Shooting Beachworld on the Glamis Sand Dunes
When you're making a movie, there are a million things you can plan for and control, and sometimes a small number of things you can't. You just have to mitigate Murphy's Law as much as possible knowing full well Murphy is going to be out to get you every minute of the day. There were a lot of issues we ran into shooting Beachworld, but one of the most worrisome question marks - shooting on the Imperial Sand Dunes (also known as Glamis) - turned out not to be an issue at all thanks to a lot of planning and even more luck.
There were 3 complexities to filming on the dunes: the first was a burden on our camera department. We were shooting on an ARRI Alexa camera package we rented from a gear house via Sharegrid. I think the value was over $80k and throw in a bunch of fine grained sand and wind and an expensive camera sounded like a recipe for disaster. But our DP Sarah Phillips had experience shooting in tough terrains and spoke to some colleagues about how to mitigate the wear and tear and overall finicky-ness of shooting on giant sand dunes. We did get off to a bit of a rocky start with batteries lasting all of 15 minutes however we were able to solve this issue by doing away completely with the handheld remote viewing monitor which meant I had to put all my trust in Sarah to get the shot. Although we had never worked on a shoot together before, I knew her and her work very well and we had that build in trust from day 1.
The 2nd hurdle was figuring out WHEN to shoot on the dunes. We knew the dunes were open year-round for dune buggy-ing which looked hella fun, but which could potential obliterate our plan of capturing any wide shots of the majestic dunes, which was of course the literally main reason for even shooting there in the first place. We did 2 location scouts and found that on the South end of the dunes, between Highway 8 and the Mexican border, there seemed to be less dune buggy traffic and lots more pristine sand. Bingo!
Because we had to apply for Bureau of Land Management permits, we had to figure out our shooting date way in advance. We wanted to shoot in the spring to avoid and extreme winter or summer desert temperatures, which meant our greatest enemy would be Spring Break. After a bunch of speculation we threw research to the wind and decided to choose a Tuesday and not even bother trying to figure out when various schools would be on vacation. Our thinking was that there would be no great way to plan around people tracking up the sand over the weekend. But shooting on a Tuesday would give us a buffer day to allow the wind to sweep away any tracks. We date the date and hoped for the best.
It turned out to be a good bet. We shot on the dunes 3/28/17 and were all holding our breath when we made the 40 minute trek from the AirBnb in El Centro out to our shooting spot the night before to see the sand state. PRISTINE. The movie gods were looking down on us! We were able to get all the shots we wanted and the weather was perfect. A little windy but nothing the camera couldn't handle. The Monday before it was much windier which meant we would not have been able to fly the drone and some of those shots are our favorite in the film. And it never got too too hot on set that Tuesday, although the temperatures jumped 10 degrees the next day on Wednesday and I truly believe that not only would our crew have been extremely uncomfortable in the sun on the sand, but the camera would not have made it. Because we wanted to film on this location, I'm not sure if there was anything else we could have done to mitigate issues with the resources we were working with, but we did use everything at our disposal and just hoped for the best. And in the end, it all worked out.