What follows is a guest post by a colleague of ours, Jeremy Teicher–but first, some backstory. I spoke with Jeremy about a year ago, back when he was preparing his feature narrative film, then tentatively titled “La Promesse” (now Grande Comme le Baobob–translated to Tall as the Baobob Tree) He came to us by word of mouth, looking for mobile shooting solutions to fulfill his coverage desires shooting in rural Africa.
Based on my previous experience with Chris Cloyd and Anna Schwaber of the Lady Madonna Project, a feature documentary shot in Africa, I was hoping I could assist Jeremy in making it all work out.
This is his story, though–not mine–and I’m delighted to see it’s picking up steam. Here’s their (very active) facebook page, where you can view their feature trailer.
Shooting a feature film in the middle of rural Africa meant that if anything went wrong with our equipment, we were plain stuck. When it comes to putting together an equipment package for a film shoot, careful planning can save production time and money. In my case, how well I planned during pre-production would decide whether I would fly home with a film—or leave Africa empty-handed.
Miles away from any paved roads, my experience producing and directing my first feature film in a remote Senegalese village was certainly unlike any film production I had ever been involved with before.
Setting ourselves up for success
Since our village location was such a colorful and visually striking place, I knew that we needed to make the cinematography shine. My director of photography Chris Collins (you may have seen his work with the Wide Open Camera crew) was responsible for putting together our gear package. Here are the parameters I gave him:
- We were going to be working with non-actors, so I wanted to shoot with two cameras rolling at all times to maximize coverage and minimize multiple takes.
- We had to be low-key enough to get through Senegalese customs without raising any red flags—or drawing the attention of thieves out in the country.
- Our shooting location was primarily a small village with no electricity and no reliable coverage from the elements.
- We would be taking a horse cart to and from the village each day, a 30-45 minute ride over bumpy dirt paths—all our gear would need to fit on one cart.
- We would sleep in a hotel with access to wall outlets each night.
Chris started by working backwards: we had two Ikan Traveler Backpacks, and he would design two camera packages that could fully fit in each bag. Chris would carry a backpack on the plane and his 2nd DP Luke Hanlein would carry another—that way if a disaster happened to one bag, we would still be able to shoot the film with the other.
Each Traveler Backpack was outfitted with a Canon DSLR—a 5D in one and 7D in the other—and an LCD viewfinder. We had two nice Canon zoom lenses along with a set of Zeiss primes and accompanying filters, which we divided between the two backpacks. We also stuffed the packs with as many spare batteries as we could fit, along with some extra chargers to fully take advantage of our precious few hours each day with reliable electricity.
Keeping in mind our need to travel light in the field, Chris opted for a lighting setup that would minimize both bulk and need for electricity. For outdoor scenes—the majority of the film—Chris packed two flex fills that would enable us to have more control over natural sunlight. To tackle the script’s nighttime and indoor sequences, Chris brought two Ikan 312 LED lights powered by rechargeable Ikan Fat Sony batteries.
Between our thin flex fills and lightweight LED lights, Chris managed to put together a highly effective, portable and sustainable lighting solution for the field—a much-welcome departure from those ultra-heavy lighting kits with burning hot bulbs that most of us are accustomed to! The whole setup fit easily into our carry-on baggage with room to spare.
As for the rest of our baggage, a carry-on Pelican case stored our hard drives, sound gear, and other delicate electronics. In our checked luggage we packed sturdier equipment: tripods, shoulder rigs, etc. Clothing was an afterthought, wrapped around tripods and stuffed wherever we could find spare room.
Out in the village
Once we safely arrived at our hotel, we set up shop and arranged our gear in a way that made sense for commuting to the village each day (leaving equipment on set overnight was not an option). Each hotel wall outlet was paired with multiple chargers, ensuring a constant rotation of fresh batteries we could pack every morning for a full day of shooting.
Both A and B cameras traveled to set in their own Ikan backpack, along with whatever lenses Chris felt would work best for our daily scenes. Having a backpack for each camera turned out to be the perfect setup: since we were constantly on the go and didn’t have the luxury of assistant cameramen, Chris and Luke needed to swap lenses, change filters and pack up several times a day—all on their own.
Free from unwieldy camera cases, Chris and Luke had the flexibility to quickly adjust to any new situation I threw at them. The producer in me could also rest easy, knowing that they were literally attached to our valuable equipment and could work all day without worrying about theft.
Most importantly, Chris and Luke’s ability to be quick and flexible with the camera was extremely valuable to me as a director, working with non-professional actors in a setting that required constant adaptation.
All about the story
When people are sitting in the theater, I don’t want them to think about what kind of equipment we used. I want them to be wrapped up in the story.
But behind the scenes, the truth is that having the right tools at our disposal was absolutely instrumental to our success getting the film in the can. Every day on set, I was grateful that Chris and I took the time to carefully think through every minor detail and anticipate our needs well in advance.
Thanks to Chris’s strategic equipment choices, I knew I could trust him 100% to be ready with the camera at the drop of a hat, freeing me up to focus on performance and story. And while our shoot in Senegal may have been a logistical extreme, the value of strategic equipment planning will carry over to all of my future projects and become an integral part of my pre-production process.
Grand comme le Baobab (Tall as the Baobab Tree) is director Jeremy Teicher’s first feature film, inspired by true stories revealed to him while filming his 2010 groundbreaking documentary short, nominated for a Student Academy Award.
Jeremy and his team wrapped post-production on Grand comme le Baobab in May and look forward to beginning their festival circuit soon.
Please show us your support on Facebook—every like helps! http://www.facebook.com/GrandCommeLeBaobab
Visit the film’s official website, www.TallAsTheBaobabTree.com, to learn more.