Last month, I travelled to Mandalay to provide on-site support during the filming of a marketing travel video we’re producing for a client. I’ve been on my fair share of magazine cover shoots around Singapore, know what a product or fashion shoot entails, and have some experience writing text for short videos, but this was new territory.
There are many more moving parts when it comes to producing a five-minute travel clip compared to a magazine cover-worthy photograph, and different factors to consider when shooting for print versus video.
But as I tagged along with the film crew for two out of three shoot days, observing them at work and giving them feedback on behalf of the client, I came to realise that a few fundamental things remain the same whether you’re helping out on a magazine cover shoot or a film shoot. This is particularly true when the production team is lean.
From the content brief, trip itinerary and filming schedule to call times and even the talents’ outfits, it’s important everyone is on the same page to prevent any hiccups during the shoot and ensure a high-quality end product. Whether for print or video, getting the content brief right prior to the shoot is important, as well as coordinating pre-production logistics. On location, simply making sure everyone knew when and where they should be at any given time can help the production team focus on the job at hand.
Even with a solid pre-production plan in place, there are only so many issues you can anticipate – things such as weather and shoot environment can’t be confirmed until you’re on the ground. On Day 2 of the shoot, we were up and out by 4am to film the sunrise at the iconic U Bein Bridge, one of the oldest and longest teakwood bridges in the world. Unfortunately, it was a very cloudy morning, so the crew had to rethink some of the shots they were planning to use.
Stock drone footage they were considering included brilliant sunrise shots, but would look completely out of place with our footage. As a workaround, we asked our local contact whether it was possible to hire a motorised boat, and 10 minutes later, the cameraman was clambering onto a small wooden boat (with motor and driver!) to film the hosts walking along the bridge from the lake.
Basic necessities like making sure the cast and crew are hydrated and well-fed may not have anything to do with the actual filming process, but are still important to keep in mind. Watching over their belongings or unused equipment, coordinating meal times, knowing where the nearest restroom is, or even having extra bottles of water, tissue packets and mosquito patches on hand can make a big difference to the production team, as they don’t have to sweat the small stuff while they’re at work.
I was representing the client on the shoot, so it was essential that I was confident enough for the crew to turn to me for advice at any time during filming (to add on to my first point above). Even though the crew had an idea of what they were shooting, they could still check with me on location whether or not we had gotten all the footage the client needed. Basically, I had to make sure that the team was aligned with the client’s expectations.
At the end of the day, my job was primarily to be a second pair of eyes and hands. This meant a lot of waiting around on set… and most importantly, staying out of the production team’s way and out of the frame.
Throughout the shoot we were accompanied by two locals who helped connect us to the right people and shared their knowledge of the best places to shoot. For example, we shot a chinlone (traditional sport of Myanmar similar to sepak takraw) playing scene that was only made possible because of them. They even helped us find a quiet lane where our hosts could cycle at. We couldn’t have done the shoot without their support. Of course, the invaluable feedback from our local client contacts and colleagues at RICE Myanmar prior to the shoot also played a big part. I learnt so much preparing for this shoot, and it was fun getting a glimpse of the production process… especially grateful that included a glimpse of what the charming Mandalay has to offer.
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