Mother's Day weekend 2009 - sorry Mom, I will see you soon! Duty calls.
Two weeks ago, or whenever my last blog post was, er, posted, I did a site survey and client meeting in advance of this past weekend's trip. After months of editing on a new crop of videos, we made a detailed list of pickup shots needed to complete these videos, and shots to cover some new scripts recently green-lit for production.
As usual, the locations for our projects are far from home. But thanks to modern air travel, it is mostly easy. i say mostly because modern air travel has a few problems:
Faster than driving, probably safer. But I like to know what I am flying before I book my ticket. Airbus A320 or 737 - good. MD80 or Turboprop commuter plane - not so good. Mini-Jet such as the Dash 8 or Embraer 90 are good choices for short flights. Preferentially I pick an aisle seat behind the trailing edge of the wing on the right side - supposed to be the safest spot on the plane.
I listen to the safety lecture and reach under my seat to see if there really is a life vest. You never know.
Lost luggage is ok if all you are missing is your electric razor and iPod charger. Lost luggage is a big problem when it includes tripods and DVCPRO tapes. Last time I checked, my neighborhood big box store was out of stock on DVCPRO tapes. Thus, it is a good idea to arrive early enough in the day to give your airline time to locate and deliver your luggage.
Luckily on this trip, we all got all of our bags.
Carry On Luggage.
A shoot like this has a lot of luggage. There have been debates on the Business and Marketing forum about Shipping vs Checking gear. We always check our gear, but sometimes I think otherwise. Checked bags cost a lot each way, meanwhile carry-on restrictions are getting...restrictive.
While I have stayed in many spectacular hotels over the years (Fontainebleau Miami, Ritz Carlton New Orleans, Sir Francis Drake San Francisco, and of course the grandiose Washington Hospital Center Guesthouse) the more you pay, the less you get. Let me explain. Luxury hotels give you plush bedding and nice toiletries, but you also get the privilege of buying a cup of coffee whenever you feel like it and the $19.95 breakfast buffet in the morning. Oddly, table service at fancy hotels is especially slow.
On the flip side, budget hotels designed around business travelers, such as Hampton Inns and Holiday Inn Express, the less you pay the more you get.
Free coffee and tea 'round the clock in the lobby and in many cases a free breakfast buffet for all guests.
Free in-room and in-lobby wi-fi is a rarity in a fancy hotel(wired/expensive), but at the previously mentioned variety of hotel, it is expected. A nice business center featuring comfy chairs, computers and free printing is another bonus of the budget hotel. Certainly there are super-budget hotels like La Quinta or Super 8, but I have seen free buffets and wi-fi and pretty low prices.
When booking a hotel, with or without a car, it is important to scope out restaurant choices ahead of time. In an effort to save costs, finding decent dining within walking distance of your hotel is a good idea. A nice meal plus round trip cab fare is less nice. On this particular trip, we picked a Hampton Inn on the edge of downtown Denver, just a few blocks from the 16th St Promenade, similar to the 3rd St Promenade in Santa Monica.
In other words, closed to traffic, decent selection of restaurants, and a smattering of street performers and homeless guys begging for coin. We actually saw a robbery in progress at a 7-Eleven with police in hot pursuit. Better than Southland, that's for sure. Only problem with walking to dinner, after a 12 hour shooting day on your feet, is walking BACK from dinner. Well, the beer helps you fall asleep in advance of the next day's 6:30am call time!
On the flip side, some downtown areas are pretty scant when it comes to restaurants. A recent trip to Phoenix for a convention produced limited options for dining without a cab ride. In all fairness to Phoenix, I have had some very good meals east and west of downtown - no offense. Sometimes after a day standing up at a convention center, the last thing you want to do is travel far to get some grub. Room service, hotel dining, or a local dive is sometimes a better choice.
People make fun of me, but if I get a good looking meal (hopefully good tasting) I snap a photo on my handy phone cam.
The Shoot Itself.
We have a unique location - a hospital.
Depending upon the shotlist, we may be in the OR, patient holding areas or central supply. A helpful crew of volunteers, use of supplies and the ability to start and stop with the exception of surgery (I have occasionally asked a surgeon to pause what he is doing for a tape change) are all important elements. Also important is of course knowledge of your capabilities. Look at a setup, know where to park the cameras, and know if when you stop tape you have what you need.
Another part of being prepared is being prepared for anything. It is a long walk back to the office for a missing piece of kit, so on these trips we take everything. Thus the trusty blue Porta Brace bag is packed to the gills with extra mics, XLR cables, AC cords, camera power supplies, blank tapes, a portable mixer and the trusty wireless kit. Just make sure you keep track of the wireless transmitter before someone goes to the bathroom or worse - home.
Safety is also important when you have smooth tile floors, lots of cables and lots of people wearing floppy shoe covers and face shields.
Monitoring what you get and occasionally checking playback is good peace of mind.
With the shoot complete, a celebratory meal, and a brief night of sleep, it is time to wake up early for the flight home. I am well past the age of taking a red-eye home. Although LAX at midnight is a nice trip back to 1960. Sometimes my eyes play tricks on me.
Return the rental car, check luggage and stock up on pre-packaged sandwiches and bottled water for the flight home.
Call the valet parking hotline, take the shuttle bus, pack my gear in the car and drive home.
Next day return to the office, fire up the Falcon and check voicemail.
After a shoot like this, we have a lot of tapes to digitize.
But before that, just like looking at your double prints after a pre-digital vacation, you check the tapes and see if you actually got anything on tape.
Good stuff. The AJ-D700 is still a great camera after all these years. And the V1U speaks for itself.
In summary, as discussed ad infinitum on this blog, travel is wrought with details and potential problems. But with careful planning, teamwork and a little bit of luck - and a good night's sleep, free coffee and good meals - you can look back and smile. Thanks for looking back with me on this one. It was fun.