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Monday, 13 December 2010 19:15

On the Road with Turnkey HD

Written by  Gordon Meyer
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LightCol_SteveFongSteve Fong is the creative director for Citizen Group, a San Francisco production house with a number of high profile clients. In 2009, one of these clients, the Center for Creative Land Recycling, commissioned a documentary about the legendary Route 66 highway that, before the onset of the Interstate freeway system, was the route people used to drive from Chicago to Los Angeles.

As Interstates grew in number, Route 66 became increasingly marginalized until it was finally removed from the U.S. Highway System in 1985. “In the process, all the gas stations, hotels and attractions that once lined Route 66 ended up abandoned,” says Fong. The client now wanted Citizen to document what businesses were still operating on what is now called “Historic Route 66.”

Fong had worked previously with Joel Newman and his company Turnkey HD, and he knew their expertise in mobile production, so when he got the assignment to produce the Route 66 doc, Fong gave Newman a call. “[He] started telling me about this Sprinter [van] that he had just outfitted and thought it would be a perfect solution for our mobile production needs,” Fong recalls.

Indeed, Turnkey’s fleet of customized Mercedes Sprinter vans enabled the company to expand on their core operating premise of packaging everything you need to shoot a project via one vehicle with a very unique footprint. “We use the Mercedes Sprinter Mega-Roof 3500, which is about seven-feet tall on the inside,” Newman explains. “Not only does it deliver the equipment efficiently –– and in a very well organized, easily accessible set of custom shelving –– it also provides a base of operations for your shoot with its digital workstation, ample lighting, ventilation and headroom. We have a fleet of the largest model Sprinters that Mercedes offers. [We] then custom install industrial shelving, electrical infrastructure, lighting and equipment and created a vehicle designed specifically for video production.” Turnkey clients also have the option of getting their Sprinters pre-staffed with seasoned production personnel. “We’ve gotten to the point where there really isn’t any service that we don’t offer, even insurance,” Newman adds.

One of the challenges for Fong and his team was that they were somewhat randomly shooting locations along Route 66, which meant that it was crucial to have mobility and the ability to set up shots on the fly. “We had no way of knowing in advance what we were going to get into, [or] what kind of lighting or power situation we’d be into there,” says Fong. “It was very much guerrilla filmmaking, recording people’s stories and documenting the area. It was basically this extended road trip where we just found things.”

The Sprinter served as Fong’s de facto moving production vehicle. “We were able to use it for all our lighting and camera equipment, even as a camera car at one point,” Fong says. “We pretty much used it for everything, which was great. We traversed the whole western part of the route between Los Angeles and Arizona just past Flagstaff.

“One time we were in the middle of the desert at this old hotel that had no water, no power, no anything, but it had a guy we wanted to interview there,” Fong continues. “It was 113 degrees out there and no power. We hooked everything up to the Sprinter’s power inverter and got our lights going and were able to shoot. In fact, we pretty much used every piece of equipment on the truck over the course of the shoot.” For the shoot, the production had two cameras on call, the Sprinter-equipped Sony EX3 and a Panasonic HPX3700, which Fong’s team brought on their own.

Fong and his production team are now planning a similar road-trip project up the western coast of the U.S. for another Citizen Group client, and they plan to use the Sprinter for that production as well. 

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