Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The Straw that Broke the Camel's Arm

Under pressure we can do some of our best work and under pressure one could also walk away a broken person. Over the last 16 months, I did both. 

So where to begin. Yes I know, I neglected my blog, but firstly I had no time to write and secondly I did not feel like writing about myself. On the other hand, if I do nothing these moments just pass and life's memories become a blurry pot of pumpkin soup. 

One of the biggest decisions I had to make during the last 16 months was to move into my own office. It is however a big financial commitment so more than ever one hoped for job opportunities to present themselves. However, this move started with an over amped Swiss Franc where all commercial activities were frozen. Moments like this can bring question marks and takes the fun out of the freedom that come with working for yourself. 

But then all of a sudden the market realized that just sitting and waiting is not the solution and although nothing changed in the economy, things started moving again and the next page of my life started. It just so ended up being a script for the luxury watch brand IWC Schaffhausen, that got narrated by Slum Dog Millionaire star, Dev Patel. It was a complete eye opener to work with professionals like that. Two takes and nothing more to add but a thank you. No problem boss, was Dev's last words as he left for his next commitment. 

Shortly after that it was the whole Larry King LA affair. The king of CNN LIVE was intimidating, but at the same time mesmerizing to work for. (See the link

A month later, followed by a clip featuring 2 times F1 world champion Mika Häkkinen in a 29 million dollar car. The 1953 Mercedes Benz Silver Arrow. This was then used to market Mercedes Benz' presence at the Goodwood festival of speed in England. 

IWC Living Legends 60sec Mercedes Cut from Xaver Walser on Vimeo.

For me these were already enough cool jobs, but then IWC decided to work with Oscar nominated actress Rosamund Pike on a corporate clip for the Beijing Film festival. I wrote the script together with suggestions from Rosamund and corrections by Manfred Thieroff. The final film even went as far as being nominated in a commercial film festival....... (story here)

Truth@24fps_Rosamund_Pike from Xaver Walser on Vimeo.

Then a few months later during the Zurich film festival I was fortunate enough to work with the legendary Kill Bill star, Uma Thurman. What a dream come true. She was so cool and her amazing voice took my simple wording to an entire new level of narrative story telling. 

It was simply just a crazy time since who would ever have thought a week later I would be directing a crew of 5 in London while shooting a talk show discussion with Cate Blanchett. 

It was like being on a freak train and the train just did not want to stop. With all this action I however did not really sleep much anymore and was just pumping out one job after another. I kind of also knew I was walking a fine line between glory and disaster. If that was not enough, I directed a 4 part commercial project to promote more women jobs for the Swiss trains. Another dream company to work for. 

MW4SBB_Myriam from Xaver Walser on Vimeo.

MW4SBB_Petra from Xaver Walser on Vimeo.

MW4SBB_Nadine from Xaver Walser on Vimeo.

MW4SBB_Nicole from Xaver Walser on Vimeo.

Then to almost complete the run, one more mile stone job working with the Irish pop singer Ronan Keating. And oh, I almost forgot about Tina Turner... 

Decoding Beauty - Ronan Keating from Xaver Walser on Vimeo.

So now to get to the final straw that broke the camel.  I got an opportunity to film pro snowboarder Nicolas Müller, as an action "follow-cam" camera operator.  At first I was completely intimidated by the thought. Me on my snowboard following Nicolas Müller.... Really? After all this was one of the last remaining snowboard superstars in the world, but then who would miss such a great chance?

It started off with great shots but as the visibility declined and the moguls expanded and probably that one V-mount battery too much in my backpack, I lost concentration for a brief moment. With my body weight in the worst possible position I threw my left arm backwards to compensate for weight distribution and protect my camera and suddenly could not breathe anymore. I knew something was terribly wrong and crumbled down in a bundle in the middle of the ski piste. In my head I still tried to figure out ways to overwrite the pain and get a few more angles of Nicolas' riding, but when the mountain guide saw me it was all over. No discussion mate, take him directly to hospital. 

There I was laying under the most pain I have had for a while and while the doctor was trying to locate the problem the morphine kicked in and somehow my last 16 months flashed past my eyes as the rest of the day became a blurry pumpkin soup. 

So what's the moral of the story my bru? You can burn your flame bright and think you are going to be ok, immortal, invincible, but come the day! If you do not decide to take it easy, it will be decided for you.... And there will be nothing you can do about it. 

Monday, 27 June 2016

True@24fps - Rosamund Pike

Film is such a mesmerizing escape. You go to this dark room and sit there amongst complete strangers while getting lost in another reality. You forget your world and leave all troubles behind. For a moment you become that reality as you are transformed and swept into a world of make believe. Those were my thoughts when I was asked to write and direct a clip about the Beijing film festival for the luxury watch brand, IWC. 

Without going to Beijing myself, I had to advise 2 film teams, one in Hong Kong and another in Beijing, on what my vision was for the production. Long distance relationships can be challenging at the best of times. Communicating clear and accurate directions to a foreign world with completely different ideas of what is considered necessary, was certainly a unique opportunity.  

At first I was skeptical on how to work towards a strong product, being kind of handicapped sitting on the other side of the world. Doubt kept on creeping in. What if I cannot get them to do what I wanted? What if I cannot communicate my vision clear enough? Getting lost in translation? What if my concept is too complicated? What if, what shmief. The thing is that that kind of thinking can surely stuff up a production. So what do you do and where do you start?
You prepare. You write an idiot proof concept and go over every last detail with the cast / managers / producers and crew. Over and over again. Until the concept is being drilled into their heads and it becomes their reality. You fight for every last drop and you keep it up until you have what you want. Not unrealistic, but at the end of the day, your head will be on the chopping block.
For being my first long distance job affair I am extremely happy with the outcome. Thanks so much to IWC for trusting me with my vision. 
Written by Xaver Walser and Rosamund Pike
Assistant writer: Manfred Thieroff
Produced by Elisabeth Gruender and Daniela Berther
Mrs Pike Manager: Nicola Isaacs
Chinese producer: Edith Liu
Hong Kong producer: Ami Lo
Hong Kong DOP: Dean Head
Beijing Crew and camera: Mr Shuo and Jun Studio 
Additional Cinema provided by: Andy W. Bohli 
Sound mixing by Leos Gerteis at NJP Studios
Post Production house: Sub Graviti Productions
Directed by Xaver Walser

So if anybody is interested, here is the Idiot Prove Briefing I wrote to the Hong Kong & Beijing crew. 

The script is a Piece to camera with Rosamund Pike (in English) directly looking into the camera.
Please do not shoot too close to the actors. Medium shots. 
Once you think you have the shot - move out for a wide and ask the actor to repeat the action. 
Make sure the Microphone is out of shot.
Frame Talent in the middle of the picture. 
Shoot from tripod. 
Always have camera on eye level. 
Do not move the camera. 
Boom the microphone very close to the top of the frame [directional]. 
Have a backup radio microphone (not visible to the eye). 
Make sure it is dead quiet in the room. 
Make sure the LAUGHING does not distort while recording. 
If there is a problem in the audio please re-record it. Do at least 3 takes.
Do not be afraid to ask them to repeat the action. You have one shot at it so get it right.
Lighting the interview
Shoot with strong back light and only a little bit of front light. 
The back light must be your main source of lighting.
Fill it with a reflector from the front. 
Make sure the light falls soft on talent’s face. 
Slight contras on the face would be great. 
Separate the talent from the background. 
Don’t light up anything like flowerpots in the background. Don’t want to be distracted from the story.  
Some outside shots of Beijing city. 
Early morning shots before sunrise. 
Shoot the normal people in the street. (Not just fancy people.)
Maybe from a high building. 
Polluted smoky city will help a lot for production value. 
Locations: Press Conference, Red Carpet, Gala Event
Shoot the normal film festival things. 
Think sequences. Once you shoot your wide establishing shots, move immediately in and get your close-ups. 
Shoot lots of extreme close-ups of anything you can find. 
Some artistic shots. Anything that could resemble a distorted reality. 
During the Red Carpet
Once you are happy with your Red Carpet establishing shots, then film some creative shots. 
Film the feet of the people.
Film the journalists filming the celebrities. 
Don't just film the celebrities but look around for some interesting perspectives and angles. Like the view through another camera operator’s monitor. 
Film hands. People holding microphones. The different TV station’s microphones. The logos from the TV stations. (Close-up / Wide)
General things to think about
Roll sound on every shot. 
Make sure your sound is not distorting. If it’s windy put a soft cover on your microphone. 
Shoot your talents or subject on the 3rd. Two 3rd's from the bottom and two 3rd's from the left or right) 
Roll 10 sec per shot. (No more and not less) (This will give the editor room to move) 
Stay a little wider on all female talents. Look out for skin problems and change your angle. (Especially when it’s an older woman)
Make sure your colour temperature is set right. Mostly at 5600K.
ALWAYS SHOOT FROM TRIPOD. Don't move the camera.
Make sure the tripod is level on every shot. 
Microphone always out of the shot. Best is to boom from the top. 
When shooting any interviews, try to always use a backlight as your main source and fill it with a reflector as your soft front light. 
Shoot at 24fps only. (NEVER SLOW-MOTION)
Please label all your data very clearly.  Day 1. / Camera A. Card_1 / Sound files / Names of people being interviewed and so on…. 
Keep a backup hard drive copy until the film is delivered and completely finished. 
Don't just shoot lots of unnecessary footages. We don't want hours of material to work through. Think of the editor before you push the bottom. 
Lastly: Don't stop working until the fat lady sings.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Overnight success - Daniel Meuli

I met Daniel Meuli 12 years ago when we still had so much to learn. It was the time of shooting DV Pal, 4:3 aspect ratio and the 'love' for interlayers. I was so proud of my PD 170 camera that could shoot 720 x 576 resolution. It was the time before YouTube and such a thing as social media. Then it was just called being social.. or having a conversation.... and that's all we had. A conversation about snowboarding, pictures and passion. 

As the years passed, they shaped our world in so many ways and it made us whom we are. We tried different things in the hope that somebody will believe in what we are doing, only to fail miserably over and over again.  Until the day comes when we find that one thing. That one thing that drives you to get out of bed in the morning and the dream that nobody sees, but you. That elusive tunnel vision. Your dad tells you to get a real job and he is probably right, but you are too stupid to listen to him. You keep it up and gamble all your money out on a dream that's just a dream. It's not even real. And although the dream becomes blurred and you feel like your are losing ground, you still keep on throwing everything you have at it. Every last drop of power you pour wholeheartedly into a moment, until you feel like crying. Until your body cries out for mercy, but you don’t stop. And then suddenly after 10 years of slaving away, that wonderful magical overnight success story. Wooo you are lucky… That's it…. Yes.. it's just luck. The last 10 years of earning no money, working 18 hours a day and not having fun with the friends. The scrapes and the bruises. No, he’s just lucky and now we are jealous of him, of you, or me. 

Well, that is the story of many having overnight success. Also the story of our dear friend Daniel Meuli. So let's raise a glass to the rebels, the rockers and the punks who did not listen to the world and did it their way. We salute you all. Cheers...

Written by Xaver Walser