It's not every day that a camera-equipped drone swoops into Minneapolis' historic Bryant-Lake Bowl, sneaking into the nooks and crannies of the bowling alley machines and darting gracefully around — and through the legs of — masked bowlers.
Millions of people have viewed the 1 ½-minute video by 25-year-old cinematographer Jay Christensen, produced by Minneapolis-based Rally Studios and directed by Anthony Jaska.
"Guardians of the Galaxy" filmmaker James Gunn called the single-shot clip, which feels like a roller-coaster ride, "stupendous." He tweeted it to his 800,000-plus followers, saying he wanted the filmmakers "to come with us to London later this year when we shoot Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3."
For the filmmakers, all this attention comes as a surprise. When reached by phone, they said they were just having fun staging the short film at the bowling alley on March 2.
Christensen, who lives near Bryant-Lake Bowl, was struck by the destruction and rebuilding taking place on Lake Street following the rioting last spring after George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police.
"It made me think, what's the future of Lake Street going to look like?" he asked. "Bryant-Lake Bowl is a staple in the community, and not having it be that way didn't sit well with me."
He approached the bowling alley's owner, Erica Gilbert, and explained his idea to show the uniqueness of her venue. She agreed to let them film after hours, which helped maintain COVID safety. Audio was dubbed later, including music by Jay Keller.
"If you think about all the small businesses and COVID, their business has been hit, obviously," Christensen said. "I would go in there and notice that it was pretty empty."
Jaska said Christensen had been getting "prolific" with the FPV ("first-person view") drone since last spring, including another popular video showing the empty streets of downtown Minneapolis during Minnesota's stay-at-home order. But he had not shot anything indoors. The vintage bowling alley felt like the perfect place to test his skills.
"From the get-go, Jay was like, 'I gotta go behind the machine,' " Jaska said.
Christensen chimed in: "Erica had taken me back there and showed me the bowling machines. Watching these machines mechanically, going on the conveyor belt, was the most magnificent thing I'd ever seen."
That shot didn't quite work, unfortunately, but they did get to zoom in on how the pin machines worked.
The most difficult maneuver wasn't on the bowling lanes, though. "It was coming through the front door in the beginning," Christensen said. "It was windy and there was a parking meter right where I wanted [the drone] to be, so I had to evade that, and also quickly react to the wind and make sure there weren't any pedestrians around."
Christensen and Jaska said a number of directors are reaching out to them, and future projects are brewing.
They would especially like to "tell a story in a time piece or some sort of historical re-enactment where you could fly through a whole different time period," Christensen said.
As for the possibility of working on "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3," Jaska said it all "seems crazy, but who knows?"
Alicia Eler • 612-673-4437
Twitter: @Alicia Eler