Create: VanLife Episode 003

My brother-in-law cut my hair. He has no formal training. I have to temper my expectations. With very limited creative time I can sometimes trick myself into thinking I can do more than I actually can. This recent road trip was a perfect example.

3000 miles. Almost exactly. This means I had LONG, 800 miles days followed by multi-day stretches of sitting in the van and doing my “normal” work. This trip was comprised of three segments. The first two were about work. The daily stuff. Conference calls, spreadsheets, emails, etc. The final segment was where things got interesting, at least to some degree.

The job required me to take three days off. So I did. The goal was three days shooting and writing on a project I’ve been working on for over two years. This is where the plan began to derail. The first issue…wind. As we left Northern California we were caught in the first major winter storm of the year and as we descended the backside of the coastal mountains we found ourselves in 60-mph winds with gusts even higher. We watched power lines fall, fences, signs. The air was filled with debris. We took shelter behind a casino and road it out through the night. This put me twelve hours behind schedule.

Then, just as the wind died we looked south and noticed a massive plume of smoke. Yep, forest fire. And it totally closed the road we needed to take. Now I was almost a day behind. The fire eventually moved off in a favorable direction and just as we took up our plight once again….we got hit with a blizzard which again closed the road we needed to take. Now I was more than one day behind with a total of three to work with.

Then came the rest of the drive. LONG. And then came the reality that one aspect of my project is like finding a needle in a haystack, the second part is about nature and is based on season, temperature and migration patterns and the final part is written and is FAR more difficult than anything I’ve ever done. So, what I should have done is be thankful for whatever scraps I could muster during what ended up being a little more than one day of work.

Frustrating? Yes. Atypical? No. This is the story of documentary work. Not always but it is just par for the course when you choose to make pictures of things that are beyond your control. I don’t shoot landscapes, or abandoned buildings. I don’t wander and shoot random things. I don’t shoot street. This particular project is conceptual which is the ONLY reason I can even continue working on it.

My expectations are now tempered. But that is okay. This entire endeavor is selfish. It’s just for me. It’s what I do for fun. The pandemic rages. Perspective people, perspective. The takeaways. I had a blast. I saw a beautiful country. I witnessed the fact that nature always holds the upper hand. I got to see and feel sunrise and sunset. I made a few pictures. I wrote a few words.

13 Comments on “Create: VanLife Episode 003”

  1. Crazy few days, Dan. Living in London, I have very little concept of wild weather, forest fires and blizzards. It sounds to me you are permanently on the go. Why were you driving 3000 miles? Curious of your project too. Ironically, I’ve decided after spending all my non commercial life trying to decide, choose, find a project to just shoot what I randomly see, sans any kind of agenda. I’m hoping it will liberate me from my crippling inability to find and stick with a project. I guess I’m just not project material, although I’ve started to do an up to date version of Irvine Penn’s “Small trades’. I’ve recently studied the work of Ernst Haas and realise you don’t necessarily need a project. On a different note and Covid related… here in the UK we are starting next week to inoculate our key workers and care home residents, the Pfizer vaccine has been approved by our medicine and healthcare regulatory agency. There is light at the end of the tunnel and it’s NOT the headlamp of an oncoming train !!

    1. Neil,
      Yes, you beat us to vaccine approval. No big shock with Donny still telling 70 million he is gonna be in power another four years while he golfs all day. I’m doing a YT Live tomorrow talking about projects. Projects can teach you thinks that wandering cannot. And vice versa. Projects are most difficult. And time-consuming and make you think differently but that’s part of the fun. But finding one that sets you on fire is the key.

  2. I’m glad you still post the videos here. I first watched this on YouTube, but man I hate YouTube. I keep my account because there are a handful of people I enjoy following there. Part of the YouTube dislike is my own fault. I’m susceptible to the “oh, squirrel!” algorithms. An hour later I’m questioning my life decisions.

    Just received my first Blurb journal. It was fun making it. I doubt it’ll be the last.

  3. Dan,
    I’ll seek out your YT video, if I don’t get to it live I’m sure to find it via a you tube search.
    I take no pride from the Brits being the first vaccine distributors, our bumbling oaf of a PM has pretty much F U everything else in this pandemic. He is our very own Donny lite and has a similar band of misfits that hang on his every word. Obama has coined a very apt phrase….”Truth decay” if you tell enough lies, the lines between fact and fiction get blurred, see Putin and the regimes that controlled their people. Using Obama’s analogy, their people were all toothless soldiers of misfortune.

    1. Neil,
      Putin is in a class by himself and might actually be a legit sociopath. The UK feels, in some ways, just as lost as we are. We pull our pants down daily as our goofball golfs and acts like a child while the Repubs play along for fear and lack of better ideas. The entire thing is embarrassing.

  4. Embarrassing and concerning, for us here too.
    I do though feel with the win for Biden, the tide is beginning to turn. I didn’t realise how much I longed for grey, boring and steady politicians!

  5. “… is a one way street. One that takes, and takes, and takes”. Thank you for putting words to that. I have been struggling to find them.


    1. Matt,
      Like the scene in Bourne Identity. “Look what they ask from us.” “Do you have headaches?”

  6. Hi Daniel,

    I have ALWAYS turned away at making films only because it seems like such a monumental learning curve and that’s fear inducing! . After watching this work you’re putting out, I’m so inspired to try. I don’t have a gear question, but I do wish to know if you have any suggestions for beginners when it comes to movie making. Can you share what platform, or software you use? Or, which ones you might suggest for newbies? I’d like to incorporate stills with video…

    I’m reading more, I’m looking more, I’m thinking more. After shooting for 10 years, I’m at a standstill in my creative identity. I’m feeling inspired to move through it and embrace my vulnerability after consuming a lot of your words and videos. Thank you for being so darn generous with it.

    1. Dana,
      I’m still feeling around in the dark. I use Adobe Premiere, which is powerful and really the standard editing program. But you can also get Final Cut Pro from Apple and you own it outright. And, I hear it is far easier to learn. Premiere is a real challenge for me. I can barely use it. A tripod is a must. Even with a camera with IBIS. “Rock shots,” as my friend Brian from MediaStorm would say. Speaking of MediaStorm, taking a class with Brian would be not only an intelligent move it would be a lot of fun. His films and how he works are mandatory EDU. Keep it simple. NO need for 4k, 5k, or 8k. Nobody cares. Be honest and personal. Take chances.

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