A Time-Lapse Video of the Night Sky Over Joshua Tree

A group of Los Angeles-based filmmakers decided to escape the city by spending an evening under the stars in the California desert, and Joshua Tree Journey: Part 2 (they hope to make this a series) is the result of that expedition. Gavin Heffernan talks about directing the video and why "timelapsing," shorthand for time-lapse photography, is a great side project for a professional filmmaker in an interview below. 

Production photos courtesy of Sunchaser Pictures

The Atlantic: What was the inspiration for this multi-part project?

Gavin Heffernan: The short answer is "to shoot something cool." I work as a writer and producer/director on narrative movies in Los Angeles, but timelapsing provides a great creative escape for me. I purchased the Canon EOS 7D camera primarily for its HD video functions but after reading some articles on timelapsing and watching clips on Vimeo, I gave it a try and quickly found myself addicted to the whole process. Because most of my Los Angeles work is the slow grinding stress of writing screenplays or producing/directing longer narrative projects, it's pretty easy to get creatively stifled after a while. I've found that timelapsing and other experimental projects sometimes provide a breath of fresh air from the bureaucracy -- as well as (in this case) a great excuse to get out of the city and be in nature. My team and I had been to Joshua Tree previously to shoot the first installment of Joshua Tree Journey and we were just blown away by the incredible peace and beauty of the place, as well as the lack of light pollution. It took us about two years to get back there for the next round, but fortunately, we got another beautiful night when we did.

What was the production process for this video like?

We use two cameras (one Canon EOD 7D with a EF-S18-135mm Zoom Lens 3.5 and a Canon EOS 5D Mk II with a Canon Prime 24mm f1.4 L-Series) two tripods and two intervalometers. All motion-control effects are done in post-production. We scan the skies for areas with the least amount of light pollution and regions of constellational interest, and then we set up and shoot. Exposures are usually between 20 and 30 seconds, so it often takes as long as two hours to get eight to ten seconds of footage. Once both cameras were set up at our Joshua Tree spot, my team and I built a fire at our nearby campsite and began drinking immediately. Passing time while shooting 'lapses is a big factor in the equation, so it's great to be able to share the night with friends and colleagues. My producers on these shoots are my former American Film Institute classmates and good buddies Michael Darrow, Ben Dally, and John Brookins (and sometimes my girlfriend Briana Nadeau, when she can tolerate it). The awesome music on the project was created by another collaborator and friend, Adam Jeremy Williams, formerly of Powerman 5000.

What's next for you?

On the timelapsing front, we want to build on the terrific reception to Joshua Tree Journey: Part 2 and go much bigger, with trips planned to some of California's most beautiful locations. We're definitely looking to ascend to higher elevations to get beyond any atmospheric interference that might obscure the intricacies of the Milky Way. Seeing some of the awe-inspiring time-lapse work of Randy Halverson and Terje Sorgjerd both shames us and inspires us to work harder and strive to reach new heights. As for my narrative work, I recently finished working as a producer on an adaptation of a Stephen King story called One for the Road, as well as a co-producer and editor on the horror anthology Chillerama. Next up is Fraudster, a feature film about a Nigerian credit card thief, and another larger horror project that I can't yet say anything about!

For more videos from Sunchaser Pictures, visit www.SunchaserPictures.com or their Vimeo channel. For updates, follow Gavin Heffernan on Twitter

Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.

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