LIVE: Converting a school bus into a mobile film production unit with Louisa Gilbert
Meet Louisa Gilbert of Wild Bus Films, a film producer with big names like the BBC, Nat Geo and Discovery Channel in her portfolio.
When she came to us with her project of converting an old school bus into an off grid tiny home / film production unit, our adventure-loving ears pricked right up! AND THEN, she told us that once converted, she will head into the wilderness with cameras and produce beautiful short films right then + there.
For one of these films, she'll travel 14kms in the snow and camp for 3 days in -23C in self-built snow caves to cover a story about an extreme ski competition where the competitors seek completely untouched territory. Just to give you a taste of what we are all in for!!
So follow along right here on the #SheWentWild blog. Louisa will be feeding us little snippets now and then and we’ll be updating this page into one big, long adventure feed!
MAY 19 - Nelson, BC, Canada
APRIL 19 - Nelson, BC, Canada
Finally, spring is here and with it: new light!
The big win here is the skylight…well, THREE separate skylights!
While cutting three giant holes into the roof of the bus struck a special kind of fear into my heart, the results have been totally worth it.
We enlisted the help of a welder to ensure the integrity of the bus chassis. It was decided that we would not cut through the structural beams that criss-cross the bus ceiling. Therefore, rather than one long skylight, we made three separate skylights and reinforced them with steel frames. This has given an industrial look to the interior of the bus which I love.
To overcome the bus’s curved roof we used plexi-glass instead of regular glass. One layer of plexi sits flush with the outside of the bus and the other sits flush with the wood-panelled interior ceiling. The interior one will slide in and out so in the depths of Canada’s winter, I’ll be able to insert insulation inside the 2.5 inch gap.
And the biggest challenge? Still trying to figure out this off-grid power situation…
The bus will be able to plug into mains power and operate like normal house would but obviously, that rather detracts from the whole point of this venture so to solar and propane we looked…
The power set up for the bus has bought me more conflicting advice than any other aspect of the entire project. No matter who you ask, what you read/watch, it always seems to completely conflict with the opinion before it. At some point you just have to dive in. My logic has been to get a system which you can add more batteries/panels to and one which will be able to support a heavy power load as my camera and editing equipment makes my requirements more hefty than a standard holiday RV.
So here we go. I will be running a 12V system off the inbuilt bus alternator and a 24V system from the 3 solar panels soon to be mounted on the roof. The batteries fed by the bus engine and solar panels will be able to send power through an inverter which will step the voltage up to 110V for my fridge and washing machine.
As heat uses so much energy, it is best to avoid electric appliances. The oven and the hot water heater will run off propane as will a separate wall-mounted propane heater, which will be the back-up for a log burning stove.
The power system is still to go in but having made the decision, I have been able to order the appliances. Seeing a fridge, oven and washing machine in the space is making the bus look and feel more and more like a home!
MARCH 19 - Nelson, BC, Canada
It’s beginning to feel more like home!
The snow is melting as winter gradually turns into spring here. Longer and warmer days means we can get so much more work completed.
This month’s win? The bus is now fully insulated and the wood panelled ceiling, walls and floor have been built in. It is so satisfying to see a metal shell slowly transforming into a home!
One challenge has been the sobering realisation that despite months of planning, when things actually started to take shape, I realised that what worked on paper might not be the case in the flesh. What has then helped is creating mock ups with plywood. I mocked up the kitchen, experimenting with counter width and where a cooker, sink and fridge could go - truly the ultimate game of Tetris and one where you have to live with the consequences!
The bathroom, bedroom and living space are now mapped, measured and partitions have been built in. There were a few nerve-wracking days when there were three large holes cut into the roof to create a skylight but we had to take advantage of the sunshine!
The biggest challenge, though, has been figuring out how to best power the bus and this is what I’m currently still solving. I have spent hours watching YouTube videos, speaking to people living off-grid and boring my friends senseless with my newfound opinions on solar systems. That is the next step – securing the panels, battery banks and wiring up a system that will allow the Wild Bus to survive in the wilderness.
FEB 19 - Nelson, BC, Canada
To sum up this month in two words - THE ONE!
After months of researching and looking at buses, I finally found "the one" and could start the conversion to create my off-grid home and film production studio.
Meet the bus - a 40ft Thomas Built 2004 School Bus which I paid $4,000CAD for!
My biggest win in this stage was seeing the bus start to take shape and move from being an empty shell to the start of a tiny house. Seeing my vision begin to come together was so satisfying.
This month also saw the first of my “Wild Bus Films” go into production! It’s a true pleasure to be working with so many interesting characters to tell their wilderness stories.
But alongside the wins came the challenges.
Though I’ve spent 10 years making films in some very hostile environments, the reality of exploring the North American wilderness in a converted school bus is still sobering at times! It comes with so many new challenges such as training in avalanche awareness, which I had to do in order to shoot with the Mountain Search and Rescue team in British Columbia whose stories are both inspirational and frightening.
There are daily challenges as well that come hand-in-hand with living in the sub zero temperatures of the Canadian winter. Basically everything hard becomes harder! Tools for the bus freeze, cameras freeze, my hands freeze… relatively simple tasks become tough and, at times, dangerous. I had the scare of my life when my car skidded on ice across the highway in a double 360, planting me into a snow bank, facing on-coming traffic – thankfully nobody was hurt but the experience was truly terrifying.
A less terrifying BUT funny story was my very first drive in the bus. I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to shut the front passenger door and so I drove 2 hours down the highway with it WIDE OPEN. It was cold, to say the least!