Thursday, November 26, 2009

24 Hours In My Shoes

Photo: Two celestial Thai dancers performing for the camera, Bangkok Thailand.

It's 5Am and I'm awake in Bangkok, Thailand. Working for a U.S based company makes it extremely hard to communicate back to HQ when you've got a 12 hour time difference, so on some nights, I'd either stay up late or wake up extra early if I need to relay back and fourth--especially when decisions need to be made ASAP.

My morning begins first by checking my blackberry, which sits next to me while I sleep. If my response to some emails only require a short message, I'd utilize my quick thumbs and shoot an email off right away. If it needs a longer response, I'd move to my laptop. Sometimes, I'd spend hours replying back and fourth.

This morning, while here in Thailand, I'm communicating with various departments in Michigan (HQ), China, Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam. These are the destinations for my next assignments while I'm here in South East Asia, so it's a constant juggle to make sure everything is in sync. Each country requires me to cover a different story--with multiple shooting days and in multiple cities within each country. Assistants and organizers in each country bounce emails back and fourth between me, HQ, and other leaders to make sure everything is pre-arranged: flights, ground transportation, story subjects, hotels, medical on standby, etc. When you think about it, it truly is a huge undertaking. I wouldn't be doing what I do without their help.

It's 7am and I'm finished with emails...for now. Oh yeah, I have to call my mom back.

7:30 now, and I'm off the phone. A quick shower, dressed, camera locked and loaded--I'm out the door of my hotel room. My driver is patiently waiting to take me to my location for today's shoot. In the car, while stuck in traffic, I munch on a power bar as my only source of breakfast.

9:10, I arrive at my location. Today's shoot takes place at a temple just outside of Bangkok. I'm here to meet with two celestial Thai dancers and capture shots of them performing a classical routine. These shots will be used for a high-profile project I'm working on for a U.S based company. My crew is locally Thai--which with my luck, speaks no English. I've ordered a twenty foot track and dolly in order to get a cinematic feel for my shots. Luckily, after a few minutes, I'm able to communicate with my Grip (Camera assistant on set) and explain exactly what I want. He nodds and off he goes to set it up for me.

While he's setting up, I'm coaching my two dancers and explaining to them what I need done. They too don't speak a word of English. Through a translator, I'm able to barely get through to them what I envision.

OK, it's 10:00am now and we're almost ready to shoot. The sun has changed directions within the hour, so slight adjustments have to be made with my camera. Different filters are inserted into my Matte Box, gamma settings changed in my camera. I'm ready to roll. Lights, Camera, Action! (I've always wanted to say that).

11:20am, time for a quick break. Great shots so far. My blackberry is flashing red, which means emails are waiting. Uh Oh, China wants to know if I can make a quick trip to Taiwan while I'm "in the area." Ugghhh, I can't believe this! Quickly, I type a response: "Sure, why not...what's the story?"

11:35, time to roll again. New setup, new background. I grab a quick drink of water, run to my camera, jump on the dolly track and start rolling camera. Sun shifting, camera adjusted to compensate.

12:15, we break for a quick lunch. Blackberry vibrates, new email. Uh Oh, Vietnam is inquiring about story angles and now I need government permission to shoot in a rural village (Vietnam is a communist state). I type a response: "OK, please tell the Charlie that I'm Canadian and come in peace." (Something along those lines). Oh, and I always say "Thanks" at the end of each email.

12:25, On the side of the road, I grab a quick bite of rice, chicken and some kind of clear broth.

12:45, we set up a new shot. But, all of a sudden, a group of school kids flood my set. A tour bus unloads about 60 Japanese tourists, all sporting fancy Canons and Nikon's and posing with peace signs with my two dancers. I can't believe this!!!

12:55, I'm asked to take pictures for Japanese tourists. I smile and agree to snap a few shots for them...

12:58, Japanese tourists want me to be IN THE SHOT with them now. Great! I smile and pose...with peace sign, of course.

1:10pm, After sweet talking/greasing some elbows with a local police officer, the temple is now temporarily closed for tourists. YES! We begin filming again.

4:40pm, Shoot is a wrap! Great shots! Big success.

5:40pm, On the way back to hotel, but currently stuck in traffic on one of Bangkok's busiest highways. Great! Uh Oh, Blackberry vibrates, China needs credit card info and copy of passport in order to book flight to Taiwan. Ugghh, I type a reply: "Credit card info XXXXX. Copy of passport, I don't have on me, please ask HQ in Michigan for it.....thanks!"

6:22pm, I'm finally back in my hotel room. I sit down for a bit, turn on the TV to listen to the news, jump in the shower, get dressed and head out for dinner.

7:15pm, Dinner was delicious. Tonight, I decided to venture out to Bangkok's Soum Long market and try the local cuisine--all cooked hawker style on the side of the road. Pig feet stew on rice. Yummy. I think I'll spoil myself a bit tomorrow night and have dinner at the hotel restaurant...I'm kinda getting tired of the local food after being here for almost two weeks.

8:34pm, I'm back in my hotel room. I jump on my laptop, collect all of my memory cards I've shot on for the day and begin the process of backing up all my shots to hard drive. To be safe, I make three backups of everything, all on separate drives.

9:23pm, Backups are still copying to drives. It's now morning in Michigan HQ, so emails start flowing from the other side of the globe--answering the many questions that China, Vietnam, and Indonesia had asked earlier today. It's a constant cycle: they ask, HQ answers, HQ asks, they answer. It never stops.

10:45pm, Backups are almost done copying to the last drive. Uh Oh, Blackberry again, China needs to change my flight from Bangkok to Shanghai (which leaves in two days) to a later flight because of a mis-understanding on ground transportation. Great! I type a response: "Thank you! :)"

11:30pm, All backups are done copying, memory cards are cleared to set be ready for tomorrow's shoot. Batteries are placed on charger. Camera cleaned and filters polished.

12:10am, I'm getting ready for bed, take my malaria pills, my vitamins and brush my teeth. Goodnight! Uh Oh, an email from HQ. I pick up my Blackberry and take a quick look. Oh, never mind, someone sent an email out to EVERYONE just to let them know that there are donuts in conference room B. Yeah, thanks for letting me know! I type a response: "Save me one,will ya? Thanks!"

2:20am, I wake up to the sound of some drunk dood yelling in the hallway of my hotel. Bastard!

5:40am, I'm awake...and it starts all over again.


Dan Denardo said...

Fun post, Ron. Hang in there man! Nobody does it better.....Happy US Thanksgiving.

Deboshree said...

Hehe...what a life!!
How do you manage the pace Ron?

But I guess we learn to adjust to everything, right?

Thank you so much for sharing a tiny part of your life with us.
It was lovely to know.

Lots of love
Stay well

Wander to the Wayside said...

Wow! I think most of us just picture you running around with a camera hanging around your neck! It sounds like a lot of work...but fun as well.

Vera said...

Oh so I read your blog, Ron, sitting at my PC in the 'office', eating a homemade scone and finishing off some left over rice pudding from lunch. I have been sitting at my PC for most of the day editing my book and my website, apart from two dog walks, and a happy hour spent digging up the weeds in our fields.
I am happier now that I have read your words. Sitting at my PC, getting eye strain and back ache meanwhile, seems a whole lot less effort than your busy merry-go-round of a life! Apart from the pig's feet bit (just about to embark on eating my rice pud at the time) I was captivated by your life, but oh so glad that I am living THIS life! Great post. God bless.

chemist said...


Although I certainly envy your being able to travel and take all those great photos, I sure would not enjoy the hectic daily schedules you must keep!!

By the way, how do you ship your cameras and lenses when traveling? Do you hand carry all those expensive lenses, cameras, etc or can you check them into your suitcase without worry of theft??

Traveling Chemist