One of the reasons I love films is because they can be a microcosm of our experience of life. Both watching and making films can challenge us and teach us about ourselves and others. The first challenge I faced in producing a Global Lives shoot was to find an on-screen participant (OSP).
As part of the Lives in Transit series, we need to represent a rough demographic cross section of the planet (for more information read How Ten Shoots Can Describe the World). This person was to be a female under the age of 30 who worked in a rural area.
My producer Rachel and I both live in Seoul so we began combing blogs and websites for contacts in rural areas. We had friends and coworkers translating communication back and forth between English and Korean. We were calling, emailing, handing out flyers, and telling everyone we knew about the project and the type of person we were looking for.
Fortunately, we got scores of positive responses. People were excited about the project and wanted to help! The only problem was, no one seemed to know or be able to contact a person who fit the profile we were looking for. Yet one day, we received a piece of news from Global Lives that breathed life back into our fading optimism.
The profile of the person we needed to find had been expanded. We were now able to pursue both male and female subjects who…. wait for it…. live in urban areas! As residents of one of the most populated places on earth, we couldn’t have been happier. Even better, we were excited to share the vibrant, neon-hued, hustle and bustle of the city we had grown to love.
We shifted our sights and began calling, emailing, and hustling around the city with flyers once again. At one point during the search, I stumbled upon a list of the 50 best things about Seoul. One of the 50 things caught my eye: Anyman.
Anyman is a company, based in Seoul’s Gangnam District (yes, that Gangnam), that will do just about anything you desire, for a flat rate. Is there a terrifying spider lurking on the ceiling above your bed? Call Anyman and they will send someone to kill it for you. Is that photo on your wall doing everything it can to hang crookedly? Call Anyman and someone will straighten it for you. Are you simply too hungover to cross the street and get takeout? Call Anyman and they will deliver your greasy goodness straight into your dehydrated palms.
I excitedly called a Korean friend of mine, who soon became my co-producer, and she called Anyman. She informed me that the owner of the company was excited about our project and had an employee who fit our profile. We set up a time to meet and held our breath.
The instant we walked into the coffee shop in Gangnam where we had planned to meet the owner, we were able to let out a deep sigh of relief. This dude was cool. He had a long ponytail, aviator sunglasses, and cowboy boots pointing out from the bottom of neatly-fitting pants. We pitched the bejeesus out of our project.
Fortunately, The Boss, as we soon began to call him, was still excited about the project and offered his help. He said he had just the man we were looking for, called up one of his employees on the phone, and moments later introduced us in person. Seunghwan was his name and he was equally cool. It wasn’t his clothes or the brief introduction that said it, but simply the sound of his voice and the way he carried himself. We did it! We found our subject!
Oh wait, we still have to make the documentary. All of the time spent searching for our subject had left us a brief 2 week window of time to do all the necessary pre-production for the shoot and get ready to hit record on the camera. Amidst the insanity of preparing the 24-hour shoot while teaching full, 50-hour weeks, I had the opportunity to speak with the director of the Global Lives Vietnam shoot, Naomi Ture.
She had just completed her challenging shoot in Vietnam and was gracious enough to pass along her advice to me. Above all, she taught me that things will go wrong. It’s a waste of time and energy to be paranoid about what could go wrong and it’s a waste of time and energy to get down on yourself or on others when they do go wrong. Instead, hope for the best and when things do go wrong, embrace problems as opportunities for creativity, keep moving, and try to find a solution as quickly as you can.
As expected, things did go wrong but during these times I blended Naomi’s advice with some good old Bob-Marley-flavored optimism and reminded myself that every little thing was gonna be alright.
Our shoot was a logistical nightmare. The subject of our documentary would be spending half of the 24-hour shoot on a motorbike zipping around the bustling streets of Gangnam to serve his clients as quickly as possible, all while going in and out of public and private spaces faster than I could imagine.
Not only did this mean we had to figure out some way in hell to have a camera on him through highways, alleyways, restaurants, cafes, apartments and offices but that we had to get in and out of each location before he did to get release forms signed. It felt like we were MI6 trying to keep track of James Bond.
Because of this, I had decided that it would be extremely beneficial for our team to have a practice day of filming before the 24-hour marathon. The only problem with this is that it increased the cost of the shoot because I was renting cameras and production vehicles for two weekends instead of one. With all of the logistical and financial stress fresh in my mind, I went to the camera house on the day of the practice shoot to pick everything up.
I had checked and re-checked the equipment list ahead of time and was frustrated to see the order laying out on the counter for me. Several of the items were inexplicably replaced by other ones that clearly would not work for our shoot. My ego wanted to lash out in that moment but I remembered that the guys at the camera house had been helpful so far and that I was relying on them for the following weekend for the full shoot. I made a few adjustments to the order and went on my way.
After the practice shoot, I called the rental house and gently reminded them that it was highly important that we have all of the necessary gear on the day of the shoot. They said they understood and on the day of the shoot, gave me a discount on the equipment, everything we needed was there, and it worked perfectly for the entire shoot. Fortunately, the majority of the shoot was continuing without any real problems.
It wasn’t until about hour 23 when I teetered on the edge of what I thought would be certain disaster. I was also approaching my 30 hour mark of not sleeping while orchestrating a fairly intricate film shoot. Basically, the way things had worked out with scheduling, we were going to finish the shoot with barely over 24 hours of footage.
“Isn’t that enough footage?” you might ask. In theory yes, but including battery and memory card changes in addition to the unfortunate event that something has to be cut from the film, we would be left with less than the necessary 24 hours.
To make matters worse, only three of the crew members remained on set because we had spent the last six or so hours in our subject’s apartment filming him sleep. There was no need for the full crew to be there during that time, especially considering that we had planned to end the film as he left for work. However, in order to get the extra footage we needed, we would have to follow Seunghwan back to work after he woke up.
The problem was that the drivers and the motorbikes that had been transporting the camera had also gone home and were fast asleep. After a few desperate calls and text messages, I had a lucky stroke of creativity. I decided that I would jump on the back of our subject’s motorbike and film his first-person perspective as he went back to work.
It turned out beautifully. We got the extra footage we needed and were able to see Seunghwan’s direct perspective of the world. True to the nature of film, the process of making a documentary for Global Lives was challenging. From finding a suitable OSP to dealing with logistical and equipment problems, it was a true test of patience and endurance.
This experience also taught me that things will go wrong and when they do, there’s no use in frantically trying to avoid those problems. Instead, accept that they will happen and embrace them as opportunities for creativity when they stick out their grimy hands for a shake.
Written by Sam Queen – Director & Producer Sam Queen studied film production in Los Angeles for 4 years. During this time, the Denver native studied abroad in Germany where he became committed to staying on the road. He briefly returned to complete his degree, before leaving to Malawi to make a short documentary on a water filtration project. Korea was his next destination where he spent a year teaching English to young children. In September, Sam will be moving to Australia indefinitely.