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Our new historical mining/railroad documentary (yet to be titled)


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It was an inevitability that after our success last year with “The Giants in the Hills”, we’d start the long process of producing a more comprehensive documentary about the mining and railroad system in southern Colorado. It’s always been a fascinating story to me, how tens of thousands of people traveled from all over the globe to mine for silver in the middle of one of the most inhospitable areas of the country. They trekked over mountains 14,000ft high, they dealt with floods, 6 months of freezing weather a year and mud slides that engulfed entire towns in seconds. All of this, for a few dollars a week. Then as suddenly as it started, the entire thing stopped when the Sherman Silver Purchase act was repealed in October 1893. Within only a few years, the depression had taken hold and over 45,000 Coloradans were out of work, nearly 10,000 in the mines alone.

 

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Luckily, the area was rich in other metals like Gold, Copper, Zinc, Uranium and Iron. These mines, along with some silver and an oil boom, kept the areas somewhat successful until after WWII, when the need decreased substantially and cost to truck/train the product was not worth it. Over the course of the 1950’s, many of the unprofitable mines were sealed, even more were simply abandoned. The countryside littered with mine tailings and abandoned buildings/towns.

 

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The story we’re telling is not just historical, but about what remains today. How the mines and the railroad, created several boom towns in the area, centered around Durango. We plan on doing actual scripted shoots with actors and crew, to tell some of the story without using stock footage. To keep consistency throughout, the entire show is being shot on 16mm, using various cameras from our Bolex EBM to XTR Prod. All of our insert shots of historical imagery and maps, will be photographed through the lens of a 16mm camera. We’re also going to be shooting drone footage and recording it back to 16mm in order to keep the consistency throughout. On this first trip alone, we shot over 5000 stills/videos on our Canon R5 and 9 rolls of 250D and 50D 16mm film stock, along with super 8 and 35mm still film. 

In terms of the filming itself, stuck to my guns, shot with the Canon 11-165mm zoom and was on the tripod for the majority of it. Unlike our last production, which I felt was very soft focus wise, I did try to pay attention this time around and even though I did struggle with focus on some occasions, I felt the focus was a lot better on this shoot. We did not use filtration much, only on a few shots where I under cranked in order to get Timelapse effect, where I had no choice. Where I'm not "in love" with our scan, I did determine our scanner did have a problem when scanning and it's since been remedied, so our "final" film will have a much better scan, which is great. We of course used our Film Fabriek HDS+ scanner and everything is presented in the 4k width 1.85:1 aspect ratio, which will be our final delivery format, unlike our last film which was 1.66:1. I just felt this time, a bit wider and more cinematic would work better. 

Unlike our last shoot where the camera stopped working, this time we had no camera problems outside of me knocking off the rubber motor boot a few days in and not having any glue to fix it. I also snapped one of the locking levers on the magazines off, but tape worked suitably for that problem, so it was a non-issue. 
 

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The first step in this new production, centered around exploring and discovering the lay of the land. We spent nearly two weeks on the ground, attempting to climb and hike, finding out our bodies were just not capable of doing so, due to the altitude. So we took our trusty BMW X5 everywhere we could. The poor car with it’s low-profile 21” wheels and tires, was never designed for this work, but it did very well. In impossible areas, where other people would turn around, we were able to keep trekking. By the end of our first few days, the car was covered in mud, but amazingly we were able to capture the material we needed.

 

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We visited several areas from Red Mountain just north of Silverton and the town of Durango, to Georgetown, Silverplume and Erie. It was an incredible adventure, driving up mountains, but also along old railroad right of ways. Seeing ruins of towns, both from the mining era and also from abandoned railroad lines, gave us some phenomenal imagery. This has laid foundation we need to head back there in fall and continue shooting. We now know where to go, what to shoot, what we need to do in order to get shots. The next step is to figure out the scripted elements and find us a local actor who can play the part. 

Sadly our last 3 days of production, I came down with covid and was unable to continue shooting, spending most of our time in the car driving home or in bed. It did suck, but we did have an enjoyable drive home from Denver (which was our final landing place) through the San Juan mountains and down to the Grand Canyon. The area is so lovely and even though I was running a fever and in bed, it was still enjoyable. 

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This is going to be a new blog all about our production and to start it off, I figured we’d lay down the explanation above and of course, show some footage! Out of the roughly 100 minutes we shot, here is 3 and 1/2 minutes of, let’s-just-say “pretty” shots. I’m pretty happy with what we gathered thus far, but it boggles my mind how much more we need to do. I’m budgeting another 20 rolls right now because I can’t imagine it taking any less then that. Hopefully I can afford enough film now, so if Kodak raises the prices next year, it won’t effect me. This may be my last self-funded hurrah!



 

Edited by Tyler Purcell
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Crikey, lugging 16mm around on a documentary in 2022! That's dedication. Well, I guess what you lose in batteries you make up for in stock.

Not to nitpick, but is the time lapse at about 20 seconds going backwards?

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Film still rules it seems and it is good to see.

Would there be any utility in considering the cost of a digital - film - digital route for the drone footage versus hiring something a human cammo can fly in, using a wide lens on your Bolex and a faster frame rate if it is available on the EDM? Some pilots may be too anxious to please and paint themselves into a corner. 

You also need to be mindful of a pilot's high workload during a flight. Task saturation is a real thing and does not take much to extra tasking or distraction to clutter the mind. 

The aerials on this 1990s documentary were shot handheld with an old spring H16RX5 Bolex at a faster frame rate to deal with the involuntary athletics of a Robinson R22 mustering helicopter's vibrating rotor system. The cameraman was unimpressed with the fan belts which are the primary drive system in the R22. The reality is that they are reliable.

The filmies also used a little Subaru AWD wagon for the first cross-country part of their shoot. They later bought a Toyota 4WD wagon for the remainder of the shoot and sold it off afterwards.

https://ictv.com.au/video/item/1063

Edited by Robert Hart
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9 hours ago, David Sekanina said:

Wonderful Tyler, also the music fits perfectly. Looking forward to see the final doc.

Did you use the car for the one 'dolly shot' ?

Yea, we did shoot some car stuff that came out really nice. I'm going to bring a dolly next time we go to shoot some intimate stuff with an actor. 

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8 hours ago, Phil Rhodes said:

Not to nitpick, but is the time lapse at about 20 seconds going backwards?

Yea, with Timelapse it can be tricky to get what ya want exactly. So I realized when shooting, the shot had to be reversed to work. Oh well. I'll probably comp the airplane out, that's the only "odd" thing that may distract people. 

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7 hours ago, Robert Hart said:

Would there be any utility in considering the cost of a digital - film - digital route for the drone footage versus hiring something a human cammo can fly in

Yes, we're going to be shooting the drone shots digitally and then converting them to film. It's really the only way to deal with it as a drone that is big enough to take even a Bolex, is above our pay grade and the budget for the entire film. LOL 😛

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I liked the general atmosphere, and the tracking shot of the train was really good. I hadn't realised you used a car.  Apart from the lovely zoom-back at the end, I thought the zooms didn't look very nice,  some jerkiness ?  The static shots much more effective. Liked the tele shots of train.

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Looks terrific Tyler! What wonderful landscapes, breathtaking. Is your scanner giving you a little too much magenta? That zoom is amazing, it doesn't seem to want to stop, hah! I look forward to seeing more, thank you for sharing.

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34 minutes ago, Tyler Purcell said:

Yes, we're going to be shooting the drone shots digitally and then converting them to film. It's really the only way to deal with it as a drone that is big enough to take even a Bolex, is above our pay grade and the budget for the entire film. LOL 😛

I think it is called living within your means. To be truthful, modern drones are creating wonderful vision that mortal like me could never have dreamed about in younger years. A guy with one of those little hand-held DJI doovers on a stick actually got better follows of an aircraft lifting off than I did with an URSA Mini 4.6K camera on a tripod. 

Will you be taking a chance and doing a low-level slow approach to an oncoming locomotive then lofting over with a tiltdown onto the loco and wagons passing below?

All the best in your endeavours.

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48 minutes ago, Robert Hart said:

Will you be taking a chance and doing a low-level slow approach to an oncoming locomotive then lofting over with a tiltdown onto the loco and wagons passing below?

That would be nice. We have some hookup's with one of the railroads, we may be able to get the engineer to do whatever we want. So yea, for sure fun stuff like that maybe possible. 

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1 hour ago, Doug Palmer said:

I thought the zooms didn't look very nice,  some jerkiness

Yea alas, the majority of the zooms were done on hikes with a stripped camera package. No rails to even hold the zoom motor. Also, I've not been happy with my zoom motor's smoothness at slow speeds. It seems to have the same problem as doing it by hand. Fast stuff, it works fine, but when you're inching the lens, it jerks as well. The lens isn't the issue, it's very smooth, it's just the pitch of the teeth and the ratio of the motor. It's not like a ENG camera zoom, where there are more teeth, narrower pitch and built-in zoom controller. With a bigger S35mm style zoom, with a bigger barrel, it's a lot easier. The only way to make the S16 zooms better by hand, is a little screw in lever and I forgot it. 

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Except for possible windage around the locomotive cab causing an upset to the camera drone, a cool shot would be to exit the cab just after the driver works controls to power up, then crane up and hold as the train passes forward beneath

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13 minutes ago, Robert Hart said:

Except for possible windage around the locomotive cab causing an upset to the camera drone, a cool shot would be to exit the cab just after the driver works controls to power up, then crane up and hold as the train passes forward beneath

I like that idea.

I was going to bring a 20ft crane arm with us next time and a dolly. Set it up on a side track and come out the cab and down to the wheels or something nice like that. But yea, doing that shot with the drone would be nice. Some of the locations are very drone centric, going between buildings and trees to reveal train sorta thing. I'm really looking forward to getting the drone. 

Edited by Tyler Purcell
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On 7/24/2022 at 7:41 PM, Tyler Purcell said:

Yes, we're going to be shooting the drone shots digitally and then converting them to film. It's really the only way to deal with it as a drone that is big enough to take even a Bolex, is above our pay grade and the budget for the entire film. LOL 😛

I wonder if anyone has ever put a very small 16mm camera on to a drone.  eg a GIC 50ft camera,  possibly modified to take electric motor.   I do hope your digital drone footage blends in well with your film footage.  I don't know how this is normally done.

All the best with this interesting project 😃

I don't know how it is in the US when using a film camera at these kinds of vintage locations with any onlookers.  I was at a Victorian  enactment held at a fort last Sunday,  and there was a great fascination with my Bolex H16.  Folks wanted to know its age.  They were a little disappointed to learn it wasn't even Edwardian ! 

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Mining, ghost towns and the wild west...all fascinating material. Thanks for the stupendous rundown on your project Tyler! 

Too bad more of the other members don't use you as an example Tyler and invest in the forum like this. But it is like that on most forums. I've been on forums since the bulletin board days of the 1990's and generally only a very small % really participate regularly. The rest are just sucking off the tit, taking what they can, and not contributing much. Well, maybe they are too successful and don't have the time...so I will give them the doubt benefit.

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I got a small collection of mining photos in the Archive. This mining scene is from Getty Museum. Too $$ for me to ever afford. Sadly, I was a little late to the party on some of the material at Getty, as they went downhill with what they offer now in res versus the old days. For instance, in 2018 this mining scene was +/- 450% higher res than what they offer now. 

Well, good luck with your project Tyler and thanks again for the wonderful reportage!

Edited by Daniel D. Teoli Jr.
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8 hours ago, Doug Palmer said:

I wonder if anyone has ever put a very small 16mm camera on to a drone.  eg a GIC 50ft camera,  possibly modified to take electric motor.   I do hope your digital drone footage blends in well with your film footage.  I don't know how this is normally done.

Yep, I've seen Bolex's (as pointed out above) flown, but honestly the drone required to do that is out of our price range. Not only that, but it's so big, it would be tricky to fly it where we want to sadly, it would draw a lot of attention. But yes, a big drone could fly my cameras no problem. 

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1 hour ago, Daniel D. Teoli Jr. said:

Mining, ghost towns and the wild west...all fascinating material. Thanks for the stupendous rundown on your project Tyler! 

Thanks! It'll be a long project, but unlike my last sorta failed documentary, the subject matter won't change! hahah 😛

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6 minutes ago, Doug Palmer said:

But the Bolex is fairly heavy.  I was really thinking of something like this G.I.C. camera.  So maybe a much smaller drone might be able to lift it.  I have no idea.  Super-16 also possible.

 

Honestly, after making those comments, I realized it's really no lighter than my XTR. We're going to try and do the "Photographers Special" in fall, which would give us a lot more footage without having to hike. So we'll see! 

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