Ah the illustrious world of buffalo racing. The pageantry. The jockeys with their sponsored banners and uniforms. All the pomp and circumstance that rivals even the Kentucky Derby.
Nah. Just kidding.
Buffalo Racing it turns out is about as country as you can get. It’s a mixture between drag racing and rodeo if stock cars had horns and we’re extremely pissed off. What I found personally interesting was the way Thai people from the city view Buffalo Racing. They think it’s backwater, hillbilly stuff. And to their credit, it is. Most of the actors in the film are from Bangkok, and they not only talk different then the locals here, but are noticeably whiter and very much on purpose. They cover themselves completely when they are not on camera. Then, they add a large amount of whitening to their already white skin. While westerners long for the bronzed skin that comes with a healthy tan, here it is anything but wanted. “White is right” said one of the kids on set, which sounded very, very strange to my ear. (on a side note, there is such a thing as “Nazi Chic” in Thailand that kinda blew my mind. I thought Juicy Couture sweatpants was the abomination of my fashion world… this definitely takes the cake.)
So this world is absolutely bizarro which makes it fantastically interesting. The buffalo are huge beasts that go extremely fast. Imagine a half ton of muscle and horn flying down a slippery mud runway at 30 mph… with you on the its back. What’s more is that it’s usually kids that race. They sit on the very back of the beast, hold on to a thin rope that is looped through the animal’s nose, and whip the shit out of them as they fly 100 yards toward a finish line. It’s not so much racing as controlled disaster. It’s riveting.
To stop the animal they… don’t. They simply jump off. That should give you an idea of what kinda control they have. Basically they run into a large body of water which slows them down, and then two dudes put their hands up and hope they stop.
They are beautiful animals. Before seeing them Joel the director had said how amazed he was with them, how much more expressive they were then other animals, say a dog or horse. They have these eyes, and can totally emote through them. You can see when they are happy, hungry, playful, or pissed off. It really is impressive. They owners love them as well and treat them like part of the family. They constantly bathe them. Constantly. It is amazing to watch the animal squint in pleasure as cool water is poured on him in the hot sun.
Oh yeah. It’s friggin’ hot. Really hot. Like 100 degrees hot. The palms of my hands got sunburnt. Luckily production was ready for it, and even had a bottle with my name on it ready to go at all times.
As for the production team, wow. I’ve never seen guys work so hard. They were amazing, rocking and rolling, making it happen. They set up dolly track in minutes, hardly ever was a word even spoken. Shooting on a RED as well in this heat could have been an issue, but not for these champs. None of the “not my job” attitude here; if it had to be done, it got done, regardless if you were the DP or an PA. It was a pleasure working with them.
I love sets like these. This is what I consider real filmmaking. The reason I got into filmmaking was because I get so bored doing just one task. I love the variety, the combination of talent it takes to make something really fuse together. So when I was asked to put down the drone and step in as the buffalo I was honored.
Considering how hot it was, how much there was to shoot, and the fact that we weren’t using set animals, the day went off without a hitch. Lotsa people came down to watch; there was even a sorta tailgate culture where young guys would bring out their freshly washed supped up kit cars with homemade spoilers to impress local girls. Lotsa food trucks and drinking as well, along with your lively betting under the stands.
Hired as an aerial cinematographer I had my work cut out for me. These muscle rockets were fast, unpredictable, and on the whole, did not like the wasp-like whine of my drone. That being said I think it’s been one of my favorite things I’ve shot to date. Flying and shooting with a drone can be a lot of fun; it excels at landscapes and cityscapes, and for the most part anyone can make such scenes look amazing with the right gear and experience. Moving objects, and more specifically, large running animals in a race with small humans on their back was definitely more of a challenge, and one that was ultimately more rewarding then chasing a car or flying over a ridge of a mountain. To watch in slow motion as you track along side of them careening into a lake of sunlit painted water was quite a nice moment. It’s times like these I wish I charged more.