I’ve filmed inside a lot of houses of worship this year. In Vietnam I visited countless Buddhist pagodas. In Ecuador, it seemed I was in a Catholic church just as often as I wasn’t. And here in Thailand, there’s a Buddhist wat on every corner. So it may sound strange when I say that despite the number of hours I’ve spent filming the Christians and Buddhists who use these spaces (see Quito episode 6), it still makes me deeply uncomfortable to do so. It has little to do with my own beliefs, except maybe this one: Respect the spirituality of others.
Sadly, I think this makes me a bad fit for my job. I can’t help but feel that I’m intruding on something deeply personal when I point my camera at a person in prayer. There’s a great scene in Waking Life when filmmaker Caveh Zahedi tries to summarize the position of the Christian film critic Bazin by saying, “Film is like a record of God or the face of God, or of the ever-changing face of God.” It’s a beautiful thought, and one that should strike terror into the hearts of any god-fearer with a camera phone. Still, we don’t have to share Bazin’s beliefs to recognize that the strangers I’m filming DO believe, and that if ever there was a moment when they might fear me capturing their god on camera, this is it. (For the record, Bazin never called it a “holy moment,” as Caveh claims.)
They don't build 'em like they used to.
So why do I film someone when I’m worried they’ll take offense? (more…)
The fifth installment of our Quito season is out now, and as you can see our cast has been busy. There’s no small amount of adventure in Jet Set Zero, and getting to share it with an audience is what keeps me going. But it’s not without its frustrations, either, because I know that I’ll never be able to share everything that happens.
No, I’m not talking about that time that Ryan had to outrun the cops who spotted him peeing in Quito’s main plaza in broad daylight (although that’s not in the episodes either. Sorry). I’m talking about the realities of story and editing which make it so that certain adventures will never make the cut. Take this episode, for example. We see the gang’s hike around the lagunas, but what we don’t see is the night that followed, when Freddie and Ryan met up with a bunch of Otavalo locals and hiked through the woods to a solstice celebration at a waterfall. I know! It’s even cooler than it sounds. So why don’t we show it?
// This post references events in Quito’s Episode 4. You might want to give that a look first. //
A long time ago in a film school far, far away, I studied to be a fiction filmmaker. My favorite films were fictional, and the stories I wanted to tell certainly didn’t lend themselves to documentary, or so I thought. Over time my views changed; I came to see that the difference between the two was more a matter of production than anything else. Documentaries can and do tell any number of stories, often with more grace and less ego (and always with less money) than their fictional counterparts. Aside from that, the two are remarkably similar. Most films are made in the editing room, anyway, regardless of the fiction/documentary label. But, from a production standpoint, the differences are still astounding.
When I made fiction films, I would put months of work into preparation. I knew how it would look, how it would sound, who would say what to whom and where long before anything was recorded. In documentary, it’s almost the exact opposite. The story develops in front of you, and I’m lucky if I even know where we’re going next, let alone what’s going to happen there. Sometimes I’ll have only a few minutes notice before having to embark on a trip to an indigenous market, or a soccer game, or a gang fight outside our apartment (“South Quito says hello!”). To say “You have to be prepared for anything” is an understatement. You have to be prepared for everything. (more…)
// This post references events in Episode 3. You might want to check that out first. //
Every producer/cameraman/editor lives with three great fears, the first being that his bosses will ask him to add “blogger” to his title. Even that’s not so bad as long as the producer/cameraman/editor/blogger doesn’t have to face that second, greater fear, and that’s that he’ll have to begin a post with the following sentence.
My heart broke when I realized that the camera had been stolen.
As a producer working in developing countries, it’s important for me to have my priorities in order. My list looks a little something like this:
1. The safety of my friends.
2. The security of the equipment.
3. Not getting ripped off by taxi drivers.
4. My safety.
Over the course of working for JS0 I’ve developed a few strategies and techniques to help make sure that everything remains cool. I can’t share them all with you, sadly, because then they won’t be as useful, but these are the things I’m thinking about on a daily basis. Anytime we plan a trip to a new town (or go somewhere unplanned), walk into a dark, bustling club, or attract the glances of on-lookers as we film in the streets, I’ve got an eye out for possible problems. As travelers in a foreign land we already stand out, but with the camera in hand our visibility and the ensuing risk can quickly multiply.
Some solutions are simple. Putting the camera away and looking angry works 80% of the time. Other times we have to leave the situation entirely. It’s shitty, but it’s a fact of life. Or it is in Ecuador, anyway.
I’m trying to think of instances in Vietnam when I feared for the safety of my friends or my gear, and I’m coming up short. That’s not to say that Saigon is some crime-free paradise; while there I saw cell phones stolen out of tourists’ hands by guys on motorbikes and a couple shady situations that I had to steer clear of. But after living in Saigon’s backpacker district for a month and taking proper precautions, I felt safe walking around unaccompanied with the camera. Vietnam may have some petty theft, but muggings and robberies are almost unheard of.
Not so in Quito. (more…)
Today we’re posting a couple videos from Vietnam. I know, I know, you think you’re over the whole Vietnam thing. But guess what? Vietnam’s a big country, and as much as I would like to say, “We nailed it in seven episodes and the Laurene at the Delta short,” that’s just not accurate. The truth is that we need at least two more shorts to cover this complex society. And we got ‘em.
These were shot in February, when principal photography had wrapped and I was able to turn my attention to some of those details that make life in Vietnam so unique. I was always intrigued by the utilitarian aspect of Vietnamese society, by its people’s ability to make do with whatever works and not demand all the bells and whistles that mark any undertaking in the States. The train crossing is a great example. In America, where it’s often said that we value machines and automation at the expense of people, a human-operated train crossing would be unthinkable, or at the very least hopelessly outdated. In Vietnam, where the biggest technological concern is air pollution from motorbikes (and lately the censorship of Facebook), it’s common-place. So common, in fact, that there were stations just like this one only 25 yards in either direction. Cynics might say that this is the communist influence on the country, a simple way of creating soul-sucking jobs that keep everyone busy. Maybe there’s some truth to that, but the reason I found this station so interesting was because the workers’ spirits seemed to be as high as anyone’s. I was able to observe them a couple times before this shoot (this crossing was near my apartment), and every time I saw these young women emerge from their small guard house and lower these barriers, they did it with enthusiasm. Perhaps it’s that difference – that a Vietnamese person could do the same task every day and be happy – that explains why these train crossings exist. No economic system can explain that kind of inner peace (though they’ve all certainly tried). No, it seems to me that that the Vietnamese are able to be happy with their work thanks to the influence of Buddhism. There’s more to that than I can pretend to know, but the more I learned about Buddhism while in Vietnam, the more I saw it reflected in daily life. Maybe America doesn’t need hand-operated train crossings, but perhaps there’s something to be said for inner peace.
My name is Evan and I’m a producer with Jet Set Zero. I follow my friends around, film everything they do, then help piece it together into episodes like the one you (hopefully) just watched. I have an awesome job and I’m insanely lucky, which is why I’ve been happy to remain anonymous throughout this whole process. Also, my bosses determined that I don’t meet our standards of attractiveness. But while I may be barred from appearing on camera, there’s no rule in here that says I can’t blog, so after 8 months of producing, shooting, and co-editing, I’ve decided to break the silence and share with you a little bit of what goes in to crafting this series.
For starters, you should know that everyone who works for JS0 is a complete masochist. Most companies that produce shows like ours do so with a crew of at least 3 people in the field. They also have an editor, assistant editor, and a couple technicians back in the States to put it all together, and then a whole slew of people whose jobs are to encode, embed, advertise, track, quantify, and sell it. Here at Jet Set Zero, we thought it would be funny if we did all of that but with only 4 people. Total. It turns out that we were kinda right; We’re in the midst of producing our seventh season, and each person involved works around the clock to bring episodes to air. And we love it.
Making it look easy.
My current 24-hour shift started in late April, when I flew down to Quito. I hoped to get acclimated to the altitude, improve my limited Spanish, and get a general feel for the city in the week before the cast arrived. I had been warned that climbing stairs and drinking beer would be challenging at this height, but I was happy to find that it was just the stairs. On my second day in town I climbed to El Panacillo, the highest point in Quito, and definitely felt a bit winded up top. I immediately went back down and found the lowest bar I could find, which was actually just a pool table with some crates around it and a kid selling cigarettes. Unfortunately, those crates were still 9,350 feet in the air, so it wasn’t a huge relief.