Shy’s Hill – Season 3 Recap

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Season recaps are always a way to thank everyone for the their support and work over the past few months. This season was no exception with friends coming to assist for a majority of the episodes. Elizabeth, Brian, Scott, Dawn, Olivia, Jessica, Eric, and Brett you all rock! Thank you!

I’ve always enjoyed visiting Shy’s Hill; it is only a few miles from my house tucked away in the Green Hills community. It is interesting to have such a key piece of Civil War history so close. During the planning phase for season 3 Shy’s Hill was originally going to be my season introduction episode. Tennessee has a rich history related to the Civil War and I had a lot of fun producing both the Mississippi episode and the Fort Negley Season 2 opener. Shy’s Hill would give me another opportunity to put on my Ken Burns hat.

The original intent was to just discuss the role the hill played in the Battle of Nashville, which was critical to the outcome. The battle is often overshadowed by the debacle two weeks prior at Franklin. That is unfortunate, because this battle is pretty much the final nail in the coffin for the Confederacy. Once I started researching a new story line emerged, the case of Colonel Shy. It became apparent I would have to spend more time on the Shy’s Hill episode so Harpeth Narrows was substituted in as a replacement. Ironically the Narrows area would reveal a lot more than originally expected and become an even more time-consuming shoot than this was.

The biggest challenge in writing this episode was condensing the Battle of Nashville down so it could still be understood. Two-day battles with thousands of men that are also the culmination of a major campaign can be overwhelming, even more so when it is a topic you enjoy researching. Several times I had to remind myself to just focus on the hill itself. As for the case of Colonel Shy, that was a lot more straightforward, and the story itself adds a nice coda to the hidden history theme of season 3.

As for filming, this was a one-day solo shoot. I had the site pretty much to myself, though it does sit in a well-developed suburban section of Nashville so there was some noise to consider with construction, barking dogs, and traffic. Overall everything went fairly smoothly.

Music-wise this episode uses four different pieces in the episode: Pride, Five Armies, End of an Era, Echoes in Time v2. Hopefully they help create the mood I wished to convey. All the pieces used were composed by Kevin MacLeod of incompetech.com. If you need music for your project please check him out.

Looking forward I’m happy to report that half of season 4 has already been filmed with the remaining episodes to be finished in the next three months. Also, there will be a few changes to the blog and channel. Expect more details soon.

If you enjoyed this season please consider subscribing on YouTube to the Rooftops of America channel.  Also consider donating to the Rooftops of America GoFundMe Campaign so we can continue bringing you these episodes as we go highpointing across the USA. Thanks for watching!

Highpointing: Black Mesa, Oklahoma

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Black Mesa, the highpoint of Oklahoma, is located in the driest, coldest, and harshest place in the state, though just not when we stopped by. No, when we visited the rain never let up until the final scene and it was greener than I had ever expected. So far in this highpointing journey these are the wettest conditions I have yet had to film in. Needless to say I learned a few things, the first was that a bounce card serves as a great hasty umbrella for your equipment even if it is a bit noisy, second, my Nikon D7200 continues to perform well in adverse conditions, third keeping that lens clean can become a real challenge as everything gets more and more soaked.

Here is a fun little fact about Cimarron County; it is the only county in the United States to border four different states. It has a real life Wild West feel to it. The whole time I was there I kept thinking how fun it would be to film a western in that environment. The region remains true to its history.

The crew for this highpoint adventure was Brett Evenstad and Eric Krause. This was Brett’s second time behind the camera and he rose to the challenge filming in this wet weather. This was Eric’s first time out with us though I have known him for years. He drove us from Denver to Black Mesa and back which was a huge plus. That wasn’t his only contribution to this episode. It would have been a whole lot more difficult to produce if Eric hadn’t been there to keep things dry and protected.

As for the filming itself, we played it pretty straight using the same technique we have for other summits with longer hikes. Get to the summit first and shoot everything in reverse order. You will notice there are no real technical shots in this episode. That can be chalked up to the incessant rain. By the end of the shoot the rain was becoming a real frustration for me. Sound proved to be a real challenge as well. You can hear raindrops in almost every shot. I tried to minimize some of this in post but I’m not sure my efforts yielded any results.

The episode used three pieces of music. The two in the background section are by Kevin MacLeod of incompetech.com, the other in the ascent section is from freepd.com. The first is “Firesong,” and the other is “Pale Rider.” They do a pretty good job of bringing out the wild west feeling I was going for.

For the ascent though I wanted something different. There is some comedy in that Black Mesa, the driest place in the state, was a soaking wet hike for the team. The piece chosen is “Waltzing Marvin,” sort of a parody of the Australian standard, “Waltzing Mathilda.” It had the more humorous yet still western vibe I wanted to bring out.

If you get to Cimarron County then the Black Mesa hike is worth a stop. There is a lot of interesting history, geology, and culture to be found out there if you take the time to look for it. If you enjoyed this episode please consider subscribing on YouTube to the Rooftops of America channel. Also consider donating to the Rooftops of America GoFundMe Campaign so we can continue bringing you these episodes as we go highpointing across the USA. Thanks for watching!

Highpointing: Mount Sunflower, Kansas

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Mount Sunflower sits out in the high plains of Kansas just a few yards away from the Colorado border. It is austere but picturesque in it’s way. Production-wise this was the first highpoint episode shot for season 3. Back when I was originally planning the series I had this idea of doing all the Great Plains at one go. Start at North Dakota and head south. Shoot them all over six crazy days and do a season finale at Texas. With the clarity of hindsight and 18 months of shooting I now know that would have been a recipe for disaster. Fortunately other events happened that temporarily drove me away from that foolhardy plan.

I knew I would have a chance to grab a couple of highpoints due to having a training class in Denver during May. I planned to maximize my opportunities by going after Kansas on the Sunday I arrived and then Nebraska before I flew home but that changed to Oklahoma in the latter part of the week with the logic being to go for the further distant ones while I had the chance and grab Nebraska the next time I was in Colorado.

From a production standpoint the question was always how to make Kansas and Nebraska more appealing to people. Both highpoints have a reputation of being quick stops with their own charm but not much else. I wanted to prove that wasn’t the case, a sort of “don’t judge a book by its cover,” thing.

When I started the series I always knew there would be easy episodes to write and hard ones as well. When I first started hammering out the script Kansas was a challenge until I hit upon the idea of a more robust seasonal theme and expanded on something that started emerging late in Season 2. This was the genesis of the whole “hidden history” theme of the season. Once that was in place Kansas became a straightforward episode. The Dust Bowl provided plenty of material, to the point I had to narrow the focus.

This was Jessica Kyander Johnson’s first time behind the camera. She is does photography in her free time and it shows in how this episode was framed. The sun was fairly blazing that day and we both got a bit red before the end. We didn’t really do anything overly ambitious shooting-wise. It was a long drive and we didn’t start shooting till the afternoon so quick efficient filming was key, hence static shots through it all.

As for the location, there really isn’t much to Mount Sunflower; you can drive up that road all the way if you want though I preferred the walk. We did the old trick of turning the camera around in a few spots to make it look like we had more location than we actually did. Overall I enjoyed shooting this episode; it took me back to my agricultural roots, growing up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin.

The episode used two pieces of music, both by Kevin MacLeod of incompetech.com. The first, lighter piece is “When the Wind Blows,” rather fitting for this part of Kansas. The other, more oppressive piece, “Breath,” is one of a seven part series entitled Shadowlands. I wanted a piece that could reflect some of the seriousness and horror of the Dust Bowl and it helped create the mood I wanted.

If you enjoyed this episode please consider subscribing on YouTube to the Rooftops of America channel.  Also consider donating to the Rooftops of America GoFundMe Campaign so we can continue bringing you these episodes as we go highpointing across the USA. Thanks for watching!

Highpointing: Panorama Point, Nebraska

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Welcome to the Panorama Point episode with special guest, “High Winds.” They show up early in the episode and stay pretty much the whole time. The weather report said to expect winds of 10-15mph, which is pretty standard for that area. Instead we got 30-35 mph winds with gusts up to 45 mph. I knew the high plains of Nebraska would be windy; it’s why I  had chosen a piece of music named “Windswept” even before I started writing the episode. I just did not expect it to be this windy. It shows in all the live shots – the cameras bobble, the talking over the winds, and sand everywhere; it’s even more prevalent in the footage that wasn’t used. This was easily the windiest conditions I have ever filmed in. It was relentless, with dust and sand whipping around to the point I was actually worried about damaging my lenses.

From an equipment standpoint this was the first episode I wish I had a bigger, heavier tripod with me. With only the lightweight, aluminum Sunpak available it got pushed around quite a bit. A heavier set up would have reduced the bounce you see in the live shots as well. I stabilized it in post but you can only do so much. Such is the joy of shooting onsite with minimal budget.

The other equipment option was using a lavalier microphone in addition to the mic set up on the camera. Unfortunately I didn’t bring it. The good news is the Rode shotgun mic with the dead cat on it has once again proved itself to be a valuable asset. There was a few moments though during the filming day were I thought the trip was a bust. Listening to the footage out of the camera I thought we were hosed. Fortunately it wasn’t as bad as I thought, once I started editing I was able to isolate the vocals a bit and reduce the wind noise.

This shoot was done in a daylong road trip of 500 miles. We drove a giant loop, leaving Denver early in the morning heading first to the border tripoint. When we got there it was completely fogged in, so we snapped a few shots and then went for coffee. An hour later when we reached the Panorama Point the fog was long gone, replaced by blue skies and the ever-present wind. There were no bison sightings for us while at the highpoint, but we did get to meet the owners who were very pleasant to chat with. Once we wrapped there we stopped at Kimball rest area off I-80 and spoke with Ms. Jo Caskey, the director of the Kimball-Banner County Chamber of Commerce about our Panorama Point adventure. She’ll send you a certificate of your feat in the mail of you provide your name to her.

We shot the scenes around Kimball then departed for Bridgeport and the Platte River valley to film the remaining scenes. This part of Nebraska is very striking and worth checking out. I got to channel my inner grade-schooler dreams with a stop at Chimney Rock. Fortunately no one in the party died of dysentery while we ventured on the remains of the Oregon Trail. Upon wrapping at Scotts Bluff National Monument  it was back to Denver for beer and food.

My compatriot on this journey was my friend Jessica Kyander Johnson. This was her second time behind the camera, (her first episode is the Kansas one that comes out January 1,) and her photographer background comes through in being able to frame up and get good material out of bad conditions. With the wind as fierce as it was we ended up shooting things closer and a bit tighter. The only real extravagance we made while filming was we did mount the camera on the car for a driving sequence. Since you can’t hike up to the summit that seemed like a good trade-off.

I enjoyed writing this episode. It was cool to be able to find a relatively engaging hook for the area that had a significant impact on American history. This episode in particular really highlights the theme of the season. Being able to take what most may label a boring area and make it entertaining and interesting was the goal. Panorama Point and Nebraska accomplished it in spades.

The music used in the episode is from Kevin MacLeod at incompetech.com. As mentioned earlier, the piece used throughout the episode is entitled “Windswept.”  If you ever need a wide selection of music for your project needs go check out his musical archives, he is bound to have something and best of all it is royalty-free.

If you enjoyed this episode please consider subscribing on YouTube to the Rooftops of America channel
Also consider donating to the Rooftops of America GoFundMe Campaign so we can continue bringing you these episodes as we go highpointing across the USA. Thanks for watching!

Highpointing: Driskill Mountain, Louisiana

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For a self-directed episode and a 1000-mile day trip to Driskill Mountain and back to Nashville this one turned out pretty good. If you want a point of comparison check out the Magazine Mountain episode I filmed in May 2016, that one makes me cringe. The weather was hot, but not too onerous, the bugs weren’t a problem, and surprisingly for a holiday weekend (Independence Day,) I had the peak almost all to myself. While I was out there I only saw one other family and they were coming down from the summit. Overall it made for a nice day of filming.

Driskill Mountain itself is located on private property. Park at the Mount Zion church and you will see the trailhead behind a gate. You’ll pass several gates on the way up, just keep left and after a bit over a mile of a hike you will reach the wooded summit of the Louisiana state highpoint. There is a scenic view to the left with a highpointers bench. If you want to add a bit of challenge to the hike you can take also take a more rugged trail to the summit that is blazed with blue and red marks and make a small loop.

From a filming perspective this one is very straightforward, because I was by myself static shots were the order of the day. The writing on this one is solid, and other than some noise and wind issues overall sound is good as well. There was a sequence I shot coming back on the more rugged of the two trails that ended up on the cutting room floor that really didn’t add much to the overall episode.

I’ll readily admit that I had to reach a bit to tie Bonnie and Clyde to the peak, but the ambush site is only about 11 miles away via the twisty turning roads of rural Louisiana. Plus when I came across that in my research it was too good of a hook to pass up. If I hadn’t written about them this peak would have been a bit more of a challenge to write about though I could have mined more material regarding “You Are My Sunshine.”

Two pieces of music were used in this episode both written by Kevin MacLeod of incompetech.com. The “Cattails” piece was one I had in my mind when I wrote up my original list of highpoints and associated music back when I was planning this series. It had the right feel for Louisiana. For the Bonnie and Clyde sequence the tone of the Cattails piece didn’t work so I went with a darker piece entitled “Anguish” that changes the mood to fit the subject.

If you get out to this area of Louisiana to explore Driskill Mountain consider also checking out the Bonne and Clyde Ambush Museum in nearby Gibsland. Also check out Gentry Hill, the second highest point in the state.

If you enjoyed this episode please consider subscribing on YouTube to the Rooftops of America channel
Also consider donating to the Rooftops of America GoFundMe Campaign so we can continue bringing you these episodes as we go highpointing across the USA. Thanks for watching!

Highpointing: Campbell Hill, Ohio

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Getting to Campbell Hill was a long day trip for me. I left Nashville early in the morning then headed north six hours to reach the highpoint. Fortunately the drive to and from was uneventful, the weather cooperated with a beautiful day and it was a relatively easy and straightforward shoot. Only two locations were used, with the second being just a little over a mile away.

The highpoint itself is very contained and right off the road. On a side note, this was the third highpoint I ever logged when I started my journey in the sport. It doesn’t require a lot of physical exertion, in fact you can follow the driveway all the way around until you reach a very short sidewalk that leads you right to it.

This episode as a whole was pretty easy to plan and execute. As mentioned above, I had the advantage of visiting Campbell Hill several years prior. I knew the shots I wanted and I knew most of the story I wanted to tell as well. My only concern was whether the grounds would be locked up. The good news was there was a law enforcement / emergency personnel conference being held so access was no problem at all. Surprisingly, for as nice as the weather was, there was only a few visitors to Ohio’s highpoint when we were filming which was also a benefit.

This was Scott Tomek’s debut behind the camera and he did a good job of framing the shots and keeping things moving along. His wife Dawn and his daughter Olivia also worked on the episode providing transportation and additional photography. They came down from Cleveland for an entertaining day of taking in the rooftop of Ohio.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with how this episode turned out. The script was solid, (though I did rewrite a few voice over sections) the sound was decent, and it was easy to edit. If there were one thing I need to correct in the future it would be the walk and talk scenes. I’m not getting the effect I want. I want to put some motion in the scene with the limited equipment I have. The original idea was to create an illusion of a tracking shot, but I think it comes off a bit distracting. That said you will continue to see the walking thing through the remainder of this season and into the start of season four since those are all the episodes that have been filmed to date. ‘

The other noticeable error was my mispronunciation of Bellefontaine. It was not until very recently I was informed the correct was to say it is “bell fountain.” I do regret the error. In addition, I wish I would have taken the opportunity to highlight the first concrete street in the country. That was an oversight and it could have worked as a set up for the Nebraska episode later in the season.

The music for this episode is called “Clear Air” by Kevin MacLeod and can be found on incompetech.com. If you enjoyed the episode please consider subscribing on YouTube to the Rooftops of America channel
Also consider donating to the Rooftops of America GoFundMe Campaign so we can continue bringing you these episodes as we go highpointing across the USA. Thanks for watching!

Highpointing: Black Mountain, Kentucky

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Of all the highpoints I have visited so far, Black Mountain, Kentucky is the one with the biggest missed potential and lost opportunity. There is an interesting history behind the mountain and for the region. It could be a showcase in a very cool, and beautiful part of the country.

Instead when you reach the summit of Black Mountain you are greeted with antennas and low profile concrete block buildings. Frankly, it is ugly and that is unfortunate because it is in a beautiful part of the state. Harlan County has been trying to re-cast itself as an adventure destination; Black Mountain could be one of its crown jewels. The community needs to rally around it to make it something special.

Even the old observatory tower sits there silently mocking you on what used to be. The one scenic view you do get from the Virginia side looks out over a strip mine. Hopefully someday there will be an effort to improve the site and make it more welcoming to all people.

This was a pretty straightforward episode to film. Brian Smith returned to the director’s chair for this one. Outside of the summit the majority of the episode was shot in the towns of Benham and Lynch. There were enough coal-related artifacts and locations to support the story. The biggest technical faux pas of this episode is the driving footage. The camera is slightly out of focus for a majority of it. Since the footage is sped up significantly in the final product it is not quite as noticeable. You will also notice is the interference in the audio from the all the electronics on the summit and at the radar site. It is that insect-like buzzing sound you hear periodically.

Both pieces of episode music are by Kevin MacLeod of incompetech.com. The upbeat piece is entitled “Guts and Bourbon” and I’ve been holding that one in reserve for Kentucky almost since day 1 of the series. The bouncy/ twangy nature of that piece doesn’t work as well when discussing Bloody Harlan though, so that part is supported by a piece called “Dark Times.”

If you enjoyed the episode please consider subscribing on YouTube to the Rooftops of America channel.

Also consider donating to the Rooftops of America GoFundMe Campaign so we can continue bringing you these episodes. Thanks for watching!

Welcome to Season 3 – The Narrows of the Harpeth

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This season there is an official theme around each of the highpoints we will visit. Over the course of the season we will be looking at the “hidden history” behind the highpoints that are visited.

The idea of having an official theme came about when deciding what highpoints were going to be filmed next. My travel schedule was going to allow for the visit of several highpoints in the Great Plains and as I dug into the individual points I quickly realized there wouldn’t be enough content for each episode. Upon further research into the various regions where the points are located I discovered there were plenty of stories for each.

Then it was a matter of adding several other points that aren’t necessarily the most compelling or scenic, but still have fascinating stories to tell.  Once there were six identified it became easy to organize and write the season.

The icing on the cake was the Season intro episode above. The Narrows of the Harpeth is one of my favorite places in middle Tennessee and it just so happens to have a ton of hidden history itself. If you are ever in the area please take the time to stop and visit it.

I hope you enjoy Season 3 of Rooftops, it was a lot of fun to produce. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. As always, if you enjoy the series, please subscribe on YouTube and consider donating to the GoFundMe Campaign.

Cheers!

Hidden Lake – Season 2 Recap

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Season 2 is finished! When this season was originally planned the goals were twofold. The first was to learn from the mistakes of Season 1 and correct or make improvements. The second was to bring the series more in line with what I originally envisioned it to be.

Technically we improved our camera work by doing less with it, though we did try a few new things here and there (Two cameras for Delaware.) The storylines for the episodes improved as I started doing more thorough research and writing longer scripts. We shot more footage that gave us the luxury to be able to make cuts when it didn’t work. I think when I look back at this series when it is finished, this will be the season where I honed in what I actually wanted to do. The mix is now about right with the history, science, and live/ current aspects of the episodes. You can expect this to carryover into Season 3.

Speaking of next season, it will kick off in October, but unlike the last season break I won’t be taking any time off from Rooftops. The tyranny of production is in full swing with Season 3 filming and Season 4/5 planning well underway. You can find out the latest and greatest on the Rooftops of America Facebook page if you want to follow along at home.

Thanks to my wife and son for letting me have the time to pursue this ridiculous endeavor. I also want to thank Matt, Conrad, Spencer, Misty, Ruby, Mateo, Alex, Brian, and Chris for working behind the camera. You all make this so much easier when you are there! A big thanks to Dave for continuing to maintain the site and hold my hand when there are inevitable web issues.

As always thank you to everyone who took the time to watch the videos, leave comments, feedback, and corrections. I always appreciate hearing from you. Believe it or not, you can find us on imdb these days. If you are feeling so inclined please review the series!

A huge thank you to Kevin MacLeod of incompetech.com whose music archive has been the soundtrack for all of these videos. The music for this episode is called “Groundwork.” If you need music for your projects do yourself a favor and check out his site.

If you enjoyed this season please consider contributing to the GoFundMe so we can continue to provide you with episodes of Rooftops of America.

Thanks again and I’ll see you soon!