Cap Film and Animation building

Cap Film and Animation building

Monday, 14 October 2013

The Making of 'Taking My Parents to Burning Man' - A Capilano Student Journey

Guest post by Joel McCarthy

In my last/fourth year in the Motion Picture Program at Capilano University my class had to focus on making development projects, most of which were developing feature films and web series.  My good friend, Bryant Boesen, (an eccentric free spirited individual whom I’ve partnered on a ton of projects) approached me and told me he wanted to develop a documentary about taking his parents to Burning Man and asked if I wanted to produce and DP the project. 
I loved the idea of the project, but in all honesty I didn’t think it would materialize when I optimistically responded.  Next thing you know, Bryant’s Parents were on bored, and we were making a Kickstarter pitch video (they also didn’t believe it would end up happening.) On the morning of April 27th, 2012 we launched our Kickstarter Campaign asking for $10,000. It was two days after me and Bryant finished our last day of film school and we were already blitzing all of our family and friends on Facebook and Twitter with our campaign.
Later that same day I drove to Seattle for a film festival which my Capilano 3rd year film “Why Does God Hate Me” played in.  The campaign had been live for about five hours when I checked into my hotel room and decided to quickly see how our campaign was going.  I logged on to Kickstarter and to my surprise we already were at $2,200 and were just hours into our campaign.  My jaw dropped and not caring about the long distance minutes, I called Bryant and I distinctly remember him picking up the phone and saying, “I guess we are going to Burning Man.”  That was the day I was certain that this would happen, and to make it official, I announced during the Q&A of my film to a room of 800 people that I was going to Burning Man in two months to shoot my first feature.

When I came back from Seattle we jumped right into prep.  We kept pushing the campaign pretty hard. We even had a big party fundraiser and raised over a thousand dollars for the project. We were flying towards our Kickstarter goal.  On June 25, 2012 the campaign was over. We had $10,371 and 176 backers on Kickstarter. At that point we were already prepping and shooting scenes of us going costume shopping and interviews about our expectations.
We instantly got an RV secured from a kind stranger, which seemed too good to be true (later we would find out it was), and I had researched everything I could find on photography and videography at Burning Man.  It is not a film friendly location; there are dust storms that happen about every hour our of the day, the location is famous for overheating cameras, and once again there are freaking dust storms that happen every hour of the day!
We decided after extensive research that we were going to shoot on Canon 5d MKII DSLR, with L series lenses, which are advertised as weather proofed.  Also the 5D’s overheat a lot less than the 7D’s.  We hadn’t received our Kickstarter money yet but at two weeks before the production I had maxed out two credit cards and spent all of my savings getting tickets and equipment.

Kick Stopped
Unfortunately, what I didn’t know at the time was Bryant was secretly fighting a battle with Kickstarter, trying to get the funds.  Kickstarter, at the time, was only for Americans and we figured with Bryant being a duel citizen that this wouldn’t be a problem.  Unfortunately Kickstarter and Amazon payments wouldn’t pay us, and every time we tried to find a solution they would just point the finger at each other. We tried to find the solution, days away from not being able to access donations from Kickstarter.  We were told the only way we could get them were to get Bryant an American passport or drivers license.  Bryant, at the time, had never driven a car, so it seemed a bit far-fetched to bet it all on him getting his license first try. Plus we needed a permanent residence for him in the USA.  As for the passport, they wouldn’t let us rush a non-resident’s first American passports, and our odds were very low at getting it in time.  We were stuck in a really terrible situation and I was taking the biggest blow financially. 
Five days before we were to leave for the trip I sat down with Bryant and Li (Bryant’s mom) and talked about our options. After much debate we decided to start a new campaign on indiegogo and attempt to get A) more press, B) all our donators to re-donate, and C) possibly more money. So we quickly ran into the backyard, shot an intro to our indiegogo video with our shiny new Canon 5DMk II and slapped that onto the front of our Kickstarter video and launched it right away.

We got on the phones that night and started calling every one of our backers who had added a phone number to their donation and plead to have them re-donate.  Some did, some didn’t, some donated more, some less, but things were starting to look up. Or so we thought.
Transportation issue
During the same week we were “Kick-stopped” we were also immobilized in two ways. Li (Bryant’s Mom) broke her ankle just days before the trip and we lost our RV; the random guy that promised us the RV had second thoughts and dropped out at the last minute. We had no money, no car, terrible luck and I was sleep deprived from the stress of this endeavor.   We started calling everyone on craigslist with an RV, asking if we could rent it for a week.  We even knocked on people’s doors with RV’s parked outside of them. But we had no luck.  Then two days before we left our luck turned around big time.
Things are looking up!
We were at $4,000 on Indiegogo with 2 days before we were going to leave for Burning Man.  I was flat broke hoping my last gas tank would get me through prep and we wouldn’t be able to touch our indiegogo money right away.  I got a phone call from the head of the film department at Capilano University, Bill Thumm.  At this point I was a sleep deprived, scatterbrained mess, but trying my best to play it cool because I didn’t want him to know that the first round of degree grads from Cap were already falling on their faces.  He asked me what happened with Kickstarter, I explained the dilemma, and he calmly responded, “Okay, let me make some phone calls.” I didn’t know what that meant and I didn’t want to get my hopes up.  After about an hour or two (which seemed like 10 hours) I got a phone call back from him telling me to come to the school and pick up a check for the remaining balance of our indiegogo campaign; I started to tear up. Hopefully Bill didn’t notice. I was extremely touched to know that my school believed in our project and the gesture got me really fired up to make this movie.
We also got a message from a stranger from Eastern United States message asking if we wanted him to deliver a 14-foot crane for free; it seemed like things were starting to look up.
Now all we needed was a vehicle. I posted plea’s on Facebook and Twitter, RV rental places were fully booked up or wouldn’t allow their vehicles to go to Burning Man (because the desert and heat is extremely harsh on RV’s and cars) and we were running out of time.
Then another miracle happened.  In writing class you are always told that you can’t solve your problems with a “Deus ex Machina” (a god like device ie: Magic, or a phone call that solves everything). But out of the blue we got another phone call, this one was from someone who had no idea we were even scrambling.  Henry is an obnoxious party animal Australian.  At the time him and Bryant were just acquaintances but he was calling to tell us that he just bought a 40ft school bus and needed to fill it with people for a trip to Burning man. Keep in mind this was at 9pm two days before the trip. Bryant turned to me and said, “So my friend just bought a green 40 foot school bus and he needs more bodies for his trip to Burning Man. Should we join them?” Without hesitation I said “Get us on that bus. That’s good TV.”

Getting to Burning Man
The ride to Burning Man would have been amazing if I wasn’t a time efficiency freak.  The bus could only do 40mph maximum (most of the speed limits were 70mph) and the group of people we were with didn’t know how to do a five-minute pit stop. Every time we stopped it turned into a 45-minute or longer ordeal.  I couldn’t believe how inefficient these guys we were traveling with were. One morning we spent 3 hours at a Walmart. We would go in to buy supplies, then we would get to the vehicle and someone would say, “No way you bought I Bike. I want a bike now.” And then it was water. And then it was alcohol, etc. That being said, the bus ride was never dull and it made for great documentary set pieces. We arrived at Burning Man over 24 hours later than planned.
At Burning Man
We arrived at Burning Man in the middle of a dust storm heavy night.  We found some empty space to camp that was next to a row of outhouses on a plot reserved for a group called “The Tuna Guys camp”, which are a group of 60-year-old Oregon fisherman who serve free tuna at Burning Man. We were exhausted and tired and needed to settle in somewhere, so Bryant went up to the leader of the Tuna Guys (Neutron) and asked if they had any extra space. We thought they were going to say “No”, but one of the Tuna guys piped up; “Hey, I saw you on the Kickstarter!”  Turns out they all knew about the documentary and let us camp with them.
While everyone went to sleep, Bryant told me to leave the camera and come for a walk. We walked to the center of the Playa to ‘the Man,’ the iconic structure of Burning Man, and climbed to the top it. At that moment I realized this is actually happening. That was the moment where I fully digested what we were doing.
The shooting went well. It was difficult at times to motivate a crew because it was like telling children at Disneyland that they can’t go on any rides.  That being said, I am really happy with the footage we got. I am not going to ruin any of the surprises of the Playa, but I will mention that we did manage to get some amazing Aerial shots for the price of one Cuban cigar.
Post Production update:
The film is near picture lock and we hope to be finished the film in November in time to submit to South by Southwest. It has been a difficult process in the edit, we had a ton of footage, and at numerous points we had to prioritize paid-work to keep pay our bills during the editing stage.  That said, it is shaping up to be a fun, entertaining film and I can’t wait to show the public soon. Hopefully we will have a screening at Cap!

1 comment:

  1. Love this entry on your blog ~ and going to read some more! Looking forward to screening the film, I am so so so happy for everyone involved! Guess you found out in the eleventh hour, "the playa provides"... even when you hadn't stepped one foot in the dust yet! )'( ♥