Turning Forests Into Film Studios: 5K Redwood Forest Road Trip

Husband-and-wife filmmakers Luke and Marika Neumann had always dreamed of film careers—without the L.A. traffic. Their solution: YouTube, VideoBlocks, and three thousand miles of open road.

Based more than eight hundred miles from Los Angeles in Sisters, Oregon, Luke and Marika Neumann together share a love for big screens and small cities. Such preferences might have limited them to a life of local, smaller-scale shoots—had they not also shared a love for travel and the digital community.
Redwoods and Ferns

Founding Neumann Films together in 2009, their entrance into freelance video work began with all-too-common roots.

“At first it was all local stuff,” says Luke. “Weddings, commercials, real estate, whatever we could find.”

It wasn’t long, however, before their casual uploads to YouTube began generating views far outside of Sisters, Oregon. That, he says, was when they first began to realize the potential in online viewership—and adjusted their focus accordingly.

Click to see the Redwood and Ferns Category

Finding Work Online, Out of Doors

The hardest part of being in freelance without being in a big city, Luke says, is the unavoidable downtime in-between projects.

To solve for this, he and his wife focused on building multiple streams of income, each of which would appeal to separate segments of consumers. On one front, they began creating video tutorials and selling products online. On another, they set out in search of stock video websites interested in high-quality content—eventually signing an exclusive deal with VideoBlocks.

Redwoods and Ferns

The result was a fairly passive flow of income online that gave them the creative freedom and flexibility to shoot whatever they wanted, wherever they wanted.

“The Internet has opened up nearly infinite ways to make a living,” says Luke. “If we aren’t creating new products or working on a tutorial, we are hosting short film competitions or filming a personal creative video for the channel. A typical day for us
usually involves some sort of filming, some editing, maybe some music writing—and if we’re lucky, some time outdoors.”

Six Days, Six Locations, 48 Frames Per Second

For Luke and his wife, however, “time outdoors” doesn’t mean iced tea on the porch or a short walk with the dog; it means driving thousands of miles in an RV and capturing shots like the redwood forest footage , commissioned specifically for Video Blocks.

To capture the footage above, the couple rented an RV and spent six days shooting in six locations: Fern Canyon, Avenue of the Giants, Mono Lake, Kolob Zion, Bryce Canyon, and the Nevada desert.

Redwoods and FernsBeing surrounded by beauty in every direction makes parks like these easy targets for capturing high-quality stock—a necessary advantage given the complexity of shooting in so many, so quickly:

“With stock video, you will always come away with more in a rural area. There are just more shots in smaller settings. With nature-based stuff, you need to travel from location to location, and the distances between them are sometimes vast. We had a destination set up for every day of the trip—but once we were there and ready to film, we had to be done in an hour or two. I’d prefer to get crane shots at every setup, but it’s just not realistic. It takes 45 minutes to set up and then 45 more to break it down, so I would use the dolly if we were short on time.”

Add accidentally dipping that 33-foot crane rig into a river and having to drive overnight to San Francisco and back to pick up new batteries, and that shooting schedule compresses further.

Sunrises, Sunsets, and Everything in Between

Of course, not all hours are equal, so Luke and his wife spent as much time planning around sunlight as they did planning their driving routes.

Sunlight always comes into play, Luke says—but that doesn’t mean you have to shoot at either dusk or dawn:

“A lot of people will gravitate towards sunrise or sunset (for good reason), but the lighting can be interesting at other times of day as well. During our Redwoods shoot, I was really hoping for some light fog so that we could get out at first light and capture some sunrays breaking through. Alas, when shooting outdoors you’re at the mercy of mother nature.”

Redwoods and FernsUnsure what lighting conditions are going to look like at various times of the day—but have more than an hour or two to find out? Luke has some great advice for determining the best times to shoot on-location:

“If you have the time, the best way to plan is to set up a time-lapse of the location and then go back and look at what time of day it looks best.”

Doing this at Fern Canyon, Avenue of the Giants, Mono Lake, Kolob Zion, Bryce Canyon, and the Nevada desert would have doubled his shooting time, but that’s why he’s done it countless times before and taken great notes—proving it makes sense to first experiment in your own backyard . . . or at least watch some great tutorials.

As for future projects and destinations, Luke and his wife recently returned from shooting footage for VideoBlocks in Hawaii (think black sand beaches, careening cliffs, and majestic waterfalls) and are in the planning stages of VideoBlocks-sponsored trips to Asia and Europe.

Have suggestions as to where we should send Neumann Films next? Leave your requests in the comments!

Matt Siegel writes about technology, leadership, and film for VideoBlocks.

Luke Neumann travels the world capturing exclusive stock footage for VideoBlocks.