July 27, 2016

How to Shoot in the Middle of Nowhere—Without Power

How do you manage your gear in one of the most remote corners of the world?

[Editor's Note: No Film School asked Brent Foster to write a guest article about his experience shooting a documentary for DJI in the remote corners of the Chilean wilderness.]

When we started our passion project, we truly didn't think about the fact that it might align with companies or brands who were attracted to our style of storytelling, and might want us to create similar projects for them. To be honest, I'm not sure how one of the co-founders of DJI saw our project, but I was told it was sent his way, and that when he saw it, their team was asked to contact us and get the process started.

We had no access to a solid power source​.​

Our team at Foster Visuals recently had the chance to travel to Patagonia to tell the story of Mr. Riel, a gaucho who lives in the middle of the mountains in Chile, very close to the border of Argentina.  It took almost a year, and we pitched several ideas before we landed on this story, which is told in a manner similar to that of our passion project. It was a win-win for us and DJI both; we all agreed that telling the story of one of the most remotely isolated gauchos in Patagonia was the right project to pursue as the first in a new series DJI was releasing, called DJI WORLD.

My teammates Preston Kanak, Pawel Dwulit, Tammy Foster and I all began planning alongside our fixer Max Cruz for the adventure to come.

Batteries and data

From the time we left our car and got onto the horses, we had no access to a solid power source. We carried a Goal Zero Yeti 400 with us for some solar charging, but with the cloudy conditions, we knew this wouldn’t be something we could rely on for an extended period of time to charge all our batteries and keep our laptops going.

We brought a ton of batteries with us on this trip to make sure we were well covered. It made flying a pain in the butt, but we wanted to be sure we were going to have enough power on site throughout the trip. In total, approximately 15 Sony BP-U60’s, 20 Osmo batteries, 15 Inspire batteries, 4 Switronix V-Mounts, and a dozen or so DSLR batteries for each still camera came along for the ride.

Every ounce of power needed to be dedicated to the back-up process.

In the end, with solar, we were able to charge about 20 Osmo batteries as well as a couple laptops through the Yeti, but we approached the trip with the idea we would have no access to power whatsoever.

Credit: Brent Foster

Typically, when we’re filming, each night we have the chance to download and review footage and start to put together a rough cut. This time around, we were limited to downloading and backing up the footage to two drives. Every ounce of power needed to be dedicated to the backup process.

Our gear took a beating on the trip. 

Our gear took a beating on the trip. In the first mile on horseback, one of the horses carrying some of my gear dropped my laptop, a monitor, and a ton of other gear. We were faced with rain every day, mud, river crossings, and tough terrain on the horses. Packing our gear into soft bags and duffles and putting in onto the horse was, unfortunately, the only option. We carried the main gear on our backs, but all of the support gear needed to be packed into bags which were tightly compressed for the horses to carry them. It made traveling and accessing gear super complicated until we got to Mr. Riel.

We relied on the Osmo a ton for the BTS parts of the film. It allowed us to film easily on horseback and stay relatively safe. Of course, drones were key throughout the trip to put into perspective just how isolated Mr. Riel is, and also to document the journey in and out on horseback to get to Mr. Riel. 

Credit: Brent Foster

Gear

Credit: Brent Foster

Brand synergy

DJI had a couple rounds of revisions, but overall, the structure of the edit didn’t change much from version one to the final product. We also had creative control filming the project. We were already using DJI gear on all of our productions but were supplied with the X5Raw version of the Inspire, as well as Osmos, batteries, and an extra drone with X5 camera and a follow focus system. We were basically able to put a wish list together for what we believed were the right tools for the job, and that’s what we brought along with us.

Your Comment

8 Comments

Looks great. Im really interested though in seeing a breakdown of which shot was shot with what camera. Especially in the BTS footage, you see several scenes that have quite a bit less cinematic quality to them than in the actual film. Now ofcourse, there is less production value pumped into composing shots for BTS, but still I wonder if this could mainly be a gear issue. (for example, that most of the BTS shots are made with the OSMO where most of the shots for the actual film are made with the FS7 on a RONIN.)

July 27, 2016 at 11:08AM

0
Reply
avatar
Jeroen Rommelaars
Animator - Videographer - Motion Tracking
710

Overall truly nice photos. One of the cons is the overusage of slowmo. Slowmo is something filmmakers in general rely on too often as a tool for telling the story.

July 27, 2016 at 4:04PM, Edited July 27, 4:08PM

3
Reply
avatar
David Hallberg
Project coordinator, researcher
151

I agree with you about the overusage of slomo in most things, but I thought it worked well with the story being told here. It helps give that disconnect between the character and society. Things aren't rushed and he has all the time in the world.

July 27, 2016 at 4:45PM

3
Reply
Ethan Cardoza
Cinematographer/Editor
227

This is a challenging and fun idea! I recently got a Bolex H16 16mm camera that uses no power. it winds up! You could take this and several rolls of film out into the middle of nowhere and shoot without power. If you wanted sound, you'd have to take something for that but there are some tiny, very efficient sound recorders that use very little power like the H4nSP that can run on 2 AA batteries or some kind of human generated power. Lights could also be hand powered or lanterns The drone would be a bit of a challenge. Perhaps some kind of small hot air balloon could be used. There would be lots of drawbacks to shooting with film in the middle of nowhere like no reviewing of the footage or backing it up, no laptops, etc. Also Super 16mm is not quite as high quality as a modern 4k camera.

July 27, 2016 at 5:01PM

3
Reply
avatar
Anton Doiron
Creator/Filmmaker
548

WOAH! Film! No batteries! What type of sorcery are you practicing?!

July 28, 2016 at 11:19PM

2
Reply
avatar
Emil
Content
15

Good work!
The still with the golden light coming in from the right is beautiful. Why didn't this color make it to the final product?

July 28, 2016 at 10:26AM

4
Reply
Richard Krall
richardkrall.com
1152

Having shot for weeks in the Sudanese desert.. The right gear wud have been a coupla DSLRs, a GoPro, a weather balloon; lots of sd cards - no backup necessary, a tablet to preview, buy two car batteries bought locally, a 12v to 24v dc inverter, 12vdc car to camera battery charger. All packs into two pelican cases. A suv was used to charge the car batteries with local gasoline. To trickle charge we used a stationery bike dynamo (the crew got a work out) and a tiny windmill. In your case, you cud have used a tiny water paddle in a stream to trickle charge a battery. A tiny inverter generator weighs a few pounds.

August 2, 2016 at 3:51PM

0
Reply
Mano Guha
Production Sound Mixer
86

Having shot for weeks in the Sudanese desert.. The right gear wud have been a coupla DSLRs, a GoPro, a weather balloon; lots of sd cards - no backup necessary, a tablet to preview, two car batteries bought locally, a 12v to 24v dc inverter, 12vdc car to camera battery charger. All packs into two pelican cases. A suv was used to charge the car batteries with local gasoline. To trickle charge we used a stationery bike dynamo (the crew got a work out) and a tiny windmill. In your case, you cud have used a tiny water paddle in a stream to trickle charge a battery. A tiny inverter generator weighs a few pounds.

August 2, 2016 at 3:53PM, Edited August 2, 3:53PM

1
Reply
Mano Guha
Production Sound Mixer
86