The main challenge of this project was the lack of visual material. There was no footage at all from Robyn Davidson’s journey across the Australian desert. We had Rick Smolan’s images from the trip, but not nearly enough to cover the entire story of the trek.
Additionally, the material that we did have was visually incongruous, meaning it was mixed in terms of visual style, aspect ratio, resolution, etc. We needed the film to flow visually, so as not to distract the audience from the story.
Another obstacle was that since Robyn is based out of Australia, we were unable to interview her for the project. She was the driving force behind the journey and we felt it was crucial to include her perspective and reflections on the trek.
The last major challenge was that Rick had numerous smaller stories within the overarching narrative of the journey. Many of the stories were captivating in their own right but did not fit within the main storyline of the trip and Rick and Robyn’s growth along the way.
In lieu of footage from the actual trek, we used footage from Tracks, the film inspired by Robyn’s trip and Rick’s images. Many of the scenes were based on actual occurrences and we were able to illustrate Rick and Robyn’s memories using this footage. Coming from a journalism background, we wanted to be completely transparent with our use of fictional material so we included title cards about the film and the actors portraying Robyn and Rick.
Unable to interview Robyn for the project, we contacted another media company who had previously interviewed her and asked for permission to use their footage. We were unsure what the interview contained, but it turned out to have several useful clips and plenty of parallels to the interview we conducted with Rick.
However this of course led to the visually-mixed nature of our materials. We had Rick’s photographs from the trek, shot on 35mm slide film, Robyn’s interview with Open Road Media, shot at 1080p against a window, our interview with Rick, shot at 2K against a black backdrop, and the motion picture shot on anamorphic film. Our solution was to color correct the interviews to match each other as much as possible and to crop or letterbox the images and film footage. We matched the photographs with the corresponding film footage, to highlight the connection between the actual journey and the fictional interpretation.
Finally, instead of including every bit of interesting information into the feature video, we took all the smaller stories about the trip and edited them into separate short and simple pieces. We added these videos to the playlist to provide additional information about Rick and Robyn’s relationship, their lives before and after the trek, Rick’s reaction to the fiction film, and other memories from the trip. In doing so, we were able to keep all the background information without crowding the main feature.
The film will be screened at the Annenberg Space for Photography along with an interactive exhibit of Rick Smolan’s images from the journey. It will also be used to promote Rick’s crowd-funding publication of his new book Inside Tracks.
Rick Smolan is a renowned photojournalist and publisher of the best-selling Day in the Life photography book series. He was a consultant on the major motion picture Tracks, inspired by his images and Robyn’s journey across the Australian Outback. He recently self-published the book Inside Tracks, combining his images, Robyn’s words, and scenes from Tracks the motion picture.