Frame of Mind: Work4Free, Part Two of Two

This installment of Frame of Mind not only marks the last one of 2022, but it also marks the last FoM for the foreseeable future. That’s correct, folks. My full-time employment with vurbmoto has come to its natural conclusion and, as we move into 2023, my career moves into its next chapter. What that chapter looks like? Honestly, I have no idea and, for the first time in my career, I am perfectly content with that.

I suspect you’ll see my name attached to future Red Bull projects that @VurbWes takes on and some random Vurb projects here and there, but moving forward I don’t suspect you’ll see my name attached to many more dirt bike videos. Instead, perhaps a name tag at your local Trader Joe’s or maybe a movie that I made in Hollywood, CA. Both have a 50/50 chance of happening. Both I am perfectly okay with happening.

Our steadicam operator, Kevin, has provided some of the most beautiful tracking shots I’ve been a part of. While the gimbals do the trick, the steadicam has such a specific and natural look to it that I have fallen in love with.

While we have discussed ways to grow this article, those that enjoy this feature do stand a small chance of it coming back in a different formula. And, if not, hopefully those that enjoy the craft of filmmaking and motocross and use these as an archive to learn, study, and expand on their craft. Now, with that out of the way, let’s discuss the second and final part of working for free. If you missed part one, you can read through that here.

BTS action on day three of production for Benny Bill. Far leftt: Ezekiel handling sound. Middle left, our gaffer/grip Shannon bouncing in some eye light. Far right, 1st AC cammie pulling focus off of the SmallHD 7″ monitor. And, center, our 21.5″ directors monitor.

Working on free projects comes with a lot of stress and, weirdly, a lot of non-issues. The stress (for me) comes from conniving your talented friends to come crew for free so you can produce something to the best of your abilities and not have crew that is lackluster, inexperienced, and does not give a shit. The non-issues are that it is literally free, so you have an aspect of limitations and a small box you have to stay within. So, while you can’t throw money at your ideas, you can think up creative solutions or simply scratch certain shots and ideas because you cannot achieve them. Thus, for me, weirdly making certain aspects of the process slightly easier in the decision making process.

Currently, we are three (3) days into production on a narrative short film I am DP’ing called, Benny Bill, about a early 20s drug addict burning every friend and bridge in his path to get high (again, if you read part one, you already know this). We are all working on this for free and even putting in a little bit of our own money to bring it all to life. Originally, this was slated to be a three day gig, however, we have since realized it is now going to be a four day gig with day four happening sometime in January of 2023. Why did this happen? Because of concerns I had with a location as this is where literally working on a no budget project has its issues. Let’s discuss…

BTS from day two of production on Benny Bill. Far left, my 1st AC, Cammie and myself discussing the shot while in front of us our gaffer/grip, Jason adjusts a light. On the right we have our director, Yakov, and top right the beautifully large shot gun mic.

During our tech scout in early November, the director and I visited a local liquor store in Riverside, CA (why can I not escape the Inland Empire, even on a narrative gig) that he had scouted and gotten approval from the owners to shoot inside of it. However, upon our tech scout, my director had no luck getting in contact with the owner and, while on site, the owner was not there.

Instead, we had to discuss everything with the son of the liquor store owner who was working the register. While he was polite, I definitely got the vibe that we could have issues as this individual seemed slightly hesitant. Upon further discussion, we started learning about all of the rules we would have to abide by during production. While they all made perfect sense (especially since we didn’t have real location permits to shut down the store for our day of shooting), I could also tell that the employee didn’t quite understand (no matter how much we explained it) that we would be walking in with a crew of roughly 15 people, camera, lights, stands, etc. Thus, my concerns were that we would show up on the day and they could simply tell us, “No, thank you” and we are left out in the cold.

More BTS. We had a lot going on with this lighting setup, and also one of my favorites. This was all about bringing up the ambient level and also creating some color contrast, which you will see in the final piece when it is available next year.

While this is a valid concern and also maybe a little pessimistic on my behalf, it was only a week or so prior that I was in Northern California for a commercial shoot for Petco where we literally had all of the proper location permits and filming permits to be shooting in the city and, despite that, we still got kicked out of a location. Why? Because the owners of the hotel didn’t like that we had a somewhat large crew (roughly eight to 10 of us) and we were blocking the entrance to their hotel. So, despite the fact that we were on the sidewalk and permitted to be anywhere on the sidewalk, the owners were definitely not happy with us and told us to leave. Thus, we left and had to find a different location. So, why would I think the liquor store for this no budget narrative film that has no permits would potentially pull the same shit? Because of what I had just experienced.

A colored frame from the film. This maybe my favorite shot from the entire film thus far. There was so much intention behind the framing of this shot, why we short sided him, why the colors of our lighting are the way they are, etc. It’s this type of shit that I live for.

After quite a few conversations with my director, he agreed that we should cut the interior liquor store scene and find a different location. Luckily, the liquor store was still kind enough to let us shoot our exterior scene in their parking lot without issue. So, what’s our solution to the interior liquor store sequence? The director ended up creating a GoFundMe page for the film so he can raise funds that will allow us to rent an actual liquor store set in the Los Angeles, CA area next month. One way or another, this will happen, but it is such an interesting aspect of the filmmaking process. On other narrative productions I have worked on, we have had all of our locations rented out without issue, however, once you step foot on these no budget films, you are encountering unique obstacles like location issues and then how to come up with the funds to lock down a proper location and, if you don’t, what is plan c, d, e, f, g, etc.

More of my terrible iPhone BTS from our liquor store exterior.

If we are unable to secure the actual set next month, what will our plan c actually be? Truthfully, I have no idea other then throwing it on a credit card and paying it off over time. Typically, that isn’t something I would offer, but this project is something that I truly believe in. The script is so well written and the director, though young, has whatever that “it” factor is. He’s a really, really damn good director. Plus, despite our first day debacle with one crew member, everybody has been so kind, amazing, and putting their best foot forward that I would hate to not see this thing make it to the finish line. My point is, sometimes when you work for free, you’re betting on yourself. You believe in whatever the project is that you are working on, you believe in your crew, that it can help you move that needle forward in the right direction, and that your sweat equity will pay off in time. And, for me, like No Runners, Benny Bill is a for free, betting on myself, sweat equity project that I believe can help me move that metamorphical needle forward. Will it be the best short film ever released? Absolutely not. But, it’s something I am proud of so far and I believe is one of those bets worth taking. Because, if we are not taking chances on ourselves, we are only remaining stagnant and failing to, in my opinion, reach our fullest potential.

A colored frame from the liquor store EXT in Riverside, CA. Not too shabby. This was probably one of my favorite lighting setups and also one of the easiest/most simple.

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