Filming The Cities At Night

Early on in the planning for this baseball documentary I knew I would want and need beauty shots of both Minneapolis and Saint Paul at dawn and dusk.

I scouted locations for cinematic views.  I visited various locations quite often once in the morning and then once again at dusk.  The shots at dawn were easy.  The sun creeps over the horizon and lights up the city.  Beautiful.  The shots of night were not so easy.

I discovered my camera was not able to record acceptable images of the cities after the sun went down.

This meant if I wanted a shot of the city with the streetlights on then I’d have to film at the magic hour; the 30 minutes or so between when the sun disappearance below the horizon and when the sky turns black. 

It sounds like enough time but when you’re working all by yourself, one little hiccup in the plan can snowball into a lost opportunity and a lot of cursing.

I considered enlisting a crew.  Having a crew could have smoothed out the learning curve and shortened the number of hours spent filming. I’ll never know if any of my crew would have been willing to help.  I didn’t ask.

I didn’t ask because it felt like it’d be an imposition.  When I reverse the roles and placed myself in the position of answering the request to operate a camera from a moving car, through the heart of the city, at dawn and then again at dusk, for no money, in both cities, I know I would’ve found a reason to be busy. 

So I committed to “a one-man trial and error” approach to filming both cities at dusk. 

Now I could have easily rented a car-mount and attached it to the hood of my car.  But, because I’m a cheap S.O.B., I decided to only use what I had and “Mac Gyver” the setup.

My first attempt ate up almost an entire day.  Crawling into and out of the car, getting the seats into position so the tripod could fit into the open moon roof, and then weighting the tripod and camera to minimize any bounce caused by the road, was excruciating.  My car is not that big, my camera is heavy, and I’m not 20 years old anymore. 

When I looked at the footage I recorded that day, I muttered a profanity, took two aspirin, and committed to trying again.  Three attempts later, I had ironed out the bumps and perfected the car speed, camera speed, lens angle, and chosen the best cinematic route, for both cities.

I’m now looking forward to the time when I can place these gorgeous trucking shots of both Minneapolis and Saint Paul at dusk into the edit.  

Wesley EllenwoodComment