Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Cinema for Life

Cinema for Life is an ambitious undertaking to entertain cancer patients by putting a smile on their faces during a very difficult festive season ahead. Not only is it the creation of Swiss actor Isabella Schmid, but she is also the driving force behind every idea. 

Famous actors from all over the German speaking part of Europe gathers annually to bring an action packed live performance in front of a full-house Zurich crowd. The audience consisted mostly of cancer patients and relatives who are there to witness a celebration of cinema through acting drama, comedy and live music performances. I was honoured to bring visual ideas to the table to help create a small story around the happenings. Hopefully I will soon have moving pictures to share on this page. For now enjoy the stills.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Samsung GALAXY S4 Active commercial in the making

Location, location, locations. So they say, but recently the client decided to come to me for filming. St. Moritz, Switzerland has so much to offer visually with every kind of activity all confined in a condensed area. When a London based production company called Pendragon Productions decided that they wanted to shoot the new Samsung GALAXY S4 Active mobile phone commercial here in my home town, I suddenly had to do everything - get a crew together and make things happen.

A tip for all productions: don't try to organize a commercial shoot over the period of the 1st of August. In Switzerland it's summer and their national day and everyone is on holiday. The rest that's not on holiday, is shooting. So you can reach nobody. Phones are just ringing and automatic e-mail 'out of office' replies come flying in faster that you can say Bobs your Uncle. The rental houses suddenly push up their prices and/or the equipment are already rented out. I definitely had the feeling that filmmaking in this country is alive and well. Somehow I managed to put a great team of people together after a solid 4 days of hanging onto the telephone.

You can plan everything to the last detail, but the weather is kind of hard to organice. On day one we had lots of rain and it was testing everybody's faith. Will the famous St. Moritz, mind boggling blues sky with its never ending ray of sun appear? However when we had to shoot one of the most important shots from the top of the Corviglia mountain it was more perfect than ever. The first sun beams broke over the mountain edge and delivered spectacular orange red skies.

Our local stunt biker, Kevin Franzi, came through with beautiful flow riding portrayed on the picture-perfect back drop from the lake of St. Moritz. A constant great relaxing vibe ensured the best of creative filming. Although the predictions were not looking good to catch any wind for our sailing sequence on the Sils Maria lake the Maloja wind delivered flawless results.

After a very satisfying day and a half of production, the gear got packed and off to London for the second leg of the Samsung commercial. It's been a while since I have been to the British capital and it brought back mixed memories of hard work and traveling the world. Somehow I could not remember any negative things.

The London shooting was very complicated with a huge set and lots of actors, crew and extras. Painful to move all of them around and slowed everything down. Time pressure is always in the back of your head as you give everything to execute the scene to the best of your ability, regardless of the ticking clock. That night when I finally got to bed at 12h00 I was not sure if I really got good enough shots. Five in the morning I had to study all the footage. It was great and I was thankful that it all worked out. All in the bag and time to go home...

Thanks very much to a great team of people making it happen.

Switzerland crew. Gaffer: Tom Meyer, Make-up: Ana Rasic, Photographer: Filip Zuan, Stunt Biker: Kevin Franzi, Skipper: Jürg Kurt, Model: Maarten Reijnierse.

London crew: Pendragon (To many and dont know everybody.. sorry)
For more Pendragon's work visit www.pendragonproduction.com

The films below are not the final commercial, but something to look at until the 30 and 60 sec gets released. 

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Pigment, Baking-Flour, Feathers & Bubbles

Every now and then you need to take yourself out of your comfort zone and try something else. It keeps things fresh and interesting. I always wanted to see what it would be like to film pigment, baking-flour, feathers and bubbles, but it is not something that works for everybody. Firstly, since it’s a mess. A huge mess.. Did I mention that it’s a mess? Secondly it’s kind of arty and it really does not work with your normal commercial shoot. However when a fashion shoot together with UVU, a super premium running clothing brand from the UK came up, Anne-Marie Flammersfeld was the perfect training ground for experimenting with different flying/falling texture to make for dynamic and interesting shooting.

Weeks of planning ended up in a long 14 hour day, mostly consisting of dragging around lots of equipment, making a mess everywhere and a little bit of shooting. We ended up with only about 6 minutes of rushes. Results however was what it was all about and that made the entire thing worthwhile.

The project was made possible by the support of: Figaro St. Moritz (Hair and make-up artists); Pomatti Electronics; Hotel Castell and UVU running clothing. (Craftsmanship shaped for extreme performance)

Special thanks to: Silvia and Corina for a great job with hair, make-up, styling, blowing bubbles, throwing pigment and dropping feathers.
Cleaning staff: Everybody at Hotel Castell
Directed & DOP: Xaver Walser

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Bringing Polo Home - Azerbaijan

The world is just so big. Normal people hardly get to see their own country, never mind the world. The great thing about my job is that it takes me to countries that I normally would never have the intention of visiting. Take Azerbaijan for example. I must confess that I did not know where it was located on this planet. So if you are also one of those - it's bordering countries like Iran, Turkey, Russia and the Caspian Sea. Twenty years ago it was part of Russia. And yes.. I did watch the news every day to see what Obama wants to do with Syria.

The film project was an effort of the organization who wants to bring Polo home to the country where it all started, Azerbaijan. This oil rich country put up a master full polo event. As my good friend Habib Ferogh said: Xaver, we know Polo, but this is something else. 

They flew in every kind of specialist from Europe to come and make this project extra ordinary. There was no shortage of money. We were identified as experience Polo filmmakers and that title sat just fine with me. The greatest thing about the job was that we were completely left to our own devices and nobody ever in the 3 days came to tell us  what we have to do. Therefore it was a pleasure to experiment with different creative angles and push the production to new heights. At night we helped editing the rushes and select the best of the games so that it could be distributed to a whopping 128 TV channels world wide.

I remember always thinking that horse people were weird... but I kind of undergone a metamorphosis on this matter. The majority of them I still think are weird but when you see the passion between the Polo player and his horse you think again about your theory. The players say they are only 20% of the game. The rest are the horses. Some also say they like their horses more than their girlfriends. I leave you with that thought.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Bottom Up Switzerland

Anne-Marie Flammersfeld is considered the fastest desert woman on the planet. She broke all the records in 2012 by running 1000km in the 4 Desserts competition - Atacama, Gobi, Sahara, Antarctica - everything in one year. Then she came up with this new project, to run from the lowest point in Switzerland (Ascona 193m) to the highest point (Dufourspitz 4634m), all in 5 days. A total distance of 220km with 9500m of vertical altitude. As if this was not enough, we decided to film the venture and that meant going with her.

For this mission I had to try and get fit in 3 weeks. I am normally not an unfit person, but compared to Anne-Marie, I am a fat guy. Therefore an intense fitness training program started. It contained of running, swimming, biking, push-ups, sit-ups and all sorts of back exercises. There was not a day in the 3 weeks that I did not feel pain and some form of complaint about a new pain somewhere in my body. It's astonishing what you can achieve in 3 weeks if you really put your mind to it.

Running and filming is a skill that takes years to master. I knew that this was not going to be my strong point and therefore I hired renowned running filmmaker Andrew King from South Africa. I was impressed with the way he could keep up with the top runners. Especially when you see the camera point of view slowly circling around the runner while they are at full speed down some sketchy little path. Andrew were super keen to jump on board and  was up for the Alp challenge. What started out to be a cool little project turned into a monster.

 Anne-Marie started in Ascona and Andrew and myself had our hands full to keep up with the desert queen. I was shooting on the Red Epic and needed to do a basic assembly every time I wanted to shoot. It was all about building some distance between Anne-Marie and lining it up with  something visually interesting. Then jump off the bike, assemble the Epic, get the shot, pack everything back in the 28kg backpack and speeding across to catch up with Anne.


Andrew focused on running with a small Stedicam Merlin, Nikon 800 and  a 24-70mm lens. Just fantastic the results that he got running with her through the Alps. One thing is sure.. there is no way anything can prepare you for this adventure. All the training in the world cannot prepare you for the heavy equipment, the long days and short sleeps. From the 35+ humid Ascona to the freezing temperature on the ice Glacier. As a total inexperienced mountaineer it was the first time I had a pair of proper hiking boots on my feet. Wearing crampons I now know what it must be like for women to wear high heels. But all of these are minor. More than anything, nothing could prepare you for Anne-Marie Flammersfeld. I don't think I know any man who can keep up with her. She is by far the strongest person I know. One example. . .  as we tracked cross the Glacier at 4500 meter altitude struggling to breathe as the heavy backpack is dragging the last bit of energy out of me, Anne-Marie was talking nonstop, like a chatterbox, to one of our mountain guides as if she was at a tea party in Hyde Park. I could not even take a sip of water without getting the feeling that I would get sick. It's definitely a humbling experience.

After 5 hardcore days, Anne-Marie reached the summit. Andrew and I had the privilege to circle around the summit with an adrenaline junky CEO  Gerold Biner from Air Zermatt. Was just magic hanging out the heli while Anne-Marie was making the last 100 meter to the top. We have such good material that I am hoping to take this project further and eventually to showcase it in cinemas around the globe. Thanks very much to a  
huge team of people for making it happen.

For more on Anne-Marie Flammersfeld visit her blog at http://annemarieflammersfeld.blogspot.ch/  
For the best running filmmaker that I know visit Andrew King at https://vimeo.com/d4productions