A TRUE KARMIC ADVENTURE

An adventure can last a minute, an hour, a week, and the grandest of all adventure of course: life. My personal philosophy is that one should embark on adventure as often as possible, whenever the opportunity arises. If we can open our minds and look at the opportunities all around us, we may often times find ourselves surprised. Adventure may be knocking at the door more often than we might realize. And sometimes, adventure is really just a frame of mind. 
Cleobella has built their brand around adventure and exploring and sharing that with their followers, fans and devotees. When they asked me to hop on board for their Holiday ’16 campaign I couldn’t have been more elated. There was no question whether or not I was interested. When they asked me if I would want to shoot I said, “hell yeah!  And can we also make a Super 8 film too?!” Of course their answer was, “yes!”  The idea was to shoot outside of Vegas, in the Red Rock Canyon. Sort of a road-trip, wanderer, Karmic Oasis story (this had evolved over time from something else - you know, rolling with the punches). For the second portion of the shoot we planned on heading into Vegas proper to shoot downtown, in old Vegas at some of the classic haunts. To anyone who has ever planned anything, you have to know that when you make plans, things don’t always go accordingly. 
   
The night before our shoot I arrived late in the evening to the motel. A rickety old motel, Bonnie Springs, a mock ghost-town, old wild west village “park” and motel, about 30-minutes from the Las Vegas airport. Driving in I was in awe at the serenity, the mountains barely visible against the midnight sky, it was quiet and still. I couldn’t believe we were so close to the glitzing lights of the strip. It reminded me that it’s important to stray off the beaten path as much as possible because we never know what we might be missing just barely beyond. 
   
My assistant and I drove up to this rickety old place and found the girls deep in their prep.  Veronica, the stylist, had driven out from LA so that no detail was spared in pulling the looks together with her styling expertise. The Cleobella team and makeup artist had also driven out because we had A LOT of looks to get through and Louise, our goddess of a model, had flown in to be fresh and ready for the adventure that awaited. We were all in bed around midnight for our painfully early 4:30A call time.  
   
You can blame the early call time on me… I had demanded that we be armed and ready to go for sunrise. I had a whole vision in my mind for catching that first early glimpse of morning light. My whole concept for the Super 8 film was built around those first early moments. But as such, we were running a little behind. There are very few things in life that we can control. And we certainly cannot control the sun and moon and stars… or time and a team for a photoshoot. As soon as everyone was loaded into the cars we blasted out of camp, minutes before the sun was ready to make its grand entrance. My assistant and I were leading the caravan, quickly trying to find a location that would at the very least suffice. The sun was ready, any second, and we were desperately lagging behind to catch what I needed. This whole mission was rogue and at this point we needed to do what we needed to do to catch what we could of the sunrise. We pulled over and got everyone ready just in the nick of time. I think we had a solid 30 seconds of shooting before the sun came over the peak. But… we got it. 
   
We made the light and things were looking amazing. It was already 100 degrees outside, give or take and not yet 8A, but we were charging on. We had found an amazing location with a perfect backdrop of the Red Rock Canyon. The colors an incredible combination of red and orange and purple and yellow. We were working with the harsh bright morning light and in this dry, melting heat Louise wasn’t even breaking a sweat, literally. I don’t even think she’s human. She was absolutely breathtaking, so professional and rolling with the spontaneous program like a rockstar. We finished 4-5 looks of the story out there and decided to move on to the next adventure.
   
The Cleobella team had secured the ghost-town back at the motel for a few hours for us to shoot in. We went back to freshen up - because most of us were already ragged, hot, sweaty and thirsty - and we needed to see what we had to work with in this funky set town. We scoped it out, did a solid walk-through and it really didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel right for what we had already captured: the natural beauty, the colors, the minimalism… this campy, cartoon town felt like a deviation down the wrong path. As we were leaving the main drag to finish giving this place a solid look-over, I saw a couple guys with motorcycles. THAT felt right. I know how people can be about their bikes so we approached with caution and asked if one of the guys wouldn’t mind lending his bike for 10 minutes. He actually said yes and didn’t require much convincing. We found a perfect, empty space in the parking lot for the bike. We were somehow able to position the bike in this space that looked like the perfect “middle of nowhere moment”. And here it was, our road trip, dreamy adventure story coming to life. 
  
As any road trip will have a few bumps in the road, I suppose it only makes sense that our Karmic Oasis trek might too. Throughout all of this Veronica hadn’t been feeling well. We weren’t sure if it was nerves, stress, or the heat - or a combination of all three. Like the “rocket” she is (her nickname), she kept on going. As we were just rolling out of our little set town motel on our way to Sin City, we made a quick pit stop. We couldn’t leave this place behind without capturing the scenic Joshua Tree jungle lining the dirt road out of Bonnie Springs. As we got ready for one more look in the desert Veronica spoke up. She really wasn’t doing so well and needed to go to the hospital. She couldn’t keep down any water or food and in the heat she was past empty. Luckily everyone’s favorite superstar, Gita, had just arrived and was able to take Veronica to get checked out. 
  
This day was turning out to be one of those, “one thing after another” kind of days. But the morale couldn’t be beat and we needed to keep going. This scene was perfection. With the gloriously saturated hills in the background and the creamy blue sky speckled with happy clouds and the Joshua Tree jungle, we wouldn’t have been able to dream up a better vista. I had a vision for Louise to appear like she was being swept up into the heavenly scene. Centered in my frame on an empty dirt road with the painted hills behind her, Louise, sideways to me, threw her arms up in the air and behind her, like a doll cut-out being placed and replaced into the scene. She did this a couple times and right as she nailed it, she lost her balance and fell. She fell hard. She fell with no control. No fear. With abandon. It was so still in the second after she fell. We were all looking at her with suspended breath. Waiting for the cue that she was okay and unscathed… we were hoping for that anyway. I ran up to her and helped her up. She had scraped her thigh and her wrist. Her initial fear was that she could have broke her wrist because of a previous injury. We took a break and waited to see if the shoot was over, praying that it wasn't. After a few minutes of ice and rest and an Advil, Louise mustered the courage and energy to keep going. It was quite an impressive thing to watch her model with such grace and poise while in pain and a little scraped and bruised. Louise won my heart over after this. 
   
On our way to the Strip we stopped for some much needed water (and a beer) to recoup our sanity- or some of it anyway. The break felt good. We laughed outside the Chevron, cooling down in the shade, telling dating horror stories. It seemed that everyone was taking the days hits as they came with some humor and we all seemed to be gaining some momentum back. We headed on to the Welcome to Vegas sign and somehow managed to avoid the hoard of tourists.  Louise was in pain but it seemed like the show was back on the road - so to say. 
   
When you look at the Holiday campaign you will see it split into two stories. Just as this day kept going on and on and on and on the stories took on a life - or two - of their own. The desert had us in a dreamy daze. You know that feeling you get on the road like anything could happen? Like you could go anywhere, or be anyone, and live a million lives in one adventure. Once we entered the “real world” - if you could call Vegas that - the story shifted. She had arrived somewhere. There was no more ghost-writing, this was a tangible place filled with it’s own kind of adventures. We had arrived to the Glutter Gulch. 
  
I’m not sure what you think of when you think of Old Vegas. I think ten thousand lights close enough to touch. I think of Elvis. I think of pink feather boas and tiki drinks. I think of a place where no one cares about anything else beyond how much fun they are having. I think the team had something like this in mind. And well, how the day had been going, we should have expected to be prepared for something unexpected. 
  
The hotel wasn’t exactly the Vegas that I described above. It was more like cheap cigarettes, plastic cups and people gambling away money that they shouldn’t be. Jessi, who produced our shoot, called me before I got there and let me know that it wasn’t exactly what we had envisioned. At this point in time, however, nothing could bring me down. I was going to finish this shoot and it was going to be amazing. I was determined. I told her it was okay and we would make it work. I walked into the room and yes, it certainly wasn’t exactly what I had had in mind. But it would work. We’d make it work.
     
With Veronica in the hospital suffering from severe dehydration, we were out our stylist. But luckily some things were working in our favor and the makeup artist also styles on the side. With some solid teamwork we made this hotel room work. And you know what? I LOVED it. We were creative and just like I always say, sometimes inspiration comes from challenge. We were turning this day of trials into something we could work with. We shot a little around the hotel room and even down in the casino, incognito of course. Because this place was so under the radar no one even cared or noticed that we were shooting something. Maybe it was the heavy boozing or clouds of smoke but we felt pretty invisible - the good kind of invisible. We finished up there and headed out to find some of that pink and some of those happy, shining lights, the things the City of Light are known for. And we found them. We worked around the tweakers at the pink motel and we worked around the tourists in t-shirts with mile-high plastic cups and shorts and we wrapped this thing together. 
   
We finally sat down for dinner at 11P. Let’s just say it was a long day. Louise was obviously still in pain. But also the most impressive model I have ever worked with. She found a way to smile through it all. We were a little delirious by the time we sat for dinner and we were all really happy we had actually, somehow, made it though the day, despite it all. And the end result: amazing… beautiful. Better than we could have imagined. Except for one thing. It turns out that Louise actually broke her wrist on that fall. We were all so shocked when we found out. But also shocked that she persevered through the rest of the day, with a sweet and gracious smile. As William Makepeace Thackeray said “bravery never goes out of fashion.” Louise, in a non-cheesy way, was an inspiration on that day. We were all out there for the love. The love of art, of creating, sharing stories and adventure. I am happy to say that through the trials of the day, our collective love shines through in this Karmic Oasis story. Enjoy the ride.
  
Story and Photography by Hailley Howard // @hailleyhoward