Filmmaker Converts Sprinter Van into Mobile Studio to Create Adventure Travel Films

Filmmaker Converts Sprinter Van into Mobile Studio to Create Adventure Travel Films

December 4, 2019 100 By Kailee Schamberger


Hey, I’m Levi Allen. I’m an adventure
filmmaker. This is Florence, the adventure van. The idea of living and traveling in a vehicle and kind of having this like
adventure platform that you could take places definitely came from when I was a
kid. My dad had a VW Westfalia van and we’d take that on surf trips. My first
kind of adventure vehicle was the classic small pickup truck and the car,
but the ideal in my head was always moving towards like a larger van,
expedition platform. For me the value of a vehicle has always been, “where can you
go and what can you do with it?” Was kind of searching for about a year,
stumbled on some small used car dealership. I’d had just enough cash to
buy the van. The first like six months that I lived in the van was just like bare cargo
van with like some plywood and a sketchy foam mattress. I realized this dream I
had of like outfitting it to perfection was not actually conducive
for what I was trying to do at that time just make a film so I had to
simplify my vision. Make it sort of accommodating, but a majority of the
time’s going to be spent outside of it anyway. It’s going to be the home base so
let’s just be okay with how it is right now and be grateful for a roof over my
head and move on from there. Okay so my van is a 2004 Mercedes
Sprinter. It’s the longest wheelbase and highest height model. One of my actual
favorite upgrades of the van that I’ve done so far, one of the most expensive ones,
was actually to the outside and that’s these knobbier BFG KO2 tires I put on. They’re
kind of a little bit overkill for a van but it helps make up for how much this
van doesn’t do well off-roading, but I like taking it up like mountain roads
and stuff like that. So in stage one of the van I was living in the van in
Vancouver and I needed it to be as stealth as possible, but now the van is
kind of moving into stage two of its life where I’m using it kind of on
adventure productions and I’m not living in cities as much so I’m kind of
getting ready to morph it more into where it’s more obvious that it’s an
adventure rig. So I’m thinking about putting some windows in it, thinking
about giving it a paint job, a roof rack, and all those kind of things, but that’s
kind of further down the road. Right now it’s still kind of in a bit of a stealth
mode where it’s hard to tell someone lives in it. What I like about this is right when I
open the door I try to have all the bags that I want to access for filming within
arm’s reach of kind of the door here because I found I was getting in and out
a lot when I had the gear further back into the van. So I try to keep the most
necessary filmmaking stuff kind of as close and within arm reach. Each one of
like my bags I try to make sure that oh people are going to hate that I
don’t have lens caps on but, oh well. Yeah I try to just kind of keep everything in
the same places and that just really helps keep things organized, but then
also here this is where I, it’s actually it’s a, I mean it’s a cooler, but I
keep my food in it so this is also where I’ll kind of take this out and cook off
it. This is a table that folds in the middle and changes height. Often what
I’ll do is leave this here in the van kind of up against the wall here so I
can prep my camera gear inside. Underneath in back against the wall I’ve
got my inverter, which is just a 750 watt inverter. Back here I’ve just got two
golf cart batteries that are isolated from the main battery. One day I’ll get
solar, but that day is not today. In here I just have like basic slacklining gear
and things like that. I’ve got ropes around and in the van, which
comes surprisingly helpful especially if you ever get the van stuck. The walls
kind of look sort of finished and I essentially just took slats off pallets
and just like fastened them to the wall. This is super bare-bones purely just for
the aesthetics of making it look slightly finished and I’m a big fan of
the cabin vibe. My dream’s to have like that cedar tongue-in-groove
that’s become a little bit trendy with van stuff. I just love the way it looks
and I think it looks like a cabin, but if we look on the roof or anything like
that like it’s I just really threw it together in about a week and I’m
surprised it’s kind of lasted this long. Over here just like a really basic light
LED strip that I threw up in there. Kind of up here on the bed area
we’ve just got like a six inch foam mattress that is about a queen size. Like
this is where I have my clothes just in a duffel back here. That’s where I keep
my clothes. This is one of my camera bags that I take out. It’s really nice to have
a place for everything to go and this is kind of like the generic catch-all
because sometimes you just need a place to put things
because when you start driving stuff just goes everywhere in the van. It’s
like super basic in the sense that there’s no shelving, there’s no anything
like that. Definitely the dream one day is to kind of have those shelves at this
height all around and add a bit more like kind of permanent storage areas, but
for now it’s been serving me really well to just like have everything in like
cases like this. So stuff like my monopod and tripods and things like that that
I’m using all the time, these don’t necessarily like have a place so they
kind of get just left around so there’s like stuff like my motion control
time-lapse ladder like it’s fantastic but it’s kind of a pain in the butt to
pull in and store somewhere so I often will just put it on the ground here.
Things like my hiking poles. And then up here we’ve got upgraded captain chairs
of some kind that I pulled out of just an SUV in the record lot. Someone made
this for me, gave it to me. I always say life’s better when you make stuff. I also
got my sailboat. I really like sailing and this is kind of like my land yacht
so I like picturing it that we’re going on some sailing adventures. So the back
is the part that I’m most embarrassed about it’s my messy garage
but I put in this door, off one of the Sprinter vans in an auto wrecker. I got
one with a window because my other door was bent and janky. Inside here, this is
kind of just where the catch-all of everything goes. The bed structure itself
is just a basic 2×4 frame raised off the side ledges of the van and then kind of
like anchored in through the walls. My favorite sport to do myself is actually mountain
biking, being able to carry bikes inside the van is pretty important to me. I left
a bit of a space in-between where the bed ends and where the end of the van is
because I thought I might want to prop bikes up in here. I’m realizing I don’t
do that as much as I thought I would so I might actually move the bed back in
the next version of the build. The dream would be to have like a big drawer that
could pull out on this side and then have like a water tank and kind of other
things on that side but just haven’t gotten there yet. We don’t realize but we’re like
constantly telling ourselves stories about our own life about what we can and
cannot do, where we came from and the opportunities that are ahead of us. Try
to find out what those are so that way you can actually challenge them because
once you like see a different way of going about it, it’s weird to say it, but
it like makes the hardships fun like suffering is completely optional.
Hardships, barriers in life, conflict, all that stuff is all a guarantee. Every
little piece of that like you don’t have control over those things, but suffering
through them and like just drudging through them, that’s totally a choice.
I don’t feel the right to tell someone else that they have to change their
perspective, but I truly just feel that suffering’s optional. Hardships are a
guaranteed. You can just find so much joy in overcoming them and that’s like so
much fun. There’s something like really liberating
about knowing what the worst case scenario is and like visualizing that in your mind,
keeping that aware as you’re trying to like make these decisions in your life.
And for me some of those nights spent in the van sleeping on the cold metal floor
of the van and I just remember some of those nights of just feeling like if this
is the worst like this isn’t so bad. That just like changed my perspective
entirely where I just felt so grateful to have a tube of metal to sleep in and
that just like has shifted the entire perspective of how I’m making decisions
for the future. I just know if everything goes to crap I can just sleep in a van
out on a forest service road. I can hit reset.