779.6700 ext. 231 or Dan Taylor at 951.779.6700 ext. 223.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Seattle to LA

Dear Reader

Normally do I ever have a chance to view a project I had worked on, whether the project is a film, a commercial, an Ad shoot, editorial or a music video. $5 Cover a film I worked on last summer in Seattle was screening in Seattle the day I was finishing my Adidas shoot. Being based in Los Angeles, this would have been a little tricky and costly at a time when I am watching my expenses. Working on a film for five weeks, you develop relationships with people, this is like a small family, you spend countless hours with people and for the most part, the shoots are a lot of fun. On smaller projects you develop relationships over time, or in some cases you only work with people once.

When I arrived at the screening I was greeted by a lot friends and familiar faces, I felt I was home again. I was so happy to see my friends after six long months. This film $5 Cover was produced for MTV as a Webisode starting in June 2010. There were two other crews shooting footage to a similar project across the country. It was great watching all three projects on the screen. At the end of the screening there was a Q & A session and then an after party. I had to catch a bus back to my RV, returned to my friend’s house and caught a cab to the after party. I had an awesome time at the party, a side of me really wanted to stay in Seattle, however, I had a job in LA in three days and I really needed to come home.

The next morning, I pour a cup of coffee, and fired up the RV for a two-day trip back to LA. My goal today was to make it to Medford, Oregon, twelve hours of solid driving. I never try to rush myself, I am driving a very expensive house down the road.

I decided to stop and visit my friend Steve who owns an RV park in Tacoma, when I was shooting $5 Cover last summer, I stayed there for a couple of weeks. When I return to Seattle later this spring, I plan on staying there; this is the perfect place for me to base myself. Tacoma is a beautiful city; unfortunately, it does not get the attention like Seattle. Tacoma is a major port city in Washington State, smaller than Seattle, yet it has some very unique architecture, like the Glass Museum and the Tacoma Art Museum. Few films are shot in Tacoma; therefore there are plenty of virgin locations to create the perfect mood for ones film.

I was back on the road again, the weather was almost perfect, cloudy, but no rain. My real test will come when I hit Grants Pass, a place where weather can turn very scary in winter. I have my chains, but I do not want to use it, unless I have zero choice. I stop in Eugene for fuel and coffee and then I head for Grants Pass, hoping for an easy drive. Fortunately the pass is clear, no precipitation; I am now an hour north of Medford and enjoying an exquisite sunset. I pull into the same truck stop I stop at a week earlier, since I have my commercial drivers license I am allowed in the drivers lounge and watch a little TV and check the weather reports for tomorrow. The weather is not good; snow is expected through the Siskiyou Pass tomorrow morning. The Siskiyou Pass starts in Ashland, Oregon and heads south to the California border. Though I have made this trip before, winter has always concerned me, the road can ice up and heavy snow is not uncommon.

The next morning I decide to sleep in, I do not want to hit the pass until the ground has a chance to warm up. It is now or never, I enter I-5 south and head home. There is a slight mist falling, I am not too concern about the weather yet. As my RV climbs the pass the mist turns to snow, I back off on the accelerator and engage the ATC (Automatic Traction Control). A bus in front loses control and hits the guardrail; the road is blocked for several minutes; the driver and the passengers seem to be Ok. I am a little concerned; my trip might end before it begins. I drop my transmission to low gear and let gravity keep me on the road. Big rigs and personal vehicles pass me as if they are driving in a different dimension, a dimension where the weather is bright and sunny. I decide not to take chances, and keep my speed down and my distance far from the knuckleheads that pass me like NASCAR drivers trying to win a race.

As I enter the California border signs pop up “Chain Control”, I get an uneasy feeling, I thought the worst was behind me, I am wrong very wrong. Cars, trucks and big rigs chain up, I search the shoulder for Chain Monkeys (individual who put chains on vehicles for a price), and I could not find any. There is a slow moving truck in front of me, he is driving with chains, since “we” share the same width, I decide to keep my distance and follow his tire tracks. The idea works, and soon other vehicles are following “us” up the and down the grade, “boys and girls I think we have a convoy”. Sorry I just had a 70’s moment.

By the time I make it past Shasta, the snow turns to a heavy rain. It is time to find a truck stop; the last time I fuel up was three hundred miles ago. I still have enough diesel fuel to get me home, but I do not want to push it, I do not want the fuel gage to drop past a half tank. Finally I find a “Flying J” the perfect place to take a break, get fuel and some lunch.

When I get to Sacramento the rain is heavy, it is late afternoon, I am tired, but I need to get home. I have a job the next day with a new Client and it will also be my birthday. I drive on, listening to my XM radio and taking occasional calls from friends. By 11:02 PM, I see my exit; I am exulted, home at last. Home at last.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Road trip to Port Angeles, Washington

Dear Reader

It is late afternoon in Los Angeles; the sun is slowly setting as I head up, Interstate 5 north of Castaic, California. My destination is Port Angeles, Washington a twenty-four drive in a motor home. My goal tonight is to make it to the first truck stop north of the Grape Vine. I have been working the last three days and I am exhausted. I have three days to get to Port Angeles, so I can take my time. Just north of Highway 166, I spot a truck stop, since I have a commercial drivers license, I can utilize the professional drivers lounge and showers. Fortunately, I have everything I need in my motor home, including a bed and a shower, so I decide not to use the driver lounge.

The next morning I head out, destination Medford, Oregon. The time is 4:45 in the morning; my goal is to make it through the Siskiyou Mountains, before nightfall. It is winter, I do not want to hit black ice, black ice can form when the wet roads turn icy. For a seventeen ton vehicle black ice can ruin a good day, not to mention a very expensive vehicle.

Rain starts to hit my windshield, I slow down to fifty-five and let the dare devils pass me like I am motionless, safety first is my prerogative. I stop at a Denny’s for breakfast at 7:04. By 7:46 I am back on the road. I notice the CHP is giving out free speeding tickets, they ignore me, I am traveling below the speed limit. By the time I reach Shasta, I am fighting near blizzard conditions, I back off on the accelerator, if conditions worsen, I am going to call it a day and search for the nearest rest stop or truck stop. As I head to Yreka, the snow stops, I engage the cruise control and let the Cummins diesel engine push me up the pass. I make the descent into Ashland, Oregon; the exhaust brake helps me keep a steady speed down the pass. North of Medford, I find a truck stop and call it a night.

At five in the morning I am on the road again, I have one more pass to go through and then the drive to Port Angeles is relatively flat. The sky is grey with an occasional showers; small towns dot the scenery, ambiguous towns, until the mountains make way to cities like Eugene, Salem and then finally Portland. I have been to Portland numerous times; surrounded by two major rivers the Columbia to the north and the Willamette River to the east.

The GPS comes to life; I am approaching WA 16 West; now I am driving in unfamiliar territory. The rain is coming down in buckets I am slowly making my way up the peninsula. I have several options; only one includes a non-ferry trip. I decided to avoid the ferry and enjoy the view of the rain forest, the Olympia Mountains on the left and the Puget Sound on the right.

It is now late afternoon, Port Angeles is several miles away, and the mighty Highway101 is nearing its end, about forty miles north west of Port Angeles. My destination is on my right, the Red Lion Inn, there is a large parking lot to greet me and a king size bed to rest my head on.

The next day I put my walking shoes on and I get a taste of Port Angeles. I walk along the shoreline watching a man play with his dog; a small sailboat heads south along the bay. Several cargo ships unload their cargo; a ferry ship from Vancouver Island slowly emerges from the early morning fog. I head north on Front Street; Port Angeles is a timeless city made of brick buildings, cafes and boutiques. I find an old movie theatre, something that was modern in the fifties; a marquee shows the name of a movie now showing. I put a mental note in my head, I

come back at five in the afternoon, I cannot wait to see what the theatre looks like inside.

I get a text from the Producer, dinner at 7:30, meet in the lobby. I retreat to my room for several hours to get some much needed rest; I have four busy days ahead of me and a two day drive back to LA.

To be continued…