Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Part III: On the Trail of…Champ Filmmaking gear

Adrienne here... today we are sharing the third and final post by Director Aleksandar Petakov. If you haven't already, be sure to check out the miniseries "On the Trail of... Champ" on DVD or streaming.

Part III: On the Trail of…Champ Filmmaking gear

Let me first start off by saying that Lake Champlain is massive. It’s actually staggering how large of a lake it is. Hundreds of miles long and stretching as far as the eye can see. This seemed sort of daunting to me at first as I was worried if I’d be able to capture the nature of what Lake Champlain is accurately given its size. With that in mind I know I needed an arsenal of filmmaking tech on hand just to capture this natural wonder alone. If you’re a filmmaking/gear nerd, you’ll probably enjoy next part more than most! 

My lineup included the Canon 5D Mark III DLSR with a Canon 24-105 f/4L lens, a Canon 70D DSLR with assorted lenses, a DJI Phantom 3 Standard quadcopter, a DJI Osmo gimbal with 4K camera, a GoPro Hero 3, a zoom audio recorder with Sony lavaliere microphone and a whole host of tripods and other gadgets. I made sure to use equipment I would be comfortable with, while still capturing stunning video with relative ease on the go.

The Canon 5D was ideal for the variety of interviews I conducted as well as for some great supplemental footage or “b-roll” as we film types like to call it. Most of my main interviews were done with the lake as a backdrop, something I consciously had hoped to do. Shooting interviews outside can be difficult, especially with constantly changing light and uncontrollable environmental sounds, but I’m pleased to say they turned out quite well and the Canon 5D held up very well. The Canon 70D I mainly used for b-roll as well as for timelapses. A great deal of the time was spent on various boats while filming and for that the DJI Osmo gimbal was the most useful. It allowed me to capture some stunningly smooth shots while on a boat zooming around bay’s and inlets! 

As for the DJI Phantom 3 drone, it would be the most useful piece of filmmaking tech in terms of capturing the expansive nature of Lake Champlain. I could have filmed for days on end just with the drone in various scenic areas, but even the times I flew it between interviews and other b-roll, it truly gave me a cinematic edge in capturing the lake itself. Months later I actually upgraded drones to the DJI Mavic Pro, which I got to test out flying over a frozen Champlain bay back in January, which also looked absolutely epic from the air.

No documentary about Champ would be complete without underwater footage and as a result I decided to use GoPro action cameras for that purpose. While I was a bit on the fence about getting some kind of rig for taking the Canon 5D underwater, I’m glad I stuck with the GoPro’s ultimately. Lake Champlain is notoriously murky and algae blooms in the summer certainly don’t help with visibility. Most of the GoPro footage either attached to a scuba diver or lowered into the water with bait had trouble showing much of anything aside from murky mucky greenish water. Champ sure got lucky in that regard!

Something I learned very quickly was how diverse of a natural area Lake Champlain was. It’s not just a big lake, it has very distinct geographical areas including cliffs, caves, expansive marshes, “bayou’s”, bays and more. It’s hard to imagine at times but I tried my best to really capture some of the striking visual tones I witnessed on Lake Champlain. If anything I hope On the Trail of…Champ can inspire anybody out there, cryptid enthusiast or not, to visit this wonderful ancient lake with so much to offer aside from just one of North America’s greatest mysteries. Just get out there, explore, have fun and don’t forget a camera!

Friday, August 17, 2018

Part II: On the Trail of…Champ Interviews

We asked director Aleksandar Petakov to share his experience filming the first Small Town Monsters mini-series On the Trail of... Champ and his thoughts on the area and famous monster. Read on for part one of his series of blog posts. - Adrienne

Over the course of the four weekends I filmed On the Trail of…Champ, I had the fortune of interviewing countless people involved in the mystery. 

I interviewed about half a dozen eyewitnesses who all had seen something unusual in the waters of Lake Champlain. While some of the interviews were planned ahead of time, others were spontaneous but all of them were fascinating. My pre-planned phone interview with Sandra Mansi (of the famous 1977 Mansi photography) for example turned out wonderful and I believe that to have been her last formal Champ related interview before her recent passing. My interview with Frank Horton, who turned out to be one of my favorite eyewitnesses, was totally spontaneous. While I was filming the giant Champ parade float at the 2017 Champ Day event, he approached me as he lived right across from the faux Champ and we struck up a conversation, leading to an invigorating interview shortly afterwards.

Among the eyewitnesses I interviewed there was a wide variety of when their sightings took place, ranging as far back as the 1950’s up until a few weeks prior to filming and everything in between. That really helped me realize that whatever was going on was not an isolated phenomenon that occurred sporadically. Of course through research I realized sightings of “Champ” date back quite far as well. 

Aside from the eyewitnesses, by far the most important interviews were with the three most prolific Champ investigators, Scott Mardis, Katy Elizabeth and William Dranginis. These three arguably made the series what it is and more broadly gave the search for Champ human faces and plenty of personality. Their interviews were filled with years of experience searching for the mystery of Lake Champlain, endless facts about Champ and Lake Champlain as well as their own sightings and encounters. These folks exhibit some serious dedication and ingenuity in this particular quest for the unknown.

With these researchers, comprising of the Mardis-Dranginis Research team and Champ Search (Katy Elizabeth) respectively, I accompanied them as they scoured deep sections of the lake, combed through the many Champlain marshes at night and much more. It was truly adventure in every sense of the word as we battled with unpredictable weather and the simple difficulty of researching on a large body of water. Ultimately On the Trail of…Champ is as much as a story about Scott, Katy and Will as it is about the famous denizen of the lake.

Finally, for the last set of interviews for the series I spoke with local people that were involved with Champ beyond sightings or research. These were people like Lorraine Franklin, owner of Champ’s Trading Post, a Vermont based gift shop themed around Champ of course. This type of interview gave the Champ mythos a deeper meaning and cultural roots in the communities surrounding Lake Champlain. This included the Vermont Lake Monsters, Vermont’s minor league baseball team, which fully embraced the monster legend.

Combining all these types of interviews was something I felt needed to be done to demonstrate the full scale of the mystery of Champ. Alongside many historical facts about Champ and the lake, the only thing I needed to ensure was that I could truly capture the alluring beauty of Lake Champlain. Luckily I had some serious filmmaking tech at my disposal.

To be continued…

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Bray Pre-orders Are Open!

We have some exciting news! We've released the final trailer for our upcoming feature Bray Road Beast, and we celebrated by launching our DVD pre-orders!

If you aren't already familiar with the general details of the story, check out the synopsis below.
In 1989 a country road outside of the Wisconsin town of Elkhorn became the center of a media frenzy unlike anything the world had ever seen. “People were seeing, what looked to them, like a werewolf…” said Linda Godfrey the newspaper reporter who brought the story to light in a local publication called “The Week”. In fact, many people -locals and out-of-towners alike- had sightings and encounters with the creature that came to be known as The Beast of Bray Road. Many of these sightings were largely ignored or under-reported… that is, until October 5th when the new documentary film, The Bray Road Beast will unlock decades of history relating to “werewolf” sightings around the US.
The Bray Road Beast DVD also includes a short, behind-the-scenes featurette that takes you to Elkhorn with the STM crew.

The Bray Road Beast features narration by Lyle Blackburn, animated sequences by Santino Vitale (who also created our creature costume) and Chris Scalf with illustrations by Matt Harris, Brandon Scalf and Brian Serway. Music by Brandon Dalo and Chris Dudley. Director of photography was Zac Palmisano (with cinematography by Santino) some assistance from Andrew Peterson (of Midwest Mysteries) and sound design by Jason Utes (also our production manager). 

Behind the scenes footage on the dvd was shot by Jason and Mark Matzke who also co-wrote the script, and our Key Grip was Andy Matzke. Posters were created by Sam Shearon and Adrienne Breedlove who also produced the movie. Christy Williams plays Doris Gipson, Adrienne plays Lori Endrizzi and Jason Utes plays the beast.

Huge thanks to all of our Kickstarter backers including the executive producers Rod Fielder, Tim Lancaster, Theresa Tramel, and Dwight Bishop. An extra special thanks to Morgan Hazel and Forest Hazel who backed the entire years worth of STM projects at the series executive producer level.

Pre-order your copy now and get it on or before 10-5-18!

- Adrienne