Filming Forrest Fenn…

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It’s late April and I find myself at Forrest’s home to do a little filming for this blog. I have a few things in mind. Forrest showed me the “unique” books in his collection a few months ago and I found the introduction fascinating. First because I didn’t know the kind of books he collects even existed. I’ve always thought of books as containers of information and not as items of art or as collections of rare documents.
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Forrest is also working on his new book, Too Far To Walk, and I am hoping we can tape a short informational piece about it. Commentors on this blog have asked me what the book is about? What kinds of stories it will tell? It turns out that his designer Susan and his producer, Lou, are coming by the house to show Forrest their first design layouts and get his impressions. I think that might be perfect footage to intertwine with whatever Forrest has to say about his book. Since the book will include more about Peggy than The Thrill of the Chase included, I am hoping I can get her on film as well. She is very sweet and so far has successfully dodged all my efforts to get her recorded.
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Forrest and his friend Suzanne Sommers at the San Lazaro ruins

Forrest and his friend Suzanne Sommers at the San Lazaro ruins

I was also visiting Forrest a few months earlier when he showed a German reporter his archeology lab. This is the place where Forrest brings all the recovered artifacts from his ruin, the ancient pueblo at San Lazaro. Here the artifacts are studied, cleaned, evaluated and moved to storage. The lab is visually interesting but even more impressive is Forrest’s presentation of these beautiful artifacts. He has made some remarkable discoveries, that have led to new ideas about the skills and knowledge held by the folks that lived there and how things changed when the Spanish arrived in the pueblo. Keep in mind that San Lazaro was occupied for about 500 years starting around 1180AD. The entombed material and wealth of knowledge unearthed from San Lazaro is fascinating. I hope he can share his enthusiasm for that place, and his knowledge of the ruins, on camera.
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The woolly worm...a wet fly

The woolly worm…a wet fly

Forrest also agreed to tie his infamous “woolly worm” fishing fly on camera and talk a little bit about fishing and what it has brought to his life. I think such a discussion might shed light on Forrest’s summers, as a young man, in Yellowstone.
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We only have a short time to do all this. I have to get on the road pointed northwest very soon. It’s a two and a half day drive back to my home and I am expected back at the studio on time. There is also the TV crew from Japan who are hoping to get some time with Forrest. It’s often quite hectic around his house. Forrest has more going on than a threat analyst at the CIA. Most of which he orchestrates like a symphony conductor.
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If you’ve watched the credits at the end of a decent documentary film you know that it takes a pack of film geeks to get things done. There are lighting folks and camera operators, make-up artists, hair dressers, sound recordists, producers, directors and folks from the bank taking notes on your every wasted movement. There are usually a couple of interns and depending on the complexity of the interview there might be an ambulance with medics hanging around or possibly someone from your insurance group making safety suggestions….”Don’t trip on that cord…”.
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Okay, I’m making all this up. Documentary film crews are generally small and nimble teams. Mine is so small that it’s just me. This is both good and bad. On the bad side is that it’s just me to get everything done well and I’m not that dependible. On the good side is that it’s generally easier to get folks comfortable talking to a camera when there is just one person around than when there is a whole crew fussing about. It’s less intimidating for the interviewee.
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On this interview it’s just Forrest and me and we get along pretty well. Conversely, I have no one else to point my finger at when things go bad. I could blame Forrest when the shot is out of focus or the sound is a little hollow or the lighting makes him look like a banshee in a bed sheet…but I doubt he’ll step up and shoulder the responsibility. So anything that sucks can only be relegated to my inattentiveness.
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I’ve been a professional filmmaker since I was 18. So, you’d think that I would not forget things like… pressing the “record” button. You’d be wrong. Forty-seven years operating cameras, sound gear, lights, under all the worst conditions in the universe and still I make dufuss mistakes. Sometimes the same dufuss mistake…over and over…
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The good news is that the viewers don’t know what you lost…only what you included and if you have sufficient skill to cover your mistakes and tell a story…all will work out in the end…
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Forrest is a great person to work with in an interview. He can speak extemporaneously, and  at length, on many different subjects, even the one you want him too.  And more important…he does not speak in run-on sentences. Next to someone who will not talk at all, the speaker who does not put a period and a short stop at the end of a complete thought will drive a filmmaker to the funny farm.
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The great office space and interview set

The great office space and interview set

Another attractive feature when filming Forrest, is his office. The ceilings are high, which is great for hiding lights. It has so many wonderful backgrounds to choose from…shelves of beautiful books, indian artifacts, his fireplace, buffalo skulls, dolls, bronzes…pick a wall..any wall. Unfortunately Forrest likes, most often, to sit at his desk, in his comfortable chair. Ordinarily this would not be a bad thing…but his chair is an overstuffed wing back affair with a very high back. So in a tight or medium shot of him all we see behind Forrest, is chair. No beautiful office space. It’s hard to take advantage of that great space when Forrest is in his favorite seat. If I had a curvy sweet-talker along she could suggest that he sit in a different chair and probably be successful but if I suggest it he’ll just ignore me and plunk down in his favorite piece of furniture.
However, this is the great shot you get of the office when Forrest sits in that overstuffed, ultra-winged comfy chair

However, this is the great shot you get of the office when Forrest sits in that overstuffed, ultra-winged comfy chair

You probably don’t even consider how you’d film in a room when you enter it. It’s a curse!
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In Forrest's lab where the space is small and the lighting is strong

In Forrest’s lab where the space is small and the lighting is mean

The lab, on the other hand, is a difficult place to film. The room is very small. There is no ability to add light and the existing lights are directly overhead causing nasty bright spots and deep shadows. Please understand that when I say that “there is no ability to add lights…” I am speaking as a documentarian who carries with him one or two lights and rarely gets to use them because there is no time. A documentarians lighting kit is the sun and whatever lights already exist in a location because we cover things NOW. We rarely get the chance to take hours to set up lights, repaint walls and put make-up and costumes on the subjects we film as they would in a dramatic film or pseudo-reality TV series. What we see is what you get.
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The pottery shards tell thousands of stories

The pottery shards tell thousands of stories

Now the other interesting (or not) device that you get when one person is doing all the filming from one position is a lot of zooming. I hate zooming. I like a nice clean cut from a wide shot to a tight shot…but if all you have is one camera you have to learn to be flexible in what you embrace. Take for instance the Pottery Shard clip. I hope that it does not make you seasick but I felt it was necessary to show the object he was talking about nice and tight and also Forrest’s face…zoom in…zoom out…please don’t watch if you are subject to epileptic seizures. By the way, that pottery shard pile is in Forrest’s backyard.
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The other technique you can employ to accommodate tight shots and wider shots with one camera is to have the camera on your shoulder and actually step in closer and then back. This is the technique I used in the lab. You can see me weaving about with the camera and then following Forrest’s hands when he pulls out the drawer. You can also see my big fat head throw a shadow across those artifacts…no time or space to relight…
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So take a look at the new batch of videos I filmed over at Forrest’s. They are called the Gone Fishing Interviews and the link to them is on the top right of this very page.
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Send me a note or yell at me in public on this page if you find the work unwatchable. I’m also taking suggestions for what you would like Forrest to talk about in our next batch of interviews. He won’t answer the question “So where did you hide it Forrest?”…I tried that one…
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dal…

 

49 thoughts on “Filming Forrest Fenn…

  1. Great post Dal. How about bronzes and the story about him starting his own foundry? He used to give a talk on how to collect Art. I’d love an interview on that. What about an interview at the Gallery? I want to see the guest houses on video…I’ve only seen them in some pictures.

  2. I’ve been compliment and thank you on the interviews, Dal. I have been enjoying them. The production value is very high. Plus, now I know what a woolly worm is.

    • Festus-
      Ahhhh…Those “a”,s are a result of changing from the old white background blog to the new black background blog. They are manufactured line breaks in my writing. When I wanted a line break on the old blog I would sometimes just add a line and type a white A on it to force the next line down further. I know there is probably a better way to do this and Goofy will tell me but that’s the best I could come up with on my own.

      It looks like this.
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      if the color of the “a” does not match the background

      So…when the blog became white letters on black…all my line breaks showed up…

      So what you are seeing are line breaks that I missed..I need to go back and make those “a” letters black so they don’t show up…

      Where did you see them?

      I must have missed a bunch of posts somewhere…

      If you see any of those, let me know…

      dal…

  3. Awesome work dal! When I watch these clips I feel like I’m sitting there one on one with Forrest. He and Peggy are the real treasures in the Chase.

  4. Wonderfully interesting interviews Dal and well done by you too! I especially enjoyed seeing his book collection and the ones he showed us were so unique – I’ve never seen anything like them.

    It was great seeing Peggy and ff’s team working on the new book too.

    Good work Dal! 🙂

    • CJ-
      Those books are amazing. Something he didn’t drag out were his unique editions of each of his own books. His Sharp book has an actual Sharp painting embedded in the leather cover.

  5. Good work Dal. Forrest seemed very relaxed in the interviews. It appeared that Forrest enjoyed describing his ideas and accomplishments. I enjoyed the book interview the best.
    I didn’t see a television in the room. Forrest must be more of a reader. At this point in his life what occupies most of his time- San Lazaro, writing, fishing or something else?

    • There is a TV in a nook in front of his chair. He likes basketball. That’s all I’ve ever seen him watch. He seems to be pretty consumed by work on his latest book. But the media takes up a lot of his time too. He seems to always be meeting with reporters, producers, researchers, writers, photographers and the like. We’ve commented on this subject before but all the media attention is kind of scary for those of us out looking because it means more competition. On the other hand it seems to be Forrest’s goal to get folks off their rear ends and outside and he can’t accomplish that by refusing to cooperate with the press who see this as a cool story and help him spread the word.

      • He once said he was watching football and drinking chocolate milk or might have been hot chocolate…think that’s a clue? Maybe it’s worth the cold, because he can drink hot chocolate…oh back to the tv…I heard football…oh and he once said he was watching the president talk….and I should too. That was probably just a hint to stop talking. LOL

  6. I don’t know how it works in video, but the still shot of Forrest in his lab looks great. Full dynamic range from light to dark does a good job highlighting the utility of the room. It’s not a photo studio or museum, it’s a place where real work gets done.

    • Hi Tom-
      I agree with your assessment of the lab…
      In my opinion, video imagery is much more limited than stills. Although it’s improved vastly, it still has a way to go before it can match still image quality…
      With Video we have this locked in frame rate… Here in the USA we tend to shoot around 30, 24 or 60 frames per second…
      I shot all of Forrest’s interviews at 720p 60fps and knocked them down to 540p 30fps when I encoded them for the web. That means I lost over 50 percent of my resolution…yikes…I hate that…but it’s what happens on the web..
      With a still you can shoot at much lower shutter speeds.
      The resolution too is much different..most video is shot at either 720×1280 or 1080×1920. Meanwhile my still camera shoots at 5184×3456.
      Then there is dynamic range…For the most part a range of 12-14 is considered stunning with Video. But not all cameras can achieve that.
      The same is true with Latitude. It’s really easy to get objectionable blown out whites in HD Video. Film..the stuff with sprocket holes, has a better High Dynamic Range than video. This means You can get more levels of white in the frame without getting things blown out. The learning curve for cinematographers and DPs, when we first moved to HD video was tough. It was very easy to lose detail in the whites…still is…
      I guess my point is that a lot of what documentarians shoot is under available light rather than controlled light and stills can produce better imagery than video in most of those harsh conditions. Particularly when the lighting requires more dynamic range than the camera is capable of recording…

  7. Dear dal, How you got Forrest to answer 3 of my 2 questions I will never know. Sometime ago I found a pottery shard and asked myself, why would an Indian drill a hole on this shard? Then I asked myself, where did an Indian get the black ink to make that design on the shard? Now I know…It must be an omen…Your shard video was better than what the Discovery Channel could ever show on TV. The soundtrack was perfectly suited for the background music as Forrest was speaking. Those shards would make beautiful wind chimes if strung up together and hung somewhere special….I’m saying that because they made a beautiful pinging sound when Forrest brushed through them with his hands as the shards lay resting. The books were a dream to see. It was important for Forrest to show the guild and the artwork on the edges as he angled the pages. At least it was important to me. Thank you. And anyone who has ever used a metal detector would have been entranced with what Forrest had shown from San Lazaro. Those beautiful Holy Icons would be treasure to cherish… Love your high def camera work and again a big thanks for sharing a moment of time…..Michael p.

    • Michael-
      I had that exact same thought about the shards and their wonderful sound. It’s very pleasant isn’t it? It’s also a unique sound. I was thinking that once a person has heard that sound and knows it’s pottery it cannot be confused with the sound of anything else. For instance a pile of glass would sound different. So would a pile of ceramic tiles. Its very unique. Maybe all objects make unique sounds if your ears are good enough to hear it. Thanks for your kind remarks.

  8. Dal,

    I watched a few of the videos and plan on watching the rest when I have more time.

    The Wooly Worm video makes me want to quit my job and take up fly fishing full time.

    Outstanding job!

    • Mark-
      I have been reserving the art of fly fishing for when I get older. It was my plan to take up the sport once I retired. However, on the way home from filming that segment with Forrest I stopped in an antique store and bought a nice looking old pole and reel that seemed to be in good shape for $25. So, now I need to watch some youtube videos and teach myself how to use them. I’m looking forward to it…even if I am not yet retired.

  9. @ Dal on the videography “ya done good”
    I’d be interested in seeing blooper footage with a good ol’ belly laugh from Mr. Fenn. Future: Mr. Fenn playing poker.

  10. I can picture it now. Dark wine cellar with a round table and green felt top. A lovely illuminated tiffany lampshade throws a square shape of yellow light on the table top in the otherwise darkened cellar. Around it are seated Michael McGarrity, Doug Preston, Suzanne Sommers and Forrest.
    Michael is serious, intense, leaning forward as he stares hard at his hand, three 10s. It’s his call.
    “In or out?” asks Doug with a note of impatience.
    The pot is heaped with cash. A watch and a single pair of bright emerald stud earrings are also in the pile.
    Michael cocks his head and starts to say something. He stops mid breath, leans against the chair back, pushes his cowboy hat back on his head, bites his lip gently and looks over at Doug.
    “Hold on!” he replies.
    He folds up his hand, looks at Forrest and Suzanne then pushes his seat back and disappears under the table. Forrest looks at Suzanne with a question mark on his brow. Suzanne turns to see what Michael is doing on the floor in front of his chair.
    “Ohh no!” says Doug.
    Up on the table top pops first one cowboy boot and then the other. Doug grabs one of the boots and examines it.
    “This is a poker game not a thrift store.” comments Doug.
    Michael climbs back into his chair.
    “Those are nearly new hand-made Wheelers from Houston. Not Dave Wheeler, his old man, Paul. They were made for Gordon McRae when he was in Oklahoma! in 1955. He wore them once in the movie. I got em from his son Bruce. I paid three K for em.”
    “Let me see those.” Suzanne said as she grabbed the other boot off the table…

  11. Dal,Thanks again for very interesting info pertaining to Forrest.His seemingly endless knowledge and unique way of blending it all together just intrigues me to no end! Very good work Dal.

    • I’m wondering if there’s a clue in the part where Forrest says he prefers catching the smaller fish? Seems like most searchers have concentrated on fishing areas with larger fish.

      Anyway, it was very cool watching him tie the fly. Remarkably steady hands and pretty keen eyesight for his age. I know I’d end up tying my thumb to the hook.

  12. Dal,
    Thanks for sharing all of your interviews. I found the “Gone fishing” one on books to be really fascinating. The books with paintings on the paper edge were awesome. I’m hoping to meet Forrest one day when I return his bracelet to him (after I find it of course) but if that should not be in the cards for some reason I want you to know that your efforts to make him accessible to all of us is greatly appreciated. It is clear that you put a lot of effort and passion in your ventures (just like Forrest) and we are grateful that you share your treasures with us.

  13. Peace-
    I did not ask. I imagine you are referring to the interview about Forrest’s new book where he said that Susan was responsible for the design elements in TOTC. He went on to specifically list the postmarks as one of those elements. I have heard Forrest say this before at speaking engagements. It is my belief that Susan, and not Forrest chose all the postmarks and their dates. I have never believed them to be of any value as hints, clues or leads in the search. I feel the same about the tear on the photo album page. This is not to say that Forrest did not have Susan place elements in the book that if noticed could be a clue. But I don’t believe the postmarks are of any value in that regard.

    • Yeah, I never thought much about the postmarks either, but it keeps popping up. From your video it looks like a total collaborative effort by everyone involved, with Forrest, of course, having final approval.

      I remember seeing an interview where he said something about Susan adding the postmarks (I just don’t remember where). In his email reply to a searcher (Forrest Gets Mail 2) when he says something about “going around in circles and ending up being behind yourself” (sic) seems to indicate (to me) that it’s a waste of time.

      • Peace-
        I believe you are right. I feel the same way about the illustrations in the TOTC book. Those were done by Danny and not by Forrest. I don’t understand why folks believe that illustration of the logger in the clearcut with the bird standing on the crescent moon is a clue. My understanding is that it simply illustrates Forrest’s concern for the environment. The illustration simply asks the important question, “where will the birds be able to stand if we cut down all the trees?” It’s simply his way of making a statement about the importance of trees and the interdependence of everything on the planet. I think we’ll see more illustrations like that in the new book. It’s his way of making a statement without preaching.

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