A few nights ago it was movie night at the Serena house. Izzy has been prone to requesting documentaries as of late, so we headed to itunes on Apple TV for a search. Low and behold, MILE… MILE AND A HALF was featured in the top ten docs that day. We joked with her, asking if she wanted to watch #9 on the list. Her response? “NOOOOO. I’ve seen that movie sooo many times.”
Who can blame her? It was enough to be away from us for the month we were on the trail, but we didn’t anticipate the countless hours that would be spent once we decided to pursue making a feature film out of the footage we gathered from the trail. The film was essentially a sibling during her last year of pre-school and first year of Kindergarten. Between the meetings, traveling for screenings, or just discussions between Jen and me around the house, Izzy was impacted by the film.
This film has had a huge impact on our family, and we’re grateful for it.
I met Gabriel in 2013 when my creative partner, Jen Serena, was shooting some promotional stills in the lead up to his Roll Across America. A month later, he would leave Burbank, California and roll his standard wheelchair across the United States. It was his intention to arrive to his hometown in time for his 25th High School Reunion. We had just announced the premiere of our feature-length documentary, Mile… Mile & A Half, so Gabriel was picking my brain about the process of DIY Film Distribution. Accompanying him on his journey would be a small video crew, documenting his journey, so he was keen to learn what challenges might lay ahead after the roll. I enjoyed keeping up with Gabriel during his trek across the US via Facebook. Always inspired, I couldn’t imagine walking, much less rolling across 13 states. Even had he not completed the journey, it would’ve been admirable to make the attempt.
He did make it.
Fast-forward one year later. I’d been directing a few shoots for Esquire Network with the extremely talented Chuck Ozeas as my Director of Photography. I watched as he and his camera department created some beautiful imagery on the Red EPIC, but the camera intimated me. Yes, I love shooting, but the leap from DSLR’s to a camera like the Epic made me a little nervous.
Jen convinced me to rent an Epic for the weekend to get familiar not only with shooting, but shepherding the footage through the post-production workflow. I needed to allow myself the opportunity to say that this was only a test. If I finished the weekend with only one or two great images, I needed to be okay with it. This was only a test.
I reached out to Gabriel to ask if he’d be interested in being an on-camera subject for my test. As it turned out, he was preparing for his next roll and could use some updated imagery. I rented a basic package from ShadowCast Pictures that included a set of Zeiss CP2 primes. Jay and his team were incredibly helpful, and the gear was in wonderful shape. Another friend & filmmaker, Gaston Carrizo, offered his time and equipment for one jib shot. Friend and collaborator, Sheldon Neill of Project Yosemite lent his time and expertise on the Epic, and Durand Trench volunteered his time and talent for the interview portion of the weekend.
I spent plenty of time familiarizing myself with the camera as I built it (reading manuals and forums, calling camera operator friends with any questions I had), and then it was just a matter of following Gabriel through his normal workout regiments. Throughout the day of shooting, I couldn’t help but be blown away by his energy. We were all tired, but there was Gabriel, working twice as hard to accomplish tasks as simple for us as getting out of the car. During our time at the Burbank YMCA, I found myself tiring while in the pool with Gabriel (operating the GoPro underwater which we never used in the final piece), but there he was staying afloat with only his arms. It was a humble reminder of how much I take my health for granted. The Burbank YMCA has been a big supporter of Gabriel and they were very kind to allow us the opportunity to document his workout at the gym.
The piece practically cut itself. Because we didn’t shoot too much material, there weren’t difficult decisions that needed to be made. It was just important to me that Gabriel’s reasons for doing what he does was clearly conveyed and in his voice. I did challenge myself during the edit in that I did not cut to a piece of temp music. I cut the piece entirely without music and asked the insanely talented Paul Bessenbacher of Emoto Music to see what he could come up with. His beautiful score, accompanied with a sound edit and mix by David Barnaby, color timing by Bruce Goodman and graphic design by Chris Kneller, completed a piece that beautifully communicates Gabriel’s passion.
And thanks to Jen Serena… without her confidence in me and strong belief in the power of investing in oneself, this test might never have happened.
Passion projects are good for my soul. They challenge me. They keep me honest. They force me to be ultimately responsible for every decision that ends up on screen. And so it’s these projects that I’m most proud of and want to represent who I am as an artist and storyteller. Two of my short documentaries on artists Dave Lefner & Jeremy Thomas continue to surprise me with the new audiences they’re reaching.
Dave Lefner was chosen to have his work shown in the lobby of the Laemmle Royal Theater in Santa Monica as part of the Laemmle’s Art in the ArtHouse series. For the duration of his three-month exhibition, my trailer for his documentary played in the lobby as well as a preview before their film screenings. And during the opening night event, the full documentary screened in one of their theaters. Dave Lefner’s piece, with music by Quiet Lights, was also selected as one of the Vimeo Staff Picks.
And my piece on New Mexico sculptor, Jeremy Thomas, was invited to screen on the New Mexico PBS arts program, COLORES. In order to air the program, I had to have the film re-scored, so I reached out to friend and collaborator, Matt Bowen, to compose the new soundtrack. Together with percussionist, Jo Pusateri, and engineer, Will Hampton, they breathed new life into the documentary about inflating metal and polished what had been somewhat of an un-finished piece for three years prior.
And both pieces were responsible in my being chosen to direct a series of short documentaries for Esquire Networks. The short pieces, produced by Moving Parts, Inc., will hopefully be released this summer.
Someone once told me that instead of having the single that shoots to the top of the charts, he’d rather be the song that people continue to sing in shower years down the road. I like that thought.
And I like singing in the shower.