Who doesn’t like hot dogs, beer, fireworks and great music on the 4th of July? We certainly do and that’s why when the call came in from the Moapa Band of Paiutes last week asking us to video their July 4th weekend celebration concert, we just jumped at the opportunity.
Located on the Moapa Tribal Reservation at the entrance to the Valley of Fire just north of Las Vegas, the two day event was planned around big name entertainment and a non-stop firework display. When my crew and I arrived on the morning of July 3rd we found a huge stage built on the desert floor, situated on a round grassy common area surrounded by vendors of every kind. Although it was hours before the first band took the stage, the smell of hot dogs on the grill was already wafting around the area which meant they had my full attention. How the grass got there I’ll never know.
We met with the tribal leaders, received our stage passes and laid out a direction plan on how we were going to get the photos and video we needed to complete this assignment. For this job I chose Steele as my cinematographer and Carrick as my co-pilot on the U.A.V. (unmanned aerial vehicle – i.e. the drone). It was already 110 degrees and no shade to be found and if we had to pay for the water we consumed in the first few hours alone, this job would have been a cash lost-leader for Cache Media Works.
As soon as the sun set the fireworks started and didn’t stop till the show ended at 10pm. Tonight’s concert featured country greats Leann Rimes and Brandy Clark and by the reaction of the crowd I would say that everyone thoroughly enjoyed their music. Shooting outdoors always presents a certain amount of challenges and tonight was no different. Half way through the show the area was suddenly blanketed with very high and very hot winds that wiped through the trusses combined with unstable thermals that almost grounded the U.A.V. permanently if not for two hands on the controls.
Back on the ground, Steele was having a ball capturing some fantastic imagery of a lot of patriotic people having a tremendous amount of fun. One scene was very moving when he caught a young girl waving the American flag silhouetted by flashing stage lights with the sound music and fireworks in the background. Its moments like that, that all the photography stars just line-up to make a memorable shot come true.
We returned the next day, the 4th of July to shoot the last day of the event and the energy of the previous day had totally changed. It was as if we were shooting between two high-energy power lines, as the air seemed electrified and alive. It was clearly evident that tonight was rock-night with the performers being Uncle Kracker and Bret Michaels. The mood of the crowd was already alive before the first string in the first guitar was struck.
Tonight we were going to concentrate on a lot of aerial shots from the U.A.V. as the weather conditions were perfect with low winds and what was promising to be an amazing sunset. One thing we always encounter when using the U.A.V. is the curiosity of people nearby and especially children. Kids are just fascinated with U.A.V.’s and are drawn to them like candy. I know, because I’m one of them. The hard part is maintaining a good safety margin around the drone during take-offs and landings. What is even harder is watching their parent’s freak-out every time that happens.
Having two experienced pilots on the controls of a large U.A.V. is essential to getting great shots and maintaining a high level of safety for those below. That’s why we designed our rig to accommodate a pilot who concentrates just on flying the U.A.V. and a co-pilot who concentrates on the camera and backing up the pilot when not filming.
As I mentioned earlier, the fireworks were non-stop all night and the constant barrage created a surrealistic battlefield backdrop to the throbbing rock music, complete with smoke and concussions that bounced endlessly off the bracketed mountains nearby. At one point I decided to risk my very expensive U.A.V. for the sake of a really great shot and sent it flying off in the direction of the firework field. Even on the ground several hundred feet away I could tell from the flight controls that the U.A.V. was taking a beating in the air, being pounded by the concussions of the huge fireball explosions. The view on my monitor revealed a scene that few people have ever seen before, for there appeared miniature atomic explosions complete with mushroom clouds and shock waves. What an amazing sight, a sight that was commonly seen over the Nevada desert over 60 years ago. Although I can’t prove it, there appeared to be a few veteran anti-aircraft gunners down below on the launching field that apparently believed the drone was a target and not a camera platform and after a few very close calls it was time to fly out of the battle area and return backstage.
The weekend was a tremendous success for the Paiute Tribe and for Cache Media works in the video we captured. Two days later the video received some pre-editing and was turned over to the client for review.