We recently chatted with Jarratt Moody about a very cool project he is working on with Cory Brown — both first time directors. They used Kessler gear to help tell their story.
Kessler University (KU): Tell me about the project. Why did you choose to produce the film? Do you have an invested interest in these parks?
Jarratt Moody (JM): When we heard the news that California intended to close a quarter of its state parks to save $22 million a year something seemed off. Compared to bank bailouts, military spending, and wall street bonuses this was a laughably insignificant amount. Still, for the financially starved state park system, it would have devastating results. Parks have been underfunded in California for decades. They were already cut to the bone and losing this last small amount would spread them too thin to keep operating all 278 parks. The only solution was closing 70 of them down.
Before the closures, Lauren and I were constantly getting out of San Francisco and into the parks. We’d spent many weekends exploring the many incredible wilderness areas the state has to offer. That was our only vested interest in the project. We wanted to save the places we loved.
We set out on a road trip in a airport shuttle bus turned RV to travel to the 70 parks scattered throughout California and shoot a documentary about the closures. The timing seemed perfect, but we had no funding or plans for the film. We did have an idea that we thought was a good one and it seemed the only thing to do was get out there and shoot some solid footage. So we headed out and gradually emptied our savings accounts on food, gas, equipment, campgrounds and vehicle breakdowns (of which there were several).
KU: With 70 parks facing closure, it seems like a daunting task to capture everything. How did you decide to approach the production? Did you have an idea of the story that you wanted to tell or is this something that will take shape in editing?
JM: We had more of a map than a plan. We divided the parks into several 2-3 week loops (we’re based in San Francisco), and as we rode along in the bus we’d be calling people, making the connections and lining up the interviews. There was a lot of serendipity involved, and many people we wanted to talk to fell into our lap. We met a lot of people, and many gave us leads of who we could get in touch with in nearby parks. Each park is different, but they’re all part of the same system so people know each other. We’d also spend big chunks of time in internet cafes dumping footage, doing research, and reaching out on on Facebook.
We had a broad sense of the story, but nothing too particular. We just planned on seeing what patterns there were and resolving it in the edit. We also eventually made the decision to turn the cameras on ourselves from time to time to give the viewer a common thread and a sense of the adventure.
KU: Being a first time director, did you face any obstacles that you didn’t expect? If you were given the opportunity, would you have done anything differently?
JM: There was definitely a lot of fast learning. So many people are so enthused about the possibilities of DSLR video, but it’s really just not there yet. Technicolor Cinestyle and Magic Lantern are amazing tools, but there’s still a lot of limitations. You still have silly technical issues like shooting slow motion when there are a bunch of horizontal lines that are going to turn into pink and green moiré hell. There were a lot of gorgeous moments, but sometimes we’d look at the footage later and be like, OK I guess we can’t shoot rippling water at sunset. So it was this weird situation of not only looking for beauty around us, but looking for the right kind of beauty that wouldn’t be garbage onscreen. Also the 12 minute time limit per clip is not cool for interviews.
If I were to do something differently, I think I’d get a sound guy. Cory and I were handling all the audio, filming with 2 cameras, and conducting the interview. Kind of a lot to think about at once. Our audio solution was a lav mic and an h4n, which creates a lot of synch stuff to deal with.
KU: How did you approach the tech on this project? Why did you choose to shoot on DSLR’s? Also, what was it like shooting with Kessler gear? Would love to know your experiences with the gear. How did it aid in telling your story?
JM: We shot with DSLRs mainly because we could afford them, but also because we could carry them 10 miles if needed. We were also excited about doing a lot of timelapses. The Kessler Pocket Dolly and Basic Controller were awesome for timelapse shots. Nothing beats a camera move with shadows shifting and rolling clouds on a RAW 18mp video clip. By the end of the production I was leaving my tripod in the bus and just running around with the Kessler and a cheap little ballhead tripod. It also fit perfectly in my backpack, which was nice. Every bit of production value counts when you’re going so low budget and I think the pocket dolly added a lot to the cinematic feel of the film.
KU: What’s next for you?
JM: We’re still a few months out from completing post production and distribution, and after that we don’t know. We’ll see what comes our way.
To find out more, please visit http://thefirst70.com/.