Burning Man documentary finds success and Leo nominations

I had the pleasure of interviewing Leo nominees Joel Ashton McCarthy and Bryant H. Boesen, the co-directors, producers, and editors of Taking My Parents to Burning Man. Bryant, who along with his parents were the stars of the movie, says the experience was spontaneous, dusty, and emotional. They were nominated for Best Feature Length Documentary Program, Best Direction in a Documentary Program, Best Picture Editing, Best Sound Editing (by Robert Phaneuf).

Joel and Bryant were classmates at Vancouver Film School and used to team up to make stoner comedy movies. Joel noted that they are “very different people, but are drawn together because of their creative nature.” Of course, being on the same artistic wavelength enabled them to work on 10 different projects together during their time at VFS.

Bryant was adamant that the movie should be called Burning Boundaries, an idea that Joel was vehemently against, even going to the extent that he would only do the movie if the title was changed. Bryant said that the was a ‘passion project’ in which he wanted to take the values and mindset of Burning Man and show them to the world.

When his parents told him that they were planning to go to Burning Man, he was ecstatic and wanted to capture the experience through their eyes. At first, Bryant’s parents said to him, “we are not gonna be in your dumb reality show,” but they soon realized that since they were going anyways it would be great to support their son’s project.

Joel and Bryant had been out of school for only two months when they decided to take this on with no financial resources and a crew of eight people, including Bryant and his parents.

They started shooting in the summer of 2012 and took over year and a half to edit, which paid off when the film premiered in California in April 2014. When the film was nominated alongside other feature documentaries that had bigger budgets, they instantly became the underdogs.

After selling out their first eleven consecutive screenings, the film won the Audience Choice Award for Best Documentary at both the 2014 Sonoma International Film Festival and the 2014 Newport Beach Film Festival. Two kids that spent $10,000 competing with films whose budgets were exponentially bigger goes to show what eager film students can achieve when they put their minds to it.

Of course, a project like this does not come without its challenges. Joel said that the biggest shock was the weather, as 2012 was the dustiest year in Burning Man’s history; the two were afraid that all the expensive cameras were going to be destroyed with dust. After surviving their personal Mad Max environment, the second challenge was recording audio in windy conditions.

Bryant also shared a couple other obstacles that arose before even beginning the film. A week before Burning Man, his mom broke her ankle but, lukily, was able to pull through. A friend who was supposed to lend them an RV bailed on them and they were forced to find another means of transportation. They ended up with the beautiful green school bus that is featured in the film.

For Bryant, not much writing was required because Burning Man has a story arc of its own. All they needed was a rolling camera and attentiveness to spontaneity. Joel said that their film offers the audience an idea of how big Burning Man is, and how inclusive its community is.

When his documentary course instructor asked how things were going, Bryant replied that everything was falling apart. The instructor asked quickly whether they were filming it. When a nervous Bryant replied with a “yeah,” the instructor affirmed enthusiastically: “Great, that’s your movie.”

Taking My Parents to Burning Man will be showing at the Rio Theatre July 12 to 15, leading up to their theatrical release on iTunes July 17.