Media

Must-watch video: A drone went bowling. Hollywood noticed.

A drone video shot in a Minneapolis bowling alley was hailed as an instant classic. One Hollywood veteran said it “adds to the language and vocabulary of cinema.”

Drone video
A drone operator shot an 87-second video in a Minneapolis bowling alley last week to raise support for the business. The operator didn’t expect it to be viewed hundreds of thousands of times on social media, or to win high praise from Hollywood directors. Jay Christensen and Anthony Jaska/Rally Studios via The New York Times

A drone flies into a bar, swoops through an adjacent bowling alley and crashes into the pins.

The drone’s operator, who shot the 87-second video in a Minneapolis bowling alley last week to rally support for the business, did not expect it to be viewed hundreds of thousands of times on social media — or to win high praise from Hollywood directors.

But it was and it did.

Bowling, like baseball, is one thing that lots of Americans can get behind, even at a time of intense political polarization. In that sense, the country could perhaps use a video like this at a moment like this.

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Fans of the video, titled “Right Up Our Alley,” marveled at what they said was a remarkable cinematic achievement: a continuous take, shot at high velocity, in tight spaces and without digital effects. (Remember those famous long takes from “Goodfellas” and “Touch of Evil”? It was a bit like that, but faster, and with bowling.)

“This is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen,” wrote director Lee Unkrich, whose 2017 film “Coco” won an Academy Award for best animated feature. “Jaw on the floor.”

It’s funny, too: Bystanders in the drone’s path can be heard quoting from “The Big Lebowski,” which is arguably — sorry, “Kingpin” — the greatest bowling movie of all time.

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“My foot wasn’t over the line,” a woman near the lanes says to her bowling partner. “Mark it 8, dude.”

“This is bowling; there are rules,” her partner replies, an alleyside quip from “Lebowski,” the 1998 film. “I’m not counting it.”

The bowling alley where the video was shot, Bryant Lake Bowl & Theater, also has a restaurant, a cabaret theater and a bar that makes “rail cocktails.” It opened in 1936 in a former garage that had serviced Model T Fords.

“Right Up Our Alley,” shot by drone operator Jay Christensen, was made as part of a project to document well-known businesses around Minnesota that are threatened by the pandemic, said Brian Heimann, a producer at Rally Studios, the Minneapolis production company that produced it.

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“The place is near and dear to our hearts,” he added. “So when we floated the idea to the owner, she was all for it. It was a no-brainer.”

The coronavirus has been brutal in the Midwest, including Minnesota, a state of fewer than 6 million people that has reported nearly 500,000 cases. During a November peak, Minnesota recorded more than 6,000 new cases a day.
Bryant Lake Bowl & Theater is also in a neighborhood that saw heavy civil unrest after the death of George Floyd, the Black man who died last May after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by a Minneapolis police officer’s knee. The protests led to riots, and several buildings in the city were heavily damaged.

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Heimann said the video, directed by Anthony Jaska, was shot in a single take with a racing drone — on the 10th try after nine takes. He said the drone survived the dramatic crash at the end.

“A lot of people think, ‘Oh, my gosh, why would you potentially destroy a piece of equipment like that?’” he said. “But, no, these drones are quite resilient.”

Travis Duede, a sous chef who works nights at Bryant Lake and appeared in the video, said the business was boarded up or closed for parts of last year and that he had not worked for 100 days in the early phase of Minnesota’s lockdown.

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When he showed up for the drone shooting last week, he said he did not know what to expect. His boss had described it beforehand only as “a guy shooting a video here with a drone.”

This week, Duede noticed that the video was popular on a local Reddit page and racking up praise from Hollywood A-listers, including actor Elijah Wood.

“Oh, this is a lot bigger than we thought,” he said he recalled thinking. “But it was cool because it was our bar and restaurant and bowling alley getting a lot of attention.”

In addition to Wood, the video’s fans include James Gunn, the creative force behind Disney’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie franchise, who called it “stupendous” in a Twitter post.

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“This kind of wonderful photographic innovation adds to the language and vocabulary of cinema,” wrote Todd Vaziri, a visual-effects artist who has worked on the “Star Wars” and “Transformers” movies. “Just beautiful.”

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