Filmmaking: A lesson in perseverance

It’s 5 o’clock in the evening, and I’ve been editing for six hours. I’ve watched an interview 15 times trying to dissect it and see how it can become a through-line throughout the film. I have five hours left to edit before I allow myself to sleep. My eyes ache, my head hurts, my tan has disappeared and all I want is to be back on the road living the adventure rather than trying to tell the story of it. Between the cat knocking over the external hard drive, the endless rendering and the feeling of inadequacy, I’m about ready to throw in the towel.

The Highway Walkers” was my first experience editing a feature length film. For 30 days, Josiah and I documented our hitchhiking trip from Iowa to Oregon. On average we filmed for 5 hours a day, which comes out to a minimum of 150-hours of video. That is six and a quarter days of footage! We were inexperienced and eager to film, but didn’t have the wisdom to know what footage was better off deleted on the road. This led me to sitting in front of the computer watching days and days of footage, the majority of which would never see light. We had a great resource in JJ Kelley of Dudes on Media who passed along insight about the filming process and who told us to have an idea of the story we wanted to tell. Little did we know how little we knew.

Darrell Johnston and Josiah Laubenstein hitchhike from Iowa to Oregon in the film, "The Highway Walkers"

Darrell Johnston and Josiah Laubenstein hitchhike from Iowa to Oregon in the film, “The Highway Walkers”

I would sit in front of the computer and become immediately intimidated by the mountain of material I had to trim down to 1:11 minutes. I had to learn to see the film in stages rather than in it’s entirety. I started breaking it down into chapters and beats and moments, chipping away at the mountain, shrinking it into a much more manageable and less intimidating size. The experience was pretty much a reiteration of everything I had learned in Sunday school, boy scouts and every other religious or goal oriented organization.

Not to get overtly spiritual, but there is something transcendental about seeing a project from start to finish. The book, ‘One Man’s Wilderness’ is a collection of journal entries collected from Dick Proenneke as he builds his cabin in the wilderness of Alaska from nothing but tools he made himself. He writes:

“I do think a man has missed a very deep feeling of satisfaction if he has never created or at least completed something with his own two hands. We have grown accustomed to work on pieces of things instead of wholes. It is a way of life with us now. The emphasis is on teamwork. I believe this trend bears much of the blame for the loss of pride in one’s work, the kind of pride the old craftsman felt when he started a job and finished it and stood back and admire it. How does a man on an assembly line feel any pride in the final product that rolls out at the other end?”


The experience of completing the project was laid out before me like a timeline. As I freelance as an actor as my day job, I was doing a fair amount of traveling in those 8 months of editing. I started in a cabin in northern Minnesota where I learned to see the film piece by piece, traveled to Wisconsin where I started to find the voice of the film. It was on the llama farm in Wisconsin that the pieces started to fit together with our new musical score. Then in New York City, Josiah and I learned how to let go. By the time I was in NYC the movie had been cut to 1:50 minutes and I had no idea how 39 minutes of footage was going to be removed. A friend of mine who works in the arts affectionately calls the process of editing your own work as ‘killing your babies’. NYC is where I learned how to kill my babies and trust that the story would still be told. In Olive Hill, TN is where the film had it’s first audience and where the first DVD was burned.

Spontaneous spelunking in Idaho. "The Highway Walkers"

Spontaneous spelunking in Idaho. “The Highway Walkers”

This timeline of locations and memories of toting external hard drives around the country are my scars and calluses that I will carry with me for future editing projects. They are my sense of completion and my link to the journey that is seeing a project through to the end.

All of this to say that while editing a film is no more toilsome that writing a novel, reading all of Shakespeare’s collected works, running everyday or completing a diet. It’s all about enjoying the journey of completion, of being able to look back over the timeline of the project and bask in the sense of accomplishment. I hope that as I grow in the field and have more projects and adventures that I become better skilled at articulating what it means to see a goal to completion. Best of luck to you whatever your journey may be.

What is West?

Two amigos on a National Geographic Expedition from San Diego to Cabo – one of the planet’s longest and most isolated peninsulas.

by Dudes on Media reposted from National Geographic Explorer’s Journal


It always starts with a crazy idea, doesn’t it? Let’s quit our jobs. Then say goodbye to the comforts of home finding new horizons to experience each passing day. It’s a common enough story, but the path chosen to achieve this might be the most interesting detail. The amount of self-inflicted hardship folded into the equation speaks volumes about the constitution of the traveler.

This is a borderline insane adventure by all accounts. Let’s start with the numbers: 1,000 miles down a remote peninsula, traveling a coastline until it ultimately gives way to the sea. That sounds manageable enough, perhaps like a vacation many might be pining to take. Now let’s get into the terrain: mostly desert, covered in cacti and inhabited by more poisons creatures than people. The language: not your own. The method: walk the first half then swap boots for a stand up paddle board going headon into an intolerant and often tempestuous sea.

Two amigos on a National Geographic Expedition from San Diego to Cabo – one of the planet’s longest and most isolated peninsulas.

Two amigos on a National Geographic Expedition from San Diego to Cabo – one of the planet’s longest and most isolated peninsulas. Photo by What is West

To track down the two unflappable individuals wild enough to attempt this extreme journey, I rent a car in Phoenix. Of course you never tell the rental agent that you’ll be taking their compact across 2,000 miles of undomesticated bush; it’s a secret they just don’t need to know. The long drive takes a little over 18-hours, a distance that has taken these two men 10-weeks to reach. Now, they’re half way to their goal.

Justin Deshields and Bryan Morales have selected this path of uncertainty. They wait for me the a dusty forgotten town of Mulegé, Mexico (though I doubt the town was ever known by that many). My lovely girlfriend and I will join the friends as they walk onto their stand up paddle boards for the first time. Up to this point they’d traveled by foot from San Diego, CA. We break into their hotel room after midnight, the friends are quick to wake. Grizzled and happy despite the intrusion, they cheerfully offer a celebratory sip of tequila.

Not only will this be their first time on new boards, it’s their first time trying the sport! Stand up paddle boarding or SUP as its commonly known is a rapidly growing pastime seeing the same commercial growth that sea kayaking witnessed about 10 years ago. Deshields and Morales will attempt to SUP 600-miles along a coastline known for its punishing winds. In a kayak you sit lower to the ground, reducing the drag, and maximizing any kind of gain in a strong headwind. When you’re logging SUP miles without much experience, wind is fatal to progress.

Feral dogs prove to be one of the greatest threats during a 600-mile walk down Baja California.

Feral dogs prove to be one of the greatest threats during a 600-mile walk down Baja California. Photo by What is West

Departing though this sleepy town at dawn, the men epitomize abnormality. Their glitzy boards offer a stark visual contrast to the muted pre-dawn streets. Smiles are exchanged by community members who are unaccustomed to such a site.

Ours is a shaky start. Everyone falls off their board as hours pass during a mounting wind storm. High pressure winds blow 30-knots and seas build to 8-feet. Each day is a battle endured with endless smiles. Evenings are spent cooking lobster on the fire and preparing chiviche with rationed limes (seafood the boys caught by hand). We see 100 pelicans for every person, and when the wind dies the warm air wraps around you like a favorite blanket. These are the insights between the hardships. The moments of bliss between the blisters.

Deshields and Morales expedition is sponsored by a grant from National Geographic. Above is a short video introducing the expedition. With Dudes on Media, the boys will produce a documentary film that will highlight the beauty and mystery of Baja. To follow along visit What is West and our website.

NEXTSuburbs to Shantytowns: 1,000-Mile Trek Down Baja Mexico

Justin Deshields and Bryan Morales feel the full force of a Norte wind, Stand Up Paddling the Baja Peninsula. Photo by Dudes on Media

Justin Deshields and Bryan Morales feel the full force of a Norte wind, Stand Up Paddling the Baja Peninsula. Photo by Dudes on Media

Indie filmmaking on TV? No way!

Dudes on Media producers JJ Kelley and Ben Gottfried join the set of PBS' Director's Cut.

The interview started with a casual statement. “The concentration of the river reaches a certain point where it becomes so inundated with fecal matter that it literally transforms into a river of poo; still I loved paddling on it.” It’s a statement so true and one that defines the mixed feelings I left with after traveling the full length of India’s River Ganges.

This week, myself and Go Ganges producer and editor, Ben Gottfried traveled to Madison, Wisconsin for an interview with PBS’ Director’s Cut. We had a chance to talk about the films being produced at Dudes on Media, and how our adventure films have grown side-by-side with professional careers in television production.

I’ve always thought it funny that a new music group can easily find an open mic night to present their work, but it’s not that easy for an indie filmmaker. The cost of booking a theater often falls on the filmmaker, and it’s rare that a network will have the huevos to try something outside of their market-reacher-tested comfort zone. If a network does take a chance on indie film, you can bet it will be airing at 2am on a Sunday night. So I’m extremely honored that some networks and programs value an independent voice. Thank you PBS for being weird (in a good way).

I thank Shiva that we have the internet for video distribution. Web based indie groups are now getting their content seen in a big way. Like the folks over at VICE who just surpassed 2-million subscribers on YouTube. While mainstream networks like CBS and Fox have less than a quarter of the number of online subscribers. As traditional TV broadcasting migrates fully to the web (and it will); the old network giants will have to get weird and flexible or they will go the way of the dinosaur.

The full 30-minute interview will air on Wisconsin PBS two times this summer: June 29, & July 26, at 10pm. Mark your calendars Wisconsin! These TV broadcasts will be the first for our latest adventure film; later this year it will also air nationwide on Outside Television.


Watch Adventure Documentary Exploring How To Hitchhike in America

Hitchhiking is a dying art. Preserved as a relic, the thought today inspires images of hobos walking dirt roads gleefully strumming their worn-out banjos. At Dudes on Media we live for this type of long distance adventure, one where you find yourself lost along the way and wondering why you departed in the fist place. For us, it’s always more about the journey than the destination. For that sole reason, we are proud to offer a free, limited-time, online-screening of the travel documentary Highway Walkers.

The film follows our two friends Josiah Laubenstein and Darrell Johnston as they take to the road, attempting to hitchhike their way from Iowa to Oregon. The two young men use the adventure to explore the roots of hitchiking in America. Through their travels, they hear firsthand why so many fear ride-bumming today.

These guys are fun and funny, and we think you’ll enjoy their film (embedded here on our website or on YouTube). Below are 5 tips to hitchhiking from the boys themselves. For even more advice on hitchhiking visit blog.

First things first. Every state has different regulations on hitchhiking. Make sure you do your homework before heading out. If you are approached by an officer of the law, be polite, positive and informed. Make sure you know your rights and the laws regarding hitchhiking. The best case scenario is you get a free ride across a border by a kind policeman.

Look clean and approachable
No one wants to pick up a shady looking character covered in hair and mud. Get a haircut, shave and shower before hitting the road. You have about 3 seconds to make a good impression on a passing car. Don’t blow it by wearing tattered clothes and a goatee. We found that playing an instrument made us look non-threatening. We used a ukulele and dulcimer but we’ve also heard that people with dogs have great success hitchhiking.

Wear bright colors
Your appearance is the only thing that will make someone pull over. Bright colors are regarded as less threatening and cheerful. Avoid camouflage and dark colors as these play into negative hitchhiking stereotypes.

Many people are going to pass you and glare. Many will be rude and insulting. Don’t let this get you down. Always be hopeful that a ride is coming soon and that maybe just maybe, that last car that passed noticed your cheerful demeanor and will turn around as soon as they can. A friendly wave never hurts.

Keep your bag in plain sight
Keeping your bag in plain sight shows that you a person with a plan and a destination. Without seeing your backpack people may think you are running away or reckless. I have hitchhiked many times without a pack but having one is certainly helpful.

Check out more work from Josiah and Darrell including their new film exploring manhood in America at

Highway Walkers Poster

Dudes in the Everglades

The American alligator is a rare success story of an endangered animal not only saved from extinction but now thriving.

On Sunday, April 7th, Florida will celebrate its first official “Everglades Day.” Established by the Florida Legislature, Everglades Day honors South Florida’s unique wetland ecosystem, the wild inhabitants who live there and all the passionate Floridians working to conserve this magical place. JJ traveled down to the Glades for a week to film the spots for PBS.

It was a week of sweat, mud, guano, more mud and salt water. I loved it.” Recounted JJ after returning home.

As a tribute, WLRN will run a month-long TV and radio series entitled, “Guardians of the Everglades” which will profile people from a variety of different backgrounds but who are bound by a common desire to save our state’s national treasure for future generations.

These Guardians include an energetic conservationist working with roseate spoonbills in Florida Bay, a worldly environmentalist with a passion for parks, a dedicated water expert focused on Everglades restoration projects and an airboat guide with a unique take on what makes the Everglades special.

The series was produced by our good friends at Everwild Media in association with Dudes on Media for WLRN Miami.

The American alligator is a rare success story of an endangered animal not only saved from extinction but now thriving.

The alligator is a rare success story of an endangered animal not only saved from extinction but now thriving.

Best Environmental Film!

"Go Ganges!" wins the Audience Award for Best Environmental Film at the Sedona Int'l Film Festival.

“Go Ganges!” wins the Audience Award for Best Environmental Film at the Sedona Int’l Film Festival.


It’s with great excitement that we at Dudes on Media announce the Audience Award for Best Environmental Film at the Sedona International Film Festival. This is the film’s 4th festival award for Go Ganges!, and we’re just starting to see it air on television as a result.

We’ve been delighted to see the film create buzz at environmental venues. In truth we never set out to create a green film and Go Ganges! really isn’t an issues documentary. At its base it’s an adventure travel film that takes viewers to an exotic place and does it rather unconventionally. The journey just happens to take place on perhaps the most polluted river in the world. This opens up the dialogue for water quality talks and over population discussions. And we couldn’t be happier with how this film is shaping our brand.

New Work from the Dudes

As some of our most fervent Dudes on Media fans know, Josh and JJ not only make adventure documentaries together like Go Ganges! & Paddle to Seattle, but they also work on television documentaries for Discovery and National Geographic. Josh just finished 3-months of production for season 10 of the Deadliest Catch. As a producer/shooter, Josh held the camera steady while he puked over the deck of many a crabbing vessel, and then, he puked again.

JJ has just finished a one-hour National Geographic documentary on the illicit ivory trade. Battle for the Elephants, a groundbreaking new special, explores the brutal slaughter of African elephants for their tusks, fueled largely by China’s demand for ivory. JJ was one of the film’s producers, and in addition to the national broadcast on PBS, JJ wrote, edited and even narrated a 4 part Web series exploring the supply and demand for elephant ivory. Elephant numbers are at the lowest level ever recorded, and exposing this tragedy is at the core mission of Dudes on Media. It has always been our goal to create programing that honors and explores the natural world.

Here is one of the episodes in the series. In this video, JJ follows investigative journalist and war corespondent, Aidan Hartley. Together they were the first to ever film Tanzania’s ivory stockpile, which is the largest cache of raw  ivory in the world. JJ held the camera and produced this piece in the field for National Geographic. So if this injustice calls to you or if you just miss JJ’s sultry voice, check out this video.

Go Ganges! wins Best Adventure Travel Film

Go Ganges! Wins Best Adventure Travel Film at the 2013 Reel Paddling Film Festival

PALMER RAPIDS, ON, FEBRUARY 15, 2013 – The 8th annual Reel Paddling Film Festival premiered Tuesday night at the Royal Cinema in Toronto, hosted by The Complete Paddler. The largest premiere audience in festival history was treated to the first screenings of this year’s award-winning films.

Go Ganges! wins the 2013 Best Adventure Travel Film

Go Ganges! Wins Best Adventure Travel Film at the 2013 Reel Paddling Film Festival