"You put a 35mm camera on their heads, and they whine," Dana Brown says. "It's like, 'Here, let me put a bowling ball on the other side for balance.'"
The heads to which Brown was referring belonged to riders and crewmen covering the Baja 1000—excuse me, Tecate SCORE Baja 1000. Brown's gone from the surf (for his most-excellent 2003 film Step Into Liquid) to the turf with Dust to Glory, which opens here Friday but got its Orange County premiere March 29 at the Lido Theatre in Newport Beach.
After a tubby guy wearing a too-tight checkered-flag shirt stretched across his belly and hugging the world's largest tub of popcorn finally found his seat in the front row, Newport Beach Film Festival (NBFF) CEO Gregg Schwenk welcomed the packed house, as this screening benefited this year's fest, which runs April 21-30. Schwenk noted that the Brown family has received much love from the NBFF: Dana's dad, Bruce Brown (TheEndless Summer, On Any Sunday), was honored at last year's festival, and entered this year is Islands in the Stream: A 16mm Surf Documentary, which Dana's son Wes co-directed.
Despite Brown's familiarity with locals (he grew up in Dana Point), he found the turnout for his $2 million film "overwhelming."
"I'd like to take all the credit, but I brought people with me," Brown said before introducing the film's "star" (and co-producer) Mike "Mouse" McCoy and co-producer/co-editor/Springsteen look-alike (at least in a darkened theater) Scott Waugh, who explained, "We wanted to show it to our community first."
Based on this crowd, you could peg that community as mostly male and about 37. As the movie played, the extremely few times that loud engines or music were not blaring from the speakers, you'd hear these manboys whooping, "YEAH!" and, "AHHHHH-OOOOOO!"—especially if the onscreen action involved vehicles bumping one another (which is apparently the universally agreed-upon signal for the slower driver in front to move over). It was really cute when DusttoGloryfollowed a team of wives, daughters and mothers of longtime Baja 1000 male racers; when they, too, bumped a buggy in front of theirs, females at the Lido unleashed their own "AHHHHH-OOOOOO!"
As the final credits rolled, McCoy, Waugh and Brown, clutching a copy of everyone's favorite OC alt. weekly (props to our product-placement department), took questions from the fans. Mouse—who'd just appeared onscreen riding the entire 1,016 miles alone on a motorcycle, the first ever to accomplish the feat—thanked the crowd for showing up at the Lido and Brown for showing up at Baja.
"He was just like the racers," McCoy said of Brown. "He kept going and going and going. He had the same spirit as racers."
Brown, modest, gave the props to his 90-man crew. "We had people we didn't even know were working for us," Brown said of those scraping mud off 55 cameras along the route, inside buggies, overhead in helicopters and, yes, even mounted to helmets. Shooting in 35mm, 16mm, direct video (DV) and mini-DV formats, most cameras wound up covered in silt. Brown got a $13,000 cleaning bill.
Many who'd run the race were in the audience, and the director apologized that his final cut did not include participants from every SCORE class. "I know a lot of you told your girlfriends that we shot you, and it's got to be disappointing not being in the movie," he said. He had 250 hours of footage to trim into a 90-minute film, something he and Waugh accomplished after a year of 20-hour days in postproduction.
Brown had been quite familiar with the Baja 1000, as his father filmed it in 1968 for ABC's Wide World of Sports, but experiencing the 2003 race gave him a whole new perspective.
"It's dangerous," he said. "Those guys are fast, and those crowds get close. It's that bullfighting mentality."
And the drivers: "You guys are crazy!"
He described Baja California, which he knows better from surfing than riding, as "magical."
"You can be up here and hear people talking about UFOs and think, 'There's no UFOs.' Go to Baja, and there's UFOs. It's a trippy place, and you don't have to travel very far to find it."
Despite his new role in promoting a race that's been criticized for destroying nature, Brown said he's proud of the contributions such legends as motorcyclist Malcolm Smith and auto racing's Parnelli Jones have made to the region after the Baja 1000 exposed them to it. Smith, as shown in the film, supports a local orphanage. Brown said he showed his film to Baja residents and officials to make sure they agreed he was respectful to their home.
That could have been cause for worry the first day he arrived for filming and Waugh mentioned, "I hope my streak gets broken." Turns out Waugh had been arrested during every previous visit to Baja. Yes, the streak was indeed broken.
McCoy also broke a streak, vowing, "No more solo ever again." As the film shows, riding a bike for 1,000 miles numbs your hands, makes you daffy and almost kills you just short of the finish line.
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Mouse started riding at age four, but as a teen, he got burned out and spent seven years off motorcycles. Asked what caused him to quit, he explained, "I had to get shit out of my system as a kid."
Brown interrupted him to point to a kid, a gentle reminder that this wasn't a PG-13 audience.
"Oh, shit," Mouse said sheepishly.
Brown was coy about his next film. He said he has an idea but doesn't want to expose it for fear of getting people involved excited, and then dropping those plans. "You have to fall in love with these things," he said. "My dad warned me, too: 'You don't want to do that for a living.'"