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.