I’m hunkering down at home right now after a three-week trip through Europe and South America to shoot a global corporate medical film. Our route took four of us – and 13 cases of video and audio gear – drifting through the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, and Brazil. Plus one day shooting here in the San Francisco Bay Area last Monday.
Tomorrow, Sunday, we go to China to finish shooting the project. It will be the fourth continent on this shoot for DIT Jim Rolin and me. Director David Rathod and producer Anne Sandkuhler joined us for the travel legs in Europe. After shooting at three locations in the US, director Randy Field and producer Lori Wright then joined Jim and me for the long schlep down to Brazil.
And what a schlep it was! Nine flights in 19 days: SFO–>Frankfurt–>Amsterdam–>Geneva–>Hamburg–>Geneva–>Washington Dulles–>Sao Paulo–>JFK–>SFO. Nearly 24,000 miles, a real butt-burner. Somewhere over the Atlantic between Switzerland and coastal US, I surpassed 50,000 miles on United this year, qualifying me for coveted Premier Executive status in their mileage program. Only mileage whores like me care about such things. I’m like George Clooney in “Up in the Air,” except without the chicks and without the firings … and the looks …
We’re shooting this job with a Panasonic 3700 camera and Fujinon 16×6.3mm zoom. For our interviews, we’re using a Zeiss 28mm f1.6 DigiPrime. Our interviewees look directly into the camera lens, since we’re using the EyeDirect device described here: Taming the Wild Eyeline . In each city we hired a local producer and lighting crew and equipment.
Along the way, several moments stand out:
• Experiencing a tense moment during our stay in Utrecht one rainy night during a storm. Our hotel didn’t serve dinner and was not near many restaurants. Andrew van Hoffelen, our European producer, drove us to the nearest shopping street so we could buy dinner to take back to the hotel. After we parked in a driving rain, one of our people got out of the car directly in the path of a swarm of Holland’s kamikaze bicyclists, who sped down the bike paths built into every sidewalk at an alarming rate of speed, regardless of rain or sleet or dark of night.
A young blond woman had swerved to avoid him and collided with another rider. Both had fallen, and one seemed to have taken a handle bar in the gut. She refused all apologies and all offers of help, and I’m sure I heard “fucking tourists” in Dutch as she rode away.
• Filming interventional radiologists who used 3-D imaging tools to place three hollow needles at the edges of a malignant kidney tumor, then pumped liquid nitrogen through the needles to freeze and kill the tumor in place, all in a minimally invasive procedure with tiny incisions and no surgery. David’s reaction when the doctor turned to him and said, “See? It’s simple!” was “Hey, can I try it?”
• Having dinner in Hamburg with another San Francisco-based crew, (DP Tomas Tucker, director Wellington Bowler, producer Larry Lauter, DIT Antonio Rosario, audio tech Gabe Monts). Coincidentally, both our crews had hired Alex Müller-Elsner at ChickenShack Productions in Hamburg as local producer. Half the evening was spent comparing trips and crews (they were heading to Paraguay the day before we left for Brazil), the other half trying to explain to Alex the maze of friendships, long work trips, partnerships and employment ties which bound us all together.
• Seeing an amazing three-dimensional view of a patient’s skull and brain, the ganglia and nerves like ginger roots tied into a ball, a huge aneurysm like a bubble in the brain threatening to burst. The night before, the doctor had spent four hours sealing the bubble with platinum. “How do you get into the brain?” we asked.
“Through a small incision in the groin, then up through the femoral artery. We have to take a right turn at the heart, then a left turn up through the carotid artery and up into the brain.” Another minimally invasive procedure.
“How long does it take to get from the groin to the brain?” asked Jim.
“About 30 seconds,” said the doc.
• Spending a wonderful Sunday hour on a video Skype with my wife in California, from my hotel room in Switzerland, then watching the second half of that night’s Giants’ game live on my laptop through my MLB.tv subscription. And several nights later, watching the final, clinching game of the Giants’ season live on Randy’s computer in Brazil.
• Hearing from our Brazilian producers upon arrival that to be understood in Portuguese, we should “say it in Spanish, but sing it!”
• Enjoying an evening at a private wine bar as guests of the doctor we had come to Brazil to interview. After a lengthy presentation and discussion of five different European wines (one white and four reds) and much toasting and absorption of appetizers, we soaked up a wonderful dinner. A long and wet evening for our jetlagged group, which preceded our only shoot day. We sampled Kritt Gewürtztraminer, Edizione nr.08 Cinque, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Valpolicella Classico, and Emina Prestigio, each with an illustrated descriptive sheet … in Portuguese. The doctor told me the next day that the wine bar had over 1200 different types of wine.
I picked up some new, useful iPhone apps from my gaffers and crew people in Holland and Brazil, and I’ll be writing about these soon.