Life is too short. It’s an underlying theme that pops up in almost all of acclaimed action-sports filmmaker Dana Brown’s work, and something that shines through like a laser beam in just a little over 8 minutes in his latest project, Lost and Found: Baja, a short subject film produced by high-end cooler manufacturer Yeti Coolers. In other words, if you are a motorcycle rider, Baja should be on your bucket list.
Lost and Found: Baja captures the experience of four friends who embark on a trip down the Baja California Peninsula in search of a good time. For this film Brown would track the exploits of his On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter star Carlin Dunne – a modern-day Malcolm Smith in his own right, as Dunne headed to Cabo San Lucas with buddies Marcus Boyle, Mike Claytor and Baja 1000 veteran Mark Daniels. Boyle and Claytor had never ridden Baja prior to the making of the film.
Telling their story was the perfect opportunity for the 55-year-old Brown, who was in the process of putting together a promotional film deal with Yeti. He already had plenty of experience filming in Baja; his 2005 epic, Dust to Glory, a film that has become legendary in the motorsports action genre, tells the story of the legendary SCORE Baja 1000 off-road race. While Brown knew he wouldn’t have the colorful drama of the race as the backdrop, he was confident that he could still capture the essence of Baja, as he sees it, for Yeti.
“Yeti is producing these things, and they are doing one a week,” Brown said. “Apparently they liked Dust to Glory a lot, so they asked me to do something with them. I called Carlin about it, and he had plans to go down there anyway, so we just kind of tagged along. That’s how it all started.”
What followed was a seven-day, 1000-mile journey that, Brown hoped, would capture the vibe of Dust to Glory, although he knew he would have to accomplish it in a time frame more suited to a rock video than a full-length feature film.
“I’ve always been interested in doing a shorter format film because I knew it would be a real challenge, but it’s no different than any other project where the same question always has to be answered, ‘Who’s gonna pay for this?'” Brown said with a chuckle. “Now that it’s over, I feel privileged to have done it, and I hope to do more of them. I think you could make a zillion movies about a zillion different things in Baja. It is such a huge canvas.”
Brown said that he and his team spent the first day of filming just criss-crossing the Baja Peninsula, capturing overhead shots of the riders via helicopter. And, almost as if on cue, Dunne was involved in a scary-looking crash that could easily have ended the project before it really got started. Fortunately, he was not injured.
“We have two big crashes in just 8 minutes of movie length – that never happens because you almost never capture them as they happen,” Brown said. “It’s great when you can get something like that on film, but it’s even better when you can get something like that and the person gets right back up and isn’t hurt. After all, these guys become your friends.”
In today’s adrenaline-junkie culture, crash footage is almost obligatory, but it is the rest of Lost and Found: Baja that sets it apart. For starters, it seems far longer than its actual running length. Not only are the photography and editing up to Brown’s typically excellent standards, but it is his own signature style of free-form narration – and specifically the color and depth of his voice – that adds perspective to the images flashing by on the screen.
Just like his father, Bruce Brown of The Endless Summer and On Any Sunday fame, Dana Brown is a master storyteller, a real chip off the ol’ block. It is his soulful character that provides a stark contrast between Lost and Found: Baja and the myriad wam-bam-thank-you-ma’am action-sports videos that appear on YouTube and Vimeo.
Brown is always quick to deflect praise to his crew. “I had the right people,” he said, summing it up succinctly. This time, that talented group included his long-time Director of Photography Kevin Ward, award-winning cameraman Jimmy Lee Cook, camera assistant John Tipich, Mark Collins, Mike Slattery, Brown’s sister Nancie Brown, sound engineer Jim Lakin and driver/production assistant Craig Heihn.
“We had a real tactical advantage with Kevin, for instance, who rode with the guys every day to film them and make sure their GoPros were always working,” Brown said. “Those sound like small details, but they’re critical to how the project turned out. After editing six days of film. We ended up with a rough cut that was somewhere around 25 minutes long, and we had to fit that into 8 minutes.”
Lost and Found: Baja covers a lot of ground, both literally and figuratively, with its action scenes interspersed with footage of traditional Baja California landmarks, some of which Brown himself witnessed for the very first time.
“The mission in San Ignacio was really amazing,” he said. “I had never spent any time there, and it is just stunningly beautiful. Also, we had a lot of fun swimming in the Bay of LA, and spending time in the mountains and on the dry lakebed.
“But overall, I think what was great was just the vibe we had going,” he added. “I’ve been on other projects where things can get really tense. On this one we did a lot of smiling and laughing the whole time.”
And Brown hopes to be able to capture more good-time adventures for Yeti in the future.
“We have four or five ideas we are talking about with them,” Brown said. “Their main focus is still the hunting and fishing lifestyle that is found more in the southeastern United States. This was really their first time venturing West, and we hope to do even more from this region with them, incorporating surfing, sailing and other ideas. What I really like about their approach is that, yes, it is a Yeti film, but you don’t see a bunch of blatant product placement in there. I really appreciate that, and I am proud to have my name on it.
Of course, Brown hopes that people will enjoy Lost and Found: Baja and consider Yeti the next time they are in need of a beverage cooler, but he added that the film’s main theme is far more noble.
“It’s this: Instead of sitting around and complaining, go do something,” Brown said. “That’s the underlying point. You can have adventures in life and they don’t have to kill you. Sometimes I have a hard time putting that into words.”
Watch Lost and Found: Baja. You’ll get it.