Writer-Director, Tim Fornara and I could not have asked for a more picturesque location to shoot Valley Lodge’s music video for “Kiss Me I’m Drunk.” Our amazing executive producer, Rebecca O’Malley, found the world-class resort of Dunton Hot Springs via Google and orchestrated renting out the entire property for our production and staff.
Visually, we greatly benefitted from a big storm that dumped several feet of snow a few days before our arrival. The acres of snow bounce kept the actors looking great on wide shots where grip gear wouldn’t be possible. While the snowy mountain passes made travel tedious for our trucks of gear, the fields of happy trees were a delight. So many frames look like Bob Ross painted them by hand.
Getting everyone to Southwest Colorado’s San Juan National Forest proved stressful. It required a full travel day from New York and Los Angeles where a bulk of the cast and crew reside. The night before the band’s flight (only 36 hours before their call time), American Airlines cancelled their early morning exit from New York due to weather. Snow in Dallas earlier in the weekend had already grounded travelers so there weren’t a ton of options available. Thankfully, the airline was eventually able to shuffle them onto flights with similar arrival times, but it was quite the scare for several hours as the airline wasn’t answering their phones!
Our schedule was very aggressive and considering the rugged terrain, extreme temperatures, stunts, and animals I expected long days. Production promised to pull the plug at 12 hours, but it wasn’t an issue. Our amazing cast and crew worked so efficiently getting all of our shots that both days were only 10 hours!
For camera, Jay Ellison at Shadowcast Pictures (in Van Nuys, CA) hooked us up with an ARRI Alexa package and Zeiss Ultra Primes. Jay has been very good to me over the years and my 1st AC, Nicole Crivale raved about her experience prepping the job. Jay initially offered a Codex recorder within our budget, but it was too cumbersome.
Even without the Codex, we reached our limit of cases the airline would easily allow. I would’ve battled to make it work, but the extra weight and bulk wouldn’t jive with the jib and the additional power it required was a concern in the cold. Without ARRIRAW abilities, we captured 2K in ProRes4444 on SxS cards. I kept the camera at the native ISO of 800 and utilized Log C.
We flirted with getting everything from Albuquerque, but Google lead me to a Denver-based gaffer, John Murphy aka “Murph.” His grip/electric package of Kino-Flo 4Banks (2′ & 4′), Joker-Bug HMIs (200W & 400W), ARRI 1.2K HMI Par, and some large rags were on my wish list from the start. He and his Key Grip, Brian Johnson, are a great combo. Tim found our jib operator, John Ford, out of Grand Junction and his homemade rig captured some breathtaking shots. My other LA hire was 2nd AC/Media Manager, John Brankin.
On our first day of photography, December 10, 2013, it was -15°F at call time. The extreme temps caused some delays as the engine on John Ford’s four-wheeler didn’t want to start. While Ford prepped his jib up on the hill of the south end of the resort, camera set up for an over the shoulder shot of our actors leaving on horseback handheld.
In an effort to keep our lead actress, Lauren Cook, safer, our stuntman, Dustin Hoover, took the lead singer, Dave Hill’s place behind her. Just after they rode through frame, the horse bucked them off. Lauren’s dress got caught on the saddle and dragged her several feet before we could safely stop the horse. It was an incredibly scary ending to our inaugural shot.
Thankfully she was unharmed physically, but it was a pretty large jolt to the system and her wardrobe took a beating. Speaking of which, our Wardrobe department of Sabra Temple and Lucy Reeves did an amazing job outfitting the cast and speedily repaired the damage. Needless to say, we didn’t ask Lauren to get back on a horse. If you are a stickler for continuity, then I dare you to prove that she isn’t galloping away in the final shot of the movie. Art Department would later craft a rig to raise the saddle for the shot of Dave climbing onto her horse.
After that scare, we were surprised to hear Dave insist on doing his own stunt where he jumps over his horse and lands face first in the snow. The greatest benefit aside from his genuine reaction to being covered in frosty snow was that it took 20-seconds to shoot instead of the hour that we allotted!
While we had planned to shoot the band’s fire pit performance on the jib, the sun wouldn’t allow it. Faced with only about 35 minutes to grab all of our coverage, we needed a speedy alternative. The large snowbanks would handicap our ability to position the jib quickly and the icy temps had rendered our Bartec wireless focus system unusable. By staying wide and stopping down on the lens, we made do without the Bartec in the morning. However, the performance required big movements forward and back on longer lenses so setting the lens to hyperfocal distance wouldn’t succeed as it did earlier. Sliding around the snow handheld was our best option and we miraculously squeezed in 5 complete passes of the song before sunset.
Eager to get some visceral performance shots with the jib, we shuffled the schedule and shot Dave soloing the next morning while art department prepped our saloon location. I absolutely love the material we got there.
We shot the hot tub scene night-for-day in Rebecca’s room next. It’s one of several rooms where they pipe the hot springs water directly into a private tub! The interaction between Phil Costello (the band’s guitarist who plays bass in the video) and Amy Palamar provided many laughs on set. Our day ended back up the hill in the library with the comedy gold provided by Rich Fulcher.
It’s hopefully hard to tell, but the saloon set required a lot of work on the part of our Production Designer, Craig Pirazzi, and Michelle Montague. While that is the functioning bar for the resort where we consumed our share of drinks off the clock, it is an open space that required some creative solutions to better fit camera’s needs.
We erected a fourth wall to make the room smaller and create a hallway on the opposite side of the entrance to the saloon. It was no easy task, but they did a great job creating the illusion of a period establishment. While art dressed the set, Murph and Brian rigged two Joker-Bugs on the far side of the room, built some Kinos, and bounced the 1.2K HMI into the ceiling for some fill. We also had some large silks and solids outside to help control the amount of light screaming through the large windows by the door.
The looming sunset posed a major continuity issue for my lighting. Thankfully, we were able to get the last of our wide shots just before it became impossible to match. Having a second 1.2K HMI would’ve made life simpler, but we helped mask the change with longer lenses. The 1.2K now bounced into 4×4 beadboard to mimic the sun and additional Kinos played as fill light. Sure enough, when Tim and I sat down with our amazing colorist, Sean Donnelly, on January 17th, he worked his magic on a DaVinci Resolve suite in Astoria, NY to hide that shift.
All in all this was one of the best on-set experiences that I’ve ever had and I don’t think I was alone in wanting to remain in Dunton longer. In spite of the physically demanding shoot, consuming incredible food, ending our nights with an open bar (stocked with top shelf/local alcohols) and then soaking in both indoor and outdoor natural hot springs kept people in high spirits. My tweet at wrap sums up my feelings, “Know those two day shoots that you wish were a feature because the cast/crew are so amazing…this was one of those shows! #filmmaking.”
Lastly, I’d like to share a little piece that I threw together with the behind the scenes footage that John grabbed while we did some of our stunt work. Enjoy!
Thanks to AV Club for breaking news of the video’s release!