(Or, That Was the Month That Was)

The month starts with an up/down one-day trip to Seattle
to visit wonder kid Adam and my new, re-built 3D 4K P2.

Adam with the new 3D 4K P2 - two cameras and extended prop arms with bigger motors

Five years ago, when he was a mere lad of 16, Adam added two cameras to my DJI Phantom 2. Five years is a long time in droneland. After seeing footage of the launch of the ship, I am blown away by the 4K shots from the guys with DJI Inspire 2s, which are so much better than from my old P2. These new drones come with their own built-in 4K cameras. Could I buy an Inspire and add a second camera for 3D?

I have a meeting with Inspire owner/pilot Mike Jetter and the answer is an emphatic no. He suggests rebuilding the old P2 with better cams.

Back to Adam, now 21 and living with his girlfriend in Seattle. Adam adds new bigger props on extenders, a whole new gimbal system, new longer legs and a couple of 4K Sony Action Cams.

The stereoscopic tests that he shared with me are impressive, so I fly up, rent a car, film a test flight and record how-to info for Paul, my new drone pilot.

We all go for a Hawaiian lunch on a Seattle dockside. Adam says he can pack the drone in a cardboard box with lots of bubble wrap and I can take it back with me. “Come on Adam, I’m 60 years older than you.”  “I’ll FedEx tomorrow,” says Adam.

Bye, bye Adam and GF. I drive like the wind back to car rental, take the shuttle bus to the awful Seattle airport, change my return flight to an earlier one (“That will be $25, please.”) and fly back to SFO. The Marin Airporter gets me home just in time to watch Marvel’s The Defenders. Phew! My kind of day.

In Australia in the ’60s, I’m always flying from Sydney to Melbourne, Brisbane or Canberra in a single day. Leave crack of dawn, back at sunset. In those carefree days long before plane hijackings and long security queues, I hand-carry my Éclair 16mm with my Nagra III over my shoulder, a rifle mic tucked into my belt. Wearing a slouch hat and dark glasses, I feel like a hit man.

Hey, I am a hit man.

Sam Lipski, Exec.  Producer of ABC-TV “This Day Tonight” books me for a one day up/down special. It’s a story about a group of American tourists visiting the outback. Frank Bennett, their reporter, my assistant Rosemary and I are flying from Sydney to a small town west of Sydney. The tourists have been told it is the dinky-di (authentic) Outback. Of course it isn’t. Way too close, way too green. It’s Gundagai, home of the Wiradjuri aboriginal people.

The first lady throws her boomerang so hard that it flies back straight toward me. I duck; it misses me by inches. We all play didgeridoos, pat baby kangaroos, find a koala. We watch an ungrateful sheep being sheared and finally make it to the local RSL Club to play the pokies and drink an Aussie schooner or two.

Early evening, the chartered Avro Anson circles Sydney’s Mascot airport, then flies out over Bondi Beach and way out to sea. The pilot tells us that the landing gear is “sort of stuck.” The plane banks as its fuel is jettisoned. “Take crash positions.” The plane is so small that there is no airline hostess to demonstrate. One of tourists knows all about crash positions and bravely shows us how. “First to die,” I say to Rosemary.

On the ground, the fire trucks are ready with flashing red lights. We are all hunched over, hands on heads, ready for the crash. We circle and land, thunk, thunk, thunk. Success, we’re all safe—scared, tired, but happy to be alive—and yes, it’s all in one day.

Skip forward to the 1970s. Phil Saben, working for hotel chain Trust House Forte, says, “How’d you like to go to Paris for a day, just the two of us?”

We are greeted by the prettiest, sweetest Parisian hostess you could imagine, and she takes us on a whirlwind tour. I find a wheelchair and take shoulder camera shots moving through the George Cinq’s sumptuous suites. Just call me Raoul Coutard.

Jean Luc Godard pushing or maybe pulling Raoul Coutard in wheelchair, shooting “Breathless”

We zigzag floor to floor. On street level, I take shots of the building. Inside there is a flower-filled open air courtyard. “Would you like coffee with wild strawberries and peaches?” asks our starlet hostess. “Oui, j’aime les fraises des bois.”

So this is what heaven looks like.

Strange how some days are so different from others. I’m at the ship. Alan says they have some metal for a blacksmith in Rohnert Park. Can I deliver it and maybe shoot some film?

I phone the blacksmith, Lowell Chaput. Yes, he’s OK for next Friday. Tricia contacts our wool lady to collect three bags full for Rough Linen coverlets.

On Friday we drive north from home. We’ll take the old Ford pickup truck. First stop Novato, for Costco for the week’s supply. Don’t forget the Fancy Feast for madam. Everything goes behind the back seats to leave room for the wool.

far left - my Sony 3D1 camera shoots white hot metal for ship's rigging

Next stop Rohnert Park. Lowell, the blacksmith, is ready for us with his furnace blazing. Does he do horseshoes? “Never. I specialize in creative works. I’m an artist in metal.”

I have my standard shooting kit: a Sony HXR-NX3D1 and a 3D GoPro on wobbly Joby legs. Lowell is making an iron fitting for the ship’s masts. He warns us to keep well back. The metal is not just red hot, it’s white hot.

“Oh yeah,” I think, until he brings the glowing piece out of the furnace. Whoa, so hot, my face is burning, my hair is going to catch fire. I quickly back away. The plastic 3D GoPro casing looks as though it’s going to melt. As the metal cools, I move in. Lowell is 83. He does this every day and takes enormous pride in his art.

Next stop is Valley Ford. We drive past sheep grazing in wavy fields. It’s hard to tie the wool down in the back of our truck.

filling our truck with pure white wool

Me, I’m shooting the sheep and the wool. Can’t let a Kodak moment go to waste.


foremast - see my 6 hour battery GoPro lower frame

The big day is Saturday when both masts go on. In naval terms, they are “stepped in.”

GoPro fixed to ship's side

And here’s the shot the GoPro took of Matt Butler catching the mast.

Matt Butler catches the 100ft 5,000 lbs main mast

I have my camera on a tripod. It’s so windy that it blows over—almost. I run and save it. Tricia is on the pier, operating handheld. She gets the money shot of the mast going in. George, my son-in-law, is on his boat, fighting the 35-knot wind.

the fore-mast is upright about to be moved to the ship. A Mavic shot before the wind blows it out to sea

Tyler is flying my Mavic, or trying to. Suddenly the wind starts blowing it out to sea. Tyler swaps to sports mode and flies to a nearby pier, tries to land but is blown back again.

Finally he flies just above the water, under the protection of the seawall, then pops over and lands.

And what of Adam’s rebuilt 3D 4K P2?

Sorry, Adam. It’s just too windy to risk flying. Even the guys with DJI Inspire 2s have packed up and gone home.

You can see a rough cut of the mast sequence

The rigging, the sails, the Coast Guard certification sea trials are next. My ship and my film won’t be finished until January 2018.

Nobody said filmmaking was meant to be quick and easy. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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