Every year in late spring, the small tributary creeks that feed Montana's rivers become engorged with enough runoff to support small-boat travel. While some of these runs are suitable for intrepid canoeists, many of the raging chutes draw only a handful of Class V kayakers. But as this short film from Elements Mixed Media demonstrates, there is no shortage of whitewater pilgrims in Montana's kayaking community.
C&K: This is a very well produced video; it's got drones, interviews and slo-mo, and it all ties up into a slick edit. Can you take us through your pre-production?
Seth Warren: The biggest element of pre-production is getting funding. This particular film is part of a series I created for the Epic Montana YouTube channel—a killer project that showcases short films about all kinds of Montana adventures—and its funded through a grant program administered by the Montana Film Office and the Office of Tourism. It is the fifth of nine films that I'm working on about Montanans that "live epically." It has never been difficult for me to find artists to collaborate with on projects like this, and working in a team setting is a ton of fun for everyone involved. A big challenge to figure out is how to obtain filming permits. The laws for the use of drones are also changing quickly, so we have to pay attention to that.
What works for you? Are there any tips you'd like to pass onto beginner production teams?
I read an article by Jimmy Chin a while back titled "It Takes A Village," which talks about the main roles of a larger-scale production team. At the time, I was literally heading out on a solo shoot with two video cameras on tripods and a still camera in hand. This article got me thinking about working on a more collaborative level and what that could look like for me. It has been a long and inspiring road to get to this place where I have a five-person operation on every shoot. So if I had any advice on film production to a beginner it would be to get really comfortable working in a team setting because it's hard to do this stuff by yourself. Also, it's good to have a storyboard of where you want your film to go in case nothing amazing happens. For me, I like to create gritty uncontrived films. As soon as the metaphorical throw bag comes out, be sure to have the cameras rolling to capture the real, no-bullshit story as it unfolds.
What were some of the biggest challenges during production?
Preparing for an outdoor shoot that depends fully on the ever-changing weather of Montana is by far the most difficult element of production around here. There is only a small window when creeks like Big Timber are even runnable. Just to give a little insight, we canceled the trip the morning of the shoot because the "speculometer" was running so high: the prediction of water levels by friends was either too low, too high, too gnarly, or frozen over. But Tyler Bradt had only one weekend to do this and said, "F@#$ this… We are going!" Had we gone the next day it would have been too high. Luckily, we work with my friend Genki Kino at the NOAA weather service in Missoula and he helps us make smart decisions on weather and water levels for all of our productions. If you haven't seen his Montana Rooted film, you should check it out. He is awesome; he's an Hawaiian surfer who has found a home surfing the rivers of Montana. He predicted the weather perfectly for this project and it totally worked out.
How is it working with kayakers as opposed to more commercial shoots?
The big difference is that the production crew has to be fast on their feet in order to document the action properly. There was a ton of hiking involved for everyone to get into proper positions (one of the camera operators was limping by the end and feared he had torn his meniscus). Aside from the fact that the kayakers would wait—reluctantly—for us to set up, there is absolutely nothing staged in this film. When I work with commercial clients, I try to adapt the same documentary style into a commercial setting. Basically, my general rule is to work with real people doing real things.
Are there any funny behind the scenes moments you'd like to share?
The drone was inches from death several times with all the trees, which is always more enjoyable in retrospect. Tyler Bradt is one of the funniest guys I know, and it was super classic to hang out with Nate, the youngest of the three legendary Garcia brothers. As far as the production goes, we ran a pretty tight ship and worked our asses off to walk away with a film like this in an afternoon of filming. After the shoot, we all got Tiger's Blood slushies at a backwoods slushy stand (who knew?) in Big Timber, MT. I said to the proprietor that if I lived there I would probably visit the stand every day. A local right behind me (60+ years old) with a red stained mouth said, "I come here every day!"
Your post-production is very tight.
Thank you! It has taken me ages to figure out what I'm doing with music, but I was introduced by a friend to a guy named Jonni Kent out of the UK a couple years ago who started creating the music score for all of my films. Being able to work with him to create the vibe of each film is a huge component to the film's success, and a very fun part of the process. Another detail that often gets lost on lower budget productions is that little bow on the end with animation and design. I work with an awesome designer named Amber Bushnell out of Montana that does the final detailing for all my films, because in my eyes, design is super important. All in all, the most critical component in my final product is storytelling, and making sure I'm sharing real experiences through photography and film.
What's next on your list of visual adventures?
I'm headed to Iceland on a kiteboarding adventure next month for a personal photography project. I'm also working on a home video about my baby (now six months old). She is growing up way faster than I'm comfortable with.
More of Seth Warren's work can be seen at www.elementsmixedmedia.com
Follow Seth on instagram at @elementsmedia and facebook @elementsmixedmedia