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Larry Jordan: Steve Eisen is a filmmaker and owner of Eisen Video Productions. He began his career more than 25 years ago as a photojournalist and a video editor. Currently, he travels the world filming and editing corporate videos, concerts, sporting events and non-profit videos. He’s also the Vice President of the Chicago Creative Pro User Group. Hello, Steve, welcome.
Steve Eisen: How are you, Larry and Michael?
Mike Horton: Hi Steve.
Larry Jordan: You know, there are so many different things that we could talk about, but the one that I’m most interested in is this thing called The 1,000 Feet Project. What is it?
Steve Eisen: It’s about the soap box derby. Basically the whole genre is taking these under privileged kids from New York City and teaching them how to build and race these soap box derby cars.
Mike Horton: Honestly, is the soap box derby still a big deal?
Steve Eisen: Oh my God, it is.
Mike Horton: It is? Ok.
Steve Eisen: We were just out there a couple of weeks ago for the finals and, like I said, it’s the All American Soap Box Derby. Yes, they had some financial problems a few years ago, but it’s so popular.
Mike Horton: Are ESPN or Fox covering it?
Steve Eisen: No.
Mike Horton: No, but one day it will be because of your…
Steve Eisen: Yes.
Mike Horton: Yes, hopefully they will.
Steve Eisen: Could be.
Mike Horton: Yes, could be. It’s a sport.
Steve Eisen: It is.
Larry Jordan: You’re based in Chicago.
Steve Eisen: Correct.
Larry Jordan: And you’re shooting kids in New York City. How did this happen?
Steve Eisen: A good colleague of mine is based out in New York City, he’s the Director of the whole project and he knows I’m a cameraman and all around guru, so he asked me to be part of the team.
Larry Jordan: So you got involved with it because of your interest in the subject or because a friend of yours invited you in?
Steve Eisen: I do a lot of projects that I take on, whether it’s non-profit for a really good cause and stuff like that, so that’s the type of person I am.
Larry Jordan: Tell me about a typical shooting day. What were you doing in New York? We’ll talk about tech in a minute, but talk about the shoot.
Steve Eisen: Back in New York City, we were geared up to have a race in Queens and basically it was between a school, PS57, which is based out of Staten Island, and the kids there do after school programs and they learn how the whole STEM project of building and racing these cars; and then there’s a group out of Queens, I guess they’ve been doing the soap box derby for the past 30 years and unfortunately money’s a big, big issue for these groups because a lot of them are really just scraping the barrel, getting funds to build the cars and go to the races, because there are entry fees and all that stuff.
Steve Eisen: So we started in New York City and we did a whole bunch of interviews with the kids from Staten Island and Queens. We did that, I think, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, we did a whole bunch of interviews, and on Saturday we had a big race. We closed off a big section in Queens, right by LaGuardia Airport, and these kids raced down this street hill and had a really, really, really good time and that’s the thing. The expression on these kids’ faces and getting them out of their regular culture and stuff, even though it’s a competition to them, it’s such a good feeling just to get in these cars and head down that hill.
Mike Horton: I don’t understand the soap box derby thing, but these cars have to be built to particular specs, right?
Steve Eisen: Correct.
Mike Horton: Ok, so they have to have a particular weight class in the car too, right? So how does one win if you have to have the same car, the same weight, the same this, the same that? How do you win?
Steve Eisen: It’s gravity, it really is. It’s gravity. There’s a 200 pound weight limit, 250 pound weight limit. Some of the kids weigh 40, 50, 60, 100 pounds and the same thing, the cars have all the same parts, everything, and it’s just a matter of technique and how well they tuck and all that. They’ve got to stay on that line and, literally, the races are won by thousandths of a second.
Mike Horton: Yes.
Larry Jordan: Wow. Were you able to take any of the kids to Akron? Were they participating in the final?
Steve Eisen: Yes, three of the kids we took to Akron.
Mike Horton: Three of them? Wow.
Steve Eisen: Three of them. One of them placed seventh out of 75 and he was in a race called, not special kids but something along that line, like a Special Olympics, and so there was a group of 75 of them and one of our kids had a car where two of them could sit and so they competed. The other team that they lost to was the team that won the championship, so…
Mike Horton: Is this 75 kids from the United States or 75 kids from…
Steve Eisen: No, actually, it’s international. We learned that one was from Canada.
Mike Horton: Wow.
Steve Eisen: Yes.
Larry Jordan: What did you use for gear to shoot?
Steve Eisen: We used AJA’s new 4K CION.
Mike Horton: Oh, cool.
Steve Eisen: When we were at NAB this year, we hit up tons of manufacturers and, through their generous try-a-CION program, they donated two cameras to us and we went to a rental facility in New York City and got a variety of lenses, a bunch of primes, a couple of Canon zooms, a 17:120 and a 30:300.
Larry Jordan: Oh my goodness.
Steve Eisen: They have a 50:1000 but there are only three of them in the entire country.
Mike Horton: So how did you like the CION?
Steve Eisen: It worked well. I was one of three DPs. Two of the other DPs are based out of LA, they’re all USC grads, along with our director who’s a USC Film School grad. He hit them up and these guys have a long list of IMDB credits, so we have a really, really good crew. This is the first time for them using it and obviously they had their issues, but overall the quality of the footage looks incredible.
Mike Horton: Great.
Larry Jordan: What’s the status of the film? Are you done shooting?
Steve Eisen: We still have a lot more shooting to go, probably. Obviously, as a documentary goes, the story keeps evolving. We want to focus on the two areas, Staten Island and Queens. The Queens people have their issues and there’s a big controversy with money and stuff like that. They’re jealous and they’re like, “We want more, we want more,” so it really came down to really, you could go back to them and sue them for libel for some of the stuff that we’ve done, so it’s like yes, we’ve got…
Mike Horton: That’s got to be part of the documentary right there, Steve. It’s got to be part of it.
Steve Eisen: There are so many different stories and obviously we want to focus on the kids, but a lot of it is…
Mike Horton: Sure, but that’s got to still be part of it.
Steve Eisen: Oh, it is, it is.
Larry Jordan: Steve, where can people go on the web to learn more about the project?
Steve Eisen: They can go to 1000feetproject.org.
Larry Jordan: That’s 1000feetproject.org.
Mike Horton: I love drama, I’m going to watch it.
Larry Jordan: Steve Eisen is the head of Eisen Video Productions. Steve, thanks for joining us and good luck with the film.
Steve Eisen: Thank you. Bye bye.
Mike Horton: Thanks, Steve. Good seeing you.