What was your filmmaking background before you made The Hitchhiking Movie?
PHILLIP: The Hitchhiking Movie is my first feature-length film project. I graduated with a degree in Communications from Southern Adventist University, but had always wanted to work on a large project of my own instead of just doing smaller commercial video production. An amateur filmmaker from New York reminded me the best way to learn is to go out there and make something.
Where did the idea come from?
PHILLIP: I met Ryan Jeanes in Texas who is the host & main protagonist for this real-life adventure. We were talking at a bar in South Padre Island and began swapping stories about some personal hitchhiking experiences.
Ryan was the first to vocalize the idea for the hitchhiking storyline, and it was a great match because I had the necessary video knowledge and he had on-camera experience from acting and television commercial work. It also seemed like a great first project because it's the kind of story that wouldn't be too expensive to personally finance. Just three months later, we met up again and hit the road to begin shooting.
How did you think the trip would go compared to how it actually went?
PHILLIP: Hitchhiking is an inherently unpredictable form of travel but in order to make a stronger plot for the story, we created an artificial deadline of just seven days to complete the trip by purchasing two return plane tickets from Los Angeles.
I had previously hitchhiked from Little Rock to Los Angeles in the fall of 2006, and Ryan had several shorter hitchhiking trips of his own. We were not positive how long it would take to travel the nearly 2300-mile route, but seven days seemed short enough to give us a real challenge.
I originally suspected we might have some serious police encounters or even possibly be arrested during the trip due to the dubious legal status of hitchhiking in several states. However, in general the police didn't bother us much and there was only one who suggested he would arrest us. Near the end, there were some genuine doubts as to whether we would make it to Los Angeles or end up stuck in the desert without a ride home. You'll see which of those happens when you watch the movie.
What sort of camera did you use? What was good about it? What was not so good?
PHILLIP: Originally, we were going to use my Sony HC1 camcorder, which was then stolen prior to the journey. A second JVC DV failed the night before we were to leave from New York City and therefore we ended up with an inexpensive Canon DV camera purchased on-location at B&H's New York superstore.
The decision to use a cheaper camera was made in order to save on initial cost while also reducing our loses should we experience another theft during the journey.
Fortunately, we didn't experience any situation where our gear was in any danger. The cheap Canon camera turned out to work well for our purposes and was unobtrusive enough as to not distract our subjects while taping. Some people freeze up when they are too conscious of a camera in their face, so its small size helped us get material we would probably not have gotten with a larger camera. Its primary downsides were a complete lack of manual controls, which is common for video equipment at this price point.
How long did it take you to edit the movie and how did it change during the editing process?
PHILLIP: Because we didn't start with a script, the creation of the story took place in the editing room.
Ryan and I sat down and watched the nearly 15 hours of raw footage and discussed what parts would be most interesting. We worked together for several weeks to create the initial rough cut before he returned to Texas.
Some of the characters initially had much more screen time in the early cuts of the film. One in particular was a Native American truck driver who had some very interesting perspectives about the world. We initially included nearly 15 minutes of him in the film only to cut most of it out later as it wasn't necessary to really capture the essence of who he was.
Like many video projects, the editing process took far longer than expected. The original estimate of six months turned into 18 months with much of the delay due to having other full-time work. The final six months was mostly delays in getting proper licensing for all the music we had used. Originally, we had temporary scored scenes to popular music, which couldn't be used in the final DVD so all of had to be replaced with other songs, which required some scenes to be slightly re-edited. A few artists, however, did allow us to use their original songs in the final cut so there is some really quality music included as well.
And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you can take to other projects?
PHILLIP: This entire project was a learning experience being that it was my first film. The biggest learning experiences were in the storytelling element of it.
Because I was present when all the material was originally taped, early on I made some assumptions that the audience would understand certain things I believed were implied. However, after several test screenings of the movie, we had to simplify elements of the story so there wouldn't be any future confusion. With the character of Sarah, for example, we originally had a long explanation of the death of her first husband. It turned out to be too difficult of a story to communicate in the short amount of time we had; so, though it was compelling, we had to drop it.