During the writing of a book for my family in 2014 about my career as a photographer and producer of film and video, I discovered that a desert adventure I had been a part of in 1990 was still of great interest to the public on the internet. Unfortunately, everything found was full of misinformation. The true story was about the creation of a quarter of a mile size Hindu design called a Sri Yantra that was discovered by an Air National Guard recon aircraft flying over the Alvord Desert in Oregon that year.
After spending several weeks researching and cataloging what was found, I made a decision to produce a documentary that would clear up all the unfounded stories both in script and videos posted on the web.
Once I found my camera master video tapes I had recorded in 1990 of the actual creation of the design, I had them transferred to a digital format. At that point, I called my friend, Bill Witherspoon. He was the creator of the idea to make the design on such a large scale in the Alvord Desert. I told him what I had found and that I wanted to produce a documentary to correct all the wrongs. He said he would support me only if the true story was told.
I began my research that Fall and by the Spring of 2015, I was confident I had a good outline of the story. I continued researching by calling retired National Guardsmen who said they would be available to be interviewed for the film.
During that summer and into fall, I continued to develop scripts and began to develop a plan to produce a detailed animation sequence of the creation of the Sri Yantra to support the video footage I had recorded myself in 1990.
As the year ended, I began making plans for the spring and summer of 2016. First, I asked as many of the actual design crew as possible to return to Fairfield, Iowa in the Spring so that I could interview each one. Fairfield was the home for most of the crew in 1990 and was also where Bill and his crew began to set the plans for the adventure we all experienced in the Alvord Desert all those years before.
Knowing I had a production crew scheduled and with the crew members who could come for the dates set for April of 2016, plans were finalized for the first production shoot.
On the last day of shooting, Bill called us from his home to say he was going to the local coffee house on the square in Fairfield and wanted us to meet him there. We were just finishing our interview with our last crew member, Bob Hoerlein, at his art studio and had to transfer all the camera hard drives to one of our master terabyte hard drives for safe keeping before heading back to St. Louis. I told Bill we could not come and would see him at his home before we left town.
When we finished, we headed to Bill’s house to leave his laptop there which we had been using. Just as we got to Bill’s house, he called to say, Don’t leave until I get there, I have something to tell you.
A few minutes later he pulled into the driveway. When he told us who he had met and what was said at the coffee shop, everything about how we felt about the documentary changed. As we all said later as we pulled onto the highway heading to St. Louis — That was unbelievable.
Fairfield is an interesting town in the southern part of Iowa — a place where celebrities gather because it’s a hub for those practicing Transcendental Meditation. So it wasn’t a shock for Bill to run into a friend at the coffee shop who was sitting with a celebrity. But this one was one of the most famous actors, directors and award winning narrators in the film business, Peter Coyote. Peter has narrated most of producer director Ken Burns’ award winning films. Most of his films are among the highest grossing documentaries that have ever been made.
Bill said that he wanted to know about the documentary we were producing and said, “The film sounds very interesting. Tell your producer to call me, and I will be happy to do the narration for the film.” Wow, it was all hard to believe as Bill handed me Peter’s phone number saying, “He said call him anytime.”
I did call him later that summer, and we set a tentative date for late January or early February to lay down the narration needed for the film. This we all agreed had put our film into a much higher category than it may have ever been before.
As the summer ended we began rough cutting the film and scripting the animation I had been working on. Library video footage was purchased, and I had started selecting musical scores needed. We were deep into the production now and excited about the possibilities.
During the Fall, I created all the scripts for Peter Coyote. These scripts took on a special narrative. After watching several of the documentaries he had done for Ken Burns, I noted his style and pacing. I took great care to write, thinking of him and how he would present my words.
I reached him while he was in Canada working on a film. He said he would be back at his home in Northern California by late January. He gave me a phone number for a studio close to his home where he said he used to do all of Ken Burns’ scripts. He said that a date around the end of January would be good and that once I had booked time there that the studio would call him to confirm the date. I asked him, “Should I send you the scripts now?” What he said then was not what I would have ever expected. He said, “No, I never read any scripts until I’m in the studio and ready to record.” He laughed and said, “Not even for Ken Burns.”
I did see an interview with Ken Burns almost a year later, and he told the same story to the host who was interviewing him.