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Blue Chalk Media

Blue Chalk Media is a Portland based production company widely recognized for its signature cinematic nonfiction storytelling style and authentic expression of the human experience. Producer Kenzie Bruce & Director of Photography Chris Janjic take us behind the scenes of their latest production where they put the Sachtler aktiv 10T flowtech system and Anton/Bauer Dionic batteries to the ultimate test where speed and safety was critical.

Resisting Inferno.

California’s wildfires, intensified by dry conditions, strong winds, and a changing climate, are well-known for their destructive impact. They pose a significant threat to lives, homes, and ecosystems, underscoring the urgency of addressing and mitigating these challenges.

“Firebreak”, a remarkable new documentary in development by Blue Chalk Media delves into the lives of formerly incarcerated firefighters in California. At its heart are two extraordinary individuals, Brandon and Royal, who discovered their passion for firefighting. The story unfolds as they work to create their own fire department comprised of other formerly incarcerated individuals.

Overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds, they secured employment in a field that once seemed unattainable. Their impact has been nothing short of awe-inspiring, with employment of 175 individuals realizing their dreams of becoming firefighters and thousands more touched by the ripple effect of their actions.

Kenzie Bruce, Director and Producer on the film and co-Creative Director at Blue Chalk Media explains how the documentary started “ I read an article about this group, the Forestry and Fire Recruitment Programs (FFRP). It was just a couple sentences saying what this group is doing, it stopped me in my tracks.

These are incredible people and it’s such a powerful story; we approached them, and they were receptive and understood the power of documentary storytelling, they've been amazing collaborators.

Kenzie BruceBlue Chalk Media

Blue Chalk Media have had the privilege of documenting every step of this extraordinary journey, bearing witness to the birth of a fire department that stands as a testament to human resilience, second chances, and the transformative power of mentorship.

Need for speed.

The production environment brought about different challenges; Firebreak’s Director of Photography/ Producer and Freelance Cinematographer Chris Janjic explains the crews need for speed “We were moving around a lot, the fire team hike miles at a time. The main question for us was how do we keep up with them? And how do we stay nimble? From a safety standpoint, there were situations where we were around what they call ‘murder trees’, trees whose structural integrity cannot be determined because a fire has come through and burned the area where they stand. Situations where we had to take our packs off and only have limited gear with us. We needed to be able to run in a split second if a tree started to fall.”

When it comes to speed, there was only one camera support option for his Canon C500. He explains “I’d used a Sachtler flowtech for a couple of years leading up to this project and it’s have become my standard. Now I need flowtech legs on every shoot, especially if I’m working by myself. They’re so fast, light, and easy to work with as a single operator and when you add the aktiv 10T head it’s taken it to another level. I can set the legs quickly and instead of having to reach underneath for the tie down and with speed-levelling it’s now quicker to level the head. To be able to start shooting immediately is great.

In a lot of the work that we do, every second counts, you never want to miss moments as they're happening naturally.

Chris JanjicBlue Chalk Media
Chris Janjic Blue Chalk Media with his Sachtler aktiv flowtech setup in the woods

With safety foremost of the crew’s mind, the aktiv flowtech combination enabled them to stay light, deploy, level, and operate at speed. Chris explains “In this project, the aktiv head on flowtech legs was a natural choice when we were going to using a tripod in the field. I didn’t want to miss moments but also, an important safety aspect, the faster that I’m able to work the safer that I can be, I can get in and out of situations quickly.”

Every detail matters.

The production was helped by varying angles taken on location, Chris explains how aktiv flowtech’s flexibility in go flat to the floor helped him get new angles and perspectives “I like to vary my camera angle a lot and like to take the flowtech aktiv system flat to the floor. During the controlled burn, we were able to use the system in calmer situations where we got steadier master shots. The flat to the floor feature is awesome in being able to vary up my camera heights. Not having the tie down, underneath is helpful too as there’s nothing to get in the way when you’re trying to manoeuvre into a position if there’s a rock or tree stump.”

Sachtler aktiv flowtech being used flat to the floor

The illuminated prism bubble on the aktiv heads provides operators with the opportunity to maintain a steady perspective even when working in low-light. Chris explains “It goes a long way when filming in dark, especially when you don’t have to turn on your headlamp or fumble around for a flashlight around your camera. Being able to keep your eyes adjusted to the dark and have that readily accessible is helpful.”

Power in remote locations was also a challenge for the crew. Chris explains “When you are a couple of hours away from your vehicle having batteries to depend on was critical, having enough of them to be able to keep your equipment powered was important to me. Anton/Bauer Dionic batteries where we’re critical components in keeping cameras, audio equipment and our phones powered up.”

Shoulder rig, Canon C500 and Anton Bauer Dionic battery.

During the production, every second counted, there was no room for compromising on gear. The same could be said for the monitor, which the crew used to make sure they captured the action. Chris explains why having a quality monitor is critical “Our Small HD 503 Ultra-Bright was my robust workhorse monitor. Being able to navigate the menu with physical buttons while wearing glove and having it bright enough to work in an active fire was critical for me. The five-inch monitor feels like robust, and its light which was awesome.

The fire within.

For Chris, there was only one brand that could support him through this powerful documentary process, he explains “Knowing that you can depend on something to last through heavy intense use is critical. Once I transitioned to Sachtler it became apparent to me it’s more efficient and it’s just going to last. I don’t have to think about taking backups or having to sacrifice extra time in the day to try to repair something myself. I know that when I take it out of the bag and set it up that it’s going to be ready to go.”

The Fire Fighters from the Orange Line documentary

The Forestry and Fire Recruitment Programs (FFRP) crew. 

What makes ‘Firebreak’ captivating is Brandon and Royal’s establishment of their own fire department—a dream that took shape over the past few years. Their passion, commitment and dedication to the project which continues to help the lives of thousands and writes a new chapter in their life stories of pushing the envelope, brotherhood, and the power of second chances.

Brandon and Royal
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