The beginning of the project starts with some shots in the fields at dawn which looked really epic, can you describe what it was like being there?
The fields where they grow the chilies are out in Ventura and to be honest, driving out there was pretty intimidating because the instructions I had were really old school: turn left at the yellow lights, then drive for half a mile and turn right down a dirt road; it wasn’t like someone sent me a pin and I followed the GPS to the spot, I was just driving around in the dark.
Did you have any idea at all what to expect when you got there?
Actually yes, in my mind I had very specific shots that I wanted to film. I thought that I was going to be filming people literally picking peppers by hand like back in the day when people picked food. I thought that there would be a bunch of people picking peppers, I didn’t think that they would have machinery for the actual picking; I don’t know why I didn’t think that, but I didn’t! When I got there it was a surprise that it was all done by machine, and at first I didn’t really know how I was going to show that off in a cool way. I had this one shot in mind where someone was picking a pepper by hand with beautiful light in the background and right away I realized, I’m not getting that, I guess I’m going to be filming a lot of tractors, but in the end I was actually pretty stoked to be doing that.
What were some of the other limitations that you ran in to?
The first thing that the main supervisor told me was that actually he really didn’t want me filming out there because he didn’t want to show off the machinery, so he gave me a list of guidelines to follow, mainly what parts of which machines I couldn’t film because he didn’t want their competitors seeing what they’ve built. All of the machines are very specific, one of a kind custom builds that he didn’t want the competitors to see. There were parts of certain machines that I really wanted to film because they looked so cool, but I couldn’t because they needed to keep them secret.
So day one, ten minutes in and the filming has already morphed into something completely different to what you’d imagined?
Yeah, totally! I had an idea of a hand-to-table type feel that I was going to go for - one person picks a pepper, then I was going to follow it where ever it went. I wanted to follow this one pepper but right away I realized that each pepper goes through an insane maze of hands and wheels and tables. I was in total shock at the picking process and just how many peppers they are actually moving. Even in just a minute you have a tractor pull in a huge bed of peppers and they are already being cleaned and quality tested on the spot, each pepper is individually checked by hand before it even makes it on the truck to the Huy Fong facility back in Irwindale. There are only two or three harvests a year and the harvesting only lasts two or three months at a time and that’s it, so I was lucky enough to be around when they were actually picking them, I was really stoked on that, but it was totally different to how I imagined it.
So it was like filming skateboarding: everything was chaos!
100%! I knew that I wanted to film the trucks leaving the ranch in Ventura and then showing up at Huy Fong but that’s easier said than done, filming one of these huge diesel trucks pulling out to get on to the freeway going full speed. I only had a few tries with the drone and I’ve never really shot anything going 45 – 50 miles an hour before. On top of that, I wasn’t working with anyone there, there wasn’t anyone help me direct so that I could get the shot I wanted; it was exactly like skating, I had no control over anything I just had to be ready when they were leaving.
So skateboarding set you up well.
I think that if you ever wanted to shoot something like a nature documentary of wild animals, skating completely grooms you for something like that, you can’t tell the wild bear to catch the salmon again, it’s a moment that’s gone forever. You always have to be ready to nail the first shot because you probably won’t get a second take. I always try to think that: nail the first shot and then make it better if you’re lucky and get more tries.
What’s your favorite shot from this project?
There is one shot that I knew when I filmed it that I liked it: when I was flying the drone over the field through all the dust from the trucks, it was really nicely backlit, I like that one. There is also a shot where the lighting worked out so perfect it’s almost like a food commercial when the peppers hit the conveyor belt and the dust is flying off them. I really like the drone shots in the factory because there’s so many barrels and it looks so grand that it almost looks fake, I think that it looks cool the way it’s almost fake.
You took a different approach to drone flying for this video, what prompted that?
I noticed that a lot of people flying drones either start low and go high or start high and come down; those shots are great, but right when I got the drone I just wanted to practice flying it and not worry too much about filming with it just yet, so it wasn’t until I felt I had really learnt to fly it that I started to think about how I was going to film with it and what my niche of drone filming would be. I figured out that I really like putting it in tight places where a normal person wouldn’t want to fly. I think that if you fly in small spaces with not a lot of clearance on either side or top and bottom, you get a whole other dynamic feel that you don’t get with most people’s drone shots. Most people’s drone shots are really wide and grand and you see everything, whereas as I like to have things fly by you really close and fast to give you a whole different feeling.
Do you have any advice for someone thinking about getting into drone filming?
If you think that you want one and you are waiting because you are scared because you think that it is hard to do, do not think that whatsoever! The basics of getting it off the ground and into the sky is one of the easiest things that I have learnt to do. Once you start realizing how easy it is to fly in that way, you also realize that a lot of the shots that you used to think were really cool are actually really easy to get. Do expect to crash it a few times though, be ready for the fact that you’re going to spend a thousand dollars on something and crash it within a week.
Did you crash yours a lot?
I haven’t had anything too bad, I’ve hit some trees and trimmed a lot of branches. When I started to get a bit better at flying the drone, I set up a little course in my back yard where I’d fly through a hallway and under the overhang of my garage. One day I was flying in the wind and I had a shirt hung up but when I flew under it, the shirt blew off the hangers and landed on top of the drone and ghosted it! The propellers broke but it wasn’t too bad.
How do skaters respond to you filming them with the drone?
Skaters are so fickle. Some guys think it’s really cool to film something with a drone but other guys are like “drones are fucking stupid, the sound is so annoying, I hate those things”. So you feel like an idiot with your white toy in the sky and you just bring it back down and put it away. The moment a skater says something to me like that, it instantly sucks out any motivation to film. There have been times where I’ve taken it around a swimming hall or something, and people respond really aggressively, like “I want to shoot those things out of the sky any time I see them.” They don’t know why they are anti-drone, they just are. Some of the people that I film who don’t like the drone have just had to deal with someone filming them with a drone too much in previous projects, so I can see how people get over the sound and everything, but I bet you so much of the negativity comes from the old “dude, skating is raw and drones are too pretty” attitude. It’s like the whole VX thing, “Man, HD sucks, VX is cool because it’s raw”. Drone is the new HD 4K camera thing that people think are dumb.
Do you think that the drone is here to stay?
Yeah for sure, they’re only getting easier to control and there are already smaller drones being released than the one that I have. If I had the new one, I’d be trying to fly it through car windows! For me, the drone is just another type of filming that I want to master. It’s like a skater saying, I want to learn how to skate rails, and someone else saying, “Rails are stupid”. That’s the mentality. You want to learn how to skate rails and gaps because you want to progress and all drones are is progressing how you film and learning how to shoot something differently. The ways you can fly a drone is constantly evolving, they’re even working on drones that will go under water so that you can take a shot from above the water, then dive under the surface and fly back out in to the air. That has nothing to do with skating, but it sounds pretty cool!
So what equipment was this project filmed with exactly?
I used a Red Scarlet weapon, a DJI Phantom 4 with a DJI Osmo and a Sony A7SII.
Do you ever go back to filming with the VX?
No. I sold my VX, I couldn’t wait to get rid of it and I was super happy to see it go. I like changing it up and trying all the new technology
Ok, last question: are you a Sriracha fan?
Of course, I don’t know who isn’t!
Interview by: Oliver Barton