Media Life appears Fridays in the Auburn Journal

Media Life:Colfax cinematographer in middle of Mumbai hotel terror

Also, TV’s “Amazing Race” calls, Foresthill cameraman answers
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Colfax expatriate Joshua Reis went to India to shoot a TV travelogue but ended up barricaded in Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Hotel ballroom during last week’s terrorist attack. Reis, a cinematographer whose work will soon be seen in the new Kanye West “Heartbreak” video, said he and about 20 other people barricaded themselves in the hotel’s Prince’s Ballroom for the first seven hours of the siege and were able to escape through a second-story window that had been partially blown out by a grenade. The 1998 Placer High grad said he climbed through the window and made it to the ground and safety using a rope made of tablecloths and drapes. One of the most telling images from the terrorist attacks was one of a burning turret on the landmark hotel. Reis and his group were just below it. Embers were falling as he climbed down and he was burned on his arm during the escape. “We felt we had to get out or we would be the next victims,” Reis said. He has since returned to his Los Angeles home after staying a couple of days at another hotel in Mumbai. The possessions he left behind are still in “The Taj” or burned in the fire, he said. The drama for Reis started as the film crew he was with was meeting over dinner with hotel management. “We heard gunshots and no one thought much of it,” Reis said. “Then we heard more and they were getting closer and closer.” Reis had been in India two years earlier shooting commercial work with actress Elizabeth Hurley. This time around, he was poised for a journey to some of India’s most scenic landmarks to film a travel series “Nomad Traveler,” with celebrity fashion photographer Daniela Frederici. The restaurant was on the second floor, above a back entrance where the terrorist group made its entry. One crewmember spent five hours locked in a bathroom but Reis stayed with a group that made its way to the ballroom. With the lights off, he and others used iPhones and text messaging to keep in contact with the outside world and learn what was going on. Reis’s texts and phone messages reached his parents, Anita and Dale, in the Colfax area. “We somewhat lived the nightmare,” Anita said. Reis said he could hear gunshots, explosions and people screaming during his ordeal. The windows in the ballroom were bulletproof glass but a grenade explosion had shattered the surface. That allowed people to break the remnants open with brass pottery and other objects they could find to open up a hole and make their escape. “It was definitely a lot of luck and trying to be resourceful that got us out,” he said. Reis, who also received kudos for his second-unit cinematography in the film “The Take,” said he’d like to go back to India in the future. “A lot depends on India – there’s a lot of tension between India and Pakistan – and they need to catch the people responsible,” he said. “But it’s a beautiful country and I think India will prevail.” GLOBAL VISION Imagine being asked to literally drop everything but your camera to globe trot with contestants on TV’s “The Amazing Race.” Foresthill cameraman Bret Allen got that offer and went for it. Allen stepped in as a last-minute crew member and spent 22 days with the “Amazing Race” production team flying around the world to film next season’s reality-adventure-game show. While Allen is contractually obligated to stay mum on practically everything surrounding his time working on the show, including where he went, he could say that he was fortunate to have an up-to-date passport ready so he could make the multi-country trek. But before Allen and his Steady-cam took off for points that will remain unknown for now to Media Life readers, there was the smallish matter of shots – five of them – to handle various and sundry tropical diseases. “My arm was sore for a few days,” Allen said. Allen’s one of those local residents peppering the foothills who’ve chosen to chuck the fast-paced Hollywood life in favor of a more sedate atmosphere. The 50-year-old Del Oro High School grad said he’s trying to retire from the “big stuff” but sometimes – as in the case of “The Amazing Race,” the “big stuff” comes calling. At the time of the “Amazing Race” request, Allen was working with Sacramento’s Idea Factory studio on the “Sutter: Your Health” TV series. Luckily, producer Jody Pribyl was an “uber fan” of “Amazing Race.” “She let me go in a heartbeat,” Allen said. Like a lot of behind-the-scenes creative types, people may not know Allen’s name but they’re more than familiar with his work. That goes back to an internship with Sacramento’s KTXL on the much-loved “Cap’n Mitch” kiddies show. With more than 30 years under his belt as a motion picture camera operator, Allen can look back on some fascinating experiences. From network movie-of-the-week work to being behind the lense for a Francis Ford Coppola-financed feature film “Clownhouse” in the late 1980s, he’s been involved in dozens of larger productions. He’s even earned his “Six degrees of Bacon” credentials by getting to know stars like Kevin Bacon on movie sets. Most recently, he’s worked on the CMT series “Chopper Challenge," in between the corporate and commercial work that steadily comes his way. Allen grew up in the Penryn-Loomis area, graduating from Del Oro High School in 1977. Even then he was making short film features with the goal of breaking into the movie business. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at