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Behind the scenes: 'All In America' in North and South Dakota

How many ways can you film a wind turbine blade the length of a football field barreling down the highway? We found out.

On "All In America," we've traveled to more than a dozen states this summer to bring you the stories you won't see anywhere else. But one in particular -- the Oct. 9th package on alternative energy -- was born out of a road trip unlike any other. 

Our mission: Follow a wind turbine blade from factory to farm, across the North/South Dakota border. To be clear, a single blade is a mammoth piece of fiberglass and wood, weighing in at nine tons and measuring half the length of a football field. To see one barreling down the highway is stunning. As Dave Devries, the crew leader for the wind turbine drivers, put it: "I've had a lot of people ask me what this thing is, and the best response I came up with was, it's a prosthetic limb for a whale." 

After months of planning, two "All In" producers tackled the challenge over the course of one 17-hour day in early September. Armed with two video cameras, four Go-Pros, ten hours worth of blank tape, every assortment of wired, wireless, and stick mics, and more extension cords and extra batteries than we could count, we pulled out of our hotel in Grand Forks, North Dakota and drove to LM Wind Power, a factory that employs around 600 people and churns out five to six blades every day. 

To interview Keith Longtin, General Manager of Wind Products for GE Renewable Energy, we jacked up one of the nearby pieces of equipment to get an amazing aerial view of the lined-up turbines in the background. 

MSNBC's Tina Cone and Erin Delmore shoot an interview with GE's Keith Longtin at LM Wind Power in Grand Forks, North Dakota
MSNBC's Tina Cone and Erin Delmore shoot an interview with GE's Keith Longtin at LM Wind Power in Grand Forks, North Dakota

While we did our interviews at LM, we recorded an hour-long tape off our second camera in the factory while workers sanded and painted the newest blades. 

Back home in the edit booth, we sped up that tape to produce the time lapse you see in the package. 

With some careful footing, we filmed the 180 foot blade being moved from the inside of the factory to the back of the truck. 

LM Wind Power, Grand Forks, North Dakota
LM Wind Power, Grand Forks, North Dakota

Some blades travel thousands of miles to their destinations. Ours was headed just 255 miles away, to a brand new wind farm in Clark, South Dakota. 

LM Wind Power, Grand Forks, North Dakota
LM Wind Power, Grand Forks, North Dakota

Each blade is massive -- big enough for a person to crawl inside. 

LM expects to produce 1,800 blades this year alone.

We attached four GoPros to the turbine caravan: One on our car, one on the "pilot" car that drives behind the turbine with flashing lights, and two to the truck. 

The drive from Grand Forks to Clark -- a trek that usually takes four hours -- took nearly twice as long, since the truck hauling the turbine can't exceed 60 MPH. 

To get a powerful angle on the blade barreling down the highway, we used Google Maps Street View to identify overpasses a half hour or so apart, and sped ahead of the truck and staked out two camera positions: one facing the oncoming traffic, and one facing the opposite direction to catch the blade driving away. 

Back on the main road, we passed the blade over and over again, hanging out the passenger side window with a camera to get the shot. 

A group of drivers from Art Heavy Haul even lent us the trunk of their car to shoot out of, popping the rear window up so we could crouch in the back of the van. 

Nearly seven hours, a bag of Teddy Grahams and two varieties of trail mix later, we arrived at a sixth generation family farm in Clark, across the South Dakota border...

...and caught some beautiful shots as the sun set on Oak Tree farm. 


We wrapped up our day of shooting at dusk and made the four hour drive back to Grand Forks, through swarms of mosquitoes, scores of frogs on the road, and a dense blanket of fog, and stayed awake through it all with a little help from the pop divas of the 1980s.

A few weeks later, we aired the finished product on "All In with Chris Hayes:"