How It’s Made: “WHO IS” Gunner Wright

Sorry this article hasn’t been more of a frequent thing. I’ve been very, very busy. Mainly watching The Morning Show on AppleTV with Reese Witherspoon and the woman who refuses to age, Jennifer Aniston. I know, I know. All the rage is Stranger Things and I am over here watching Steve Carrell’s character in The Morning Show get fired for sexual misconduct in the workplace. What is wrong with me?

Well, first of all… A lot. Secondly, I have in fact watched several episodes of Stranger Things. However, I can’t get into it. It’s not bad. It’s just… Not my thing. So, yes, I’ve been terribly busy watching a TV show about a TV show on my TV. That is 100% why I haven’t written more of these articles. Sorry, not sorry. 

I would love to know how they made/make The Morning Show, but until they hire me to DP an episode so that I can learn those things, we are instead forced to settle with my little $200 project that does not feature Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carrell, or Mark Duplass. Nope. Instead, my project features Gunner Wright, who played the lead role in a arthouse science fiction movie that was produced by Tom DeLonge and his band, Angels & Airwaves. Still cool. Just no babes to admire. So, how did WHO IS: Gunner Wright come to be and how was it made? Let’s discuss…

The trailer for LOVE, starring Gunner Wright.

In 2019, I shot and edited a short form doc about Tom DeLonge of Blink 182, Box Car Racer, and Angles & Airwaves called, To The Stars. We shot the piece in January of 2019 and it released in March or April of 2019. Fast-forward to February of 2020, it’s a wildly cold and snowy evening in Boston, MA, I am in a hotel room next to Fenway Park (home of the Boston Red Sox) eating McDonald’s in bed while Undercover Boss plays on the boob tube, and I am looking at e-mails before the following days shoot. In the midst of indulging my inner fat kid, I receive an e-mail from Gunner Wright who explains to me that he just recently saw my piece with Tom, loved it, searched out more of my work and saw what I was doing with GEICO Honda, my past work with American Honda Motor Co., Red Bull Moto Spy, etc. He explained he would love an opportunity to work with me if ever possible. Obviously, I was losing my mind with excitement. 

BTS of how the archived photos was executed. This was a tedious, three or four day project just for all of the photos shown in the film.

We made plans to meet shortly after I returned from my project in Boston. However, as soon as I returned, it was March of 2020 and COVID-19 happened. We stayed in touch via e-mail, however, it was not until November of 2020 that Gunner and I finally met in my neck of the woods (Long Beach, CA) for breakfast to discuss everything. We spent roughly three hours discussing his career, my career, our experiences working with Tom and more. Within this meeting, I learned a shit ton about Gunner’s time at factory Honda as the first-ever PR individual for a factory race team and how that lead him to acting. It was an instant lightbulb moment for me in knowing I had to tell this story. While at breakfast, I told him that I had an idea to do a small doc/portrait type piece about his story. He was sold and in December of 2020, we commenced production on what would end up being a year and a half long journey. 

Day one of production at location one. December of 2020 in Torrance, CA. The Hipster Wagon fully loaded.

Day one was interviews. Brandon Carter and I loaded up my Hipster Wagon and drove up the road to Torrance, CA, to visit Gunner’s mom and dad for our first interview. Once we finished up our interview with Gunner’s dad, Dan, we loaded up the Hipster Wagon once more and trekked on over to Hollywood, CA to Gunner’s apartment for his key interview. Now, Gunner’s key interview drives me bananas because the end result was a nearside key light instead of a far side key light. What does this mean? You always want to be shooting into the shadow side of your subjects face. It provides more depth, contrast, interest, and is visually pleasing to the viewers eye. We motived our key light from the big window in the apartment, which is par for the course.

However, where I placed Gunner in the frame was all wrong. Our light is being motivated from camera right, meaning all the light coming into the space, including our lighting, is on the right side of the camera. I then go and place Gunner on camera right, close to the lighting and camera is framed so we are looking right into the lit side of Gunner’s face. Had I of just stopped for one second and realized my error, all I would’ve had to of done is move Gunner to camera left and position him so he is also then looking towards camera right and we would’ve had our far side key, shooting into the shadow side of him. UGH. 

What should have been. All I needed to do was move Gunner to camera left and our far side key would be in full effect.

A few days later, we headed back to Gunner’s spot in Hollywood, CA to shoot his audition (opening of the film), and him heading out of his spot to get on his motorcycle and go for a ride. The audition you see in the film is actually fake. That’s right, it wasn’t a real audition. Remember, this is December of 2020 and COVID is still being a pain in the ass. Gunner had explained to me that a lot of his auditions were now over Zoom or Skype calls in order to keep everyone safe. So, I had the idea that we would make up our own audition as a way to show what a legit Hollywood actor goes through in hopes of getting a role.

The character and script Gunner reads in the film is something he’s been writing for a period of time. The casting director voice that you hear speaking with Gunner wasn’t a real casting director. Actually, it was my voice that lived in the rough cut for a year and half. During production of this sequence, I not only played DP/camera op, but also acted as the casting director that he is speaking to via his iPhone. The plan was always to replace my voice with a female voice and, thanks to, I found a voice over artist by name of Camille Babbington to handle this task.

I wrote out a small script of what the dialogue on her behalf needed to be and sound like, with pausing, tone, etc. My basic direction to her was, “I sound like a total weak loser. Have some confidence in your reads.” She killed it! She gave me four or five different options and I mixed a few together to get what you hear in the final piece. So, yes, the audition isn’t real. It was an idea I had and we executed. It’s one of my favorite parts of the film. 

Not only was Gunner’s audition staged, but further sell the effect of the early morning sun hitting the back wall, I placed a 1k Redhead outside of the window and placed full CTO in front of it to further exaggerate the morning light.

Come February 2021, Brandon and I make our third trip to Gunner’s apartment. This time, to meet him before we caravan out to the Mojave Desert to shoot the closing sequence of the film. After a three hour drive into the middle of nowhere California, we arrived at a location I scouted nine years earlier called the Trona Pinnacles in Trona, CA. I had been sitting on this location for almost a decade and, finally, I had a project where I could make sense of this location. The downside? We literally only had a single day to shoot everything we needed out here. And, it wasn’t an easy location to access. We knew we wouldn’t be coming back, so we had to move with efficiency and intention. Every single shot you see in the final film was every single shot I captured. I think only three shots were left on the cutting room floor. This one was tricky because, while I scouted this location nine years ago, I still didn’t have a grasp of the lay of the land, so we were really doing our best to think one to two steps ahead at all times so we were not wasting time. Had we of had another day or two, we really could’ve explored the land more, but we literally shot until nightfall to get everything that we needed. 

Art Dog doing things in Trona with Gunner. Photo: Brandon Carter

After our shoot in Trona, I spent a lot time in post-production. I knew we needed roughly two more days of shooting, but I also had more than enough to start building out the film to better grasp what was needed. Throughout all of 2021, I would slowly piece together the project while working on other client work. The piece evolved and and changed over time, however, by December of 2021 (literally a year after our first day of shooting) I had the edit in a fairly good spot and knew it was time to schedule our remaining shoot days. Unfortunately, client work can be a real pain in the ass sometimes. I wasn’t able to schedule days with Gunner until May of 2022. These handful of days in May and June of this year is what worked with both of our schedules, so we locked it in and committed to getting this thing across the finish line.

Our objective? Shoot Gunner riding his motorcycle through Venice, CA and downtown Los Angeles, CA before heading back home. My intent was to always shoot these follow shots via a gimbal while being out of a mini-van because of the space and angles mini-vans provide. Unfortunately, my dream was just that… A dream. I was not able to procure a gimbal, operator, or mini-van. So, what did we do? We called in my Hipster Wagon once again.

Brandon Carter and I laid the seats flat in my Subaru Outback, setup camera and sticks and then used what was a total of 130 lbs of sand bags on top of my tripod legs to help provide as sturdy and stable of support as possible. While it isn’t a gimbal, having a super heavy duty tripod and head, along with that amount of sandbags, does an unreal job of eliminating vibrations, bumps, and shakiness when moving. What you see in the final edit is straight out of camera. I did not do any warp stabilizing whatsoever. The little bumps and shakes you see actually feel natural and authentic. It’s definitely the poor man’s option to not having a gimbal or a fancy crane attached to a Porsche. I was stoked on the end result.

130lb of dirt straddling ArtDog’s RED GEMINI and fancy ass tripod legs and head.

The next step was the archival photos. Originally, the edit had still photos in place with your standard Ken Burns effects going on. But, I knew that this piece was more than just still photos with a small zoom in and/our zoom out. It needed to be elevated. So, I decided to print out all of the photos that were in the edit, Brandon and I went to Walmart and bought finishing wire and some black foam core, and spent an entire afternoon in my garage, essentially, playing art department. I wanted these archival photos to feel like a memory, nostalgia, and like an imperfect and surreal dream. So, I used my Aputure Nova P300c and set it to color chase in order to have the full spectrum of colors play back, while using some Christmas lights to dangle in the midst of all of the photos, and then I ran a mist filter in front of my lens to really soften the highlights and give a bloom to the Christmas lights so it didn’t feel so harsh. This process literally took me three or four days total to complete. It was a massive pain in the ass, but the end result, was, I think, well worth it. We also had a small interview pick up day with Gunner to better bridge the gap between acting, his role with the Dead Space video game franchise, and how that lead into landing the leading role in Tom DeLonge’s sci-fi movie, LOVE.

May of 2022. ArtDog and Gunner as they capture the final shots for WHO IS, in Downtown Los Angeles, CA. Photo: Brandon Carter

In total, it was literally a year and half to complete this project. But, I think the wait and the process was well worth it. I learned so much, I felt like I grew a lot as a cinematographer, and I pushed myself to not settle for the easy out in certain creative situations. It’s not often I am proud of my work, but this is a piece I am very proud of. Does it have mistakes and things I would love to change? Yes, without question. However, what we did for, essentially $200 and a crew of me, myself, and I along with Brandon handling BTS stills, helping me to move around gear, and being a sounding board to help me stay sane, I think is pretty damn cool. And, I’d be lying if I said Brandon and I weren’t already trying to figure out what the next one might be about and look like. WHO IS: the next project? Okay, that’s a bad joke. End of article starts… Now. Bye.

Now that you (mostly) know how it was made, you can watch the final piece right here.

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