Film is such a mesmerizing escape. You go to this dark room and sit there amongst complete strangers while getting lost in another reality. You forget your world and leave all troubles behind. For a moment you become that reality as you are transformed and swept into a world of make believe. Those were my thoughts when I was asked to write and direct a clip about the Beijing film festival for the luxury watch brand, IWC.
Without going to Beijing myself, I had to advise 2 film teams, one in Hong Kong and another in Beijing, on what my vision was for the production. Long distance relationships can be challenging at the best of times. Communicating clear and accurate directions to a foreign world with completely different ideas of what is considered necessary, was certainly a unique opportunity.
At first I was skeptical on how to work towards a strong product, being kind of handicapped sitting on the other side of the world. Doubt kept on creeping in. What if I cannot get them to do what I wanted? What if I cannot communicate my vision clear enough? Getting lost in translation? What if my concept is too complicated? What if, what shmief. The thing is that that kind of thinking can surely stuff up a production. So what do you do and where do you start?
You prepare. You write an idiot proof concept and go over every last detail with the cast / managers / producers and crew. Over and over again. Until the concept is being drilled into their heads and it becomes their reality. You fight for every last drop and you keep it up until you have what you want. Not unrealistic, but at the end of the day, your head will be on the chopping block.
For being my first long distance job affair I am extremely happy with the outcome. Thanks so much to IWC for trusting me with my vision.
Written by Xaver Walser and Rosamund Pike
Assistant writer: Manfred Thieroff
Produced by Elisabeth Gruender and Daniela Berther
Mrs Pike Manager: Nicola Isaacs
Chinese producer: Edith Liu
Hong Kong producer: Ami Lo
Hong Kong DOP: Dean Head
Beijing Crew and camera: Mr Shuo and Jun Studio
Additional Cinema provided by: Andy W. Bohli
Sound mixing by Leos Gerteis at NJP Studios
Post Production house: Sub Graviti Productions
Directed by Xaver Walser
So if anybody is interested, here is the Idiot Prove Briefing I wrote to the Hong Kong & Beijing crew.
The script is a Piece to camera with Rosamund Pike (in English) directly looking into the camera.
Please do not shoot too close to the actors. Medium shots.
Once you think you have the shot - move out for a wide and ask the actor to repeat the action.
Make sure the Microphone is out of shot.
Frame Talent in the middle of the picture.
Shoot from tripod.
Always have camera on eye level.
Do not move the camera.
Boom the microphone very close to the top of the frame [directional].
Have a backup radio microphone (not visible to the eye).
Make sure it is dead quiet in the room.
Make sure the LAUGHING does not distort while recording.
If there is a problem in the audio please re-record it. Do at least 3 takes.
Do not be afraid to ask them to repeat the action. You have one shot at it so get it right.
Lighting the interview
Shoot with strong back light and only a little bit of front light.
The back light must be your main source of lighting.
Fill it with a reflector from the front.
Make sure the light falls soft on talent’s face.
Slight contras on the face would be great.
Separate the talent from the background.
Don’t light up anything like flowerpots in the background. Don’t want to be distracted from the story.
BEFORE THE BJIFF FESTIVAL - B-Roll Bejing city
Some outside shots of Beijing city.
Early morning shots before sunrise.
Shoot the normal people in the street. (Not just fancy people.)
Maybe from a high building.
Polluted smoky city will help a lot for production value.
DURING THE BJIFF FESTIVAL
Locations: Press Conference, Red Carpet, Gala Event
Shoot the normal film festival things.
Think sequences. Once you shoot your wide establishing shots, move immediately in and get your close-ups.
Shoot lots of extreme close-ups of anything you can find.
Some artistic shots. Anything that could resemble a distorted reality.
During the Red Carpet
Once you are happy with your Red Carpet establishing shots, then film some creative shots.
Film the feet of the people.
Film the journalists filming the celebrities.
Don't just film the celebrities but look around for some interesting perspectives and angles. Like the view through another camera operator’s monitor.
Film hands. People holding microphones. The different TV station’s microphones. The logos from the TV stations. (Close-up / Wide)
General things to think about
Roll sound on every shot.
Make sure your sound is not distorting. If it’s windy put a soft cover on your microphone.
Shoot your talents or subject on the 3rd. Two 3rd's from the bottom and two 3rd's from the left or right)
Roll 10 sec per shot. (No more and not less) (This will give the editor room to move)
Stay a little wider on all female talents. Look out for skin problems and change your angle. (Especially when it’s an older woman)
Make sure your colour temperature is set right. Mostly at 5600K.
ALWAYS SHOOT FROM TRIPOD. Don't move the camera.
Make sure the tripod is level on every shot.
NO ZOOMING. EVER.
Microphone always out of the shot. Best is to boom from the top.
When shooting any interviews, try to always use a backlight as your main source and fill it with a reflector as your soft front light.
Shoot at 24fps only. (NEVER SLOW-MOTION)
Please label all your data very clearly. Day 1. / Camera A. Card_1 / Sound files / Names of people being interviewed and so on….
Keep a backup hard drive copy until the film is delivered and completely finished.
Don't just shoot lots of unnecessary footages. We don't want hours of material to work through. Think of the editor before you push the bottom.
Lastly: Don't stop working until the fat lady sings.