Diary of a Shoot, Day 4 — Weather Is An Issue

Telluride 4.3

This here sign should not be laying in the dirt. We are in serious need of some snow.

It’s now day 4 of this project. But it’s the first shooting day. And shooting day 1 of any campaign, film, or project is always full of excitement, anticipation, butterflies. Doesn’t matter if you’ve done it 1000 times or only 10.

Our shoot day 1 had another rather friendly call time of 8am. Breakfast at 7, that is.  Wheels up to the first location at 8. I slept well for the first time in a long time. 7 full hours of sleep. But, my first glance out my window at 7:01 told me what I didn’t want to know……we were hosed on weather.

Deep, dark gray overcast. No snow in a long time, lots and lots of wind. A tough combo. So on days like this my excitement, anticipation, butterflies automatically goes into problem solving mode. And this isn’t just the case for me. For an experienced crew, this is true for everybody. At the professional level, everyone knows that you cannot control the weather. Everyone knows that the planning for this shoot has taken all possible weather forecasts into consideration. And everyone knows that the show must (and usually can) go on. It’s just ‘how’ that needs answering.

When you’re on a tight schedule as we are to create the assets we need to create, and the weather isn’t treating you right, our common approach to these situations is…… not “what can we cancel”, it’s way more “what can we shoot”. In short, all shots aren’t created equal. Some are wider, some have big expanses, others are details or can be tweaked or augmented to work in low quality light. In some cases, of course, you’re shut down (raining at a beach, etc), but in most other cases, with some on your feet thinking and a creative approach to problem solving, you can still get a lot of work done.

That was the case today. Our first 4 shots happened from 8:30 to 10:30. Half hour for each shot. We modified some angles of some, we compressed others, we over exposed some attempts at others still and we made things work whenever possible. We definitely scrapped some plans in the process, too.

After struggling through and actually making a couple decent shots using the above considerations, we moved the entire crew – per our schedule – to the lodge at the top of the mountain. 30 people or so to a location 3000 vertical feet and several miles. People, Gear. Equipment, you name it. No small miracle. Through a variety of transportation modes (skis, snowmobiles, snowcats, chairlifts, etc) exacted perfectly to plan from our producers, we were atop the Telluride resort by lunchtime. Lunch was coordinated with the mountain operations folks, lots of options. My lunch? Chili, some sandwich meat and a Vitamin Water ZERO. Onward.

The rest of the day – 4 more hours of shooting – was also rough. Super rough. Now atop a ridge, the wind from our scout day was back. Howling at 50+mph. It peeled hats off heads. It blew the furniture out front of the mountain top lodge completely off the hill in to a pile. It blew people over. In short, it was brutal.

Telluride 4.5

Between shots, you can see how rough the weather looks. Gray and windy like nobody's business.

Telluride 4.6

Wind is pummeling us atop this mountain. Blowing over furniture, skis, boards, and people.

But we didn’t sit around and scratch our heads. We applied the same decision matrix as above. What can be shot? What can be moved? What might actually look BETTER in these conditions if we accented A, B, or C? We pulled out all the in-camera tweaks, angle adjustments and what not that we could. We shot quickly when the wind was lowest and the sky was brightest. We took breaks when it was unbearable. We laughed. We thought hard about how to keep our production and our vision intact. We moved some shots to later in the week, and we shot the ones that screamed for authenticity where perfect weather wasn’t required. [That’s one really good thing about REI, is that their brand/stories always root in authenticity. Weather is not always perfect – in fact often times crazy weather makes for great adventures and great photos… so we can occasionally get cool photos out of really crappy days…]. You get the point. In short, we made the stuff that could happen, happen.

Telluride 4.7

Clowning around on a break, pretending our jackets were wingsuits. Damn near were, actually.

Aside: One great thing we’ve got access to in these situations is an on site digital asset manager, in this case Matt who works on the client-side of the relationship. He crunches all our data this week. And when everything is going peachy-keen, it’s fun to gather around the downloaded cards on set and check in and take turns high fiving each other. But that’s not today. Today the role of having those assets available for rapid review on a large monitor is deciding if it’s good. Does this photo #win (thanks Mr. Sheen) Today we used that a fair bit to check that the work we were producing was at or above expectations. Pleasantly, we actually made some images I liked. We’re weary and battered by the wind and the weather, but we made some good shots in impossible conditions. In many ways, that feels good. Good for the pride section of everyone on the crew’s brain when everyone can gather round the monitor and say wow.

In short the models were frozen, but superstars. The producers kept the logistics on point. The tech advisors an stylists froze with the rest of us and kept the cast looking top notch. All the while we shot 2000 still frames and a ton of video – no idea how much, but it was a lot– and tried to keep the crew’s spirits high.

Telluride 4.8

Yours truly giving instructions to some talent about an upcoming shot

Telluride 4.9

Scott's having a hell of a time changing lenses with outrageous winds blowing chunks of ice and snow over everything.

We wrapped at 5pm atop the mountain. Hotel by 7.

And as we gathered in the hotel bar for a beer, to talk more shop, dig into it, escape from it and keep it real, something happened. A beautiful thing. Snow started to fall from the sky. We watched out the tinted windows of our third story perch. Underneath the streetlights and shoplights snowflakes filled the scene. It hadn’t happened in weeks, until this very minute. Prior to now we’d been dealing with a winter that felt like February, but looked like May. But now, it began to dump.

The crew’s spirits, mine included, instantly shot through the roof. Rapid weather checks were made. This was a legitimate storm. Snow accumulations are predicted, just the thing to help us out.

We gathered the key decision makers from each department and quick plan was hatched and we shuffled around the next day’s agenda to re-shoot two of the images we’d shot this morning again tomorrow morning IF we got some real snow accumulation (make everything beautiful and white) or IF we had sun. The rest of the day’s plan would be again trimmed and shuffled to later in the shoot.

That plan felt like a good one. Now, with much needed weather upon us, a clear plan for how to maximize it, and a clear head, we were back on track.

Dinner at our favorite Mexican spot at 8. Back to hotel by 10. Check in with rest of my life till 11, write this up and prepare for tomorrow. Fingers crossed we get a bunch of snow. It’s still dumping as I wrap this up. Hope you can check back in tomorrow.

And thanks for reading all this.

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