07.04.2023|By Daniel Mendoza|9 Minutes

It was 2017 around Thanksgiving time when I was speaking with my brother in law who works at the LOLA agency we had been collaborating with over the past year about Total Wine & More. I asked them if they had done any video work and he informed me that pretty much all of their work with the client was geared towards print. About a month later, the agency reached out to us about a concept they had pitched Total Wine & More that was actually approved and it involved video. I couldn’t have been more excited, not only about the project, but how quickly it seemed to manifest from a very casual conversation weeks earlier.

The goal was to film at Javadi farm in Paso Robles where Troy Javadi and his team produced Mina Mesa wine. The inspiration or theme for the project “Wine Wanderer” and it was along the lines of Anthony Bourdain or Booze Traveler with us following Michelle Giammittorio (Wine Buyer/TW&M) to the Javadi farm where she was to meet with Troy as well as Shawn Richcreek (TWM Store Manager) for a candid conversation over wine and small bites.

So in January 2018 we set out to Paso Robles. Our team consisted of myself (Director of Photography), Nick G (Sound and Drone), Chad Lawrence (Gaffer) and Becky Jo Harris (Hair and MUA). Chad and I drove from Phoenix with all of the gear while Nick and Becky flew into San Luis Obispo airport. We all made it into town on January 10th and began scouting the location before returning to the hotel to prep gear and have a quick pre production meeting with the team.

The following morning we arrived at the location to begin setting up. While Becky was working on Michelle’s hair and make up, we began setting up to film what would be a somewhat challenging driving sequence with Michelle in a rented Convertible 1967 Chevy Camaro. Typically with car sequences we would prefer the vehicle be on a tow set up just for safety but that just wasn’t an option here. Not only were we to do the intro sequence with interior vehicle shots but we then had to provide aerial coverage of the car driving down the dusty road onto the farm as well. We pulled out the DJI Phantom IV and got some great coverage leading and following the car along a desolate and dusty road. We then filmed a brief roadside interview with Michelle before camera and sound loaded into the car with her to cover the drive in. Fortunately everything went smoothly and without incident.

Once on the farm we then set up to interview winemaker Troy Javadi by his horse stables. The setting was perfect for the concept and helped us capture the essence of the concept. Troy’s story was exactly what you would expect from a multi generational farmer. Strongly rooted in working with what the earth gives you and making sure you take care of the earth in return. Turned out his family had been farming for many generations in Iran before relocating to the U.S. Troy and his family were incredibly hospitable to the entire team and he brought quite the personality to set.

Finishing off the day was the candid table discussion between the three characters as they shared wine, food and conversation as the sun was setting. The set up didn’t come without challenges as we were fighting the elements in regards to lighting and audio. Chad did a great job bouncing light from the sun onto the talent and Nick, somewhat of a sound snob, certainly exceeded our expectations. The table setting looked great, despite not having a production designer but the fact that we were on a farm surrounded by rustic barns and decor, it was certainly a much more forgiving set. It turned out great as far as content was concerned so we wrapped up for the day and began breaking down equipment to get rested for the following day.

Day 2 was free roaming around the large property to film B Roll of the landscape and farm animals. He had horses, cattle, goats, chickens, vineyards and olive trees so they had really maximized the land they owned. The morning welcomed us with a thick blanket of fog that draped over the property. It looked calm yet eerie and made for some spectacular imagery. The vines were bare and we found a tree straight out of a Tim Burton film, so of course we filmed it.

As it turned out, Troy’s two sons were quite into the rodeo scene so we filmed them practicing their roping skills with live cattle. At one point I actually ventured into the rink for a better vantage point and it was quite a rush being so close to the action. We managed to also get some aerial coverage of the practice before the horses seemed to have had enough of the annoying buzzing drone flying about. So we finished up our coverage on the property then headed back to the hotel to prepare for departure on the following day.

It was a long drive home for Chad and I but it was great to reflect on the production and all we had managed to capture. Most of the productions we have been on were for the most part unscripted. This typically requires us to get much more coverage than what is needed just to ensure we will have enough to work with in the edit. This didn’t concern us as we had become quite versed in documentary style filmmaking but it did make us long for opportunities where we could go in with a script and detailed shot list that would also make the post production process much more intentional.

Having succeeding at unscripted content we soon would find ourselves being cornered into this niche. It can be challenging to get others to understand that just because you are good at one style, doesn’t mean you can’t take on the other. It’s interesting how often we’ve been out of contention for projects merely because they were scripted, when anyone who understands the basic fundamentals of filmmaking should know that if you can be good at telling a story without a script, you are only going to be better at telling stories with a script.

The final film ended up being about 90 seconds long and included 60 and 30 second cut downs for social media. Overall we were very pleased with how the project turned out and how our team had performed. We were grateful that Total Wine & More was beginning to invest in video content and we were hopeful there would be more opportunities down the road to collaborate with their team once again.