As a member of the artistic community, I believe being open and mentally available to adaptation significantly increases the chances to develop new skills and be noticed by the marketplace. Although the pandemic has demanded change, adaptation shouldn’t be a result that only comes from extraordinary and unpredictable events, it should be a constant in our daily lives. During the last couple of years, while attending to film markets and festivals – Toronto International Film Festival, Ventana Sur, and American Film Market - one of the recurring topics of conversation is the necessity for transformative movements from artists. Recently this has centered around technology development and automatization of processes. But that is a topic for a different article. Although producing content remotely was never something we considered before, as we witness entertainment companies going back to work during the COVID-19 pandemic filming from afar has now become part of our reality.
Over the last month, I was a part of two different remote shoots that sparked professional growth and a few lessons about my career and the “new normal” we have been ushered into.
The first project was the MTV MIAW Awards Performance for the Brazilian singer Ludmilla. In terms of timeline, our team had six days to pre-produce, shoot, and edit the performance, which in ordinary circumstances would already be challenging, now the COVID-19 safety requirements add on to it even more. In this case, we were also dealing with three different stakeholders - the artist, the music label, and the TV channel - which did not always agree on logistical and creative choices. If it wasn’t for the pandemic, the MTV MIAW Awards would be a live event with an audience. Although, the current format is different: the hosts and a few selected artists perform live at an intimate studio. The majority of the performances were pre-recorded with a live performance aesthetic - as if the songs were only shot in one take with a dozen cameras, the same way DVDs are produced.
This was my first time working in this format, I’ve been more familiar with music videos and narrative productions where you have several separate, distinct scenes to bring dynamism to the cut. However, now there's only one big scene to hold the audience’s interest in the entirety of the video - which for us meant four minutes.
Nowadays, the audience’s attention span varies from 8 to 12 seconds, to prevent disengagement, what was on the screen needed to be flawless - not only the composition of the shots but also the dance sequence and the energy. We built the stage from the ground up, with LED projections, synced lights, choreography, three different songs, haze machines, and two cameras filming everything simultaneously. We were then watching it from a live stream link in Los Angeles. For most of the creative team, it was our first remote experience, and all the factors mentioned above, plus the time zone difference between the U.S. and Brazil added to some of the initial chaos. We worked our way through the process step by step. There was no blueprint to follow for this. The result was a combination of improvisation and adaptation. The fans and press feedback was very positive, some even said it was the best performance of the night - which although I want to agree, I can’t; I didn’t watch the other ones.
Two days later I had to shoot another one, remotely.
The second project was a music video for the famous Brazilian singer Marcelo Falcão ft. upcoming singer Chyntia Luz - Sexta-Feira. Sexta-Feira in Portuguese means Friday. And as you can imagine, the song talks about that feeling of Friday night, as a kind of spiritual ritual: the moment we take to be grateful for the week that has passed and to warmly welcome the weekend that is coming. Different from the last project, this was a traditional music video - right up my alley. Although it didn’t come without surprises, the most difficult part was the communication - our live stream link didn’t work, so we had to direct via Facetime. Both artists were thrilled with the song, the wardrobe department (Gabriel Fernandes & Julia Moraes - @gajustyling) were probably the best I ever worked with, our local producer was a killer (Livia Del Gatto), and the location we chose (Casa Amaerlo), extremely charming. The song is about faith, happiness, and celebration - and the vibe of the set reflected that. Or at least for them over in Rio de Janeiro, while my co-director (Renata Meirelles) and I from Los Angeles were slightly on edge.
Working remotely brought me, quite literally, a few headaches, but it also came to teach me valuable lessons that I’ll take with me. As sharing is caring, here are my notes:
🟣 Communication is key
I believe this is a constant in any career path you chose to follow, but I can only talk about my own. In an “in-person” film set communication is already a guiding force to make things work - and more often than not it’s overlooked. This is even more pronounced when working remotely, the ability to pass on correct information with your team is fundamental. Being a filmmaker is recreating life - everything you see around you needs to, somehow, be recreated. For it all to work, every department: production, camera, lighting, grip, wardrobe, art dressing, props, make up, etc, need to be aligned and working together towards the same goal.
🟣 Culture makes a difference
I’ve been living in the United States for the past six years - so I’m used to the way Americans work, and I expected Brazilians would work the same way. That’s just not true. The film set culture in Brazil is different, the laws are different and the workforce is a reflection of the ones mentioned before.
🟣 Certain things are not able to be accomplished
As a director, being far away and trying to virtually communicate with the crew and cast can come in the way. Being present brings different opportunities - for example, during downtimes, while the crew is setting up a new shot, you are talking with the artist, giving them direction, prepping for the scene. You are able to accompany all the work that is being done making sure everything is fulfilling your vision. There is no worry about the internet not working or the communication not being clear. You’re there and you’re present to do the work.
🟣 Be prepared to feel emotionally exhausted
There is an anxiety that comes with the fact of being totally far away that can’t be avoided. The exhaustion not only comes with the circumstances but also with the fact you’re trying something new. And as humans, that’s how we’re wired - change is exhausting, but it’s also rewarding - which reflects on my last point.
🟣 Being part of change is rewarding
Being part of the remote shoots was definitely an adventure. I felt physically and emotionally tired afterward. But it’s also rewarding. It’s rewarding because it took courage and risk to do it - it took us putting ourselves at a very vulnerable position where things could have gone exponentially wrong. But looking back now - watching the results of the work feels very fulfilling, not only for achieving a product of quality but also for allowing me to live that experience.