Jump to content

Story about my new Documentary; The Giants in the hills.


Recommended Posts

  • Sustaining Member
Posted (edited)

Sometimes I feel like I need to slow down a bit, ya know… relax and smell the roses. But I’m just not one of those guys really. I have a problem with wanting to be creative nearly every waking second, so when we decided to do a road trip across the country to see my boyfriends parents in Ohio and spend some time with my parents in Massachusetts, I also decided to shoot a film along the way. My boyfriend is very accepting and was also interested in the subject matter, so it wasn’t a huge deal for him, but for me it was something I had always wanted to do. Make a film about one of my favorite subjects ever; Narrow-gauge railroading in Colorado.

000085370032.thumb.jpeg.c64a75de501b35084c60d8e18f3399c9.jpeg

Now of course, we couldn’t just go there and make a feature film or something. We needed to first make a short film to help generate buzz and hopefully build some sort of positive reputation within the community that follows said things. It’s a much bigger community with more money than my previous documentary, so we figure why not try fundraising using this material instead. Our finished product would probably be two or three pieces. One about steam purists called “Foamers”, one about the narrow gauge history and one about the lost right of ways. Three films sharing similar footage, shot all at the same time and distributed online.

So we hit the road with my Aaton XTR Prod and 6 rolls of 7207. I also brought my Elmo Super 8 camera and some Ektachrome to shoot the road trip aspects. My boyfriend had my Nikkormat 35mm still camera as well. Did I ever mention I don’t have a digital still or video camera that I would take anywhere besides my iPhone? Yea bout that.

Anyway, our first stop was Durango Colorado to ride up and down the Durango & Silverton Railroad. We shot two rolls of film chasing the train and a roll on board. We spent two full days there, which was really nice. Durango is a great yuppie town, it could be 200 miles from Los Angeles for all anyone knew. We then drove across the country, did the parents visit and drove back through New Mexico and stopped over at Cumbres & Toltec, which is the other part of the same railroad line as Durango & Silverton.

000085340007.thumb.jpeg.1588ed84e1840048fe303fb9bc3228f4.jpeg

 

Now I had to been to Durango before as a kid and rode the train, but the experience was entirely different this time around. As an adult, you really have a different vision on things and it was just as enthralling today as it was as a kid. It was tricky shooting on the train because there wasn’t really a great platform to put the camera. We needed to go back pretty far on the train to get those beautiful shots of the train snaking around curves, but we weren’t allowed to because those coaches were off limits. It was kind of a pain, but we figured it out and was able to get some great shots on board. The sideline shots consumed most of our time, following the train around the yard and up into the mountains. Chasing trains is something I’m good at, but this time I had to shoot. So it was about coordinating with my boyfriend to drive and point as we followed the train. It was actually a lot of fun, but man did we get a lot of water droplets on the lens in the process and like an idiot I never checked. So quite a bit of the footage has little issues, but hey I learned my lesson on that one. I also had a lens issue with my somewhat new to me Canon 11.5 - 165 zoom lens. The markings are dead on, but there is a spot PAST the Infinity mark that is actually close focus. Now I’ve never used this lens for documentary work, but as a one man band, I’m use to twisting the focus till it stops on wide shots. However, it appears you can’t do that with this lens, so unfortunately, A LOT our footage is soft, even though it’s stopped down quite a bit.

1794075403_TyewithAatonsittingonrail35mm.thumb.jpeg.e37cf8d1555840a9c057ff1b152dec1a.jpeg

I didn’t use my meter because the built-in meter works so good, but I found myself over-exposing quite a bit on the shoot by accident. I’d be shooting something and I’d notice the meter was way off suddenly. This was because when doing doc work, you’re not exactly in controlled lighting and sometimes the meter gets tricked. For me, I normally shoot 250D with a .9ND minimal, but I couldn’t run my mattebox on the train because it was too complicated to shoot with and I needed a lighter weight package. So the numbers I usually shoot with in my head, all that math really didn’t help me much. So I kinda settled on understanding that F22 was bright sun and F16 was cloudy. The problem is that I kept on having to open up the iris to check focus on longer shots and then close it back down again. I couldn’t take my eye off the viewfinder because it was running, so a lot of it was guess work. I got pretty good at knowing where to turn it, but I found my exposure to be all over the place on the footage. In fact, the best exposed material was shot in the cloudy conditions, that’s when the contrast level seemed more accurate. Otherwise, during post I was always fighting the over-exposed image to get some semblance of decent image.

000085340032.thumb.jpeg.5433fbb3e0c19f70d7f4a3fb4bc0f5a7.jpeg

At Cumbres and Toltec, I realized the lens needed to be cleaned and I also found myself hitting cloud cover more often, so the footage came out a lot better outside of the focus issue, which plagued me the entire trip. The great thing about C&T is that, they have a car way in the back of the train which is completely open and makes for an amazing place to shoot from. The bad thing is that it was covered in other people for the entire ride. We tried to get a spot early on, but you’re in the trees for 20 miles or so. The best footage was much later in the trip, so we lost our place. I also wanted to shoot other things besides the train going around corners. In the end,  most of C&T’s shoot was from the sidelines. We shot over 2 rolls because the highway follows the right of way pretty closely. I was very happy with the footage we got from there, it was a different experience and had the focus issue not been an issue, we would have nailed the entire shoot.

000085380015.thumb.jpeg.d3f310139a43380226c1708be098fe81.jpeg

When we got back to LA from C&T, I raced to get the film processed and prepped. We got back on Monday night, I had the stuff on my scanner Thursday afternoon. The super 8 material was done through Spectra and it took a lot longer to come back. I scanned everything with my new Film Fabriek HDS + 4k scanner. The first pass on the 16mm material was not very good, I was displeased with the results. I had done too much pre-grading in scanner and it pushed me out of the range of correction. So I had to re-scan the entire thing, which meant it was dirty on the 2nd time around. This kinda sucked because I really wanted a super clean finished product, but alas it was down to dust busting from that point on. I ran the scanner a 3rd time for selects that were over-exposed or under-exposed to help get some more out of those shots on another pass. So the 16mm film was run through the scanner 3 times.

The super 8 material was all screwed up. The camera has a serious problem and the film wobbled in the gate the entire time. I think the take up is too hard and it’s tugging at the film, causing it to shift in the gate. So I basically had no super 8 material, which utterly blew because we were expecting it to be OK since I had already tested the camera and knew it worked fine. I was able to fix a few shots, but I was displeased with the over-all result of course. A few shots wound up in the final piece, but only because I had no other option.

000085340019.thumb.jpeg.de64cc90d92ae1e92ca834cfa950c6d4.jpeg

After scanning, everything went though a pre-treatment to add a bit of sharpening to the image. The image off the scanner is pretty soft sadly, it’s because the imager has a lot of NR to help reduce digital noise and as a consequence, it causes the image to be a tiny bit softer than I like. So we add a TINY bit of sharpening to help with that and it works great. We then exported to DNXHR and edited in that format. The entire edit was done in Resolve, including final mix. We had some issues with audio on the shoot, my recorder is a piece of junk and the buttons get stuck. So we actually recorded some critical things and got nothing back. Luckily, we shot quite a bit of material with our iPhones as well, so we actually wound up using quite a bit of iPhone audio in the final piece, mixed with some higher quality material from the recorder. It’s not ideal, but honestly I’ve heard way worse. My friend Peter Starr recorded the narration I wrote and we slapped that in to help tell a story instead of it just being clips cut together. I really enjoyed the cut without any music or VO, but for the average viewer, they’ll want more than head to tail train shots and honestly, I can make something specifically for them up the road if they want that.

The finished piece took me a day to scan, 3 days to edit and another day to do the cleanup and audio work. So I have around 5 days into it, which isn’t bad. Of course, the cost was a different story. All new film from Kodak and processing/prep was around $1800, we also shot a few short-ends since we ran out of film. So we had more than 6 rolls to deal with. The cost to visit the railroads and side track our trip, was probably another $1000 or so. If you could scanner time, probably got around $3500 into the shoot, which isn’t bad. We came home with a bit over an hour of 16mm and around 15 minutes of super 8. We shot 7 rolls of still film (one roll didn’t come out due to operator error… :cough: boyfriend :cough:) and I think it was $230 on the nose for those rolls, processing and high-res scan. I was pretty chuffed by the stills, they came out great. Bit grainy, but we didn’t store the film properly by accident, the rolls got super hot. So tis what it is I guess.

IMG_1239.thumb.jpeg.49ac0d39629e301b3a7c818b496d21a5.jpeg

In the end, it was a great road trip, we were out there for 16 full days on the road and the fact we came back with ANYTHING outside of our iPhone material, is a testament to my desire to ALWAYS MAKE PRODUCT! Man I need to take a break! Word to the wise, if you’re going on a road trip/vacation, plan a few relax days. It wasn’t much of a vacation, but it was fun.

Edited by Tyler Purcell
  • Upvote 5
Link to comment
Share on other sites

 

Great work! You did a wonderful job. Too bad your 8mm conked out. But why did you even want 8mm? For a retro look or what?

It is tough trying to vacation and shoot a film or do a photo project. I could never do it well. I'd be all project and not much vacation. And that was for easy still photo projects. Cine' projects are much worse.

I love old steam trains. If I had the $$ and nothing to do, I'd hit all the historic rails across America taking train pictures. I've got a fantastic old clip on a DVD on how they changed the wheel covers or skins on the trains. I will have to cut it out someday to upload. You wont believe it. I've heard that some of the historic rails are having a hard time finding young people to carry them on. No one sticks with it. The repairing part that is.

Here is a list of vintage rails in the USA if any of you got some time to travel...

List of heritage railroads in the United States - Wikipedia

Here are some old steam train photos for you train devotees from a blog post I did in 2018...

https://danieldteolijrarchivalcollection.wordpress.com/2018/05/13/what-would-i-shoot-if-i-didnt-shoot-social-documentary/

It must have been something seeing one come down the rails back in the day! Belching all that smoke and soot. I'm surprised the environmental people have not shut them all down as yet.

O. Winston Link was the king of train photography in the latter part of the steam era...

bdb42c1a-f59f-4ea8-ad9f-ea4211dde6db-ori

o-winston-link-d-d-teoli-a-c.jpg?w=820

 

Here is one of Link's most famous photos...

 

20121115-lens-link-slide-DQSX-jumbo.jpg

I try and not do much pre-grading in the scanner. Now, all I have is a Retroscan, so I'm no expert, but the post software should be better than scanner software. Although some of that color correction software for Lasergraphics looks pretty impressive. 

Regarding soft footage?

You gotta pretest everything.

Edited by Daniel D. Teoli Jr.
  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Regarding soft footage?

You gotta pretest everything. I tested how all my lenses perform wide open and stopped down a few stops. That is mainly where I shoot....wide open to f5.6.  I need to know how the lens will perform wide open if I know I will be shooting low light. Some lenses stink wide open.

If you know you shoot a lot of things stopped down, test that extreme if you are worried about diffraction.

Also keep a box of alcohol pads, Rocket Blower and Kimwipes handy. Gotta keep the lenses clean.

Rocket Blower - Google Search

Forget lens fluid and lens paper. Alcohol pads and Kimwipes are the winner...and I've tried them all in 52 years.

(Certain B+W German filters are very hard to clean. They must have a crazy coating on them.)

If you have the sharpness in the film, you can always rework the film if the scan is poor, but if your film is soft and you want sharpness, you a F'd. Sometimes I've had a dirty lens due to being slack, but most of the time the lens is the first thing I check to see if it is sparkling. It is slickening when you take a look at the image and it looks soft and hazzy. Even with digital it sometimes sneaks by if you got a small screen...and sometimes the view screen is dirty as well and you can't see it. Alcohol pads and Kimwipes!

kimwipes - Google Search

...and don't forget to check your scanner lens to see if it is clean...on both ends!

Edited by Daniel D. Teoli Jr.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Sustaining Member
3 hours ago, Max Field said:

Watched through it, what did you use to record your friend's VO? It sounds pleasantly vintage.

Actually that was kind of a mistake on his part. We did 2 takes and the 2nd one was worse than the first, so we just kept the first one. Not sure why his mic settings are that way, I personally would rather have a more fuller voice, but for this project it's ok. It was a very nice EV studio voice mic with a decent A/D converter. I bet his EQ switches are all off on the mic. I don't live near him, so it's kind of a guessing game. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Sustaining Member
3 hours ago, Daniel D. Teoli Jr. said:

Great work! You did a wonderful job. Too bad your 8mm conked out. But why did you even want 8mm? For a retro look or what?

Thanks, well I wanted to make an all-ektachrome super 8 movie along our trip to mimic what I made when I was a kid. The idea was to make another side documentary about the journey. Sadly, we ran out of film way too fast, shoot at 24fps may not have been a good idea, I should have shot 18fps. Anyway, the idea was to project the finished piece on film without scanning. Sadly, the wobble gate issue prevents any of that footage from being usable in projection. Kinda of a waste of time and money, but the memories are captured and I will probably make a little super 8 only cut eventually. 

3 hours ago, Daniel D. Teoli Jr. said:

It is tough trying to vacation and shoot a film or do a photo project. I could never do it well. I'd be all project and not much vacation. And that was for easy still photo projects. Cine' projects are much worse.

Yea its hard, especially when you're trying to capture things that may not be there in 10 years ya know? It's taken me 30 years to get out to Colorado and shoot this film. I was just worried if we passed by there and didn't shoot something, I may not get another chance. We also shot lots of stills outside of the railroad material, as well as the super 8 stuff. So it was quite the "shoot" lol. 

3 hours ago, Daniel D. Teoli Jr. said:

I love old steam trains. If I had the $$ and nothing to do, I'd hit all the historic rails across America taking train pictures. I've got a fantastic old clip on a DVD on how they changed the wheel covers or skins on the trains. I will have to cut it out someday to upload. You wont believe it. I've heard that some of the historic rails are having a hard time finding young people to carry them on. No one sticks with it. The repairing part that is.

That's great! It's for sure an older persons business, I don't see the kids being too interested in running a lathe for hours on end, making sure the finished product is perfect. I learned a lot about the Cumbres and Toltec when I was there and they have a program that's quite amazing for people who are certified through their engineering course. You can actually rent the entire train out anytime you want and drive it yourself. Basically turning it into your own private railroad. After learning about that, I'm dead set on buying a bed and breakfast property in Chama and running my own private excursions for my guests with one of their more vintage engines. It's a long-term goal, but hopefully they'll still have coal fired steamers by the time I can do it. I may go out next year and take the fireman and engineer school, IF I can get in. They have limited seats available. 

3 hours ago, Daniel D. Teoli Jr. said:

You gotta pretest everything. I tested how all my lenses perform wide open and stopped down a few stops. That is mainly where I shoot....wide open to f5.6.  I need to know how the lens will perform wide open if I know I will be shooting low light. Some lenses stink wide open.

Oh I've used the lens quite a bit. This kinda is my 'camera test' film actually. Our final piece will be totally different and much longer, maybe not even using the same footage. We plan on raising the money and going out there with an actual crew. 

When I've used this lens before, we always measure focus and set it using the marks on the side. When doing documentary work, ya just don't do that and when you're in a hurry, it's sometimes hard to know where you are focus wise on the wide-end when you're also trying to frame up the shot. I always struggle with this, even when shooting digitally. So yea, when you're use to lenses working a certain way, it's kinda odd when they don't. 

 

3 hours ago, Daniel D. Teoli Jr. said:

Also keep a box of alcohol pads, Rocket Blower and Kimwipes handy. Gotta keep the lenses clean.

Oh I was nowhere near my bag (with my blower, Kim wipes and alcohol pads) when shooting most of this. My pockets completely full of other stuff I needed.

Also... I literally ran around like a crazy person with my head cut off. We had 45min to get all the D&S exterior train footage. We had 2hrs to get all the C&T exterior train footage. You would not believe how we shot this stuff, it was incredible we got a single frame. We'd show up in the car 10 seconds before the shot was suppose to start. Between locations, my head is out the window looking for smoke to find the right of way. We'd pull over and I'd get out, look around and see if there was a good shot, then move on. I did most of the driving because my boyfriend doesn't like breaking the law when driving. I was going 30mph backwards in the middle of the empty road at one point to get a shot. We would have missed it. Timing is everything because the train is slower than the car, but it's also a more direct path than the road. So it was a constant fight to get there before the train arrived.  I held my breath for the entire shot of the train going around that high curve because that was hand held. We blew right past that spot on the road and had to again, back up. I literally ran around the car, grabbed the camera, started it running before it was even on my shoulder to get that shot. So yea, those little moments you'd think you had, just didn't exist.

Besides, on the ride itself, the lens would get dirty from the soot and water vapor. I cleaned the lens on the ride of course, nearly very time I shot actually. It got dirty in the few seconds between takes. I eventually smartened up and used a lens cap when the lens was not in use, that helped a great deal. Nearly all of the C&T onboard footage was clean thanks to that. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Sustaining Member
Posted (edited)

Sounds like a wonderfully rewarding little getaway. Thanks for the write up, I enjoyed it.

 

Edited by Mark Kenfield
  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

Forum Sponsors

Abel Cine

Tai Audio

New Pro Video - New and Used Equipment

Gamma Ray Digital Inc

Broadcast Solutions Inc

Visual Products

Film Gears

Wooden Camera

Metropolis Post

Glidecam

Serious Gear

FJS International

CineLab

Cinematography Books and Gear



×
×
  • Create New...