Filmaka Jury member Werner Herzog and Nicholas Cage in today’s Los Angeles Times talk about working together on their new film BAD LIEUTENANT
Only weeks before the first day of Ragbrai, I learned that I was not allowed to use motorized vehicles to shoot bikers along the route. This restriction was a significant hurdle. I realized that the actual bike riding and the conversations along the route were key of the movie and had to be captured, so we had to find a solution.
Ragbrai is not a race it’s a “ride”. The riders actually socialize along the route. They stop and eat snacks along the way. They eat pies and pork chops and pancakes. They drink home made lemonade and relish hand churned ice-cream. When they get hot, they go swimming in natural pools on the side of the road. Recovering party goers take naps along the route. Couples laugh and joke and needle each other.
We had to capture this key aspect of the ride! But how do we keep up and track of all our subject when they’re in constant motion, if we cannot drive along the route??? The producers questioned my determination to film along the route, but on this one, I would not budge. So we started exploring options:
modified cargo trailers
tandem bikes with backwards seats
bikes with side cars
Finally, our line producer Bernie, discovered a cargo trailer that was solid enough to tow a refrigerator. He spoke with our key DP Steve Cambell and together with my approval, they decided to modify the cargo trailer so that it could accommodate a camera operator. And it would be towed by a tandem bike. This seemed like a pretty good option until Talia, one of our producers, showed the trailer to her father who designs satellites. After a quick appraisal, he determined that the modified cargo trailer that we were banking on would not hold up for the whole ride. Worse, it would be super uncomfortable, unstable and unsafe for our camera operator. He offered up his design skills which we readily accepted.
The trailer Talia’s Dad designed and which was built by locals in Iowa was functional. It was dual axel, with aluminum railing and a boat captain’s seat mounted in its center (we had to change the location of the seat, because putting the operator in the center tipped the trailer off balance). Ultimately, our trailer worked pretty well.
We’re talking about close to 500 miles, 7 days along hilly roads, windy roads, rainy roads, and sun soaked roads. This was not an easy assignment for a camera operator, but Mario Signore embraced this challenge with gusto and the footage that he captured from the trailer is priceless!
It was tough finding what we called “mules” to ride the tandem bike that pulled the trailer. I must say, there were some real hero’s on that ride who stepped up to assist us. The “mules” physical prowess combined with our selective use of roads (we only selected flat and smooth parts of the route to travel the trailer on) made it possible for us to capture a high percentage of usable footage. There was a huge amount of huffing and puffing involved and I really appreciate the effort put forth to tow that trailer. And I know that Mario does too!
A big thanks also goes out to Joe Stearns, the “B” Camera unit production sound maestro. He managed to achieve some awesome sound using remote mics that worked better than I ever imagined.