In Brazil, our story was based in Ribeirão Preto, (pronounced something like “HEE-bay-roan PRAY-toe,” though all Brazilians laughed at our attempts to say it) a city of a half million, three or four hours inland from São Paulo. Our final shoot was at the local campus of the Universidade de São Paulo. In search of an interview background that was neither a glass hotel nor a slum, our local production assistant Erica took us to the university.
The Ribeirão Preto campus of “OOS-pee,” as USP is known, is spread out, tree-covered, and rural. Driving through campus, Randy chose a spot in front of a blue house with some mottled light coming through the trees in the background, then Erica helped Lori and our Brazilian producer Marcello Bartz get permission to shoot there the next day.
We pulled up in several trucks and proceeded to unload our cases and set up our gear. A few neighbors stopped by to see what was going on, and after a while a truck came speeding up and three burly guys quickly emerged. They looked around uncertainly, taking in the scene, then called out loudly in Portuguese. Bartz went to talk with them, and soon they were all laughing. “He says he hasn’t paid his rent in three months,” said Bartz, “and he was afraid the university had sent some men to evict him and trucks to haul off his stuff.”
It was hot and muggy. I had been tracking the temperature on my phone all day, and part way through our setup we hit 100 degrees!
A week before, we’d been in Switzerland, with temperatures in the 40s. The tropical air was thick with moisture. To soften the sun for our interviewee, our gaffer Walerio Rosa set up a 12×12 silk (called a “quatro-quatro” in Brazil, because it’s four meters per side) along with a 1.2KW HMI PAR light running off a small generator. Bartz translated Randy’s questions into Portuguese and the responses into English.
Our interviewee was lively and the shot looked great, but I noticed toward the end that she was starting to squirm. She never left the mark on the ground we had made for her and her lighting stayed pretty consistent (considering how rapidly the sun was going down during her interview). But she started swatting at her legs between questions, just as I started to notice tickly sensations at my neck and ear and trickly sweat under my shirt.
We finished the interview and all was well. Jim gave the P2 cards from the Panasonic 3700 to Bruno, our data wrangler, so he could transfer the video files to our pair of portable, redundant hard drives. There were bugs everywhere now and Bruno covered his Mac and accessories with a tarp from the grip truck, as we wrapped the camera, video and audio gear and our Brazilian crew wrapped the lights and generator. The humidity was debilitating.
Besides the little gnat-like creatures that attacked every open orifice of my body (especially the moist ones), a loud rhythmic droning grew louder and louder around us, from large winged insects whose carcasses we’d seen earlier in the day. Actually, many dronings, each a different note from a different direction. Neither cicadas nor locusts, we were told, they didn’t wipe out crops, but their nighttime songs were ominous in the gathering gloom.
As the light faded, Bartz took Randy and me behind the houses where we’d been filming to show us some berries and other uniquely Brazilian trees. A neighbor warned that the area was filled with chiggers, and we retreated quickly. What the hell is a chigger, I muttered to myself, though I was sure I didn’t want to meet any.
Eventually all our gear was wrapped, all our data transferred. We said goodbye to our Brazil crew in the eerie half light and headed back to the hotel.