Standing on a 10 Foot Frozen Wave

Yesterday I stood on top of a 10 foot frozen wave looking out over the vast icy seascape of Lake Superior. I was shooting footage of this endless field of frozen waves as the setting sun turned them every shade of blue, purple and orange. It was quiet – incredibly quiet – no car or airplane noise, no voices, and no sound of splashing water, not even the sound of a bird. The audiometers on my camera barely registered a blip and yet there was audio. Even dead silence has a sound.

I’ve been on the Upper Peninsula in the far northern reaches of Michigan, shooting footage for a family biography that I’m working on. I had recorded interviews with my mother’s siblings this past summer while attending a family reunion and I had been planning on returning to capture some winter footage to illustrate the stories they told during the interviews. My mother, her siblings and her parents grew up in northern Michigan during the Depression, farming, lumbering, and fishing – pretty much doing whatever they could to survive. Times were hard and living in such a remote, harsh climate didn’t make it any easier. Everyone did what he or she had to do.

While I’ve been in the UP, I’ve met a lot of people who are doing all types of things to survive during this lousy economy. Most I’ve met have several part time jobs. A couple of times I stopped to eat at a restaurant, there would be one woman tending the bar, waiting on tables and cooking the food. Because of it’s geographic location and its sparse population, the Upper Peninsula is kind of like a frontier and the people who live here, have the spirit to go with it.

As I stood on the top of this frozen wave in absolute silence I contemplated resiliency of the human spirit in the context of my own world. Certainly my business has changed – due to technology and the lousy economy. Because of technology, I am able to do more things than I could ten years ago. Because of the poor economy, I’ve had to do more things. Most other photographers I have talked to this past year have diversified their businesses – some shooting weddings, some shooting video and some working in other retail markets. I suppose we’re all just doing what we can to get through these changing times.

So I looked out over the endless view of frozen waves and into the orange glow of the setting sun. For an instant I became fearful of where I was when I looked behind me and saw a deep crevice that I could easily fall into if I lost my footing. But then I looked ahead to the orange glow on the horizon and I felt hope and with that a sense of security because I knew where I came from and I have the heart and spirit to survive.

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Video Production in the Deep Freeze

I just spent the last week in New Hampshire working on an “industrial” video for a new business venture that will be licensing an amazing new “ice” technology. It was perhaps the most challenging job that I’ve had in many years – especially from a technical level.  One day we worked from 8AM – midnight in a “cold room” at the US Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) shooting “ice” experiments.  We were dealing with extremes on all levels.  The Russian scientists scientists– brilliant electrical engineers – were pushing their own boundaries as they ran tests with ice on power lines and automobiles and as much as I was witnessing this work in sub zero temperatures – it was amazing to watch them work. If I hadn’t been so busy with my own technical challenges – I would have loved to just observe them and try to get into their head.  scientists2You could almost see their brains working – just by watching their faces.  Then to see the triumph in their eyes when their experiments worked – what a thrill.  I now need to go to Russia.

My partner Tom had done a great job with pre-production, making sure we would be fully prepared to work and have our equipment work in these extreme cold temperatures.  We put the cameras into “polar mittens” mittens to keep them warm and swapped out the warm packs as we shot late into the night.  We had to erect large “green screens” so that in post I can insert winter scenes.  Problem was our green screens were large pieces of fabric and the chill blowers were blowing them all over the place.  We tried to anchor them but in the end we had to turn the blowers off during the shoot. Thank goodness we didn’t need usable audio. We used hot lights and a lot of them.  Used every extension cord we had and every outlet in the room – 10,000 watts.  Ironic huh – hot lights in a “cold room”.  Because of that we had to leave the lights on the entire time because we knew that when we turned them off – we’d get condensation on the bulbs.  When we finally did break the set down at midnight – we turned the lights off, let them cool a bit and put garbage bags over them so that as they warmed we wouldn’t get moisture on them.  Didn’t really work too well though.  setWe did the same thing with the cameras and that worked great.  Because we had the lights on all day and were using long extension cords – one cord got over heated and actually melted and fused to itself.  The Russian electrical engineer noticed it – Thank God – or we would have burned down the building.

We shot an interview with another brilliant Russian scientist who was passionate about ice and also shot b-roll of all kinds of things, the campus (we were at Dartmouth), labs, refrigerators, icemakers and the computers in the cad labs. All in all things went quite well considering the adverse conditions we were working in and pushing our equipment and ourselves to the limit. One HUGE bummer was that the assistant that Tom had hired  – who came recommended from another photographer – quit after the first day.  We got through the shoot though – but had to muster up everything we had within us.  The client wrote today to say he was extremely pleased with the roughs he had seen and impressed with our fortitude on the shoot given the situation.

Now on to phase two – to record the narrative, research a ton of stock footage and photos, pick the music, work with the motion graphics team and put it all together.  As much as the postproduction inevitably involves a lot of work and long hours – I love this part.  This is where the story comes together and is really crafted.  And that’s always the best part for me.

Photos ©Sheldon Tefft

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