It was the summer of 2014 when Scott Burton, an ultra marathoner, contacted me about his plan for a unique ultra run to take place in Winnipeg the next year. An ultramarathon is where runners will go for 12-, 15-, 24-hour-long runs, sometimes more.
I have known Scott for a few years, and he appeared in a documentary I did about magic sometime back called Pick a Card Any Card, the Art and History of Magic in Winnipeg.
Manitoba, the province of which Winnipeg is the capital, has a unique position of being known as a Slurpee capital of the world. I don’t know what it is that makes Manitobans love Slurpees so much — we have a short, humid summer and a long, cold winter — but yet, per capita, we consume more Slurpees than anywhere else in the world. Due to that distinction, July 11, which is 7-Eleven’s birthday, Manitoba gets free Slurpees at every 7-Eleven for the day.
Scott told me that for the past few years, he has been doing long runs with a few friends to various 7-Eleven’s in the city and getting their free Slurpees, and he had worked his way up to 20 or more stores. But this year was going to be different; this year he was going all in.
He was planning to run to all 45 7-Eleven stores in Winnipeg and see how many people would want to join him. He estimated it would take around 24 hours; that’s 24 hours of constant running, stopping only to use the bathroom and get the occasional Slurpee.
I wrote up the treatment and pitched it to Manitoba Telecom Services’ Stories from Home, which is a collection of original, made-in-Manitoba programming available exclusively to MTS TV subscribers. They liked the idea, and we were a go!
An important aspect of this project was working with 7-Eleven on obtaining the necessary permissions to not only shoot in their stores but to have their branding and trademarks all over the project. It was unavoidable; without their permission, this project couldn’t happen. We negotiated for about two months, and we got the go-ahead to shoot and use their trademarks in the project and the title of the film; they received no compensation for its use other than wanting to publicize the documentary on their own media outlets once the exclusivity with MTS was over. Sounds like a fair deal to me!
When the time came, our crew call was 11 p.m., with the runners starting at 12 a.m. Over the course of the next 22 hours, more than 50 runners joined and left the run at various times, with only three, including Scott, running the whole 71.1-mile course. Temperatures reached 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) with the humidex; one runner passed out from dehydration, and many more dropped out early due to the heat. It was a long, grueling day not only for the runners, but also for the production crew and support people following them. At the end of it, we had a lot of footage and a great story to tell. A month after that original run, the runner that passed out, Ray Jones, decided he wanted to finish the course and run the last 12 stores that he missed. So a bunch of the runners plus the documentary crew decided to do it again! It was quite a nice twist to the story that made the documentary a lot more interesting.
We had an EX3 camera, a DSLR camera and a few go pros mounted inside the support crew van and on my bike so I could ride along some of the hard to reach trails the runners were going down. Added to that was footage we got from the runners and their friends themselves that they shot on their phones. Their footage became important because it puts you more into the story about what the runners were experiencing by seeing the things from their perspective.
We followed the runners in a van, sometimes being behind them and sometimes getting ahead of them to get the shots we wanted. They moved fast! There was very little downtown if any. Over the course of the shoot, we had two crew changes of camera operator, sound operator and driver, other than me and my production coordinator who stayed on for the whole duration.
I was the director, producer, writer and co-editor. I even shot a bunch of footage of Slurpees to go in between scenes. I took the transcriptions of the interviews I did with the main runners and created the story from there, and then the other editor, Brandon Pretty, helped me find those good on-the-fly interview clips from the day of the run, which made a huge difference in making the story come more alive.
We were both cutting on Avid; I dumped all of my footage onto a portable hard drive, and Brandon copied it to his system. After I sent him the script, he assembled the rough cut and sent me the bins for me to review. We would use Dropbox to send bins back-and-forth. A few times I shot new footage or had to send bins with music, and we would use Dropbox to exchange that as well. Once the rough cut was approved by MTS, then we went into fine-cut mode; this is a three-act documentary, and we would take turns refining and tweaking those acts and sending bins back and forth as we took turns on each act.
Finally, once the fine cut was approved, I took over and made all of the final little tweaks to lock it. Then it was sent off to a post house for the audio mix and color correction.
As far as collaboration goes, this is a great way to work. I like to have another set of eyes on my material, and having another editor working this way made it really easy.
In the last few years, I have spent more time as a videographer and producer, but there is nothing like the thrill of pulling an all-night, 16-hour edit session to get something just right, to go through and pick everything apart until it’s just the way you want it.
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