“The saddest journey in the world is the one that follows a precise itinerary. Then you’re not a traveler. You’re a fucking tourist.” ― Guillermo del Toro
The first day of a film production is like the first day of spring. By the end of it, if you don’t smell of dirt, you haven’t really experienced the day to its fullest. Luckily for us, by the end of our first day, we did smell a fair bit dirty. We didn’t plan for that to happen of course. Having spent an entire week preparing for and pouring over every detail of the shoot, we were resigned to being, as del Toro might have put it, excited, but quietly confident tourists.
We took a conscious decision during our pre-production meetings to try and finish our technically toughest shooting assignments on the first day. The itinerary we had prepared for the first day included almost all the scenes that required complex camera movement. We had planned for three scenes. These scenes included, among other things, two aerial shots on a drone, a tracking shot on the gimbal, a couple of dolly shots and at least one shot each on the jib and a slider spread across two different shooting locations. In hindsight, this might have been a bit too ambitious for a first day. But like Billy Wader once said, hindsight is always twenty-twenty.
We began our shoot, as per plan, in one of the many walking trails that mark the landscape of the Black Forest. The trail we had chosen for our shoot was on the scenic Schauinsland mountain, just outside of Freiburg. As work places go, one couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful or peaceful place. The first shot was an aerial shot in which we tracked our lead actor jogging on the trail. We used a Freefly CineStar 8 copter with a DJI Ronin attached through the GoCopter Universal Plate to fly the Red Dragon and used a 18-35mm Sigma Lens to achieve this. It took us 4 flights of the copter to capture exactly what we wanted and we finished in time for the next shot. Words cannot describe our excitement and happiness when the Dragon first took flight and when we finished our first shot in time.
The next shot was at the same location and involved our key Grip, Yann, and second Grip, Noah, running after our lead, Herbert, carrying the Red Dragon mounted on a DJI Ronin gimbal. To complicate matters, it was not a simple tracking shot but involved a fair degree of complex character actions that needed to be captured. None of us on set envied Yann and Noah for their job of carrying a 12 kg object at shoulder height and running over 50m. It took them several takes to get their actions right. During the 11th take our director, David, jumped up and down with joy claiming the shot was perfect. It took another 10 takes before he was truly satisfied. So, that’s about a km of running with the gimbal and the Dragon for a 6 second clip shot over 3 hours. Filmmaking is an acquired taste. But the final product was totally worth it.
Having finished shooting at our first location, we broke for lunch. Lunch was a fun and yummy affair at our second location – a house on the outskirts of Freiburg. It was here that we started facing quite a few technical difficulties. Before we could begin shooting at our second location, the technical crew had to surmount many technical obstacles. By the time these difficulties were surmounted, it was too late to do anything more than just shoot half of the second scene we wanted to shoot. Another copter shot, albeit a fairly simple one.
We decided to pack up for the day and start fresh again on Day 2. While we hadn’t achieved all that we set out to, we had gotten our hands dirty and production was in full swing. We weren’t just passive tourists anymore.
We would like to thank our heroes of the day: Yann for his perseverance during the tracking shot and Felix from Flymotions for his impeccable flying of our copter. Also Ingo and Mark at Behring Film & Klotz Media for providing us with their Panther dolly and jib and Timo Wetzel at GoCopter for providing us with probably the best Ronin accessories on the market. Cheers guys, you were amazing.