Meet Ben Canales, Timelapse Wizard

Ben Canales, award-winning photographer, and member of the Uncage the Soul production team that joined us on the river last fall reflects on the challenges and the landscapes that inspired the hours he spent not sleeping, but instead capturing gorgeous timelapse footage alongside the Green & Colorado rivers.

Tasked to shoot timelapse on our Green and Colorado River trip was a thoroughly enjoyable and challenging new experience. With limited resources of time to download media cards and opportunities to charge batteries, I had to be selective of the moments to shoot a multi-hour and 20-60 sized gigabyte timelapse sequence. It was important to learn the natural forecasting signs in the weather patterns and gauge the potential “worth” of shooting a particular moment and location. Would these afternoon clouds hold and provide a reflection for sunset colors? If the river is oriented 187 degrees South, what was the chance the Moon would rise in the canyon? And if so, when in the night might it clear the steep canyon walls, and where? Would it be better to timelapse this camp location at sunset or sunrise? Should I setup down by the river or take the time (and risk missing the sunset) to hike up on the higher rocks for a view up high?

Although these questions were important and there were plenty more to fret over–ultimately–what I remember most is the joy of getting lost in the river’s world. By that, I mean… it’s wonderful to be so connected to the immediate things that you can sincerely forget what day in the week it is. My world became sunrises and sunsets, star rotational directions and moon paths, cloud patterns and which direction would the shadows dance on the canyon walls. Many nights I was brewing a pot of coffee to get ready to go shoot night timelapses while everyone else was settling to sleep. I loved the novelty of quietly tiptoeing through camp to setup my gear at 2am to the sounds of snoring. Even exhausted and slightly cranky, there’s a unique contentment to have stayed up all night shooting stars and into the sunset and then be able to welcome my friends to a new day as they groggily came out of their tents. I look back on these memories with immense fondness. 

– Ben Canales

Roy Webb in the Utah Adventure Journal

Utah Adventure Journal

Roy Webb, our Lead Advisor for Les Voyageurs, recently wrote an article about the French Trio, and his adventure as part of the film crew this past fall, for the Utah Adventure Journal. Roy is a leading authority on Western river history and originally uncovered the lost story of the Trio more than 20 years ago.

Les Voyageurs

Since the inception of Les Voyageurs, Roy has been a key advisor for the project, offering both archival materials related to the French Trio and his own insight on their historic voyage.

We were lucky enough to have Roy join us for the production trip through Lodore Canyon last September. His wealth of knowledge and experience in the area played a large part in the success of the production trip. Roy continues to be a key advisor for the film and we enjoyed all the memories reading his most recent article about the French Trio.

Read the article here.

If you’re a talented writer and would like to join the Les Voyageurs team, please contact us at [email protected] to see how you can help.…

Moab River Rendezvous

To see the story of the French Trio told in documentary form has been a dream of Roy Webb’s for more than 25 years. That dream was finally realized.

Director Ian McCluskey had promised Roy a special rough cut screening at the Moab River Rendezvous. Roy shares his experience:

Any good river story starts with “there I was…” So, there I was, in Moab, Utah’s Star Hall, eagerly awaiting my first viewing of the long-awaited and much-anticipated documentary Les Voyageurs Sans Trace. When I say “long-awaited,” I really mean it; I first learned about the 1938 color film made by Bernard de Colmont on his journey down the Green and Colorado Rivers with his young bride Genevieve and their friend Antoine de Seynes in 1986. As soon as I saw a grainy videotape copy of it, I knew this would make a wonderful documentary.

So like the ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes, who carried a lantern searching for an honest man, I corralled everyone I saw with a video camera and asked them if they would be interested in making a documentary. I never got any takers, though, and had just about given up, when one day my phone rang in my office at the University of Utah. On the other end was Ian McCluskey of NW Documentary, who was, if not that honest man (ha ha!) was a documentary filmmaker and was interested in the story of the French Trio.

Many things led to others, and as Ian said in his opening remarks at the Sneak Preview, there was a harmonic convergence of time, talent, willing sponsors, and experts in various documentary film arts that came together in September 2012 to re-create the French Trio’s epic journey and shoot footage for Ian’s proposed documentary.

I was lucky enough to get to share part of that voyage, even though the energy of the film crew just about did me in, being twice their age and too long eddied out behind a desk in the University library to keep up with them. Other harmonies brought Ian and a crew to France to track down the descendants of the original French kayakers, and to find one of their fragile wood and canvas kayaks which had somehow survived not only the rigors of the journey down the wild Green and Colorado, but being used to escape from Nazi-occupied France in World War II and become a venerated relic of French Special Forces Commandos!

So as I sat in the darkened Star Hall with a large audience of local residents, river runners, and attendees at the 6th Annual Moab River Rendezvous, I felt about like you feel at the top of a big rapid. You’re sure it will turn out OK but there’s always a lingering doubt; what if there’s an unexpected lateral wave or a gust of wind? And despite my constant hints, badgering, pleadings, Ian had not let me see an advance copy of the film; I had waited this long, he said, so I could wait a while longer.

You know how sometimes in movies you find yourself sneaking covert looks at your watch or your phone, wondering how much longer this thing is going to go on? Did. Not. Happen. At all. Ninety minutes later, all doubts were totally erased. We, I, all of us, were transported by the story unfolding on the screen. I found myself misting up at a couple of spots, feeling emotional at the travails, the courage, the determination of the French Trio and enthralled at the artistry of Ian’s story-telling.

The audience of river runners, locals, and tourists, sat for a second or two in stunned silence as the lights came up, and then broke into loud and sustained applause. As the audience filed out, everyone was talking excitedly about the movie, about how totally involved they were in the story, how much they loved the shooting, how well the original story was woven into the re-creation of the journey.

Me, my first reaction was, ”I want to see it again!” I would totally sit right back down and watch the whole thing again. And then again, it was that compelling.

Every good river story starts with “There I was…” and, as the old joke goes, ends with “and that’s no shit!” Les Voyageurs Sans Trace is a story that will not only enthrall river runners, but anyone who has ever felt the urge to set out on a great adventure. And that’s no shit.

–Roy Webb

Meet Audio Maven Alison

Though often overlooked, audio is essential to a great documentary. There is a common saying, in fact: “Good audio will carry bad video, but bad audio cannot carry good video.” So when it came to picking who to take down the river to record the audio, we knew we needed someone exceptional.

Not only would they have to survive the grueling 15-hour days, in the sun, mud, and mosquitoes of a 30-day river trip, they’d have one shot at making sure each interview was recorded without error. Any technical problem in the field could have ruined the trip. Luckily we had Alison. She joined us for both the river trip and our two week road trip across France. She’s now sorting the 100s of hours of recordings.

Going through the audio from the river and creating a sound library for the film has been a great experience.

Normally ambient audio for films of this sort are recorded at other, more convenient locations, such as Multnomah Falls, and I’m thrilled that we can uphold the integrity of the Green and Colorado Rivers, along with all the other amazing locations we visited, by using real, honest audio from those spots.  Additionally, hearing the crew’s voices and laughter in between takes has really brought me back-we had an amazing crew on this production, and it’s been a unique experience to be able to listen back on some amazing moments and memories.

I still have a bit of audio to go through, and I can’t wait to discover what clips and memories I find next.

– Alison Grayson…