Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fatboy in the Sun

For the past two years, Harley-Davidson has sent film crews to the Big Bend Region to capture the beauty of our landscape and to seduce the American spirit with the big rumbling iconic motorcycles. Two film crews worked the region this week, and our reporter Mark Glover joined them.

On the Matrix Ranch side of Hwy 90 just a few miles east of Marathon, Texas a 2008 Harley Davidson Fatboy angles on it sidestand, rider-less. Men hover close-by, flat black equipment spread around, cans of polish, light stands and other essentials of a photo shoot busy the spot. A gust of wind rifles threw and slams the cargo door of one of the parked vans.

“The chrome is flat,” Madison Ford, the photographer says. He rises up from his camera. “Where’s the sun? Dammit, That’s why we’re here.”

A giant purple-gray cloud hovers in the blue winter sky.

His assistant, Kevin Netz holds up a light meter. “I got a negative three.”

Mid-Lo Studio of Detroit and VSA Partners of Chicago have sent their film crew down here to produce photographs for the latest Harley Davidson accessories catalog.

“The custom tank, fenders and extra chrome will set you back five g,” Erik Eul another assistant says. “Go down in a cloud of glory if you wreck that beast.”

A gust rustles up styro-foam in the grass and our dull shadows lengthen. Dylan plays on the radio and a unit train with pale green freight cars rumbles by.

“Pretty good station. No stops,” Jason McKean of VSA Partners says.

Kevin kicks at the asphalt. Eric offers a cup of coffee and Jason has picked up a baseball bat and is popping rocks into the desert. Deputy Sean Roach slows another car on the highway. The cloud does not move.

On a table set up on the shoulder, black and white snap shots are laid out with numbers hand-written on each.

“We move the bike around to get the best look then take Poloroid test shots with a 2x2 Hasselblad (camera). When it’s close we shoot it with the big one.” Jason points to the tripod mounted Swiss made Sinac 4x5 camera.

”We’re not digital, although 98 per cent of the industry is. We’re holding on to film. We like it.” A smile breaks out on his teddy-bear face. “They convert it at the post-production lab but loose some of the essence.”

“Bel-Air job,” Kevin says. The crew looks at each other and laughs. “Bel-Air works in the lab. Says he fixes stuff for us.”

Madison Ford holds out a test shot. “You see anything wrong with this?” He shakes his head. “I give it to them perfect.”

Deputy Roach now stands at the barbed wire scanning the desert with a gunstock mounted monocular. Hunters in a white pick-up crawl off-road then vanish behind a hill.

“Lets get the lights going,” Madison Ford says.

Eric sets up the 2000 watt lights each powered by its own Honda generator. “Give me a green screen,” Madison Ford says.

Kevin kneels behind the big camera.

“Go a little more front,” Madison Ford instructs Eric with the light. “Lee me see if I can fix that… OK – good, stop there. That’s better.”

Jason leans over to me. “It’s hard to fake natural light. In these conditions we have to use a lot of artificial for fill, to get definition.”

“We’re outside the bracket,” Madison Ford said, peering at the LCD display on the camera. He shakes his head. Getting the exposure within the light meter brackets allows the possibility of the perfect photograph.

It’s like waiting for paint to dry sometimes,” Jason says gesturing toward the cloud.

Harley Davidson publishes the fifty page accessories catalog once a year. In it, you can buy anything from fish fin exhaust pipes to black and orange leather-handled knives. Its all part of the rugged individual look.

“We got something coming to life here,” Madison Ford calls out.

The sun has dipped below the giant cloud, radiating just minutes above the horizon.

The crew hustles to position.

“Good, good, good” Madison Ford says, the camera clicking. “I got brackets.”

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