Looking Up – The SolidLine Winter Intern Blog Week 10: Los Angeles and Homeward Bound
By Sam Sher, SolidLine Intern
Last week I described to you the journey westward, our train shoot in the desert, and our stay in Quartzsite, among other things.  This week, dear readers, I treat you to the experience of shooting on the Port of Los Angeles, on Terminal Island.

Driving into L.A. from Arizona was one of the prettiest drives I’ve ever seen.  Now I know why southern California was chosen as the primary place for movie production:  it has more variety of landscapes than any place I’ve ever seen.  There’s desert, both of the Arizona/Cactus kind and of the Lawrence of Arabia, sand dunes forever kind; there’s snow-capped mountains, there’s green rolling hills that look like they belong in New Zealand, there are forests, there are forest-y hills, rocky hills, all locations that could look like either untouched new land or a post-apocalyptic wasteland, the list goes on and on.  Driving through these areas of California I thought about those pioneers of Hollywood who must have come through here and seen all of this, all the possibility for using the imagination.  This drive helped me to solidify what I’ve known for some time:  someday I’ll live out there.  Although I’ve seen it in movies countless times, Southern California had always been more of a concept than a place to me, but this drive gave shape and texture to that concept, and I like it.

Anywhoo, we drove through all the beautiful scenery, stopping only to refill our fridge at the La Quinta, CA WalMark, where I was forced to give in and buy a new pair of jeans, as I had torn a hole in my last pair during the train shoot.  We drove right on into the Port of Los Angeles, which is closer to Long Beach than L.A. proper.

A police escort took us to our camping spot in the parking lot of the port, where we could set up shop for the few hours that we’d be sleeping, and we readied ourselves for a long couple of days.  The next morning we’d begin shooting an arriving ship around 4:30-5am, so we had to be set up by 4, so we had to be there by 3:30, so we had to be up at 2:30.

The area where ships dock is massive, and fairly awe inspiring.  The ships themselves are gigantic, and loaded with piles of containers, which need to taken off the ship via humongous cranes that extend over the ship once it has docked.  The cranes move out over a container and drop a huge claw down, which locks onto the containers.  Then it brings the container up and moves back to the dock, where a truck is waiting to receive the container and drive off.  The crane then goes right back for another container.  Because there were so many containers, and a lot of cranes, the area under the cranes was full of traffic, with trucks coming and going to pick up and drop off containers, and smaller vehicles zipping around all over the place.  There was a traffic control person underneath every crane to prevent accidents, and they were much needed.  Because of how much was going on, we were required to have a security escort with us at all times, and we wore bright orange vests with hard hats.  Our security escort had a white van, and whenever we went anywhere on the port we would call for the van and ride it.  Dave was carrying the camera rig, so he would have to squeeze in the back of the van while the rest of us sat up front.  Also, when we would stop somewhere to get a shot, the security team would place cones in a square around us to alert drivers.

We began by shooting the crane activity, the lifting of containers and placing of containers.  Greg and Dave and I took the Sony XDCam, while Ed went off with his 7D to get more.  Eventually we were allowed to go up into the crane, which was a pretty breathtaking thing to do.  After a short ride in a dark elevator, we emerged far above all the activity, on the top of one of the cranes.  We went into the crane operator’s cockpit and saw the controls, and placed a GoPro camera on a railing to capture the activity from up above.  The view from up here was fantastic, we could see all of the terminal.

After a while of shooting the cranes we got to go on the ship itself, and we shot the containers being lifted from the from where they were waiting.  Here we met some of the ship’s crew, and also had lunch in the officer’s mess room on board with the second mate and the captain.  It was fascinating to hear them talk about life at sea, and about their tour schedules and trying to have a family with that lifestyle.
We shot on the ship for a while longer, and around 4:00pm or so we took a short break, as we’d been shooting since around 5:00am.  We looked at the footage we’d been shooting and drank some water, then went back out for a few more shots before going to dinner.  This time we set up a GoPro on the claw of a crane, aimed straight down in order to really get a dynamic shot of the containers getting picked up.

After dinner we shot a little more of the dock activity at night, then went to bed to get ready for another early morning.  The next day we shot at the port again, this time at the train yard portion of the terminal, and then on the bridge of the ship.  At the trainyard we captured more of the container movement, cranes lifting and setting containers on the trains, but at the bridge we we able to get some cool shots with the captain.  We needed someone to play a “pilot”, to get a shot of the captain and pilot planning their approach, so Ed Boeflex put on an APL cap and made his cameo on the bridge of the ship.

With our shooting wrapped at the port, we headed into Long Beach to hang out for the rest of the evening, and prepare for our final day of shooting, at a warehouse in the City of Industry.  We cooked some brats and lounged in the cool night air of Long Beach, a pleasant change from the hectic schedule of the past 48 hours.  At one point some the Reynolds family, who are friends of SolidLine and also live in Long Beach, came over and brought us an amazing pie!  It was a welcome evening.

The next day we headed up to the City of Industry to shoot a warehouse where trucks are loaded and unloaded.  We spent the day filming forklifts and conveyor belts, and then went out on the road to get some driving shots of a truck that was branded for our client.  For this we attached a GoPro to the outside of a car, and drove around with a semi, shooting as we went.  Once we had all the footage we needed, we parted ways with our client and began the long road home.

After Greg and Ed took a long look at the current weather maps and trends over the next 24 hours, they decided to take a chance on the weather predictions to save 6+ hours on the trip home by driving the northern route instead of the southern desert route.  We began by heading out of the LA area towards Las Vegas, and hit Vegas around midnight.  This was the only time I’ve ever seen Vegas, even though we just drove through it, and hopefully I’ll see it again sometime.  From here we went northeast into Utah, which I’ve heard is a beautiful state but was dark when we went through it.  It also began snowing during the night, coming down really hard at times, which was a change from the sunny, 80 degree weather we’d been enjoying.  We all hoped it wouldn’t last long, as driving through the mountains can be pretty dangerous when snowing.

I stayed up with the drivers all night, through Utah for a long time and then into Colorado.  The sun was rising over the Rocky Mountains as we approached them and we switched drivers.  It was around 8am when I went to bad, as we were about to get into the Rockies.  Weather reports were staying snow, and Dave was just starting his shift, so I didn’t know if I’d be waking up in a ditch or not.  Luckily I woke back up a few hours later safe and sound.  I learned that though the weather took a turn for the worse and was blizzard conditions in Vail, CO. Greg had to take over from Dave to ensure we all lived through the drive, but we got through just fine.  It was lucky, though: had the weather been worse we might have had to chain the tires, which would have taken hours longer and made the trip a lot more difficult.

The rest of the drive took us through the flat states of eastern Colorodo, Nebraska, and Iowa, and then back into Illinois.  We got back to Rockford at about 5am on the morning of March 18th, cleaned the truck, and went home, almost two weeks after we’d left.

The trip was successful, all in all.  Two weeks and and many hours of footage later we’d crossed the country twice, shot in the desert, explored a seasonal town in the desert, been to the port of Los Angeles, and seen a lot of Long Beach, California and lA County.  It was a great trip, and I’ve now got a hard drive full of behind the scenes footage to go through.  As always, I’m Intern Sam and you just read my blog.

-Sam Sher

Copyright 2011 SolidLine Media, a division of KV Media Group, Inc.

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