The Combine Demolition Derby pits giant farm machines against one another in an eerie spectacle suggestive of a sci-fi ‘alien invasion’.
Producer Al Kahwaty was at the rural town of Lind, Washington – population 500 – to shoot the annual June event that began in 1988. His challenge, in 2 ½ days on site, was to capture the derby, and its context.
Lind makes a busy weekend out of it, with a car demo derby, truck races, soapbox races, parades, and a barbecue. The derby itself draws a crowd of 5,000 to the Lind Arena.
“It’s all in good fun,” Kahwaty said. “But economically times have been tough in Lind. The town depends on the derby – it donates money back to the community.
“I wanted to get a feel for the people in town and the event.”
Interviews with the mayor, the head of the Lion’s Club, and a married couple who met at a past derby helped establish the scene.
Meanwhile, Kahwaty attached himself to “Team Jaws”, the combine crew of Matt Miller and Josh Knodel, seven-time winners of the event.
In a specialty shoot inside the garage at Knodel’s farm, Kahwaty backlit the combine and shot through machine-generated fog. Fog was used to make the combine “seem more ominous”, Kahwaty said, as it enhanced the lighting. The shoot went smoothly until Miller unexpectedly hit the gas pedal and the combine lurched forward. The cameraman jumped to avoid being pinned against the garage door.
Later, outside the garage, Miller drove the combine in donut patterns, as Kahwaty recorded it on his I-Phone.
“I had no idea you could do something like that with a combine,” Kahwaty said.
For the derby itself, cameras were mounted on two driver’s helmets in two different heats and on a combine in a third heat. Another camera was at the perimeter of the arena.
“Safety is the first concern,” Kahwaty said. “You want to make sure the camera crew isn’t too close to the action. You don’t want the cameras on the drivers’ helmets to obstruct vision.
“The safety of the equipment is also a concern. It’s a challenge to see that everything is on tight and nothing flies off when the machines slam into each other.”
Kahwaty won’t say if one of his cameras was mounted on the winning combine – you have to watch E:60’s summer flight to find out. But he did hint at the music: “I’d like to find something ominous-sounding to connect Jaws the combine to its namesake.”
Posted by Steve Marantz, June 24, 2010