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March 3, 2022
Hakd jua palne7a…Monbsot…Soerruy…
Ahhh! Sorry! There, that’s better. Apologies – my hands are still defrosting from our trip to Minnesota.
It was a great time, covering 7-time X-Games gold medalist Levi LaVallee and his team of snocross racers. It’s not every day you get to film the world-record-holder in longest snowmobile jump (412 feet!) and somebody who’s pulled off a double-backflip. Needless to say, it was pretty surreal to be around somebody so highly-regarded and successful in their sport, and to watch them pass that knowledge on in real time to the next generation of racers.
As we’re just a handful of Flatlanders from Kansas City and Chicago, our snowsports experiences are limited, so it was great to get out and be involved with something so out of the ordinary.
And let me tell you, I haven’t seen anything quite like snocross before. The term “high-octane” must have been coined for this (it wasn’t) because this sport is intense. It’s fast, it’s loud, it gets your heart pumping. There’s so much going on it’s easy to stop and want to take it all in, every turn, engine roar, each jump and victorious heel-click…until you jolt back to reality, panicked, realizing you’re supposed to be working.
It’s easy to get lost in it all, but once you buckle down and get to work…there’s even more going on than the thrill of the race to get in your way.
Long-time* readers will notice a theme here. We seem to film in a lot of cold weather, and it is always an obstacle. Oddly enough, I think I was colder on this production than in our time in Alaska. I can’t place why, but this cold felt different. It was the very essence of the phrase “biting cold.” The intro wasn’t entirely a ploy at hooking you in – my hands took a beating on this one. We all did. Our DP was decked out in electric glove-warmers. Our producers watched the event huddled around the fires built for the audience. Our crew’s faces were so bundled up it was like we were in a global health pandemic or something.
Anyway, it was cold. Looking beyond the difficulties of keeping your hands and body warm to operate a camera, this is a type of shoot that required patience and timing. It was unlike the difficulties in the Alaska shoot. There, you’re in constant motion and trying to capture every facet of the continuous march. Here, you’re hunkered down waiting for the sleds to whizz by. Before that moment, you’re sitting still in the harsh cold and you can’t move around to keep yourself warm as you need to be still as a statue. One, you’re waiting for the shot, but two, you’re staying out of the way and trying not to distract the racers.
As discussed before, there are also issues with keeping batteries and equipment warm. And, as before, the same remedy comes into play – hand warmers, hand warmers, hand warmers. Unlike Alaska, we also had the added risk of running out of warmers. Somebody – and I won’t name names (because I don’t want to incriminate myself) kept stuffing hundreds of the things in their boots and gloves and pockets.
We may never know who the culprit was, but the production was a success in spite of their selfishness.
Location, location, location – the middle section of a Venn diagram between video production and real estate. Our DPs were moving from place to place, stationed near specific turns and focal points of the race, waiting for their moments. It’s a bit of a dance knowing where to position yourself and then hauling your equipment across track before a 30-stone machine mangles you to bits. But you can’t just position yourself at the start and finish lines and call it a day. Variety is the spice of life, so they say.
Additionally, this footage was all about timing. You have a handful of seconds to frame the target, focus on the target, and get the shot. There’s a little leeway when filming multiple hours of races over two days, but when it comes to hero shots of your specific racers…you don’t have many opportunities to get what you need. And there’s no guarantee of more opportunities, either. One bad race could put your racer out of contention, and then you’d better hope what you’ve already got will suffice.
It’s demanding, it’s stressful, and when you combine it with the cold of waiting for your moment, you’re in a position where it’s easier to fail than not.
We’re all just standard Midwesterners, as I said, so we’re only really accustomed to the sporting atmospheres of your typical major league sports, and while I’ve been to some pretty loud games at Arrowhead or Allen Fieldhouse (Rock Chalk!), nothing really prepares you for the absolutely insane levels of volume that can come from a snowmobile launching from the starting line at full throttle. Deafening doesn’t even do it justice.
The entire event is utterly filled with the constant noises of snowmobile engines – from the race itself, to the racers getting prepped for the next race, to crew members on the sidelines keeping the throttles open to make sure the pipes stay warm. The night is enveloped in noise. You can’t even hear the announcers over the loudspeakers. And they’re literally called loud…speakers. And you can’t hear them. Let that sink in.
Eventually you drown it out and it becomes background noise. That or your cochlea has slowly disintegrated and you’re gradually feeling the effects of a really sad and quiet future. Either way, you kind of get used to it. After a while it’s just like being followed around by an intense gang of bees. They all drown each other out. You fall asleep with the sound of revved engines echoing deep in your canals. You come home and can’t hear your spouse or partner ask how the shoot went. Slowly you start to forget what their voice even sounded like. You can’t recall the laughter of children or the sound of rain. Where did all the birds go?
Until one day you’re doing something innocuous, maybe you’re writing a blog, and you come to the haunting realization of the endless tormenting loneliness that now awaits you. And for what! FOR WHAT, you bellow into the soundless void, over and over until it becomes nothing more than a guttural, animalistic scream, pain tearing at your throat, your fists pounding the table. You hear none of it, of course; it’s like screaming into space. Even your echo has abandoned you.
But then maybe you notice you never turned off your noise-cancelling headphones. Man, what a Black Friday deal those turned out to be.
Anyway, what this actually means is you better have a damn good plan at the start of the day, because no two-way radio is going to help you. There’s so much noise going on that every member of the crew has to be hyper-aware of what’s going on and what everyone else is likely doing. Anticipate problems and needs, learn how to mime, do whatever it takes to minimize the need for jamming a radio halfway down your ear trying to decipher the garbled squawks of your colleagues.
One thing’s for sure though…
We’re all going to be awesome at Charades for this year’s Christmas party.
Curious how it all came together? Here’s what we did with all that awesome footage:
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