Kids see a drone for the first time.

This was taken a few years ago when drones just hit the market and I was working on a documentary in a small village named Anuk Lang. There is no electricity, no TV, no internet, and no real connection to the modern world there, so when I brought out this little drone the kids went absolutely bonkers. They never had seen a cell phone let alone a flying quad copter. The look on their faces are priceless, and reflect the pure beauty this extraordinary country offers.

This is by far my most popular drone film, the (longer) original version
Vimeo https://vimeo.com/82292117 – but we wanted to share this rare view of Cambodia’s lush back country with you today, which we find absolutely stunning. You can read more about it on this Huffington Post article

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/drone-documentary-cambodia_n_4957251

If you want some tips on best settings and color correcting drone footage check this out:

https://cineclast.com/2015/01/04/best-settings-for-perfect-drone-footage-me-thinks/

And if you dig this film please like and Subscribe … we’ll be bringing you NEW CONTENT EACH DAY so count on us;)

Much love,

TC

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GEAR:
Drone: DJI Mavic https://goo.gl/jLa257
Camera: Sony A7rIII https://goo.gl/ijE1vZ
B Cam: Sony a6300 https://goo.gl/cs7AJm
Art Lens: 25mm CCTV f1.4 https://goo.gl/EgZShq
360 Camera: Samsung Gear 360 https://goo.gl/1jsfn8
Mic: Zoom H6 https://goo.gl/Gani8E
Lavs: Sony UWPD16 https://goo.gl/LXpHyg
Tripod: Manfrotto 390 https://goo.gl/6PzxBv

How To Get a Vimeo Staff Pick.

 

So clickbait, amirite?

This essay isn’t really about how to get a Vimeo Staff Pick. I am fortunate to have a couple of my films to have been showcased on Vimeo’s Parthenon of special Staff Picks, but I couldn’t tell you a recipe on how secure your acceptance. Besides, other people have offered their advice on the subject, so why add to the noise.

What I do want to discuss is why some of my films become Staff Picks, and other’s perhaps not.

I have upward of 600 films on Vimeo. Each unique pieces of work, a mixture of client driven and personal projects. Somewhere along the way I left the ranks of an office worker and dedicated my full-time to being a filmmaker. I say filmmaker because I direct, shoot, and edit. It’s totally consuming, and even when I’m not “working” I’m still working. Like they say however, if you do what you love, you never work a day in your life. That is true.

Even though I have some compelling work with famous athletes or well-known actors or insane SFX, there are a few films that really resonated with the Vimeo staff. What I find interesting is that they are all projects I did on my own dime, with my own crew, and were totally self-produced. I think this is an important point for any filmmaker.

This last film, “Heretic” is a short documentary about Douglas Little. Douglas is an amazing guy; he’s one of the creative visual geniuses behind sleep no more, an award-winning designer, but what put him on my radar was actually my girlfriend. She forwarded me an article about this guy who makes personalized perfume in his baroque upper west side apartment. He sounded absolutely mad, and I really wanted to meet him.

So I wrote him an email.

I basically said I was a filmmaker, and make short docs about people I find interesting. I asked if he would be interested in shooting a short doc in his apartment. He said yes.

I’ll pause here for a second to explain why these short docs are so important to me. I love narrative work, both commercially and otherwise. Docs though hold a special place in my heart. Living in a city like New York you are literally surrounded by people whose stories are always as or more interesting than most narratives. These are real people, who are your neighbors, your office mates, your friends even. Their stories are already written and all you need to do is record them. For me the short doc is an easy day at the filmmaking gym; just bring your gear and work it out.

For Douglas, along for others I’ve done, I like to keep the crew real small. Just 3 or 4 people. Maybe two lights if any. Good sound. It makes it fast and easy to move around, and easy on the subject too. I’m sure Douglas was open to having 5 people in his living room instead of a crew of a dozen.

I also move fast and cover everything. I have a set list of questions, but really just want to have a conversation with my subject. I find out what’s interesting about them on the spot. What’s fantastic is there is no consequence; there is no client, no one paying you, so it really doesn’t matter if you get something or not, you’re there to experience someone and no more. It’s the going commando of filmmaking and it’s amazing.

Finally you must have fun with it. The crew I roll with is all other filmmakers and shooters. Since there is no client it become professional playtime, meaning we get to use all the toys we never do on paid sets because we’re not exactly sure what they will do. Russian anamorphic glass you bought on-line, a weird 360 camera you want to cut your teeth on, even an old 8mm film camera you found at your grandparents. We get weird, really weird with it, and it makes for some very interesting footage. Weird angles, strange lighting, you name it, the weirder the better. Leave it to the editor to figure out.

That’s me also. I love and hate editing like most editors do. When it’s tedious, it’s life sucking, but when its good, it’s mind-blowing. When I do a personal project like this because there is no consequence to anything we’re doing, it becomes extremely enjoyable. I make some editorial decisions that are frankly horrible and I love it.

In the end what happens is a few things. You get to meet someone who is very interesting. You get to learn and invent new techniques and gear, and you get to try something new in post that may or may not make sense. It’s basically the Jackson Pollock style of filmmaking; throw it against the canvas and see what sticks.

Now I’m sure some people will say that a planned line of attack is a much better use of a filmmakers time, and yes, there is a time and place for that. However if you consider that it takes half a day to shoot, and maybe a week to edit one of these films, it really isn’t that much of a risk.

The result has always been rewarding, not just from accolades, but from the experience of meeting new people and working with my core crew. One film we did together about master mechanic Peter Boggia went on to win a few great festivals and even brought Peter and I over to Italy for a month-long, once-in-a-lifetime motorcycle trip. This latest film about Douglas has spurred a bunch of new work from new clients, which I wouldn’t have even know how to approach otherwise. What I’m saying is that while paid work is great, it’s usually the personal projects that stand out, and often get the new work knocking at your door. What’s more it doesn’t really cost anything to produce, other than some lunch for your friends.

So how do you get a Vimeo Staff Pick? No idea, but if you know please tell me. In the meantime just email someone interesting, grab a camera and a friend, and go make a short doc, you won’t be disappointed.

Rs

Roberto Serrini is a professional Filmmaker who records his adventures in word, photography and film. He is a staff writer for Get Lost Magazine, a senior contributor to Trip Advisor, as well as a commercial film director and drone pilot. His work can be seen at www.robertoserrini.com where he can be contacted as well.

How To Make A Good Drone Film.

Drones. We all got drones. Everybody is doing the drone thing, amarite? I mean there is even a Drone Film Festival in NYC (which I’m a judge of;) so lemme tell ya when I say drone vids are a dime a dozen, they are.

So, how do you make a good one? How do you make one that stands out? One that people actually watch, and dare I say it, share?

Well, here are a few tips I use when making my vids, and things I look for in other flyer’s vids. Just some armchair advice, and you can’t beat the price.

  1. Shoot it right. 

This should be a no brainer but like cooking or construction if you use crap material, you get a crap product. So what do I mean “shoot it right”? Here’s a few things to think about while flying:

  • Fly steady. Do long sweeping moves. Try to ease in and out of panning shots. This is where the skill is in flying.
  • Know what you’re shooting at. Flying into the sun can be cool, but it usually isn’t. Be aware of propeller shadow hitting your lens (e.g. don’t fly 45 degrees to the sun)
  • Use a ND filter. This will slow down your shutter, and keep your footage more cinematic. Don’t have a ND filter? You can tape a piece of exposed 35mm film over the front of your lens. That one’s for free.
  • Be interesting. Sure you can go high, but the best drone footage has movement. If you are ballsy enough fly through something (safely people) or easier, set up a shot where you fly sideways across something, e.g. a wall, coastline or even a fence, you’ll get a cool shot.
  • Set your camera up right. Many of you have seen my post on the “best” settings for drone footage. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Also, I always opt for more resolution over frame rate. It will give you more latitude in post bringing me to my second point:

2. Dress up your footage. 

Sure, you can upload your entire clip to YouTube and let it rot there with the millions of others, or, you can do some dress up in post. Don’t be afraid of post, frankly it’s more fun then flying sometimes, and will make the difference between amateur footage and pro footage. Here’s some tips:

  • Cut it down. Then cut it down some more. Then cut it down, once again. Drone videos don’t need to be over 2 minutes ever. 30 seconds is actually totally appropriate. Short and sweet is the best rule of thumb here, choose your best moments, and get out.
  • Think story. I know you’re just shooting a field, or the ocean, or a strip mall, but build a story. Could be anything; start low and go high. Maybe try alternating closer shots with wider shots. Build a story, like you are leading a viewer on a ride. I alway re-order my clips (that’s editing;) so that they tell a story, abstract as it may seem.
  • Think backwards. Don’t be afraid to reverse your footage. 80% of the time I will have my shots playback in reverse, reason being is because with most drones, especially Phantoms, you can fly backwards faster and without the props getting in the shot. Reverse this and you look like Ice Man from Top Gun. Just make sure there are no people, or waves in the shots, or it might look a little weird.
  • Get weird with it. I know I just said be careful not to get weird with it, but I definitely want you to get weird. 99% of all drone films are just beautiful footage from the sky. Thats cool. Sometimes it’s real refreshing to see something new, weird, and edgy. Mix in B roll, stuff on the ground, handheld. Turn the image upside-down, that will make your head spin. Stand out footage will make you stand out.
  • Color Correct and Optical Correct always. Your footage isn’t really done when it comes out of the camera, it’s half done. If you can, shoot “flat” or “protune” to have latitude in post to color correct. Massage your contrast, grade your film, and give it a look. I guarantee you will make it 100 times better. Another great thing to do is optically correct the footage. Most footage coming out of the camera will have a pretty noticeable fish-eye on it. It will look like you shot it through a hotel door. Most programs, like After Effects, have a “optical correct” plugin that you can slap on your footage. Here’s a good tutorial that I every time without fail. Pro Tip: click the “optimal Pixel” checkbox. It will “bow” the top and bottom of your footage. Then just change your frame/canvas size to crop the image. This will give you the most resolution and a nice letterbox.

3) Music

I can’t stress this one enough. Good music makes good footage. Music is so important to film in general, but it goes triple for drone footage. A sweeping orchestral piece will elevate and give your film gravitas. Something electronic and modern will give it an edgy feel. Depending on what you want your film to be, music is the vehicle to get you there. You can use a famous song, but beware, some sites may not let you post it. Or you can go to a site like pond5 to get some cheap tracks that can be used anywhere. Even finding something at freesound.org can get you on the right track, so to speak.

Here is a little side by side of ungraded and graded footage:

And here is the final film with music:

that’s it really, three solid rules to follow when thinking about drone films. This is a special genre of film and relatively still new, so there is lots of room to bend and break these “rules” but I guarantee if you are at least thinking about them, you’re going to have a better end result. If you don’t I’ll be happy to refund your money.

Happy flying!

Rs

Roberto Serrini is a NYC based commercial director, editor, and avid drone operator. His work can be seen at www.robertoserrini.com

The Most Eye Opening Trip.

When I was 37 I went to Cambodia. It was the first time I ever went to South-East Asia which is odd because it would have been my favorite place likely in my 20’s, much like the rest of the male affluent white world. Loads of sex, cheep beer, and endless adventure is hard to pass up, but I did, probably because deep down I knew that if I did go there I would never come back, due to the fact that I probably would die there due to some circumstance directly under my control.

For whatever divine reason I dodged that death sentence and ended up in Phnom Penh on a film shoot with a guy I had worked with a handful of times named Sami Joensuu.

Sami was a super nice, super cool guy from Finland via Sweden. He had fun tattoos, a skater attitude, and a great smile. He was a pleasure to travel with, was funny, adventurous, and we would have made one hell of a travel show. We weren’t there for a show, we were there to film a documentary about a small village called Anlung Leak, which is not on any map, and about two hours due west in the backcountry from Phnom Penh.  A humanitarian, Christian organization named FIDA wanted to document the benefit their assistance did on the town. We were to focus on one woman, a mother, and wife, named Ana Ong.

serrini_cambodia-124

Ana lost her youngest daughter to Dengue fever, a completely treatable and curable disease even without medication. She lost her because the way her village had treated this sickness for the last millennia was to put the affected out in the sun, and let them sweat it out. Most died including her daughter. Then FIDA came and taught them what we of the first world would consider some very basic education; that there are these things called germs, untreated water needs to be boiled before drank, and washing your hands can stop you from being sick most of the times. They also taught her that she killed her daughter.

Not directly of course, but the understanding was that she did not need to die. The understanding was that if he mother just had this knowledge a little earlier, she would still have her daughter. It was a singular experience, that I will never have again, to witness, for the first time, another person, for the first time, be illuminated in such a profound way.

Of course that was life in the village. Here in the states I imagine there would be all sorts of ceremony, therapy, years of medication, self-doubt, and a life dedicated to “what ifs”. For Ana Ong it was part of a larger cycle, no doubt horribly difficult, but was a life that did not afford the luxury of pity.

We talked to her in a little wood shack that her husband built with his hands, axe, and rope. She showed us her most treasured items: two poorly photoshopped photos of her parents that were a tradition in Cambodia. A generic red sports car behind the man, and a disproportionate commercial center behind the woman, framing them in their dreams and aspirations.

serrini_cambodia-107

On a derelict but well-kept wood chiffonier was an old 13 inch CRT tv. I asked what her favorite show was and she didn’t understand the question. She went over to the TV with a big proud smile and turned it on. White snow illuminated the dim shack. The TV was hooked up to a car battery and they would turn it at night to use as a lamp. They had never experienced it for it’s intended use. During the day the kids would ride a stationary bike attached to a generator to recharge the car battery.  This was a town that had no running water or electricity, no cell phones, no current knowledge of the outside world, not even the basic knowledge that washing your hands could save your life.

serrini_cambodia-102

Yet, here humanity thrived. Outside the children laughed and played like any child does around the entire world. A rich kid with a Xbox, or these kids that invented a game played with discarded rubber bands, had the same laugh, the same desire to win, the same need to be accepted. They were just as happy, and that, to me, was a tremendous discovery. It made me closer to humanity, made me realize that what was important was human not object, and made me feel that we do start pure, that the world as a whole does have a chance. You can read a thousand books, see as many documentaries as you like, I doubt you will be able to see it any clearly then a gaggle of kids giggling over a game they invented with garbage.

The village was fascinated with us. We were big and different and we came with these cameras and microphones that didn’t look like anything the had seen before. The kids loved to see their picture taken, one of Ana Ong’s daughters even posed like a model, hand on an extended hip, chin down and eyes up at the camera, without being asked, almost, instinctual.

serrini_cambodia-45.jpg

“She wants to be an tour guid” said her mother, “that would make me very proud.” That however would not be the fate for the young daughter who has never left the village; at 12 she would go to the factory and begin to make t-shirts, or assemble electronics, like her older sister did. “School is very expensive, and hardly anyone has money to go to college.” I asked her how much it would cost to send her to school. “Well, from elementary, through high school, and then college, with all the supplies, it’s nearly 15,000 Bhat.”

That’s almost 400.00 USD. Almost.

We carried on filming, at one point even brought my little DJI drone out to get some aerial shots. I’ve never blown so many minds at one time before. The kids went absolutely nuts, and some of the older villagers ran into their houses, unsure and unwilling to participate in whatever the hell this loud, flying, flashing, buzzing white thing was. The drone to me represented perfectly the modern world, and to see it in this gentle, primitive setting was quite extraordinary. We flew over the rice fields, through the village, and down dirt roads, documenting an ancient place with the newest technology. I imagined this is how explorers felt when they came to lands filled with indigenous people. For me it was inspiring, to share the possibility of the future with the youth, but I could easily see how this power could be manipulated for other purposes quite easily.

And here is the film I made, just of the drone footage. It’s stunning to see the country this way, and must have been for many people; it’s won numerous awards around the world, and what’s more, I’ve had people actually leave comments thanking me for showing them their beautiful country. The pleasure was truly all mine.

We shot for about 10 days, and became very close with the people of Anlung Leak, and the children who welcomed us each day as if we were some sort of show for them. The last evening we shared a humble meal with Ana Ong and her family, she insisted in cooking for us. Lovely young rice and fresh eggs with golden yolks, fried as an omelette with garlic. Fish sauce and tapioca. It was simple and beautiful, and was probably more food then she eats in a week.

After dinner she took a large towel off an old cast iron ice shaving machine. It was French made, and was left over from a people who colonized her land that she never met over a century ago. She took a precious block of ice, rare and precious, and placed it gently under the mechanism. Children jumped for joy as she cranked the machine by hand; a giant iron blade scraping a symphony for them to dance to. The shavings were gathered, placed in a bowl with tapioca beads and some tapioca vermicelli, dried fruit, and condensed milk. She offered this treat to us first, before making any others and waited. It was delicious. Everything about it, delicious.

While we packed up, and the kids collectively helped clear the feast, Sami and I snuck into the little dark shack. Under her rag stuffed pillow we placed 400 dollars tied together with strand ripped from my red bandana. We piled into our car, placed our hands together and bowed a hundred times, and made our way back to the modern world of Phnom Penh. In the wake of dust behind us we left the hope that maybe one little girl might experience a larger world, and maybe bring the good things of that larger world back to her home town. Maybe.

Here is the full documentary we produced:

And if you like, hop over to my Flickr album … so many beautiful images.

Rs

 

Roberto Serrini is a professional traveler who records his adventures in wordphotography and film. He is a staff writer for Get Lost Magazine, a senior contributor to Trip Advisor, as well as a commercial film director and drone pilot. His work can be seen at www.robertoserrini.com where he can be contacted as well.

 

introducing bella branded.

So it’s a special day today, as we launch the creative agency arm of no-frames, our humble, bad-ass production company. Bella Branded has been in the works for a while now, and as we have opened office in Los Angeles and Gothenburg, Sweden, now is a great time to announce this specialized department.

What is Bella Branded? It’s the creative component to an outstanding production company that creates original, fun, sexy, cool branding and identity concepts for any brand wanting to stand out. We work a little bit differently than most of the branding teams out there … We like to collaborate with scientists, buskers, graffiti artists, performance artists, and creative individuals that are actually making socially consumed art, rather than just advertising jockeys, so that our concepts are perhaps a little more fresher, and a whole lot more authentic.

Lead by the creative team at No-Frames, who has over 15 years experience producing high concept media for global brands in the advertising arena, we corral this raw talent into producing ideas that cannot be ignored. We are all only children, so we know a thing or two about that.

Anyway, do check us out. Even if you are not interested in rebranding yourself, the ideas and films we offer are pretty dope. Worth a peek.

Much love and happy birthday Bella! We’re sure you’ll grow up to be a stunning young lady.

Rs

 

tropical island. drones. beautiful.

This year I had the pleasure of going to Thailand on a film shoot (The Buffalo Rider – watch for it in theaters) and on the tail end of the shoot hit up the wee island of Koh Phi Phi for a little R&R and sun worship.

Of course it took me about 6 minutes before I broke out the drones.

So here is a little vacation film of Outrigger Resort on the island of Koh Phi Phi in Thailand. It truly is paradise…

 

and we’re off… buffalo racing.

Ah the illustrious world of buffalo racing. The pageantry. The jockeys with their sponsored banners and uniforms. All the pomp and circumstance that rivals even the Kentucky Derby.

Nah. Just kidding.

Buffalo Racing it turns out is about as country as you can get. It’s a mixture between drag racing and rodeo if stock cars had horns and we’re extremely pissed off. What I found personally interesting was the way Thai people from the city view Buffalo Racing. They think it’s backwater, hillbilly stuff. And to their credit, it is. Most of the actors in the film are from Bangkok, and they not only talk different then the locals here, but are noticeably whiter and very much on purpose. They cover themselves completely when they are not on camera. Then, they add a large amount of whitening to their already white skin. While westerners long for the bronzed skin that comes with a healthy tan, here it is anything but wanted. “White is right” said one of the kids on set, which sounded very, very strange to my ear. (on a side note, there is such a thing as “Nazi Chic” in Thailand that kinda blew my mind. I thought Juicy Couture sweatpants was the abomination of my fashion world… this definitely takes the cake.)

So this world is absolutely bizarro which makes it fantastically interesting. The buffalo are huge beasts that go extremely fast. Imagine a half ton of muscle and horn flying down a slippery mud runway at 30 mph… with you on the its back. What’s more is that it’s usually kids that race. They sit on the very back of the beast, hold on to a thin rope that is looped through the animal’s nose, and whip the shit out of them as they fly 100 yards toward a finish line. It’s not so much racing as controlled disaster. It’s riveting.

To stop the animal they… don’t. They simply jump off. That should give you an idea of what kinda control they have. Basically they run into a large body of water which slows them down, and then two dudes put their hands up and hope they stop.

DSC00215

They are beautiful animals. Before seeing them Joel the director had said how amazed he was with them, how much more expressive they were then other animals, say a dog or horse. They have these eyes, and can totally emote through them. You can see when they are happy, hungry, playful, or pissed off. It really is impressive. They owners love them as well and treat them like part of the family. They constantly bathe them. Constantly. It is amazing to watch the animal squint in pleasure as cool water is poured on him in the hot sun.

Oh yeah. It’s friggin’ hot. Really hot. Like 100 degrees hot. The palms of my hands got sunburnt. Luckily production was ready for it, and even had a bottle with my name on it ready to go at all times.

ahhhh.
ahhhh.

As for the production team, wow. I’ve never seen guys work so hard. They were amazing, rocking and rolling, making it happen. They set up dolly track in minutes, hardly ever was a word even spoken. Shooting on a RED as well in this heat could have been an issue, but not for these champs. None of the “not my job” attitude here; if it had to be done, it got done, regardless if you were the DP or an PA. It was a pleasure working with them.

I love sets like these. This is what I consider real filmmaking. The reason I got into filmmaking was because I get so bored doing just one task. I love the variety, the combination of talent it takes to make something really fuse together. So when I was asked to put down the drone and step in as the buffalo I was honored.

 

Considering how hot it was, how much there was to shoot, and the fact that we weren’t using set animals, the day went off without a hitch. Lotsa people came down to watch; there was even a sorta tailgate culture where young guys would bring out their freshly washed supped up kit cars with homemade spoilers to impress local girls. Lotsa food trucks and drinking as well, along with your lively betting under the stands.

Hired as an aerial cinematographer I had my work cut out for me. These muscle rockets were fast, unpredictable, and on the whole, did not like the wasp-like whine of my drone. That being said I think it’s been one of my favorite things I’ve shot to date. Flying and shooting with a drone can be a lot of fun; it excels at landscapes and cityscapes, and for the most part anyone can make such scenes look amazing with the right gear and experience. Moving objects, and more specifically, large running animals in a race with small humans on their back was definitely more of a challenge, and one that was ultimately more rewarding then chasing a car or flying over a ridge of a mountain. To watch in slow motion as you track along side of them careening into a lake of sunlit painted water was quite a nice moment. It’s times like these I wish I charged more.

Rs

 

day one. (send help.)

And so … it begins.

I met Joel right outside of customs at the Bangkok airport. I never formally met Joel, and frankly, didn’t really know much about what I was getting into. It sounded exotic, dangerous, and most of all, fun, so I was 90% there. As long as I had a place to stay and could do my job properly, I’d be living the dream. Joel seemed on the ball, an honest guy, and most of all, excited. People who are excited about what they are doing, no matter if you’re a garbage man or a tax attorney, make me happy. Passion is universal.

me and joel, my new best friend.
me and joel, my new best friend.

We jumped into a really nice transport van driven by Song, who spoke no english but pointed like a champ. So we’re driving. And driving. And driving. And finally, we “arrive” although if you saw the place you would have doubts you were anywhere let alone where you were supposed to be. We’re camped out in a place called Chon Buri, a South East dry district in Thailand. Dry because there is about a two days less rain than other places in Thailand, not because they don’t drink alcohol there. They drink. In lot’s of different ways, but I’ll get to that later.

Chon Buri It’s basically no where which makes it kinda amazing. While it lacks almost complete existence, it is home to one thing; Buffalo Racing.

bufalo buck'n

While it doesn’t take much to convince me to get on a plane and come fly a drone around, Buffalo Racing definitely perked up my ears, mainly because I had never heard of it before. Ever. And while it might seem pretentious, that is pretty odd to me. I mean, I love the internet. I love blogs. And for something as exquisitely exotic and certifiably crazy as buffalo racing to never even ping on my internet radar was quite amazing.

Kwai Keng, or Buffalo Racing, has been around in this “formal” incarnation for about 150 years. Originally a way for rice farmers to let off some steam (and make a little side cash on their luck) the event has become a big back alley festivity that brings a good chunk of people in to watch, race, and bet. We’re not talking Madison Square Garden numbers, but definitely WNBA numbers.  For the purposes of the shoot, they organized a special race to take place, as the real races happen in the Fall at harvest time. I immediately understood one of the benefits of shooting in Thailand, where you could have an annual event happen 6 months early, and people not only don’t charge you for it, but are happy to move it for you. We would be shooting over the next following days, and I was definitely looking forward to see what madness this event would bring.

Racing aside, we eventually made it to our “hotel”. It’s kinda an apartment complex that just exists there on the road. There isn’t much around; a little sad market that sells some sundries, and lots of chips and beer. Next to it is a little “restaurant”; basically a wok, and a few tables. Everything is new; like just built. Like paint still wet. But like Stalin built it. There is no style or decor, it’s just basic. Basic of basic. Cave with an outlet is kinda what we’re dealing with here people.

“I made sure you have the best room in the place,” said Joel, extremely proud and excited, “it has a television and air-conditioning.”

the room

Thanks Joel.

This place is hilarious. The bed, was pretty much on the floor. The furniture was all new, so new it had the protective wrapper on it still. My closet had the plastic wrapping on the hanger bar, but lacked hangers, which I thought was just the right touch. The TV (a 13 incher CRT job, remember those 1989?) had a miraculous 216 channels on it. Seriously. I counted. They were all either in Thai, Chinese, or Hindu. 189 of them were K-Pop/Music Videos that played the same 5 music videos.

At the very least, I thought, the bed was nice and big. I then tossed my phone on it and it broke. It broke. Cracked. Placing my hand on it cautiously I quickly realized that it was basically a piece of plywood with a vinyl cover.

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Brand new mind you, which kinda blew my mind. I mean, someone had to design this. There was piping around the edges, and it was made well. Someone had to actually say, “ok, so we’re sleeping on the floor. I need a solution for making that more comfortable. Wait, got it. We’ll take some wood and wrap it in vinyl and raise it 6 inches off the ground.” then another guys is like “brilliant Ted, but what if, and just walk with me a minute, we put white piping around the edge. You know, to class it up a bit?” And then they had a martini lunch celebrating their new product, “the mattress”.

I was pretty much in awe, until I saw the “bathroom”.

bathroom

The shower had a knob where water came out. You get just water temperature. Whatever temperature the water is at that time is the temperature of your shower. The funny thing is that at the hottest part of the day the water, which you would love to be cool, is at its hottest. Irony. In the end I had to respect the uniqueness of this bathroom; there aren’t many places you can bathe and take a shit at the same time. Pretty much the Ganges and here.

And it may sound really strange, but, I was extremely happy. I live in Manhattan. I have a sweet apartment, with running hot and cold water, cable, internet, and a city where anything you want from sex to a slice of pizza is available 24/7. Living like that can make you forget what you are made of, who you are, and what is really the value of comfort. So an experience like this I look at with hungry eyes, happy for the chance of discomfort, and the mandated focus on the reason I’m here in the first place. Let’s just hope that holds up for a month. I mean I’m not crazy.

After getting comfortable in my room, I headed down to met some of the “crew”. Another producer named Ray who was German, but had been living out in Thailand long enough to look like he’d been living out in Thailand. Ray had a comically thick German accent and loved to make off-colored Nazi references. It was like Mel Brooks knew I was going on trip and sent me a gift. Another nice kid named Weiss from South Africa that loved animals and loved hunting; a combination I always find interesting. He knew everything that could hurt, poison or kill you in Thailand and wasn’t shy to point it out to you at every turn. These guys were red and leathery with piercing light eyes. They looked like they worked on the docks, and knew what the business end of a knife was used for. Another glorious example of how the film industry takes all kinds.

The "hotel restaurant"
The “hotel restaurant”

Along with Joel we sat outside, shared a bowl of noodles, and drank several very cold beers in the afternoon heat. We discussed the film, traveling, meats we liked to eat, and places we liked to visit. We watched a massive thunderstorm roll in, over us, and out the other side leaving again a beautiful day.

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The German, Ray, Leo beer, L&M unfiltered, and crisps … aka … dinner.

While life here seemed slow and relaxed, it sure seem to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. Eventually, after trying all the chip flavors in the shop (“Mexicans” was my favorite, go figure) We rolled out to dinner, at the shopping mall about 10 minutes away.

A giant TESCO in the middle of no where. Inside the Tesco there were other shops, anything you could imagine; barber shops, cell phones, dentist. It was like a small town. This is what I imagine the post apocalyptic future will be like; irradiated jungle badlands for miles, with a giant climate controlled warehouse filled with a village of commerce defying the nature surrounding it. This place was frightening with its variety; they even had a Swansons and Dairy Queen. As long as I can get my Blizzard on I’m good. There is something I hate about these places, mainly, it’s a parasite culture in a foreign place, but there is something miraculous about it as well, like taking the lowest level of art and raising it to museum quality. It makes me think of Charles Bukowski and Robert Moses at an S&M party. There is something perfectly mind-blowing about a perfectly short, brown Thai man in a red and white soda-counter stripped shirt saying in perfectly broken English “Welcome to Swanson’s” in the middle of a desolate jungle province.

The "Nightcap".
The “Nightcap”.

Back at the hotel I had a ceremonial Alka-Seltza and put on GnR’s “Welcome to the Jungle”. I peered out the window into the darkness. No street lights, no stars. Just jungle black. What would tomorrow bring, who knows. As for now it is late, and time to sleep on my wood plank.

Rs

 

and now, a word about drones…

So I would be remiss if I didn’t mention anything about drones at this point, since, it’s basically the reason this trip is happening. Here is the internet famous film that got it all going…

When DJI first came out with the original Phantom Quadrocopter, I bought it in a heartbeat. I mean, it was basically a man toy, and I had to have it. I didn’t fully realize how much I would fall in love with flying and filming.

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When I first got it, it came with nothing. I flew it first without any camera on it. I flew it right into the wall. I really didnt expect it to be so difficult to control, I mean, I was a master flying a Ghost in Halo, how much harder can this be from a video game.

Lots.

People often say “what do those cost? Like 600 bucks? I should really get one” and you should. They are amazing. What you probably don’t realize is that like most good things, there is a bit more to it then it might seem.

First of all, flying the damn thing is unlike anything else you’ve done, unless you’ve flown quadrocopters before, then it’s just like that. Imagine that, like a car, you not only have forward, backwards, left and right to contend with, but also up and down. Now, add in the fact that the copter can rotate, so, imagine, you rotate 90º and try to fly to the right. You know which way you fly? If you guessed backwards, you are correct. And if you are confused then you are normal. Two points.

Basically it’s like controlled chaos in 3D. The damn thing goes ridiculously fast, and very high, and it is very easy to crash one, or in my case, four of them. Luckily I always travel with 2 drones, like any professional, it’s important to be ready for the worst.

Now, the price. Sure, 600 bucks gets you in the door. Then I had to add the Zenmuse gimbal, which stabilizes the camera. Then I had to upgrade the circuit board and NAZA controller. Don’t know what that is? Neither do I. I had to solder for godsake. Solder. That means buying a soldering iron. And something called flux which I still don’t fully understand. That means having to go to RADIOSHACK for the love of God. Then I then had to buy a GoPro, and upgrade the controller as well for tilt control. Batteries… each lasts about 10 minutes, which means buying about 12 of them for a shoot. Additional chargers, custom case, carbon fiber props, and of course, had to install a Fatshark RX transmitter and receiver so I can get a video feed to the director.

600.00 easily becomes 3K. Easily.

Perhaps the most “interesting” part about learning how to do all this is that there really is no “instructions”. It’s not like there is a manual that comes with the components that tell you how to put it together. Mind you at the time there were no “kits” that came with this setup already built. Any information I got was online, and usually from either a German youtube video or some half-assed comment in a message board. It was like navigating to the moon with directions your 90 year old grandfather gives you.

The good part about this is that you really learn the equipment. You learn what everything does, or can do, and you learn how to fix it, or troubleshoot issues if things go wrong, and things always go wrong. I considered it payment for all the enjoyment I was about to have.

Seriously though, soldering sucks.

Mind you, I knew nothing about RC piloting, so I’m by no means trying to tell you it’s not easy to start doing. Just maybe not as easy as you think.

In the end Ray, one of the other producers on the film here in Thailand, said it best: “At first I was just going to buy one and shoot the footage myself. Then I realized how many bad aerial videos are out there. I thought, maybe this isn’t as easy as it seems. So we called you.” Thanks Ray.

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Like anything worth doing, it has its learning curve. For your consideration; above are LiPo bags. LiPo’s are the type of batteries that go into the drone, and look like little C4 explosives. And, oh yeah, they tend to fucking explode for no reason every now and then.

So you are not allowed to put them in checked luggage, which means you take them on board with you. The idea here is that if something does happen it’s better if it’s in the cabin where you can do something about it. There is a whole TSA and FAA sheet about this, which doesn’t stop you from having a hell of a time explaining what the hell you’re doing with so many batteries at the airport security.

Finally, and perhaps the most interesting about this type of hobby, is that it is technically illegal. You may see that I wrote “hobby” instead of “job”. That’s because the FAA does not allow you to fly drones for commercial purposes. It’s not that I don’t have a license, it’s that THERE IS NO LICENSE. In fact, THERE IS NO ACTUAL LAW for or against it. It’s this weird limbo ruling that basically allows them to fine you 10K if you fly them for commercial purposes. So I obviously do not advertise myself as an aerial cinematographer, because that would be illegal. That’s why I only fly them for my enjoyment. Sometimes I do it while on set, between takes, you know, just to fill downtime. It’s a great hobby, and way better for you then smoking.