Friday, April 20, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 7

Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on September 11th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 27 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 14, Issue 27

Veteran filmmaker Michael Love turns his lens to the Santa Ynez River


Michael Love’s film The Santa Ynez River Wilderness explores the complex mosaic of habitats present in the Santa Ynez Valley.

The beauty and splendor of the Central Coast isn’t lost on many, but the extent and complexity of the natural habitats might come as a surprise. Running through the Los Padres National Forest, the Santa Ynez Valley begins to reveal the lushness of the area, which provides many plants and animals with a stable habitat.

Michael Love—a filmmaker with plenty of success in screenwriting and cinematography in Hollywood—decided to document the thriving flora and fauna of the Santa Ynez River after buying a cabin there several years ago. What started out as a pet project soon evolved into the possibility of a feature-length documentary due to the amount and quality of the footage collected, Love explained.

“I built up a lot of material over four years,” he said, “and as the material became more comprehensive, and there was a portrayal of each season and a pretty complete depiction of the food chain up here, it became apparent that I had a feature film.”

Love used a variety of techniques to capture footage for his film, The Santa Ynez River Wilderness. In addition to the use of telephoto and macro lenses to capture images either far off or close up, Love made use of trail cameras. Trail cameras are set up somewhere in the wild, usually near or on an obvious animal trail, and left for long periods of time, including overnight.

“The way they work is they sense body heat, so anything that is alive that comes within a certain proximity of the camera will trigger the camera and it will start filming in HD,” Love said. “At night it has black light illumination; it’s basically a lighting that the wildlife can’t see at all. Because the animals cannot tell they are being filmed or that the immediate area is lit, you get this very natural behavior, and that has been a wonderful asset to this film.”

The cameras have collected shots of many types of fauna, from tiny birds to the largest mammals in the area. Love captured shots of black bears bathing in a watering hole and foraging skunks. It took him quite some time to find the “sweet spots” for capturing images of indigenous species.

“It was all about trial and error; of where to put that camera,” he said. “I kept trying new places until I started figuring out what the factors were that I needed to get the shots I was looking for.”

Love makes use of trail cameras—which are left alone in hopes of grabbing footage of animals acting naturally—and has scored shots of some amazing wildlife.

After collecting plenty of footage, Love decided to make a feature documentary, which meant he needed the help of some of the area’s leading experts on the local wilderness. He started with an anthropological approach to the Santa Ynez River area, which was home to indigenous Chumash for centuries.

“The curator of anthropology at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, John Johnson, decided to be a part of it, as well as Ernestine De Soto,” he said. “They have done mitochondrial DNA tests on [De Soto] and she is descended from some of the first Native Americans who crossed the Bering bridge and lived in this area.”

Also interested in the geology of the area, Love interviewed Santa Barbara City College professor Jeff Meyer, who earned a doctorate in geology at UC Santa Barbara. Tanya Atwater, Ph.D., a professor for UCSB, also aided Love by providing more than just an interview. Atwater and her husband, John, provided geological animations, maps, and artwork for the documentary.

“I would call these people out of the blue and explain to them who I was, what it was, and how it was a volunteer project, a labor of love,” Love said. “And I was so fortunate to have them come aboard.”

The last section on his list was biology, a topic that Love wanted to be dynamic and interesting. He connected with Cristina Sandoval, Ph.D., who is currently the resident director of UCSB’s Coal Oil Point Reserve and the owner of the Paradise Reserve on the Santa Ynez River.

“She is very charismatic and comes off great on camera,” Love said. “She really completed the movie and gave it the depth it was missing.”

Tour the wild
The Santa Ynez Valley premier of the documentary The Santa Ynez River Wilderness by Michael Love will be Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. at the UCSB Sedgwick Reserve, Tipton Meeting House, in Santa Ynez. Info: 693-5683,, or

Sandoval is also known for discovering a new species of walking stick in the Santa Ynez River Wilderness during her graduate work at UCSB. She will be on hand with Love during a question-and-answer session after the screening of the film at the Sedgwick Reserve.

Love premiered his film—which he narrated and his wife, Tina, edited—at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. It won the Central Coast Filmmaker Best Documentary Award at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival. Though the film has premiered already, Love has added a few extra clips before getting his film stamped onto a DVD.

“The mountain lion shots I always got, they were halfway through the frame or walking away,” he said. “So I never got that shot I wanted until a week ago, I was looking through my trail cam shots and I got a shot of this beautiful mountain lion that walks into frame, stops, looks at the camera, and leisurely walks by.”

Love even called the company that is preparing his DVD for a “stop the presses!” kind of moment just to include the superior shot of the mountain lion.

“This film has really expanded my appreciation of the mosaic of habitats out here,” Love said. “I’ve seen again and again as I have shown this film how much people enjoy learning—or even just being reminded—about the complexity and gestalt of where we live.”


Arts Editor Joe Payne would certainly stop the presses for a mountain lion. Contact him at

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