Nature: Bell Springs

I decided to revisit a hiking trail in White Springs, Fla that I feel possesses some strong scenic characteristics reminiscent of films like The Revenant or Valhalla Rising.

The trail begins at Bell Springs along the Suwannee River. Since my last visit the reconstructive work by the State Parks and Recreation Department has been completed.

The natural spring which was once blocked by a dam has now been worked over restoring the natural creek, delivering water into the Suwannee. The trail head begins where this beautiful creek now flows.

The trail is marked by blue paint markers on trees along the rarely groomed path. There is no need to worry about getting lost because the trail follows the snaking of the Suwannee. When you begin the hike you will be headed east and will arrive at a camp in approximately 2.5 miles.

On your way to the camp you will come across a little waterfall in a creek that runs along the hiking trail. When water level is high like it was on my visit, the waterfall is more like a small rapid. When water level is low however, the waterfall can have a nice 5 foot drop.

Due to the increased water level you might have difficulty getting passed the creek that the path eventually crosses. Where the trail ends there is a fallen tree that goes over the creek. Someone has been kind enough to secure a cable to use for balance when crossing over the creek on the log.

Once you cross the creek you are halfway to the camp. The trail starts running directly along the Suwannee again. From here you just have to stay on the trail and you will reach your destination.

The camp is directly across from the observation decks of Big Shoals State Park. Here you can see the Big Shoals’ natural whitewater when the water level is optimal.

The rise in water level creates class three rapids which is a rare find in Florida. I kayaked the shoals and filmed a short adventure a year or so back. If you choose to follow my footsteps and do the same I highly recommend wearing a helmet.

Once you are done exploring on your own, you can simply head back west on the trail back to where you park. Or if you choose, you can continue east for a longer exploration.

This location makes your filming options limited. The thick brush and river creates a single footpath which reduces your options.

The location though allows for a perfect location for that niche film about being a hiker on the Florida Trail. The trail can also serve as a place to shoot some good b-roll if you are shooting a scene where a character is traveling down river.

“It’s always money, especially with this stuff,” said Charlie Hatcher, 21, UF journalism student.

“The key to making it a film great is it’s authenticity … You just have to really be keen to all the detail, nothing is in the frame that shouldn’t be there.” Hatcher said.

This brings up using a studio as compared to using a natural location for filming. Using a studio allows for the filmmaker to choose everything that is in the frame. What belongs in the scene to help the feel or plot of the film?

This can all be controlled. Using a natural location such as Bell Springs means using the environment given to you. Characters can still be controlled but the scenery and landscape cannot; unless there is specific given permission in modifying the landscape.

“Does your actor work with the location?” Hatcher asked. “When you’re acting, you’re living in that moment … The best actors convince themselves that what their going through is real.”

If you have good actors any location can work. The actors often sell the show, they can make it or break it. The key is finding actors that are comfortable in working with the locations and the situations given to them.

Check out the location as a hiker and decide if it may suite your project well. Directions to the Bell Springs trailhead can be found here.

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