Back from the trip. It was truly a life-changing experience. I have never seen so much beauty in such a short time!
It was my first time riding a train in the United States and let me tell you, it's so very different. Everything was designed so efficiently that it's hard to imagine. The showers and toilets in the full bedrooms were both together in what might be a space of 3x3 feet. Rooms were shared by two persons - our bedroom was only 6x7 feet large in total - which was the largest the train offered. Two of us in the group had roommettes which were 3x6 feet large! We all had to live in these tiny closets for a total of 6 days.
With close quarters farting was an issue.
As you can imagine, shooting was quite difficult. We used a camera that was over 2 feet long, which was just a couple inches shorter than the width of the train hallway! There were major rewrites and recomposing of shots to accommodate the small spaces. Luckily we had a 17mm lens to use for the wide shots - the 35mm lens (known to be a normal lens) became our short telephoto on the train and the 50mm became our long telephoto. The 135mm was strictly for outdoor use in the project.
As well as the space limitation, it was a challenge (and a workout) to shoot on a moving vehicle. Keeping a 30lb camera steady with your arms and over the shoulders for a better part of a day and night for 6 days can be quite grueling.
For the most part the people on the train (staff and public riders) were terrific - very friendly and excited for our project. The corridor from D.C. to Chicago wasn't the greatest. People were reserved, staff were not very accommodating, and the feel of rushing was evident. During this part of the trip we were not allowed to film on the train! In our minds at this point we're just thinking: "we're fucked." But the second leg of the trip from Chicago to Sacramento was totally different. Everyone from staff to passengers were relaxed and much more friendly. We got permission to shoot on board and everything started to fit in place. We met a fellow filmmaker and I believe a professor at Harvard. He was an interesting character and was quite valuable in the project, being the location scout (since he took this train route many times before) and a general assistant for us. We became pretty well known by the end of it all, perhaps because this was not your typical event on a train ride (there really isn't much you can do on a train besides eating, sleeping and looking out windows).
But what a window to look out from! The view was spectacular to say the least. If you have never been to The Rockies, do yourself a favor and go, especially via train. The short time between Colorado and California it was hard for me to keep working from the distractions of the awe-inspiring view outside. But of course with any production, time is not your friend and a good director must push on through...
And being the director, that was tough. This was my first time being a true director - making quick decisions, working with actors and sets, etc. I think I did an okay job but part of being a great director is managing people and distributing work. It's hard for me to order people around; it's not my thing... I did however learn something really big and that is: being a director, one must be in full confidence and control of the project. If the director loses that confidence, others will follow suit and the project crumbles. It is imperative to mask those worries, either hide them or change them, so the crew does not notice.
Anyways food. Food was only meh. The first train (DC to Chicago) the food was shit. They did not have a full kitchen; the microwave was their kitchen. We did however had all our meals covered with the rooms but shockingly without the coverage they would have charged us up to $22.50 for a lousy microwaved steak. The second train however had a fully staffed kitchen and the quality of the food went up slightly.
It's hard for me not to mention the farting again after talking about the food. See, they offered a special bison meatloaf that actually wasn't that bad. The problem was it gave everyone gas. Ron, as a big bison fan, ate it pretty much every night. He would build up gas and release it in our rooms. The worst was one of the first evenings - we all tried the bison dish not knowing it's post-gas effects...and well, it was an eventful night.
Chicago was a great city. The architecture was uniform all over the city and seeing the piece-du-resistance: Sear's Tower (now Wilis Tower) was amazing. We actually went up there on the 103rd level and saw a view much worthy than the cost of the ticket to get up there ($15). There were transparent booths located up there where one can enter in. The booths were protruding outwards so that one is surrounded by cityscape (top, bottom, left, right, and front) and being so high up from the ground, you can feel the booths (and the building itself) sway just ever so slightly from the wind. An exhilarating experience! I loved the above ground transit rails and the sounds the trains made as they weaved around town. The city however had the same vibe as D.C. for example where people are hustling and bustling around, in a rush to get somewhere (or nowhere?). It's like people there are wearing those cone thingys they put around dogs' necks - looking straight forward and ignoring everything around them. Maybe perhaps it was just the end of a work day and people are rushing to get home. Oh and everything closes at 3:30pm on a weekday....so weird!
Sacramento was very different - I actually liked it a lot. It was very clean and very quiet. People are very relaxed and worry-free. We strolled around town checking out for example Old Sacramento, a small section of the city that recently was restored to its original 'old-western' state. Our hotel was in front of the state capitol building and we met and got pictures of the Harlem Globetrotters there too!
Oh and we may get some media coverage as well in Sacramento! Ron and Co. knows a writer from a newspaper firm that wants to write a short blurb about our journey of shooting a film across the country.
So all in all, we shot over 12 hours or footage, or about 150gb of data. 50gb of the files were behind-the-scenes footage and being AVCHD, it is a bitch to edit. For the past few days my computer has been busy converting those files to something more manageable. I am looking forward to finishing this stage and starting the editing process!
Oh the title of the film will probably be: "The Son of Many." What do you all think?_____________________
AndyG R O U P S