So Daniel McBride (Sheep, Dog & Wolf) wrote a song about his fear of the sun – his lyrics portray the day star as a malignant force of terror, so our concept was simple: tell a story of Man Versus Cosmic Nature; which, as it turns out, isn’t simple at all. The proposed video begins with Daniel running in silhouette against the pre-dawn sky through a parched desert – we don’t understand why he’s running until a wall of fire appears on the horizon. It’s the sun, but it’s more than 50 times its usual size, rising like a tide of destruction. This is a good time to mention that there’s no computer-generated imagery in the video – the sun looks that large because we’re watching Daniel run on a giant 2400mm lens. Anyway, the sun only gets a fraction of its terrible girth above the horizon before Daniel drops to the ground and we cut to the second shot (we’re 2:08 into the song here, so, y’know, it’s art). We’re now looking down from a bird’s-eye view at Daniel, naked, huddling in a fetal position behind the long shadow of a large rock. He’s panting hard – safe for now – but as we watch, we can see the shadow shrinking and the line of burning ground inching closer. Before he can be cooked where he lays, Daniel stands up and faces the sun, cutting us to the final shot of the video – a closeup of his face. His eyes redden, his nose begins to bleed – and we cut to black.
All this seemed easy enough to us – (an optimistic collection of filmmakers who call ourselves Candlelit Pictures). We decided to shoot the video in South Australia, where an abundance of flat arid landscapes were sure to afford us a good look at the rising sun (along with snakes, spiders, centipedes and temperatures so ridiculous that they make your farts feel cold, (true story)). Our entire budget was spent on the flights and the rental of a six-birth camper that was to be our home for longer than we realized. Panavision Australia kindly lent us two 35mm cameras and all the lenses, for insurance cost only. We drove twelve hours North of Adelaide to a place called ‘The Moon Plains’. Millions of years ago the Moon Plains were the ocean floor, but as we discovered, it was too hot for the ocean, so it evaporated, leaving a wonderfully flat desert that stretches beyond the curvature of the earth in every direction, with a backstory that suited our video perfectly.
Everything was going great… until: Math. As it turns out, only NASA has the ability to predict the sun’s appearance to within one 32nd of a degree from any given spot, on any given day. So we needed a practice run. We woke up at 4am, setup the camera, pointed East, and the sun obligingly appeared. Now for the math – how much further North does the sun rise tomorrow? With some trigonometry we calculated that at 350 meters away from the camera, the sunrise was to move North by 1.656149462817 meters. So we marked that position, took a broom out into the blazing heat, and swept a 500 meter path through the desert so that Daniel would run in a perfectly straight line. We then set about building a six meter scaffolding tower for our bird’s-eye view shot. I got heat exhaustion and had to watch everyone else work for a while.
That night a vicious wind destroyed our marquee – and we woke at 4am to what looked like a cloudy sky. (But it couldn’t have been cloudy, ’cause we were in the desert, that’s why we came to the desert – to make a video about the sun). But it was cloudy. There was no sunrise that day – so we couldn’t verify our math. A passing paramedic told us that the clouds only ever lasted for a day or so, and that we were in an area inhabited by the fifth most venomous snake in the world. So we did more math, swept a new line in the desert, and watched for snakes. The wind felt like a hairdryer, and we’d lost our shade, the dryness of the air gave most of us nosebleeds – but we waited patiently for the next dawn. It was cloudy again. By now the clouds were beginning to take the edge off the heat, but our physical discomfort was gradually being replaced by a terrible fear – what if we run out of time?
We had spent our own money to get this far. Unforeseen costs had popped-up and been overcome. But now we were broke, actually broke. In the desert. And it was overcast. For four more days we woke up at 4am – prepared for our shots, and watched for a sun that never appeared. We did our math, swept a new line in the desert, and waited. We had come too far and worked too hard to go home with nothing, so we missed our flights, borrowed some money, swept a new line, and waited some more.
After three more days of sweeping the sun appeared – and on our last day, despite the disparagement of several math teachers – we were right on the money. Our second camera was rigged to the top of our scaffolding tower (which we nicknamed Satan for the pain it caused us to erect), and Daniel rushed from shot to shot, and in about ten minutes we had everything we needed.
We drove through the day and night – kept awake by the sights and smells of distant forrest fires. I can’t say the end product makes it all worth while, because that’s really for the audience to decide – but as I fell asleep that night under a park-bench outside Adelaide airport, I could still feel the desert flies landing on my face, and I think that means something.
MarBelle has a strange compulsion to watch as many films as he can get his hands on and find jobs that give him a legitimate excuse to drill filmmakers about their work. Directors Notes is the latest incarnation of this disorder and so much cheaper than film school. Twitter: @MarBelle