The SXSW Audience Award winner “Transpecos,” which debuts in theaters Sept. 9, focuses on a day in the lives of three U.S. border patrol agents who encounter a drug cartel. To establish the film’s unforgiving vibe, cinematographer Jeffrey Waldron shot on location over 16 days in 120-degree heat.
QUICK ATTRACTION: Waldron, who also lensed “Addicted to Fresno,” another SXSW indie title, says he was “blown away by the script’s simplicity, immediacy, and the brutal way it unravels in real time.”
Documentarian and commercial helmer Greg Kwedar directed “Transpecos,” which is his first narrative feature. Kwedar wrote the film with Clint Bentley.
HOT LOCATION: The crew filmed the indie thriller several miles from the Mexican border in Luna County, N.M. The digital imaging technician kept a thermometer outside his tent to keep track of the heat. At one point during the shoot, the asphalt at the main checkpoint road began to melt.
“But that’s the story,” says Waldron. “You see it in the performances, you feel it in the handheld work, you see obscene amounts of sweat.”
THE RIGHT STUFF: For work in such extreme conditions, Waldron chose a simple camera package: an Arri Amira with older, uncoated prime lenses. He figured the combination would work best in the desert light, in which high contrast is unavoidable.
CATCHING THE WIND: Toward the end of one day of shooting, halfway through an important scene, a windstorm began to sweep in. Waldron loved the look it gave to the background, but the storm quickly bore down on the team. They should probably have packed up and left, Waldron says, but instead kept filming.
“The sun was behind it,” he recalls. “The wind was whipping us. It was this unique feeling, and it inspired us all and elevated the scene. I remember walking around right after it passed, in the strange sunset, so thankful and dirty.”
Waldron adds that the desert’s grand exteriors “remind us from far away or high above how small these men are in the vastness of the desert.”