Steven Bumgardner (Kessler Shooter) recently released a new short part of the series, “Yosemite Nature Notes”. The above video takes a look at the Night sky. We had a chance to talk with Steve about the film as well as the series as a whole. We have included the interview below.
Kessler University (KU): Would love to know a little more about the series as well as the latest episode.
Steven Bumgardner (SB): I’ve been producing Yosemite Nature Notes for the National Park Service and the Yosemite Conservancy since 2008, and “Night Skies” is the nineteenth episode in the series. There’s also three bonus features available, including a behind-the-scenes for the “Moonbows” episode which features some dramatic footage of my 12-foot Kessler Crane dangling on the edge of a 500 foot cliff. What I’ve always tried to do with YNN is inspire folks to get outdoors. Whether its Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Glacier or Wildflowers, I want people to explore their world, and since Yosemite is one of the coolest places on the planet, my job has been made easier by having such a great subject to work with.
The “Night Skies” episode focuses on the value of having dark night skies in places like Yosemite and other National Parks. Since most folks live in urban and suburban settings, they don’t really have a chance to see a sky full of stars. Even those who visit National Parks usually stare at a campfire, or watch TV in their hotel room, and forget that just because the sun has set, the show hasn’t ended. There’s a whole different world out there at night.
I spent about 30 nights under the stars over three summers to get enough time-lapse footage of the night sky, often in the company of good friends and fellow Kessler Shooters such as Shawn Reeder, Tome Lowe, Josh Owens, Dustin Kukuk, Josh Helling and others.
Initially, I got great shots of the Milky Way with a nice motion-controlled dolly move under a tree, but eventually I realized that these types of shots were becoming pretty generic, and I really wanted the images to say “Yosemite” and not just “Milky Way” or “Stars.” That’s when I began focusing on getting the landscape in the shot, and using the setting moon to light up Half Dome, or Bridal Veil Fall or Sentinel Rock. I had also learned from my previous work on the “Moonbows” episode. Using YouTubes Analytics feature, I saw that viewer attention spiked in the shots that had people and photographers in it, not just the pretty moonbow shots. So I focused on getting good time-lapse shots of the star parties at Glacier Point with all their telescopes and red lights. Those are some of my favorite shots in the whole piece, and one of those shots was even used in Tom Lowe’s “TimeScapes” film to great effect.
KU: Love how you structured to piece with VO from the artists as well as the interviews. How did you choose to approach this episode?
SB: In regards to the approach for this edit, all my Yosemite Nature Notes episode are of a similar style, which is that I interview a handful of subject matter experts, and I cut between their answers to create my “script.” There is no voice-over narration, only interviews. At first, I had a hard time mastering this style, but after 4 years and 20+ videos, I’ve gotten pretty good at it. This episode is unique in that it took nearly three years to shoot, but only about 3 days to edit. As a filmmaker, I’m also glad with the comments I’ve read regarding this episode. Instead of folks discussing time-lapse and motion-control, most of the comments are about light pollution and the value of dark night skies. Instead of talking about cameras, time-lapse and motion-control, people are discussing the topic and issues that are brought up in the episode. That’s the sign of success, when viewers don’t even notice the cameras or editors and instead engage the subject fully. I’ve also seen at least two comments on YouTube that mention people crying while watching this episode. I think the music may help facilitate the tears, but it’s a great feeling to know that you’ve made that strong of an emotional connection with you viewers.
KU: What can we expect next from both you as well as the series?
SB: As far as my future, and that of Yosemite Nature Notes, we’ll see what happens. I’ve been invited to dinner tonight with the board of the Yosemite Conservancy, and they’re the ones that have provided my funding for the past 3 years. The fact that “Night Skies” has had the strongest opening week of any YNN episode (over 100,000 online views) bodes well for my 2013 grant proposal to be approved, in which case I’ll be making episodes about bears, skiing, granite and other interesting subjects. I also just signed an agreement with Yellowstone National Park to begin producing a video series for them as well, so I’ll be spending more time in the Northern Rockies, too. Finally, I just got off the phone with a producer for a PBS series about the outdoors, and it looks like I’ll be shooting and producing some segments for them as well, so things are looking pretty good right now! Where ever I go, I know that I’ll have my Kessler Crane strapped to my roof rack and my CineSlider riding shotgun, both ready to deploy!