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ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Travel • Production

Brazil: Smooth as Silk

Shooting on the Avenida Paulista, as Ricca tries to hail a cab in the background.

Less than an hour after my last post (Brazil: Some Days the Bear Eats You), my friend The Dave Mitchell responded on my Facebook page: “Nice, Bill. Easy days are completely forgettable.” Isn’t that the truth?

“But,” added The Dave, a freelance gaffer/key grip, “I’m available if you’ve got any coming up.” If only!

After our tough time at the tower, the next couple of days shooting in Brazil were smooth as silk. Just as The Dave said, I can remember little about those shoots except for what we did and where we did it. I always find it amazing that I can easily spin out 1500-2000 words describing a bad day, but smooth shoots leave me with less material. That’s why OO stories (Overcoming Obstacles) are so popular in movies. It’s hard to find a narrative arc in a yarn about a happy professional crew cheerfully moving apace from setup to lovely setup.

Even though the next two days did leave me with little emotional baggage, I do remember what we did:

By Thursday, the previous day’s fog had lifted, and we had sporadic sun throughout the day. We met our new group of actors in Ibirapuera Park in central São Paulo. Outdoors! Fresh air!

Here we staged a soccer game between a dad and his sons on a greensward with the city skyline in the background. Then Dad, in our scene, recorded video of the boys kicking around the ball and sent the video to Mom. In another scene, Mom laughed happily as she watched the video on her smart phone.

Ibirapuera: Outdoors! Fresh air!

We used iconic backgrounds at Ibirapuera for other shots:

  • On a eucalyptus bench with a rubber tree in the background: one of the boys playing a game on an iPad
  • On the edge of a stone labyrinth: the other boy playing and sending an email from a Samsung Galaxy tablet
  • In front of a colorful mural: another young man talking and texting on his smart phone

... and the next shot is ...

After lunch, we left the park and made four more stops:

  • Another train station: avoiding another $5000 location fee by sneaking in the 5D camera in a backpack, we grabbed a scene of our actor on a smart phone, with trains in the background. Security was much lighter here.
  • Sidewalk area with a distinctive South American pattern: a boy with a smart phone.
  • Pizza parlor: a moody scene with a young girl and a PC laptop, taking care to dress and light the place so it looked like a home, in the narrow angle we saw on camera.
  • Colorful Brazilian café: a scene with a man and a woman conferring over a business deal and a video chat, using a Mac laptop and a webcam made by our clients.

Sidewalk pattern typical of Rio de Janeiro (though we were in Sao Paulo)

In most of these scenes, I filmed medium and close shots of the subjects, as well as closeups of their technology screens. In order to provide footage that would be useful in multiple ways, I often had the actors use the handheld devices in several different orientations—smart phones were shot at the actors’ ears, as well as out in front in horizontal and vertical orientations, to simulate talking, texting, watching video, and speaking on a video chat.

All the devices were actually switched off when we shot them. Screen material was to be inserted later, during postproduction. In addition, whenever possible, I grabbed subjective shots of each subject looking and speaking directly into my camera. These shots could be used to simulate a video chat, by inserting them later into shots of other devices.

Cafe consultation

I continued to use the Canon 24-70mm f2.8 lens, as well as the 70-200 f2.8, and occasionally the 16-35mm f2.8 for a wider perspective. I used the Zacuto Z-finder at all times (how could you possibly focus without it?) and the 7” LCD monitor when I could slow down long enough. Since most of my subjects were static, I didn’t need the follow focus much. I’ll try to post a sampler of the footage soon.

Friday was a run-around day shooting a young man hailing a taxi in front of a museum on the Avenida Paulista, as well as scenics, crowds, traffic, neighborhoods, and skylines. At one point, Ricca took us to the tallest building in the downtown area. Getting a high-angle shot of the city from the highest floor of the building took a half hour of waiting in line and slowly signing in, with IDs and carefully filled-out paper forms for each person (because the computers were down), then up two elevators to a tiny observation platform for a five-minute gander at the vista. I brought the 5D and my sturdy monopod and managed to grab four different skyline shots before we were shooed back into the elevators.

Mush Emmons rigs the GoPro camera on our van.

I had bought one of the amazing little GoPro Hero HD wearable/riggable cameras for this shoot, and for several days, Mush suction-cupped it on the roof of our van to shoot timelapse footage as we drove around São Paulo. We also shot several setups of traffic, especially at night, with the 5D and the Canon TC-80N3 intervalometer. Some of the footage is pretty whacky and exciting. I’ll post an edited version of all this timelapse footage soon.

Cafe shoot

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2 comments to Brazil: Smooth as Silk

  • Nathie Tieman

    The best part about this article, besides the fact that the two days went pretty smooth, was seeing you in action in most of the pictures.
    You are right in saying that easy days don’t have as much detail as the difficult ones and there is less to say and it’s not as dramatic but I still enjoy reading the details of what you do and how you do it.

  • Teng

    Always fascinated to see what you’ve been working on!

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