Rambo Day Part 2: Execution
A whole year has past since Rambo Day...and, this blog post is about 6 months overdue. Time flies. So, without risking any more lollygagging...let's get right into it...
...actually, maybe I should go get an iced coffee....haha...just kidding...let's do this :)
A BIG, GNARLY THANK YOU!
We ceremoniously released Rambo Day on Super Bowl Sunday...aka Feb 1, 2015...and --like Hubby in drag-- our mind has been blown by the overwhelmingly positive response to this very personal 22 minute, nostalgia-riddled bro-fest. I guess it's pretty obvious to see that other people around the world love Stallone/Rambo as much as Dana, and lots of people have similar fantasies of pulling off elaborate surprises with their friends.
The internet is a vast, strange place...but in this instance, Rambo Day was greeted with a lot of love...which we are humbled by, and extremely grateful for. It was cool to see it spread through blogs and influential websites...and it even had a super-random (legally-questionable) viral explosion when it was ripped off + re-posted by a Malaysian wedding blog. It's an amazing thing to see total strangers share it with their group of friends and be inspired to get together to take their birthdays, bachelor(ettes), bar-mitzvahs and any other kind of celebration to the next level. Also, it was pretty cool that we never got sued for using Rambo clips or pop music. :) On the contrary, Stallone's "people" actually contacted us...and they passed along Sly's positive feedback. He actually saw it!...and liked it!
Looking back, it's crazy to think that one of the last things that we prepared for Rambo Day was the plan for filming. The first priority was always to come up with ideas that would entertain Dana (in real life)….and then we could scramble to figure out how we would capture everything. In the months leading up to Rambo Day, the details were evolving quickly (as we explained in Part 1 of this blah blah blog)...and by the time I got around to briefing Jordan + Shawn + Colby, only 3 days remained to devise a plan to capture everything in real time, with no re-takes. In hindsight, the fact that they bravely accepted the challenge and delivered great results is a testament to their ninja-level video skills and also their selfless ability to roll with the punches. ***nowhere is that more evident than Colby running to get the fire extinguisher to help put out the brake fire on the cop car while still managing to capture some priceless footage***
We are all so grateful for their efforts because the footage and all of those memories add up to the greatest gift that Dana and our group of friends could've asked for. From here on out, we can always revisit Rambo Day for a few laughs, or more importantly, a nostalgically inspirational 22 min kick in the butt.
THE SCHEDULE AND THE SCRAMBLE
I still remember the super secret meeting at Pick Pockets that made the filming possible. It was on Wednesday, the week of Rambo Day. 3 days left. Jordan and Shawn covertly came to meet me on their lunch break so that we could go over the final plan....and figure out how we were going to film this thing unfold. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for them to travel across town to grab food, but all this sneaking around behind Dana's back was starting to feel a little creepy. With only 3 days to figure it out…and 2 days where I couldn’t talk with the guys at the office because Dana was around...it basically came down to one very important meeting where everything came together.
Quick side note: while I was waiting for Jordan and Shawn to arrive for our secret lunch date…my phone rang. It was Fire Marshal Ray Bader from the Hopkinton Fire Department. Shit. Our pyro guy had filed the necessary permits the day before with the state, and word had just trickled down to the town level. He was very nice, but he wanted to know a little more about what we were planning to do. Shit.
I live in a very small town, and my in-laws own West’s Bakery, which is a town landmark that has been making great food and bakery treats for 50+ years. It is right across the street from the Hope Valley firehouse. So, when the Fire Marshal needed to find me, all he had to do was walk across the street and ask my mother-in-law for my cell number. Haha. In the back of my mind, I was always prepared to grease the wheels of compliance with a few dozen of the bakery’s world-famous bismarks…but I could tell by his tone on the phone that it was a little more serious than that.
He read the list of items that were on the permit…20x20 propane poppers, ground mortar cork bombs, etc. etc….and he had me explain what each one did. I did my best to downplay each one of the items to see if we could just get his signature without too many hurdles…BUT, he explained that due to the dryness of the woods…he would only sign off on the permit if we hired a fire truck and 2 volunteers for a union-mandatory half shift (4 hours). That’s a lot of bismarks! $800 dollars worth to be exact. Shit. There were no other options. No $800 check…no explosions.
OK. Back to the lunch meeting: So, I hung up the phone…slightly deflated (like a TB12 TD pass...derrrrr :)…and Jordan and Shawn walked in. The permit and fire-engine-circus got shuffled to the back of my brain…and we started the quest of figuring out how we were going to film this madness. I'd told them a few details along the way -- fake arrest, spray tan, car chase, blah blah blah -- but now I had to explain to them the specifics...the schedule and the scramble.
So, while we ate falafel wraps, I ran them through the plot of how Rambo Day was going to unfold...and after lunch, we did a walk-through of a few of the key locations. First, we checked out Extreme Tan. and we decided on where cameras would be mounted. Also, we planned the slightly absurd detail of playing police station ambience on the speakers in the Tanning Salon using a long track on an iPod…so, that it would help to disorient Dana even further because he was blindfolded. No detail too small :)
Next, we discussed setting up the moped outside of the tanning salon. Shawn had offered up his awesome moped that was about as manly as a moped can be...and we had to set it up with a GPS* (coordinates for the path in the woods that led down to the pond…which wasn’t an actual address) and GoPro on the handlebars of the moped
*The old school Garmin didn't work that well when Dana got on the moped (too much glare)...so, Shawn improvised with his phone and headphones. That's why there is an editing inconsistency at 6:56 that somebody actually noticed!!!
Last stop, we drove over to the spot where the arrest would go down. It was 100 yds down the street from Dana’s house. I showed them where the cop car would be set up…and Jordan found a suitable hiding spot where he could film Dana, Nina, and Sadie (their dog) walking down the street towards the staked-out Sheriff. When Dana got arrested and blindfolded…Jordan would stealthily hop in the passenger seat and silently guide Ryan back to the Tanning Salon while he drove a completely foreign car in a foreign town while reciting lines from First Blood and coming up with ingenius ad-libs…simple :)
That morning, I would be starting at the pond, 20 miles away from the fake arrest…so, they needed to have a firm grasp of what was going down because they would be responsible for setting up the tanning booth, cop car, and moped with GoPros...and stealing DSLR shots and FS700 slomo along the way. Colby was going to join them at the Tanning Salon...so, they had 3 cameras (along with the mounted goPros) to cover the action unfold.
JORDAN (Sony FS700 w/ Metabones Adapter): 100-400 f4-5.6, additional Canon 5D markIII
SHAWN (Canon 1Dc): 70-200 f2.8, 24 f1.4
COLBY (Canon 5D Mark III): 24-105 f4, 16-35 f2.8
Lenses. We usually rely heavily on primes…but given the spontaneous nature of capturing this all unfold in real time…we knew that zooms would be very important. With that being said...we threw a 24 1.4 in the mix because that is our favorite lens.
(8) GoPros: We own (2) and Tony and the fine folks at LensProToGo.com were generous enough to send us (6) more. They arrived last minute (because we reached out to LensPro on Thursday) and having these additional angles really saved our ass because it helped us fill in all the gaps of the story with the sloppy charm of mounted cameras and selfie stick speed.
(3) monopods: Monopods are crucial for keeping shots steady in a "run n' gun" situation. They help to avoid jello wobbles on any lenses beyond 35mm. Rambo Day would probably be un-watchable without these 3 one-legged legends!
Sony FS700: Shawn was able to borrow this from his friend Brendan “Dr. B” Gouin who does amazing videos with the Yawgoons. We wanted this strictly for the 240FPS…because we knew that the few explosions that we did have would look much better in super-duper slo mo.
DJI Phantom 2 w/ GoPro Hero 3 + Zenmuse gimbal: We had lofty aspirations for using this crazy gadget throughout the whole battle, but then reality got in the way....and we only used it for the scene when Rambo emerges out of the woods and gets in the boat. It would have been great to have one person dedicated to flying this drone throughout...but we didn't plan that detail properly...and in hindsight, it might have destroyed a lot of our nat sound + spontaneous dialogue.
Shootsac: For something fast paced like this…if you want to have access to multiple lenses…it is essential to have something like the shootsac. You can crack off one lens and then swap out the other lens very quickly. It’s probably not the best idea, but we trust the soft neoprene so much that we usually don’t use front or back caps throughout entire shoots. It just keeps you that much more nimble. The shootsac is also great for carrying additional cards and batteries...and lots of other random stuff...like gaff tape.
(2) Camcrane 2000. We've moved on to the Kessler Pocket Jib, but for years…we used the camcrane 2000 by varizoom…and for Rambo Day, we were able to repurpose these for perfectly functional turrets for the roman candle boat gun and the dunk tank wackiness. Brilliant!
Sound Equipment: In hindsight, this is pretty crazy…but we didn’t use any additional sound equipment. All sound was captured from the DSLR and GoPro internal mics. Crazy! We definitely got pretty lucky throughout to be able to hear stuff as well as we could. It is by no mean perfect, but it all worked out just fine with subtitles and a little sweetening in post...thanks to Jordan Ingram and Josh Svare.
ONE DAY LEFT
On Friday, when we were scrambling to set up everything in Rockville. Jordan, Shawn, and Colby were packing up to bring all of the equipment to my house so that we could do a run through of how everything was going to go down. They had everything packed up…and suddenly Dana walked into the office. We thought that he was going to be in Newport all day at the Folk Festival…but he decided to swing by the office and grab a camera and a few lenses to film at the concert. Such a video nerd! The guys did their best to act like they weren’t prepping any of the gear…and they watched as he took one of our DSLRs and a few lenses from our essential equipment stash....haha.
When they arrived in Rockville…we were all in full-on scramble mode trying to pin a million tails on a million stubborn donkeys…haha. So, I promised them that we’d do a full walk-through later in the day…in the meantime…there was plenty of super-random behind-the-scenes details to film.
We are pretty terrible at shooting BTS…because all of our efforts are usually focused on the task-at-hand…so, I’m really glad that they were able to capture a bunch of hilarious details throughout the setup day. Also, they dug into the list that we had written on the sheetrock in the barn…and helped to finish a bunch of essential details.
So, at some point that day…all of us walked the course backwards from my house towards the pond with Butch, our trusted pyro guy. We walked through the fields and decided where all the cork mortars and propane poppers were going to be…and also how the pyro guys (Butch + his assistant Shawn) were going to navigate through the woods and set up at different stages…without being seen by Rambo. Also, we had to make sure that the guys were filming from spots that weren't going to blow up...or places where they wouldn't get hit by paintballs or random projectiles.
This was the first time Jordan, Shawn, and Colby had seen where everything was going down…so, they had to soak in a lot of stuff in a very short amount of time. It was very easy to get lost on the maze of paths through the woods…and we had to make sure that didn’t happen because some of the camera angles needed to be in front of Rambo. In hindsight, it is kind of insane that they were able to sponge in all of the info and make everything happen. For the most part, everything was pretty fluid and unplanned...except for one very important moment:
THE MONEY SHOT
We knew that most of the footage would have a sloppy, free-flowing charm...and we would probably have to creatively piece everything together in the edit...but there was one shot that I really wanted to make sure that we got. When we got to the field where we were going to do the fake C4 gag…and explode the compound…I wanted to make sure that the perspective of the explosion was as epically cheesy as possible. So, we planned where Jordan would be for the money shot of us running away from the explosion. We want to make sure that he was shooting 240FPS on a long lens from the far edge of the woods so that the explosion would be compressed behind us…and look closer and bigger than it actually was in real life...and Rambo would look like a true badass. Movie magic!
A little back story: On the Tuesday before Rambo Day…I went over to John Ruggieri’s house/pyrotechnic compound early in the morning to hover around to make sure that--first and foremost--that he didn’t back out…but also, I wanted to make sure that I understood all the different items that he was bringing. We didn’t want to get anybody killed. Also, I figured that I could look at his stash of other items and get some more ideas. His house was hidden in the woods down a winding road that I’d driven past a thousand times since I moved to the area. Next to his house, was an impressive workshop…the walls lined with Hollywood movie posters. He had done a lot of cool stuff in his career…so, it was pretty hilarious that he was willing to help us out.
Strangely enough, that day, they were running screen tests for Ted 2. So, they had a prop version of Ted, and he was laid out on a table…and they were flowing his body with propane and there were jumper cables attached to his hands and feet.
Could you imagine being a pyro dude for a living. Amazing!
As they prepared for the test shot…I hung around asking a million questions…and John became more and more comfortable showing me different items that we might be able to use. I asked him if he had any fake-blood-squib-hits that we could put in our Asian chick’s wig…he thought about it for a second…and then, he brought out a pair of pants that were wired with packs of blood for bullet hits that he had used on a recent film about Whitey Bulger. Then, he remembered where he had a head pack...and a few minutes later Butch had the head pack and a bunch of wooden boards that were wired for bullet hits. Sweet.
So, they blew up Ted. I watched…and grinned ear to ear that somehow we found this place that was under our noses the entire time…and a few days from now…we were going to make our own silly action movie.
I really wish we had more time to do pre-production on this whole thing...but we were on train that was chugging down the tracks…and there was no way to stop it…so, the setup day slipped away without me, Jordan, Shawn, and Colby ever getting a beginning-to-end run through. It was just such a difficult thing to do because the different stages covered so much ground (at least 2 miles).
So, at some point that day…like a complete maniac, I spewed out what I wanted everybody to be responsible for…and where + when they needed to be in all these veery specific places. It seems relatively simple now that we can look back on a finished product...but they had to process a ton of information…so many details and logistical log-jams…and they just nodded and soaked it in. Then, I asked them to repeat it...
They each repeated everything that we had discussed in rapid-fire fashion...and it seemed like they had it under control...let the games begin.
RAMBO DAY BEGINS
For me, Rambo Day really started when Rosso and I got into the row boat. We went to bed at 2am the night before and had been up since 6AM…running around, finishing up last details. So, when we finally got into the row boat…it was an amazing feeling. The plan was finally underway…Dana had been arrested, spray-tanned, and via text we knew that they were just getting in the cop car to follow him from Westerly to Rockville. We assumed that it would take about 30 mins. So, we had about 20 minutes to peacefully paddle about 300 yds? across the pond. All was right with the world.
I had a bluetooth speaker rigged in a backpack, so that, using my phone, I could add a live Rambo soundtrack on the speaker throughout the whole battle. I remember playing the First Blood theme as we started the paddle across the pond. The bad guys had their Asian Hats on along the shore and the POWs were ready to get in their cage. Josh snapped this pic from the rocks outside of cage #1. A proud moment for sure!
So, we thought we'd tested everything…but we never gave much thought to the row boat. Seemed simple. But we quickly figured out that neither Rosso or I was very good at rowing a boat. We zigged and zagged our way across…half-laughing, half-wondering if we were going to make it in time.
It was a struggle, but when we were about halfway across the pond, we got a call from the cop car. They had good news and bad news. The good news was that Rambo successfully made it to the path in the woods…the bad news was that Grampa Jerry’s car had caught on fire and they had to put it out with a fire extinguisher. I laughed, thinking that it couldn’t be true…and then before giving it much thought we realized that we needed to hurry getting across the pond. RAMBO was in the woods. We had 5 minutes, tops…to get to the 1st POW rock.
So, when we were about 100 feet from shore….the water appeared to be about shin deep. Instead of playing plinko with the rocks, I decided that we could get there much quicker if I hopped out and pulled the boat into shore. I didn’t think much about it…I just stepped in…and I immediately sunk waist deep into a thick muck. Artax...you stupid horse...please!!! (actually, don't watch that...it's probably the saddest moment of any movie ever)
I started trudging along for a few steps before I realized my phone was in my pocket. Ahhhh! I quickly passed it to Rosso....hoping that it would survive because the Rambo soundtrack was downloaded on it...and it was our source for live music throughout the battles. Then, I realized the bluetooth speaker on my back got soaked…and the GoPro on the front of the gun turret dunked in the water...with no waterproof back on it!!! ***luckily, everything survived long enough to make it through the battle...however, my phone died forever as soon as we returned to my house.***
I slogged through the mud, pulling the boat. This whole thing was so ridiculous, but we had one goal in mind…get Rosso to the rock…and get the drone into the air to capture Rambo emerging from the woods. When we made it to shore, I quickly set my phone, the Bluetooth speaker, and the gopro on a rock to dry out…and I grabbed the pelican case from the boat with the drone. I didn’t wait for it to connect to any satellites…I just launched it into the air…and at about the same time RAMBO emerged from the woods. Holy shit! I zipped it around a few times (way too fast)…and when Shawn arrived alongside Rambo, I traded the drone controller for his DSLR/monopod…and he continued to fly the drone as we started paddling back across the pond.
In one of the most difficult details of the whole filming challenge…Shawn had to run back to the moped on the path, and ride with the drone pelican case as fast as he could to meet up with us in the woods on the other side of the pond. It is pretty amazing that he navigated a labrynth of unfamiliar backroads, dirt driveways, and paths through the woods on a moped with a pelican case between his legs…and he got back right after RAMBO had chopped the bag out of the tree. He looked like he'd been shot out of a canon...haha...but he took the DSLR/monopod from me...and smoothly transitioned back into filming mode. Amazing! Once we were past the pond...and creeping through the woods with all 3 cameras rolling and multiple extra angles of random GoPros, everything calmed down a little bit...even though Dana was setting a pretty brisk pace as he tackled each mission in full-on Rambo-action-hero mode.
It was a truly liberating feeling once Homer (Dana's Dad) arrived to conclude the Rambo-related shenanigans with our big Colombia surprise...and he delivered the performance of a lifetime as Col. Trautman. We finally got a chance to eat some BBQ, drink, play some games, and recount all the stories of the day. It was pretty cool to hear Dana describe how everything unfolded from his perspective.
Throughout the night, we all traded stories about the random, magical and mundane moments of the day as we laughed, got drunk, and tried to stitch everybody's experiences together. There are a million favorite stories from that day (and night) that will live on forever, but one of the best ones is Hubby’s tale of the hospital hobo + the Rambo costume at 7am on the morning of Rambo Day. Hubby is one of the best storytellers that I know. He totally belongs on The Moth Podcast...so, we got him to tell the whole story a few months back while we were hanging around in Rosso's kitchen...and when you hear little details like this...it really is amazing that all the pieces of this crazy puzzle came together as well as they did.
Sorry for the novel. If you're still reading this...you should win a Rambo Day medal...as a consolation prize, here's some sweet party pics from the talented + apparently (relatively) sober Joshua Behan. Check out his website if you are in the market for an amazing wedding photographer...or a photographer that excels at running around capturing his friends doing dumb stuff in the woods :) Thanks for watching...and reading.