For five days straight, producer Nicholas Schrunk and his filmmaking crew got dumped off the side of Pike’s Peak an hour or so after midnight. They camped out 13,000 feet above the Colorado surface with their camera equipment in hand and nearly “freezing to death” waiting for motorcycle racer Carlin Dunne to scale the summit of the Pike’s Peak International Hill Climb, an annual automobile race.
Schrunk and crew were on an assignment to record Dunne speeding by in his electric motorcycle for the recently released documentary “On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter,” a modern-day follow-up to the 1971 Academy Award-nominated film “On Any Sunday” directed by Bruce Brown. Dunne’s race up Pike’s Peak is one of the storylines featured in “The Next Chapter.”
“Here’s the deal, he [Dunne] races and you cannot move, so when he comes by you — you shoot your shot,” Schrunk said about his time spent on the mountain. “So you have all morning to be nervous about your shot.”
And nervous he was. Dunne came by and, luckily, Schrunk got the shot he wanted. The race normally lasts about 10 minutes. Schrunk and his crew packed up their gear and waited, again.
“We waited until 3 in the afternoon for all the cars to come down and then we hitchhiked in one of the bigger cars to get to the bottom,” said Schrunk. “You do pretty much a 24-hour mission for a six-second shot that you can’t mess up on and then you do that for five days in a row. That’s when you really build some mental character.”
Sure, Schrunk got to watch the sunrise and enjoy the sights of nature, “but at the end of the day you’re still freezing your ass off.” It’s not all bad — Schrunk followed his crew at various locales to record shots the film.
“I got to travel around the world,” he said. “And for a kid from Iowa — sign me up!”
The 29-year-old film producer currently resides in Los Angeles which is where "On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter" premiered on Oct. 22 at the Hollywood Dolby Theatre.
He grew up in Spirit Lake, Iowa, the son of Mike and Sharon Schrunk.
Before he became interested in filmmaking, he was running track at Spirit Lake High School and wakeboarding in the surrounding lakes. In his spare time, he studied Photoshop and HTML coding to build websites.
“I grew up right on the cusp of computers and technology,” he said. “There was kind of a core group of us that were into technology and figuring it all out.”
The extra time Schrunk had was spent drawing and painting. He attributed his high school art teacher Hank Hall for introducing him to fine arts.
“He really got me into the arts and establishing a creative process to develop ideas,” said Schrunk. “So I had this geeky side, I liked to do artsy stuff and I liked to go run around the track and think about ideas.”
But it was teacher Bob Kirchner’s video productions class that first exposed Schrunk to filmmaking. The class made a daily news show where students would sit in front of the camera and announce the day’s lunch menu and sports practice times and offer short feature stories.
Kirchner provided the class with up-to-date equipment that included cameras, a Macintosh computer and Final Cut Pro editing software.
“We would make features on it and horror films and athlete highlights,” said Schrunk. “I realized, ‘Hey, this is really fun.’”
When it came time for college, Schrunk majored in graphic design and minored in biology at the University of Northern Iowa. Graphic design, he said, was the natural direction to take for someone who knew how to use computers and who like art — “that’s just what you did.”
From there, Schrunk started taking his own digital photographs to be used for his designs. He said learning still photography was “almost out of necessity” so he could avoid paying for stock images from websites.
When Schrunk began working with motion design, still photography inherently turned into video.
“I started out shooting stock video and the stock video went into shooting videos of athletes and adventures-type things,” he said. “I thought it was fun because I could take and assemble these things together — this was still kind of a new thing.”
His video work eventually steamrolled into a sports marketing job with Red Bull as soon as he graduated from UNI in 2008. After a year of shooting video and still images, Red Bull hired Schrunk as a full-time producer for all of the film projects in L.A.
THE NEXT CHAPTER
As a producer of “On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter,” Schrunk helped develop creative views, oversee budgets and facilitate aspects of making the film.
“Producing is a lot of creative oversight and watching the idea evolve,” he said. “I kind of shape the idea and allow the people within to work.”
In addition to producing, Schrunk was also one of the film’s principal cinematographers. He shot scenes using a Phantom High Speed Camera, an ultra-slow motion videocamera — he did all of the camerawork with that on the field.
Schrunk said it was fun working with director Dana Brown, the son of “On Any Sunday” (1971) director Bruce Brown.
“It’s really Dana’s vision based on his father’s initial film,” said Schrunk. “He’s the kind of person that puts people at ease, which allows him to get great interviews and great story points out of all the characters involved in the film.”
He added that Brown was also a great collaborator that allowed Schrunk and the rest of the crew to record their own footage the way they wanted.
“He had his ideas but he’s not the person who says, ‘No, don’t do your idea. Do my idea,’” said Schrunk. “I think it shows onscreen that everyone was playing to their strengths instead of one person putting everyone in a certain bucket.”
So what’s the trick to getting the best shots? Schrunk said it takes a bit of luck and and multiple mistakes.
“You shoot a whole lot of bad stuff,” he said with a laugh. “You make mistakes for years, you live in self-doubt for half a decade and you mess up — but then you get lucky a few times and then you start to realize how to get lucky more.”
Schrunk said some people may have certain preconceived shots already visualized in their mind. But most of the time there are too many variables to consider in order for that to happen, especially when trying to tell a nonfiction story.
“You go out there and you may have a visual literacy of what you want to do and you’re probably inspired by work other people do,” he said. “Then you realize it’s really hard to emulate those shots.”
A lot footage, Schrunk said, is improvised.
“You’re winging it on the fly,” he said. “You kind of have to experience the process to know what your story is.”
After making mistakes for such a long time, Schrunk got to the point where he understood what goes into a good shot.
“At the end of the day, you just have to mess up a lot until you get to a point where you know what you want and how to articulate that to people and crews and be successful,” he said. “The experience of messing up a bunch will ultimate get you to that point.”