FROM THE MAKERS OF BIG LEAF
AN INTERVIEW WITH GRIMSHAW MINK
This month sees the release of the full trailer for the exciting up-and-coming short documentary, Big Leaf created by Joe Hurrell and Josh Cobb of Grimshaw Mink. Here they are to tell us more about their project.
So, what is Big Leaf? What’s the story?
Joe: On a micro-level it’s a road trip down the Pacific Northwest, but the ideas behind that trip are far more expansive.
Josh: Yes, it’s a film about a carpenter who travels to a sawmill to buy some wood essentially, but the man who runs the mill explains some environmental issues that are especially relevant through the lens of starting a family.
Where did the idea come from?
Josh: Well, Tim is my brother-in-law, and told me about Rod at the end of 2017. He explained that Rod was prioritising the forest before profit, and by doing so creating financial incentives for both loggers and woodworkers to make more sustainable decisions. For Tim, who makes furniture, this appealed to his business but also his strong sense of responsibility and connection to nature. Even then having only met him a few times, Tim firmly believed that Rod's message ought to be shared.
Joe: We didn’t need much of an excuse to make a film in that part of the world anyway, but when we realised how interesting the story was it was a no-brainer...
How did you fund the trip?
Josh: We paid for the flights out of our own pocket, and slept on the sofas and floors of Tim's house, and Rod was kind enough to let us camp on his property while we were filming in Oregon. I think there was a sense that we just had to make the film regardless of the cost.
Joe: We were lucky that Norwegian flights were particularly cheap as well, and couldn’t have done it without the generosity of Glazers (where we rented the camera equipment) and Ten Gun Design in Seattle.
How did you go about planning the shoot?
Josh: This project is vastly different to anything we've made in the past, so we knew we had to plan out everything we could. Even having reduced every variable we could think of, we were still relying on the one weekend we had with Rod in order to get all the footage we needed.
Joe: Logistically it was tricky - we were definitely way out of our comfort zone with what we could and couldn’t control. We didn’t know exactly how the road trip was going to play out into so tried to do as much planning as possible to give us flexibility to shoot effectively whatever ended up happening.
Josh: We spent a few months saving up, choosing the correct equipment, getting comfortable with it, and then really trying to nail down a structure for the film. We didn't have the resources to film for days on end, nor to edit that so we knew we had to be precise in terms of what footage we wanted to get.
Joe: Also, we knew we needed a flexible rig but also one that could shoot stunning images as we wanted the finished film to have as much longevity as possible. The Canon C200 and the CN-E 18-80mm became our main set-up for the shoot. The C200 is a particularly flexible camera and suits itself to a run-and-gun style which we filmed alot of the time in. Drone footage was also an absolute must-have to capture the stunning landscape, and the sheer size of the forests out there. It was my first time flying a drone but other than a hairy emergency landing in a dead forest there were no incidents!
Was filming at a mill challenging? And how was it shooting the other side of the world?
Josh: There are a lot of challenges associated with filming a long way away from any city. I think one of the greatest challenges was probably functioning with a lot less rest -- adrenalin can only get you so far.
Joe: I wouldn’t describe myself as an avid camper, for our next film I’m hoping they’ll be budget for a premier inn at the very least...
How did you divide your time whilst filming?
Josh: We both had our hands full most of the time, I would be driving while Joe would be prepping the gear, Joe would be flying the drone while I was doing tripod shots. The camera was fully rigged with equipment and we are pretty well practiced at actually hot-swapping the camera between us without breaking the shot. When we shot the fireside scene, Joe had to run between the fire in Rod's yard, and his laptop plugged in inside the sawmill in order to offload footage, as the rental house had given us some of the wrong kind of memory cards, so we could only film 15 minutes at a time! Not ideal for a documentary.
Joe: Yep it was pretty much like shooting with film in that sense - we had to be mindful of not just letting the camera shoot non-stop, as is the temptation with a documentary, but rather take a bit more time to consider the best angles and best shots available to us. And I think that leads into our aim to make the film as cinematic as it could be.
What was the most memorable moment of the shoot?
Josh: For me, it was pulling into Rod's yard after driving all the way from Seattle. We had been in the car all day and the sun was low in the sky. Following Tim's truck (pulling a trailer full of logs to be milled) up the long driveway, dust was kicked up by the wheels and it hung in the golden light shining through the trees. Before we left, we tried to recreate this on camera, but it really was one of those moments that is impossible to catch on camera. His property is at the top of the hill behind massive burn piles of discarded hardwood. It felt surreal to get out of the car having spent five months imagining that place, and planning what we'd do when we got there.
Joe: That was quite a special moment, and to meet Rod for the first time - we didn’t really know what kinda guy he was going to be but we couldn’t have asked for a better subject and host.
Who does the film appeal to and what do you hope that people take away from the film?
Josh: I hope that the film will appeal to anyone who has any concern about our effect on the environment. I think it's probably more important now than ever to really meditate on how our actions now will affect our children and their children. I think a lot of issues involving the climate are more recognised than ever before, but baffling newspaper headlines and preachy guidelines alienate a lot of people, so I hope that we were able to approach one of these issues in an interesting way.
Joe: In our lifetime, and especially in our generation, there is a real awareness that our actions have long-lasting consequences. I think the responsible approach to consumption Rod leads is a way of life that a lot of people are turning towards, especially in that part of the world. If we can somehow integrate that into our own lives and show that example to others then we’ve done something useful.
What do you see as the future for the film?
Josh: Personally, I think that the best thing for Rod's message is to get it in front of people, so I'd love to explore film festivals as a route of reaching more audiences. We'd love to work with brands that are committed to spreading messages of sustainability. There are also so many interesting stories of craft that I would love to use this film as a springboard to explore -- some of the people that we met in the PNW make incredible things with their hands, which I think is a very appealing and cinematic topic.
Joe: We’d love to give this film as much opportunity to have a longevity and to get as good a platform for the messages in it.
If you could go back and make a longer film, what different areas would you explore?
Josh: So many things were left out of the final cut. Rod explained so many fascinating details about the issue that would simply have required a much longer film in order to have explained. The changing pH level of the soil, illegally spraying poison on the big leaf maple with drones, incentivising loggers to harvest wood responsibly... the list goes on.
Were we to have the resources we might have followed up with some of these leads and investigated some of the bigger industrial sawmills, Beyond that, I would jump at any opportunity to spend time in the wilderness of Oregon. It truly is a stunning part of the world.
Joe: Before we even began the trip, whilst still mapping it out together, we kept thinking how great a narrative this could be even in a fictional piece! Roadtrips are such a great way of telling stories and I think the idea of making one last trip before fatherhood would make a great feature film. Hopefully we’ll be able to go back to that part of the world soon and make something completely different to this documentary!