Several months ago, my friend Michael, with whom I had previously worked on a couple of movie shoots, asked if I would be interested in coming up to Vail for the Vail Film Festival and shooting B-roll footage, filmmaker Q&A sessions, interviews and VIP parties. All my expenses and lodging would be paid for, and I would get to spend four days in a beautiful (and quite expensive) mountain town, doing the things I love the most – hanging out with friends, shooting videos, taking photos and watching movies. Of course, I said hell yes!
This turned out to be an even cooler experience than I thought it would be. In addition to getting all kinds of swag, I got a chance to work deep behind the scenes of a film festival, meeting all kinds of interesting people and re-uniting with others that I haven’t seen in years. It was a blast. I forgot how much I enjoy doing this kind of stuff.
There was a period in my life a few years back, when I worked on a lot of film and corporate video shoots as a grip and production assistant. I enjoyed it for a while, but then it became tedious and exhausting – extremely long hours, physically demanding labor (carrying and setting up heavy equipment, constant commotion and mayhem that is typically present on movie shoots), but most importantly – I was basically a gopher, running around and carrying out the wishes of the creative people in charge. After a couple of years of this, I told myself that it just wasn’t worth doing anymore – working my butt off for other people, without having any kind of creative input. I studied filmmaking in college: cinematography, lighting, editing. I didn’t go to film school to become a miserable PA. So, I made myself a promise not to work on any more film or video shoots (even if they pay well), unless I was the one organizing them, or at least – working in a creative capacity, either as a camera operator or an editor. I figured, I already have a steady full-time job, I’m making a living, and if I’m going to do any kind of film/video work for others in my own free time, it better be a project that I will enjoy, otherwise there is no point in doing it. So, I spent the next several years working only on my own little projects, such as the on-going gig with the Russian Science, Art and Sports Center for Children and small photography projects on the side.
The Vail Film Festival was exactly the kind of opportunity I was looking for. It was a perfect mixture of fun and work. Michael and I had full-access passes; we were the official videographers for the festival. We were present at screenings, red carpet interview sessions, filmmaker panels, photo shoots, concerts and VIP parties. We were right there in the trenches, so to speak. It was incredible. I consider myself a pretty humble individual, so it was fascinating to find myself amidst the stable of high-profile people – celebrities, musicians, PR types and folks in the high eschelons of the publishing and entertainment industries. It was hectic at times, but it was also incredibly fun and exciting. A good balance for this type of work, I think.
I can’t possibly write in detail about every single thing that happened in those tightly-packed four days, but I can provide a quick and dirty recap. Thursday was spent settling in, unpacking gear, getting our passes, t-shirts, and being introduced to all the key people we would be working with. Best Life magazine, which was the main sponsor of the festival, had a VIP tent with food and drink bar and showcases from other sponsors – Subaru (yes! It made me proud to drive my Forester), Epson (sweet, I have an Epson photo printer), Smart Water, Izze (my favorite!!!), Stella Artois and a few more. We spent a lot of time in that tent, shooting their products and occasionally stuffing our faces with yummy snacks and drinks. Thursday night was the opening ceremony, screening of Snow Cake (great little film, by the way) and presentation of a Breakthrough Actor of the Year award to Hayden Panettiere (star of NBC’s show “Heroes”), who couldn’t attend the festival and instead sent her videotaped “thank you” message. After the screening, we crashed the opening night party and shot a little more footage there, but mostly just drank, talked to a couple of gorgeous women from Nashville (heh) and munched on chocolate-dipped strawberries.
On Friday, Michael and I walked around, got some scenic shots of the town, had lunch at the music lodge and then shot video footage and stills of the bands (well, solo artists, actually) invited to play at the festival all the way from LA, including Meiko and one of my personal favorites – Cary Brothers, who was featured on the soundtracks to Garden State and The Last Kiss, as well as TV shows like Scrubs and ER. All of them were super-nice, laid-back guys. When Cary Brothers was outside, getting a smoke, I took a moment to introduce myself and politely asked if I could take his photo. He said of course, so I quickly snapped a few shots. What a great guy, not to mention – a wonderful musician.
Later in the day, we crashed a filmmaker reception party, shot interviews with people like the film commissioner, screenplay award winner, a few other people I don’t even remember, and Haylar Garcia, the director of Do It For Johnny, the Colorado premiere of which we caught later that night. He was also present at the Q&A afterwards. Friendly and funny guy, he seemed really happy to be there. It made me smile when he said that he shot his entire movie with Canon MiniDV cameras like the GL-2, which is what I was using to shoot all my festival footage. So, all of you digital haters who think that a feature film shot on MiniDV won’t stand a chance of getting distribution or breaking into the industry, there is your proof. I won’t lie and say it looked great on the big screen (it is DV, after all), but for a film like this it worked just fine. Garcia has my respect; if you watch Do It For Johnny, you can see just how much persistence and stamina this guy has. He is the little indie guy that never gave up following his dream, and after much struggle, his efforts finally paid off. It was truly inspiring. I wish him all the luck in the future.
Saturday was our busiest day – shooting red carpet arrivals, interviews with Sophia Bush (star of CWs One Tree Hill and The Hitcher), Harold Ramis and a few other celebrities who showed up; the screening of Knocked Up followed by the Q&A with Harold Ramis; some other various b-roll footage. It was a hectic, but exciting day. Because Knocked Up hasn’t even been released yet, Universal sent two of their own security personnel to make sure that no pirate activity took place during the screening. These guys looked like the Secret Service – black suits, ties, walkie-talkies. They even had specialized night-vision scopes to observe the audience and spot anyone who would be stupid enough to bring a video camera into the theatre. Pretty fascinating stuff. One of the security guards turned out to be Russian – small world! We talked for a little bit, and he even let me play with his scope. Heh. Somehow, that sounded wrong.
Harold Ramis turned out to be just like I imagined him – really humble, laid-back, down-to-earth, yet hysterically funny. I’m a huge fan of Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day (come on, who isn’t??), and I liked pretty much everything else he has done since then, including the big Christmas episode of The Office. I couldn’t believe I was standing a mere four or five feet away, shooting an interview with him and snapping still shots. It was surreal. I remembered watching the various premiere coverages on E! and seeing celebrities on the red carpet and huge lines of photographers lined up in front of them, snapping shots, flashes firing everywhere, and the actors’ faces lit up and smiling into the cameras. This is exactly what it was like, except perhaps on a slightly smaller scale. And I was right in the middle of it all! Surreal, I tell you.
Then, there was a VIP party in a lodge at the top of the mountain, to which we had to take the gondola. At night, hovering over a mountain, white snow below us, it was spectacular. Everyone was at that party – actors, directors, musicians. I was a bit lost and disoriented, so I just drank one beer and got tipsy. It must have been the altitude.
We got home around 3am, then we had to wake up at 6 and quickly edit some highlights from the footage we shot in the previous days, so that it could be mailed out to Entertainment Tonight, Inside Edition and a bunch of other places that might run it (you know, the quick :30 second snippets like “–and in other entertainment news, this weekend at the Vail Film Festival in beautiful Colorado–”… Blah, blah, blah.
Amazingly, we finished everything on time, had yummy brunch and wrapped everything up. Then, I drove Michael to the airport and headed home. Semi-delirious and exhausted, but happy as hell. It felt bittersweet to leave all of the people I’ve met behind, a feeling that anyone who’s ever worked on a movie shoot knows very well. On any kind of shoot, you work with many people so closely and spend so much time together, they all become almost like a big family. And it’s always a little bit sad to leave in the end. But, I was really glad to come back home and finally get a chance to relax and unwind. And The Apples In Stereo concert at the Bluebird that night certainly helped, as well!