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Taking a Grueling Trip Down ‘Blood Road’

In "Blood Road," ultra-endurance mountain biker Rebecca Rusch embarks on an emotional ride down the 1,200-mile Ho Chi Minh trail that runs through Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

When ultra-endurance mountain biker Rebecca Rusch embarked on a ride down the 1,200-mile Ho Chi Minh trail that runs through Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, her goal was to reach the site where her father, a U.S. Air Force pilot, had been shot down more than 40 years earlier during the Vietnam War. Rusch, a Red Bull-sponsored athlete, and her adventure fell squarely in the purview of Red Bull Media House.

Director Nicholas Schrunk was intrigued with the idea of making a film about Rusch’s emotional journey, as she cycles with her Vietnamese riding partner, Huyen Nguyen, whose life was also shaped by the Vietnam War.

Rebecca Rusch and Huyen Nguyen in Blood Road
Photo by Josh Letchworth/Red Bull Content Pool

Preproduction work was crucial for this month-long expedition, which wound a path through dense jungle, rough terrain and even an immense cave. Schrunk decided on an observational shooting style in which the camera crew would remain as hidden as possible. He spent three months scouting the Ho Chi Minh trail on motorcycle with a Garmin GPS and iPhone apps to assemble a detailed shooting plan.

Cinematographers Ryan Young, Sean Aaron, David Mavro and Robert J.D. Spaulding—all athletes—followed the two bicyclists on dirt bikes, carrying RED EPIC 6K cameras and Cooke anamorphic/i lenses in their backpacks. For the stunning aerial shots, Neil Goss piloted DJI Phantom 2 drones with anamorphic-modified GoPros, and Nick Wolcott operated the larger Freefly CineStar drone and MoVI M10 camera movement system, which carried a RED EPIC with anamorphic lenses. (Cameraman David G. Wilson shot footage in the United States.)

Nicholas Schrunk
Photo by Josh Letchworth/Red Bull Content Pool

“We shot in 6K and mastered to 4K, which allowed us to pan and scan within the RED raw files,” says Schrunk. “We could push in and recompose without losing resolution in 4K and paint in the anamorphic corners.” With regard to the lenses, Schrunk says the Cooke anamorphics worked well with the warm skin tones of Rusch and Nguyen, and were tough enough to handle the jungle and the humidity without losing calibration.

As the two cyclists navigated boulders and dense mountain paths, sometimes with their bikes slung over their shoulders, the crew followed, capturing it all, a grueling endeavor in itself. Young, a former professional motocross rider, organized the logistics of backing up tapes and changing batteries—tasks that took place every few days when crew in a truck met them at various points along the road.

Blood Road is currently screening in cities around the world. The film is also available as a digital download in 4K through Vimeo On Demand, or in HD and SD on iTunes, Amazon, Vimeo On Demand and Google Play.

Rebecca Rusch on Twitter: Follow @rebeccarusch