A Calamity In The Desert

15 years ago  •  By  •  0 Comments

It was a dream I had, that inspired the second shoot of the current series I am working on. The dream contained a difficult exodus through the desert, from a large calamity. I’m not sure where it came from, but I think it was inspired from my visions of potential shoot locations. I have been thinking about shooting in the desert and this dreamscape eventually became the foundation of the idea behind the photographs I set out to create. I began compiling artwork to sharpen my vision. I found an interesting painting by the French artist Fernand Cormon called “Flying Before Jehovah’s Curse”.

My last shoot, a photograph of a red-headed woman in the redwoods with a red horse, seemed like a big production to fund for an art project. I knew this new project in the desert was going to surpass the redwood shoot by a long way. I’m looking at a shoot far away from home and far away from everything. Plus, there would be 7 times the amount of talent. Am I getting too ambitious? I have decided firmly on pushing ahead. This was a shoot I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

I start with my location. I’m looking at the Inland Empire, the vast area of desert to the east of Los Angeles.   The Inland Empire is geologically comprised of 25,000 square miles (not acres) of arid desert and mountains. I set my sights on the Mojave Desert. I’m looking for a location that will take us out of this world, hopefully to a place that evokes the Sahara. I want to find sand dunes. I call the Inland Empire Film Commission to ask some questions and get come advice. They recommend the Dumont Dunes.  I use two of my favorite tools, Google Earth and Google Images, to check out the area. I’m worried about the off-roading (OHV) activity in the area but, determine that with some post-production work we will be able to remove tire tracks. My studio manager, Amanda Warren, steps in as producer for the shoot and starts working on casting. We put out an online casting call for LA for actors, and she starts looking for animals. I’d like to find a camel.

It’s time to have our first creative meeting. Everyone comes to the studio. Elizabeth Rutledge and Ebony Haight are on wardrobe. Corey Evans and Brett Bachtle are on props. Kristy White, theatrical makeup artist for ACT, will handle that department. We all talk about the shoot using printouts of all the talent and the location. Elizabeth and Ebony bring a fantastic spread of wardrobe garments. We work out the tentative dates and everyone seems to be excited about the shoot.

We finalize all the talent, animals (llama and chickens- no camel), book the closest lodging we can find, and we start planning the drive down to the desert. All the talent and most of the female crew will stay in the motel that is about 25 miles away. The rest of us will stay in tents and the moho. Brett says he is bringing a giant tent from India and I’m pretty excited to see that. We purchase four additional tents, plenty of water and a lot of food. My assistants arrive very early in the morning and we finalize all the gear packing. It’s still dark when everyone else arrives. We load up the motorhome pretty quickly and get on our way. There are three vehicles and a trailer in the caravan.

It takes us about ten hours to drive all the way to the Dumont Dunes. It is quite a hike. I am happy we all get down there without any problems and that it’s still light out when we arrive. I can’t believe how tall the sand dunes are. They are like small mountains.

We quickly start putting the camp together. It all goes pretty smoothly. Brett’s tent is gigantic and is a made of a really nice, natural fabric.

The next day the ATVs and dune buggy arrive from Las Vegas. This will be our way of getting around in the sand. The area is quite huge and I spend hours scouting out where we are going to shoot. Finding clean sand in an accessible place with a nice view turns out to be very challenging.

The next day we wake up bright and early to begin work. I take one more last ride out in the dune buggy to scout out a location and unfortunately it breaks down in the furthest spot away from the camp. I wonder if it had anything to do with the fact that I rolled it the day before? Sorry Elizabeth! Luckily I brought a VHF marine radio, which Brett also had, because the walkie talkie was not working at that range. I had to climb up on one of the sand dunes to reach Brett. Brett has an awesome Range Rover that he drove all the way around the dunes to pick me up. I could see them coming from the top of the mountain from miles away. It was cool to watch the little speck of the vehicle makes it way all the way through the desert to me.

Everyone is busy at work. Ebony and Elizabeth are busy with wardrobe at the motel. It’s the same with Kristy on makeup. Corey and Brett are very busy setting the elaborate props. In addition to bringing a fantastic amount of props, they also had the clever idea to stop at the Mojave Airport airplane gravesite on the way down. There they found all kinds of cool, old airplane parts they rented from the management.

The animals show up. In addition to the llama, the animal wranglers surprised us when a zebra also walked out of the back of the trailer. They had just come from another shoot that needed a zebra so she just came along. They generously offered the zebra for the photograph, but I declined because I didn’t think it would make sense to have a zebra next to a llama. I mean, do you know anyone who puts a zebra next to a llama? It’s unheard of…

My crew and I begin setting up equipment in the shooting area. It’s a lot of transportation work getting the equipment out there. It’s really great having Brett’s Range Rover there. The shooting area is on a large, flat spot that has fairly easy access to it.

The talent is all ready so they are brought out to the shooting area. The animals are walked out as well.

Everything is looking good except for some unexpected, and not forecasted cloud cover. I decide we can make it work in post-production so we begin shooting.

I’m very happy with the images as they come up on the screen. The location is amazing and all the work everyone has done is simply amazing. I was so impressed with all the work the crew has masterfully completed. Thanks everyone!!