Adventures in America – The Great Biker Build Off: The Martin Bros. vs. Matt Hotch

In this post, I’m going to map out the ride I chose for this episode shot in 2004, between Matt Hotch, whose shop at the time was down in Fullerton, CA, and The Martin Brothers, Jason & Joe. Their shop was just outside Houston.

To this day, Matt is still one the best guys I met during the year of working on the show; and we had a blast out in Texas with the Martins as well. In addition to coordinating & ap on this ep, I also took all the show stills.

BBO Ride - At the Grand Canyon
Matt Hotch & Joe Martin, South Rim of Grand Canyon

This is one of my favorite shots from our trip that started in a dump of a motel in Gallup, New Mexico, then went West into Arizona, where we went up into the Navajo Nation, through Window Rock, and past Canyon de Chelly (where we didn’t get to stop, unfortunately).

We went up the 191 and into Utah for a minute, before heading back SouthWest on Highway 163. The rock formations and stark beauty of this area is something that should not be missed if you ever get the chance. When I got near Mexican Hat, I remember thinking about how much the strip mining had really screwed up the hills – until I found out that was how they were, no mining had been done there.

This was also a scout I encountered an honest-to-goodness sandstorm I had to wait out in a service station somewhere North of Monument Valley for a while; and it was also a drive where at one point, I drove 70 miles an hour for nearly 2 hours without ever seeing another car or person. It was amazing.

Scouting this ride was a special treat for me, for a couple of reasons, one of which that I had grown up in the Phoenix area and had never returned after leaving for good in 1992. It was weird to go back there, but growing up we’d had a lot of opportunities to go up on the Rim and to Payson, Flagstaff, Sedona and a few other places up above the Valley floor and I’d always found it beautiful.

This ride was nothing if not that (though apologies that my Google maps path drawing isn’t precisely on the roads…).

Before we got to the Grand Canyon, the best place we could find to stop was a little joint called the San Juan Inn, in Mexican Hat, Utah. Right on the edge (and I do mean the edge) of the river along Highway 163.

In Monument Valley, Arizona
In Monument Valley, Arizona

Another one of my favorite parts was arranging our helicopter shots in Monument Valley. It was nearly impossible to get a permit from the Navajo Nation folks, and literally, the only way I got one was during my scout, to track down the guy responsible and pay a fee in person. After weeks of trying via phone and fax, it all came down to getting on the ground and making it work.

Funny enough, when we came to shoot, and had permit in hand, the Rangers in Monument Valley had their own set of problems with us, and didn’t care about our permit. The good news is, they showed up after we were in the air, and we got the hell out of there before we got in more trouble.

The other good news was, we were at the very edge of the flight range for this helicopter, which was a rescue helicopter from the Grand Canyon. The closest we could get to Monument Valley area at that time, without bringing in a fuel tanker. If I remember right, our budgets for the helicopter portions were literally around $2500. So we had an hour. That’s it.

This guy was an amazing pilot – at one point he was flying sideways down the highway so low that Joe or Matt (I don’t remember which) reached up from his speeding motorcycle to tap the skid of the helicopter with his hand… right before the dust up went crazy. The shots we got on this stretch were so worth it.At Gouldings, Monument Valley

From this point, the journey went South a bit further, then West again to drop into the east end of the Grand Canyon and wind our way along the rim before dropping down to stay the second night at the glorious Holiday Inn Express near the Grand Canyon park entrance.

Next up came the second reason I loved this route. I grew up loving trains. I kind of outgrew them I guess (or just don’t have time anymore?), but the Williams Grand Canyon train folks had been kind enough to work with me to arrange timing a shoot with our riders with the Southbound morning train for some cool shots you see in the finished episode. Though it was raining, and cold, it was still awesome. And the folks at the Grand Canyon Railway were really a pleasure to work with. It made the fact that liked the train part just that much better. If you take this ride, I’d say skip staying by the Grand Canyon, get down into Williams and take some time off your bike to ride the railway.

From Williams, head over towards Flagstaff then South towards Phoenix, but don’t miss the turnoff to drop down into Sedona (also, do NOT take a large trailer this way, the hairpins will do you no favors), before coming back to join the main highway leading into Phoenix. We wrapped this ride up at the world famous Rawhide where we had out vote-out (I won’t spoil the outcome if you haven’t watched the episode).


Last thing to note about this ride – there are some very, very long stretches with no gas or services. Luckily, we had Matt’s Hummer with a full set of tools, some parts, and our lead and chase vehicles with extra gas. If your bikes have smallish gas tanks (Joe Martin’s bike had a tiny tank! We had to fill it by the roadside at least 3 times if I recall correctly and Matt’s at least twice), make sure someone along with you has some extra cans of gas their keeping handy.

Of the three rides I got to put together, this one ranked second only the last ride, which I’m not quite done mapping out, and never actually happened, but is worth sharing all the same. I’ll try to finish and post that in the next few weeks.

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Production Contact & Vendor Lists

Here’s a scenario; the person on your team driving the van or truck that has all your camera gear in it, breaks down on the side of the road.

You’re next steps as a Production Coordinator, or Production Manager, is going to be make sure everyone’s ok, then you’re going to need to call your rental truck company, get a new truck, etc.

As much as we’d like all of these numbers to be readily programmed into our phones or contact lists when a production starts, that’s simply not the reality of things.

So every time you spin up a production, someone on your team should be made keeper (and keeper-up-to-dater) of all relevant contact information for production team members, and all vendors (including #’s to call in case of an accident in a rental vehicle).

I also like to add in alt means of contact such as Skype or Google Voice where relevant.

Here’s a simple sheet to do just that.

Blank Media Production Contacts & Vendor List (Excel .xls file)

Blank Media Production Contacts & Vendor List (Google Doc)

Additional note: There are individual worksheets for Crew, Cast, Network (or Distributor), and Vendors:) Just look for the tabs at the bottom.


DSLR as a Webcam – something simple, that’s really not. Until now.

For a while I’ve been looking for solutions to quick and easy recording video directly to the computer I’m going to edit on from a DSLR.

In the normal TV production-land, we’ve been doing this for years, we call it live-to-tape (or now, live-to-SAN) and it’s done because it’s the most efficient method of capture>edit.

In the consumer world, this has been pretty much impossible for a long time save for the use of cameras that have live component, HDMI, or HD-SDI output and a capture card that supports the same. Definitely a less-than-ideal situation when there are hundreds if not thousands of models of cameras out there that have quite good sensors, reasonable lenses, but no way to live preview on the computer system or capture the live preview.

For the past several years, there have been clunky workarounds based on screen capturing some of the live previews via software that been available for some Canon cameras. The workarounds worked, in the loosest sense.

However, as I’ve been helping my wife look at doing some vlogging, I wanted t see if there had been any advances in the ability to capture from DSLR live preview, and today, found something called SparkoCam. I was dubious, but thought I’d give it a try.

I’m also not a guy who usually posts reviews of just about anything; in this case, the team (?) behind this software really went above and beyond in their product.

Looking past the goofy “put a mustache on it” composites, the software first of all does what it says.  You can plug in your Canon DSLR via USB, pull up the Live Preview, set your video bitrate and resolution, your audio source bitrate, and record your videos straight off the camera.  I would probably suggest slating your audio/video since you’ll probably have slight sync issues in the audio that doesn’t get fed through the live preview/USB.

Here’s where I ran into a snag – the software had a default path to save recorded videos, and every time I attempted to change the path, the software crashed (running Win 7 Pro).  So I send an email to SparkoCam support with details on the crash, and expect to not hear anything back for a week or so; and then maybe a “sorry, it doesn’t work.”

Instead, I get an email back within 2 hours saying “hey, thanks for the crash report, we’re working on fixing it, and will have a new release up soon you can download that should fix the problem.”  OK, that’s a pretty good response, and I was encouraged by it.  I’d be happy to wait a few weeks or whatever.

Instead, I get another email 3 hours later from their support team, saying “We’ve fixed the problem, and pushed out a new update to our servers, feel free to download the new package, and if you like it, we hope you’ll buy it.”

Three. Hours.

Downloaded, installed, and lo and behold, they had indeed fixed the issue.  It was so fast, it’s probably a problem they’d run into in a prior version and the bug worked it’s way back in.  However, that’s almost besides the point that their response time was so good, and that the response included making the product work right.

I’ll wrap up the post by saying that the software is *pretty good* – it records only to WMV format, which isn’t ideal for source quality; but it IS good enough and it takes far lower CPU usage to capture and process than traditional AVI recording.  I was also able to record in 1280×720 WMV and drop those WMV’s right into the timeline in CS6 Premiere to start editing right away.  The only way this could be any better is if it recorded straight into Adobe Premiere:) (*cough* plug-in? *cough*;) – oh, and on a Mac would be nice too – but c’mon, even if you’re Mac, if you’re doing a lot of video work, you’re dual booting these days anyway, right?

Huge kudos to the people behind this product – they should be proud of it, and if you’re looking for something that enables a far better and faster live video recording workflow, definitely check out SparkoCam.