From the desk of Sady Callaghan: Tips for Producing in the Wild, Wild West

I have worked with Sady Callaghan for years on a variety of productions and she has never let down any of our photographers or our clients.  She is unflappable, professional and a fun person to have on set.   I love that when someone throws us a curve ball, Sady is always the voice of reason and has the perfect solution.

So it was no wonder when Mother Nature sent a dust storm her way she steered the production in a way that got the shot AND came in under budget.  Only Sady.

When I asked her to share her story, here is what she had to say about it.

“When Andy Anderson called me to produce The Richard Group’s new campaign for RAM trucks, I was thrilled.  The idea of shooting in the Wild West was really exciting to me; especially because of the locations.

Of course, there was a quick turn around – isn’t everything nowadays?   We needed to find 6 very complicated locations in very remote areas.  So, knowing that the back bone of a good photo shoot is good scouting,  we hired the best.  We called Joe Wolek and Steven Currie, shared the vision with them and told them to “just find it.”  To do so, they drove thousands of miles through Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.  They of course found amazing locations.

Well, as we all know, an amazing location doesn’t guarantee great weather.  The closer we got to shooting the more worried we became about the elements.  Parts of Colorado were still covered in snow and a lot of other areas were still in spring mode: no trees and no greenery.  Challenging but doable.

What we were not prepared for was the DUST. I have called a few weather days in my time for the usual suspects; storms, rain, fog and snow, but that was the first time that we had to call a weather day for 80 mph winds.

The first day of our shoot there were 60 mph hour winds.   Andy wanted to power through and  simply said,  “We can do it.”  We bought shovels, protective coverings for the equipment and outfitted everyone in goggles and hankerchiefs to cover their faces.  The crew braved the elements and after digging a couple of people out of the sand and waiting patiently for breaks in the storm. We got our shot.  It was great day for a shower.

We were not as lucky on the second day.  The wind was so ferocious and the sand so painful that we could barely leave the hotel.  It was just too dangerous to shoot so we called a weather day.

Even though it was a no brainer to postpone the day, we were sensitive to the fact that weather days are expensive and the client was worried.  So, Andy and I devised a new plan.  We rearranged the entire schedule; including talent and locations, so that we could still finish on time.   It was no small feat, but it was worth it.  In doing so we were able to get all the shots AND still come in under budget. 

Needless to say, everyone was happy and went home with some great stories from the desert.

So, if you are considering shooting in the Wild West anytime soon, consider these inside tips.

1. Stalk your location owners.  Be creative and resourceful.  Many people do not expect a scout to call them and will have no idea what you are talking about.  In one instance, we hired someone to stake out a house night and day to get permission to shoot.  In another, I called seven different levels of management to get approvals for a fertilizer plant. They were puzzled as to why we wanted to shoot there!

2. Call the Navajo Film Commission every three hours.  There is no sense of urgency in the desert.

3. Bring lots of cash.  You don’t know who you are going to have to pay.  Our scout warned us that different Navajo families owned different parts of the land.  I had a couple of families in the motor home every day – and they would only take cash!

4. Hire a great stylist.  Sourcing things in the wild west is very difficult.  We brought along Colleen Hartman and she managed to pull 2000 lbs of railroad ties, antique barrels, sheet rock and large machinery out of her magic bag of tricks.

5. Hire a great local guide.  The Navajo Nation requires productions to have a guide with them at all times.   Sisco was our street scout and our secret weapon.  He told us where to buy beer in a dry state and he dug our assistant out of sand storm.  His brother was our caterer.  We kept it all in the family.

6.  Be prepared for anything.  There are lots of surprises out there.  That’s what make our job so much fun.

7.  Appreciate your crew and your client.  We had a fantastic team on this shoot – and could not have pulled this off it we didn’t all work together as a team.  Everyone from the PA to the client were crucial to making it all happen smoothly.

To learn more about Sady’s production magic, visit her website.

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