Adventures in America – The Great Biker Build Off: Eddie Trotta vs. Russell Mitchell

Many years ago, my first foray into reality television was working on a show called The Great Biker Build Off.

The concept was simple, find two motorcycle builders, give them thirty days to build a bike from scratch and have them ride the finished bike to a motorcycle show and let the fans vote on which one they liked better. I’m not a motorcycle guy, but even I loved this format.  We worked literally, clinically insane hours, and we flew every four days when we were shooting builders who were far apart. It was challenge to keep up with.

BUT, as luck would have it one of the jobs that fell to me for three episodes (all in the same year) was to work to figure out which bike show would be the best one to for our two builders to take their bikes to given the date we figured we’d be done shooting, draw about a 300-400 mile radius circle around that show location, and map out a motorcycle ride that we thought would be the most beautiful *and* still offer an opportunity for us to get a helicopter into a particularly beautiful portion of the ride for our aerial shots.

The best part was that after we mapped it out, I would get to take 3 or 4 days to fly to the starting point, jump in a car with my camera, and drive the route; stopping to take pictures of places I thought were really great and assessing things like fuel availability, places to stop with cast and crew for the night, and a place for the aforementioned helicopter to land, pick up our cameraman and producer or myself, get our shots, and get out – hopefully without having to bring in an avgas fuel tanker.

This was almost a decade ago now, and for years I’ve been meaning to share a Google Maps route of the rides we took that year, and one ride we mapped, but didn’t get to take.

BBO Ep 7 - Leaving Ft. LauderdaleFinally, I’ve gotten around to making KML files of the rides for my episodes and wanted to share them with the broader world. If you loved these shows, or if you’re looking for a good 2-3 day ride in some fun parts of the states, stay tuned, here’s the map from the first episode I ever worked on that took us from Fort Lauderdale, across Alligator Alley, up across the Sunshine Skyway bridge (where we did this episodes helicopter shots – great fun chasing seagulls between takes!) through St. Petersburg and up through Atlanta to Norcross, GA to the Great American Motorcycle Show.

Below is an embed of that route on a Google map; and I’ll be posting a couple of more from New Mexico, through Monument Valley to Tombstone, Arizona for Matt Hotch vs. The Martin Bros; and the route never traveled but mapped out for Mike Brown and Billy Lane

Without further ado, I give you the Great Biker Build Off, Episode 7 Ride Map.


View Larger Map

Copyright, Chain-of-Title, and Making Sure You Can Actually Sell Your Movie

Most posts in the Production 101 series require a deep breath before diving into them, and this one is no different.

While copyright in the United States is technically awarded “at the moment of creation” of something, that really matters very little to the commercial world of  any financially meaningful means of media distribution.

An aside, none of this really matters if you’re not ever going to distribute commercially *and* won’t ever have a need for Errors and Omissions Insurance.  E&O in media specifically is an insurance against getting sued for not having properly cleared certain parts of your media.  Most specifically it applies to insuring against lawsuits from musicians, people appearing in your film, or other people who may claim your film was their idea.

You can only get insurance policies for this kind of coverage if you’ve properly done all the contracts and releases for your media, and the aforementioned elements (though some distributors will require you to go further in certain cases).

The very first item on the list if you ever go to apply for E&O, or to commercially show or distribute your work on any medium or large commercial network (cable, satellite, etc), will to prove you own the copyright for the property.  And not just you, but specifically, the corporate entity that owns the copyright with whom the potential distributor is doing a deal.  I’m assuming here you’ve got an LLC or other entity you’re already using to limit your own liabilities.

So, if you’re in the US, you go to Copyright.gov, get the right forms, and fill it out, send it in first with a copy of your script.  Make sure you’ve assigned the copyrights themselves to the company you’ve set up.  This is as simple as typing up Blank Assignment of Copyright that says you assign the copyright of your “titled” piece to the “name of the company,” and date and sign it.  I’ve actually included a sample doc you’re welcome to use.

Then you also send in a description of the copyrighted media. Blank Copyright Description

And lastly, if you need to reassign the copyright to another entity or person for any reason over the life of the intellectual property, you can use: Blank Transfer of Copyright Agreement

These documents are going to at the top of the list for commercial exploitation of your media, and once you understand the principles behind them, it’s really not that complicated; though I’ll admit it’s a bit of a pain-in-the-butt.  I’ll follow this up in a couple of weeks with the other parts of satisfying the maze of requirements for delivering a film or media project to a commercial distributor that includes things like location, appearance, and materials releases, and music cue sheets.

Lastly, footnote: I am not a lawyer, and my posts shouldn’t be considered substitutes for professional legal advice, nor is it a solicitation to offer legal advice. Seek the advice of a licensed attorney in the appropriate jurisdiction before taking any action that may affect your rights.

Shot Lists, Shot Planning & Storyboards

Some years ago, I remember hearing that director Gary Ross had a shot list for the film Seabiscuit that was triple the length of the screenplay itself.  While it may be overkill (and then again, maybe not), it can’t be overstated enough that failing to plan is planning to fail.

In any visual medium, the foremost job of the leaders behind the project is to make sure that everyone working with you is clear on exactly what you’re all trying to create together.  You have to get your vision, out of your head and into the heads and hands of others on your team.

To return to the Gary Ross example, I remember his saying that his shot lists explained shots in emotional terms as well as general filmmaking terms.

Seabiscuit-exampleSo instead of just saying “Long shot,” he would say things like, “They’ve just lost their son, and feel utterly and absolutely alone in the world.  Their pain is so deep that they need that isolation, for now, and we need to respect their pain.

And this shot in the film reflects that.

So for directors and producers who feel like shot lists and storyboards might paint you into a particular shot, at the very least describing how you want people to feel at key moments in your media can be a great way to get your team on the same page with you.

Now, personally, I like to plan; I also believe that having a plan doesn’t mean you can’t deviate from the plan.  Having a plan means you have thought about the purpose behind each part of the plan, and have a firm foundation upon which to assess possible changes to your plan when you get your boots on the ground.

Changing your plan mid-game is fine, and can even drive better results than having stuck to your original plan.  But you and your team need a place to start.  Shot lists, and shot planning aids are a great way to do that.

Below are some old school templates I’ve used over the years, feel free to download them and use them for your own productions!

Blank Shot Planning List

Overhead Layout Template

Blank Storyboard Frames

I will also note, that since pre-visualization tools have gotten much, much more accessible (Sketchup, Blender, anyone?  Or Maya, or 3DS Max on the paid route), there’s no reason you can’t setup rough scenes in full 3d, and export stills or even animated sequences so your crew knows what you’re going for.

Make a plan, or plan to fail, it’s your choice:)

Location Scouting

Location scouting can be one of the most fun, and most futile parts of making media.

It can be fun in that it can take you to absolutely amazing places you would never otherwise get to see, and while you’re there for scouting there’s very little of the regular production pressure you have once you’ve got a fully operational production on premise.

It can also drive choices that can make or break your production.

Sometimes you fall in love with the look of a certain place, and the deal terms seem workable; but there’s no place to park your production vehicles, or crew vehicles.

Sometimes you fall in love with a place, only to realize that you’re in a historically significant building, and your grip & lighting crew tell you where they need to be able to mount lighting. You then say “OK,” not knowing that you’re going to be stuck with a bill that doesn’t just cover “repairing” whatever happened when they mounted their kit, but for a full “restoration” to original condition.  Something that should cost a few hundred dollars in spackle and paint is now a $10,000 bill for using “historically accurate” materials and labor to do the repair job.  It’s funny in the not funny kind of way.

At the end of the day, choosing a location for your film or video project there are 5 major points to consider:

  1. Look – does it fit the look you and your creative team are searching for with the least amount of modification?
  2. Accessibility – What’s the BIGGEST truck you’re going to have on site?  Will it fit down the driveway? Is there anywhere for it to park?
  3. Parking – Is there enough parking for your cast AND your crew on site? If not, where are the closest spaces that will support your cast/crew, and can you afford the time, personnel and vehicles to run shuttles?
  4. Permitting – What area is it in? Are there any permitting issues? What’s the lead time and cost for a permit? Filming restrictions on hours? Neighbor sign-off required?
  5. Potties – Seriously y’all – a house with two bathrooms isn’t going to cut it for a crew of 60.  Find space to bring in enough restroom capacity to suit the crew size.
  6. Power – If you’re bringing more than a few K of lighting, you need to have a plan for a generator. You’ll need a place to park it where it won’t be heard on set, and you’re lighting teams will need to know how far a cable run will be needed to get power into the location.

At any rate – I used to send some of my teams out with sheets I made up just for the folks who weren’t necessarily location managers (*ahem* – segment reality producers, I’m looking at you); but still had the responsibility of looking at and assessing locations for production.

Hopefully you’ll find it helpful in your productions:)

Blank Location Scout Sheet