On Wednesday I came back to the US from a documentary shoot in Honduras. That is a post in and of itself (coming soon). Suffice it to say my friend Jesse (who I had been shooting with) and I were immersed in a fascinating place with genuine and passionate people engaged in the rehabilitation of people and country in the mountains of Tegucigalpa.

018_18

008_8

Base camp for the first few days

006_6

Tegucigalpa

There's a pile of cow skulls like this anywhere that people have to eat. They're just usually not under a bridge in the middle of the city.

There’s a pile of cow skulls like this anywhere that people have to eat. They’re just usually not under a bridge in the middle of the city.

Ironically enough, I had a local SIM card with minutes and data. I was more immediately connected to the rest of the world while in Honduras than I am in LA (because I had no data plan there). Being connected made me realize how easy things are to navigate with a smart phone.

Directly following the documentary in Central America I had been hired to shoot an event in the Northeast for a medical devices company. The plane leaving Houston (the layover destination) was late leaving the runway due to airplane traffic.
Upon landing in Newark we were notified by the captain that our gate was occupied and we had to wait.
I had, by this point, switched back to my T-Mobile SIM, which had a newly purchased data plan that my phone wasn’t accessing.
A car had been arranged to pick me up at Newark, however, because the plane was more than an hour late, I had to take Uber.

Remember the no-data plan problem? There was also no useable WiFi at Newark airport. After spending a while walking around the now-empty hallways of the terminal looking for WiFi, I had to ask my contact to send me a car.
I hate being a burden.

The shoot I’d been hired for included an event at the medical device company’s headquarters in New Jersey as well as an event in Boston. The next evening I was in a car headed to Penn Station in New York. Of course the shooting that day had gone late and the car service had showed up late and traffic in Manhattan was…traffic in Manhattan at 6:30pm.
Needless to say I missed two trains in a row and was close to missing the third when I came to the ticket counter and found that if you miss a train and don’t call to cancel within 20 minutes Amtrak deletes the credit you had from your original purchased ticket.

The only possible way to get that credit back, the ticket agent informed me (in that extremely polite east coast manner), was to use a greasy, black plastic in-house wall phone in the middle of the train station.
Have you ever tried to get an automated voice to understand a complex number-letter sequence in the silence of your own apartment?
Now imagine doing that in an echoing tile room packed with hundreds of people. Also there was Christmas music. Blaring.

After hearing for the 6th time, “I’m sorry, I still didn’t understand, let’s try another method,” I hung up and asked my contact to buy another train ticket.
Burden. Failure.

But at least I got on the train. And, five hours later, to the hotel, which was only a nippy half-mile walk from the Boston Back Bay station.
It was 2am. Luckily the event didn’t start til later in the day on Thursday. I had almost a full day to rest. I set my alarm for 11am.

IMAG0440

9am.
Swanky, climbing guitar riff, reminiscent of a Buckethead sequence.
Ringtone. Not alarm.
Ringtone!

It was my contact asking where I was, because I wasn’t downstairs at the event. But the event didn’t really start til Thursday night! Friday was the first morning session at 8am.

“Dude, It’s Friday.”
First time that phrase have ever been a bad thing. I had been so messed up from my travel that I didn’t know what day it was.

I grabbed my gear and rushed downstairs. Or at least to the elevator, where I waited for it to descend the 35 floors of the hotel.
Days smear together, locations blur, stories blend. It’s a weird sort of life on the move.

Some of the girls at Casa de Ester in Honduras braiding my hair.

Some of the girls at Casa de Ester in Honduras braiding my hair.

IMAG0434

It took 2 hours.

 

Advertisement
image

My friend and co-shooter on this current documentary project, Jesse enjoying the giant-headed mannekins at a mall in Tegucigalpa

When I’m at that point of exhausted topics of conversation with people at a party or get-together, the inevitable question arises: “What do you do?”

image

More and more I’m embracing the answer, no longer as a petty point of pride that comes from insecurity at a perceived lack of accomplishment, but as an honest agknowledgement of what I do.
I get paid to travel and tell stories through motion picture.

image

IMAX traffic jam

image

Usually this involves spending time in the presence, and at the mercy of, people from different places, with varying stories.

image

In the past few months I have been involved in telling the stories of a massive dog-adoption fair, an engagement ring company, a multi-national film festival, a Native American tribe, an online start-up, a Spanish-language Instagram commercial, a rum-cocktail competition and now a safe-house for victims of abuse in Honduras.

image

It’s a good time. And though it isn’t directing a piece of narrative, fictional cinema, it does pay the bills.

I am thankful for a job that allows me to live and travel and come in contact with amazing people doing amazing things, along with the added benefit of extra time to write a few works of cinema yet to come.
It is great to know this goodness has nothing to do with deserving anything. This is grace in real life.

image

Can you do that? Even if you're a Tesla?

image

My friend and co-shooter on this current documentary project, Jesse enjoying the giant-headed mannekins at a mall in Tegucigalpa

When I’m at that point of exhausted topics of conversation with people at a party or get-together, the inevitable question arises: “What do you do?”

image

More and more I’m embracing the answer, no longer as a petty point of pride that comes from insecurity at a perceived lack of accomplishment, but as an honest agknowledgement of what I do.
I get paid to travel and tell stories through motion picture.

image

IMAX traffic jam

image

Usually this involves spending time in the presence, and at the mercy of, people from different places, with varying stories.

image

In the past few months I have been involved in telling the stories of a massive dog-adoption fair, an engagement ring company, a multi-national film festival, a Native American tribe, an online start-up, a Spanish-language Instagram commercial, a rum-cocktail competition and now a safe-house for victims of abuse in Honduras.

image

It’s a good time. And though it isn’t directing a piece of narrative, fictional cinema, it does pay the bills.

I am thankful for a job that allows me to live and travel and come in contact with amazing people doing amazing things, along with the added benefit of extra time to write a few works of cinema yet to come.
It is great to know this goodness has nothing to do with deserving anything. This is grace in real life.

image

Can you do that? Even if you're a Tesla?

image

My friend and co-shooter on this current documentary project, Jesse enjoying the giant-headed mannekins at a mall in Tegucigalpa

When I’m at that point of exhausted topics of conversation with people at a party or get-together, the inevitable question arises: “What do you do?”

image

I found this guy on my lens after shooting a timelapse in the prairie grass

More and more I’m embracing the answer, no longer as a petty point of pride that comes from insecurity at a perceived lack of accomplishment, but as an honest agknowledgement of what I do.
I get paid to travel and tell stories through motion picture.

image

A frozen waterfall on Oklahoma

image

IMAX film in the mechanism that sends it to the projector

image

The IMAX projector owned by the Chickasaw Nation

Usually this involves spending time in the presence, and at the mercy of, people from different places, with varying stories.

image

In the past few months I have been involved in telling the stories of a massive dog-adoption fair, an engagement ring company, a multi-national film festival, a Native American tribe, an online start-up, a Spanish-language Instagram commercial, a rum-cocktail competition and now a safe-house for victims of abuse in Honduras.

image

It’s a good time. And though it isn’t directing a piece of narrative, fictional cinema, it does pay the bills.

I am thankful for a job that allows me to live and travel and come in contact with amazing people doing amazing things, along with the added benefit of extra time to write a few works of cinema yet to come.
It is great to know this goodness has nothing to do with deserving anything. This is grace in real life.

image

Can you do that? Even if you're a Tesla?

SONY DSC

Freelancing often brings unique projects and opportunities to engage in stories that break from the norm. One such project I worked on recently was a video exhibition for the Chickasaw Nation’s cultural center in Sulphur, Oklahoma. The goal of the project was to create 4K motion picture content that would appear on a massive wall display. The video would highlight the range of Chickasaw success, from the their vibrant continued traditions to their varied business interests and the strong leadership that makes the Chickasaw a great nation.

 

SONY DSC

The Chickasaw Cultural center grows corn, squash and beans along with other produce in a spiral garden behind the traditional village.

IMAG0335

This is a 500-year-old dugout canoe found in Mississippi, part of which is the original land of the Chickasaws.

I found this guy on my lens after shooting a timelapse in the prairie grass

I found this guy on my lens after shooting a timelapse in the prairie grass.

IMAG0345

The shoot lasted 11 days and mainly focussed on gathering visual assets for the project. Interviews will be captured at a later date.
The most amazing part of the experience was the immersive education in the Chickasaw world. Operating as a soverign nation they are able to govern themselves in more culturally saavy (and more efficient) ways. I was shooting alongside a producer and the two of us were constantly amazed by the quality of architecture and efficiency of systems. The Chickasaw’s add so much value to their non-native neighbors by employing thousands in their various businesses.
This project was unlike any other I have worked on.

The date for my departure to Kenya has come and gone. We are halfway through what was hoped to be my first month in my role as the cinematographer on a tv show set and produced in Nairobi.

I’m reminded almost every day that reality is turning out differently, as I am asked by people I run into, “Aren’t you supposed to be somewhere else?”

R1-01627-0020I guess I’m supposed to be wherever I am. Or something like that…

Obviously working on a full-time tv show in Kenya for a production company that trains and hires young people from the slums would have been an amazing opportunity. But maybe if I’m not there that gives another cinematographer a chance to work. And perhaps my involvement with Zindua (the production company) would be better when I can bring more value to a production than just myself and my gear. Who knows, maybe I could be part of team that brings a production and funding. I am ok with the idea that my living and working in Kenya may be a long way off. Maybe it’s just more of a 10 year plan than an immediate opportunity. Maybe it’s something that will take development. Sweet.

Now what?

R1-01627-000ABesides looking for work, remaining sharp and faithful, I actually have no idea.

I should be in Kenya in 5 days, according to previous conversations with the production company I would be working with in Nairobi. Unfortunately, email, skype, facebook, and phone calls don’t seem to be a preferred method of communication so I don’t really know if I’ll actually be gone next week. Waiting for money to come in from the cable network has halted production on the tv show, thus the waiting.

Waiting doesn’t have to be so bad. This week I had the opportunity to be part of a production crew shooting the MAGIC fashion expo in Las Vegas. There were several shows going on at once with a video crew assigned to each one. My partner and I shot FN Platform, which featured nothing but shoes. Everything from high-end high heels to flip flops and John Deer work boots (yeah, like the tractor/mower company).

IMAG0309

Magic Vegas signI learned so much about shoes. I had no idea, for one, that there were so many shoe companies. Did you know a company called Rollasole sells shoes that come in a can and are dispensed from vending machines? Yep. There’s also Otz shoes which were inspired by the shoes found on ötzi the iceman. The event was an expo where designers could show their latest releases, while attendees were mainly retailers looking for the next line of shoes to carry in their stores.

IMAG0315

My heel after the first day of walking around the HUGE showrooms. People with fitbits were recording well over 8 miles in a day.

IMAG0318

It was about fashion after all.

The ironic thing about the week was all the cool people I met from Los Angeles while on the shoot. Leaving this place that has become home to go to Kenya would actually be really difficult. But not going to Kenya to take on this opportunity to be part of something amazing would be equally hard.

In other news, my trusty Saturn Ion and I were in a collision a few weeks ago. I’ve been driving around with no left rear-view mirror, but didn’t think anything of it. It turns out the car is a total loss and is destined for the salvage yard on Friday. Good news is they’re paying me for the car and I won’t have to deal with a car while I’m away. Bad news…if I don’t leave for another few weeks I’m car-less. It’s like living in medieval Uzbekistan without a horse. IMAG0297

So I’m leaving the country again. In fact, I’m leaving the continent. In 23 days.

Last July I was in Kenya as part of my grandmother’s entourage. It was her first trip to Africa, so my parents and I went. I brought my camera. She had been invited by a family in rural western Kenya to come and experience the healing work they were taking on in their part of the world. Their vision was (and continues to be) to build a rescue/education center to reach out to victims of sexual abuse in a part of the world where no formal structures of support exist for them.

During the final days of the trip I was introduced to a group of filmmakers hacking out a living in Nairobi (imagine the spontaneous craziness of Mos Eisley with a little more steel and glass and you’re not that far off).

Nairobi__Kenya

Nairobi, Kenya

Zindua Productions is a group of filmmakers that are not only creating quality content, but also passionate about training the next generation of Kenyan filmmakers. Although I had planned to come back to LA after Kenya, I felt a strong pull towards the work that Zindua is doing.Their non-profit arm, Filamujuani, trains high school and college-age kids from Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum, in film production. Some of the graduates of their training program work for Zindua, others go on to freelance in the East African film industry. For the past year I’ve been trying to find a way to get back to Kenya and work with Zindua.

The opportunity finally opened up a couple weeks ago.

Zindua sold their first TV show to a South African cable network, Amnet. 52 episodes have been bought and are now in production. The entire crew is Kenyan. Except for one of their DPs. Me. I will be there for 3 months working on this tv show. But the opportunity to work with Zindua is open-ended. There could be opportunities to direct shows in the future.

It is amazing how much the trajectory of your life can change in a few weeks. At the beginning of this month I had no idea what I’d be doing a few months from then. And now I have no idea what I will think about living and working in East Africa in a few months from now.

It could be a short trip to a cool place, or it could be a whole new chapter.

More to follow at the date comes closer.

Driving is the favored mode of transportation among most Angelenos (of which I am now one). For a rather considerable stretch of history, the horse’s gallop was the fastest speed one could achieve overland.

Now, we drive. And so do I. Most of the freelance work I get around the city of LA causes me to drive. Driving here means spending a lot of time not in motion (which is strange to think about since from the beginning of human transportation we’ve been used to continually plodding along to get somewhere. Now to get somewhere we have to be at a standstill for much of it). In order to keep my blood pressure down and to take my mind off of the fact that it takes about an hour to go anywhere, I listen to podcasts.

One such podcast that has captured my attention is called Hardcore History. It’s presented by a very passionate Dan Carlin, who does a fantastic job of not only telling stories about obscure people groups and times around the world, but also stringing together concepts and offering up very provocative thoughts on history and the present.

The most recent series of episodes took an interesting look into the Mongol conquest of…everywhere.

One part that stood out to me was his description of the homeland of the Central Asian nomads. He described a harsh, bleak environment that required grit, tenacity and core strength just to survive. He described the 150lb drawback of the Mongol bows as well as the necessity to learn to fire the bow from horseback at full speed. He drew the connection that the land and environment had created the toughest warriors anywhere on earth at that time (subsequent battles with China, the Middle East and Europe showed the results).

He also described how Central Asian tribes would often conquer their settled, “civilized” neighbors residing in cities. If the nomadic group decided to inhabit the cities and domestic societies, within a few generations they would lose their edge on the battlefield. Their tactics and demeanor began to take on the sedentary lifestyle of their conquered rivals.

And in the end (this is me drawing my own conclusions) it seems that warfare never actually brought down the Mongols. It was the adoption of a sedentary lifestyle and the acquisition of material and empirical wealth that dragged them far from the hungry, lean, fast-moving warriors they had been.

IMAG0234

As I have moved back to Los Angeles, gotten an apartment, and basically “settled down”, I’m reminded by how easy it is to become slack and unfit in every way. Even putting together a place to live brings in all sorts of choices. And it is too easy to choose convenience over anything else.

While editing a video in the airport, my headphones broke. So I found a quick solution to keep it on my ear, and kept editing.

While editing a video in the airport, my headphones broke. So I found a quick solution to keep it on my ear, and kept editing.

But I didn’t come back to this country to do it the easy way. Of course I’m nowhere near hunting for my food, and building fire and shelter. My transportation is mostly in a vehicle, which requires very little of me to operate. But I’m still confident I don’t have to lose my edge just because I live in one place.

We have a floor lamp, but not much floor.

I am not interested in returning to some primitive state. Rather the question I am asking is: how can I create a lifestyle that involves work and creativity on a daily basis? How can I move toward a lifestyle that is built for a human body and spirit? I don’t think I’m content to access my strengths and challenge my weaknesses every once in a while.

So what about you? At the end of a day do you collapse on your bed, spent and happy from a hard day’s work? Are you inspired? Does your lifestyle prove that you were created to problem solve, design, build, labor, and enjoy the result?

SONY DSC

 

The comments section at the bottom is for your feedback. What do you think? Is it a worthwhile pursuit?

Moving back to the United States (until further notice) has been a strange transition. Of course this country is home in many ways, and yet I never quite seem settled in it. But the current period of life I am in means that where the wind blows, there I go.

At this point the wind is blowing west to Los Angeles again. After working on my first feature film as a cinematographer in Manila I have been picking up odd motion picture jobs and co-producing a film as I prepare for a move across the country (as I write this I am on a corporate video shoot for a medical instruments company).

Hopefully it is already known that the short film Hadeas is now in its funding stage on Kickstarter. (If not, please visit the page!) Coming back to LA to work on a creative project with fellow APU graduates Randy May, Megan Prescott, and Becky Train seemed like a great plan. Randy began writing the script last year and together we talked about the possibilities of what we could create. The project has ended up being more important than we could have first imagined, providing a creative outlet to try new ideas and challenge us as we grow in our knowledge and love for the craft of cinema. You can follow the production journal here.

Due to a random set of circumstances, my drive won’t be straight from Chicago to LA. I have a few stops to make along the way. Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas are among the destinations. So I might as well make an event out of it.

And now seems like a perfect time to embark on another journey. It is almost amusing how chapters of a life can be marked by movement from one place to the next. So this trip will be advantageous as I seek to redefine who I am as an artist, what I am pursuing, what I want.

In terms of business, I’m forming my brand.

It’s something global.

It’s something creative.

It’s something narrative.

It’s something collaborative.

I can’t quite put my finger on it yet.