Going back to my cinematic roots... In times of the COVID 19

A few years ago, actually 9 years ago (that is if I haven't lost my count), a wise professor I had at my Paris Film School told me, something like this: "In film school you are going to have the chance to have hopefully many films under your name because it is a film school after all, but once you leave school, those chances will come in small bits or they will never come, and if they come, consider yourself a lucky guy". I mean he did not say this world by word, but he said something close to this, more or less, and after all these years I do now know exactly what he meant to tell me.


After my short film Jackie was released in 2012 and got all these awards and so on, I started to do photography as a means to support myself and gain my own money, leaving film somehow behind.


I can count almost 7 years of doing non stop photography, going to places with my camera, doing pictures, buying gear, developing my eye, my own style, doing it for others as clients and doing it for myself with my own personal projects, which have lead me to a few exhibitions so far, yet I always dreamed of being back and seated at a director's chair and fantazising about what a pleasure it is to do it, despite the hard work behind it.


All these years I have been looking to develop projects that came close to completion but they never came true for one reason or another, and every time these projects came and went I thought about those words from my professor. Truth be told he was and is so right. There was a point in all these years where I thought that I would never do film again, until this past November 2019, which is already last year.


I love photography. I can express my feelings and views of the world through it, but I often feel that it is a very lonely profession because its very much often you, your camera, the silence of a studio, your editing and you sending pictures to your client via Wetransfer or drop box. It is a very personal art form, but at the same time a very lonesome art form. It is fun getting yourself lost in the streets of Rome with your camera and shooting life as it appears to you, but I'm that type of a person that always needs to have new motivations, goals, or a new project because I want to become someone in life. I want my work to be seen all over the world, and hopefully, I want my work to have a healthy and long lasting life, far greater than mine. I don't want to end up an old unaccomplished miserable geezer. My life and my work have to mean something, and they need to be showcased.


Going back to 2019, prior to November of that year, up to that point, those months for me and for Ecuador where a rollercoaster in all possible ways. I even stopped making blogs because I was busy with trips, assignments, off shore weddings, which all of these are great, I am not complaining, but mostly I really felt I had nothing to say. I had almost no inspiration to write and that was probably I felt bored and useless to a point.


I was satisfying others and not really satisfying my own needs: What do I want? What makes me happy? What does not. Then was the political situation of the region per se that did not invited me to be very optimistic at all (It's funny how I am talking about being optimistic now during the COVID 19 Outbreak), but I am referring to the Latin American revolts of October 2019 that happened in Ecuador and other countries around, most notably Chile.


Whatever the reasons being for these revolts, I saw cities like my own (Quito), being destroyed with such violence and such hate to the point that 2 weeks after those horrible days, I went to Washington DC,( Invited by the Inter American Development Bank), to host a photo award ceremony, and after enjoying myself a few sunny days there doing street photography mostly, the last two became a nightmare. I felt sick, I was tensed out, stressed and with horrible anxieties out of nothing. I remember my flight back home was probably one of the worst flights of my life.


What I was probably having was a form of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and it just made so much sense to me because of those those first two weeks of October, and my body had to release that stress and it gave me a hard time. Then after Washington, I flew to Lima to attend my cousins wedding, and that mitigated my stress, but I had to come back and work, and so I did, and this is where things started to get interesting for me. .


I was assigned a video project, which was to be shot for my mother's new company called Cayetano Y Monica Academy, with is a branch of Cayetano y Monica Decoraciones. You can check their instagram profile @cayetanoymonicadecoraciones and really see the amazing work they do. The project was to make a short film promo underlying Cayetano y Monica´s 38 years of unmatched experience in the region as one of the best event designers in South America, but it also had the purpose of inviting students to take part in this new academy project. At this time they adapted new spaces in their headquarters to manage the academy and host the students, and I was thrilled... Thrilled!!, because after all these years I was finally going to be seated at a director's chair, although I hate those lame directors chairs (I could use an apple box for that matter) and be surrounded by a professional crew, whose responsibility was to put my vision of the story to a camera. This was big to me. I never saw this as a video project, but rather as a film project, because it needed a script, sets and a production, all worthy to meet the clients demands and be a worthy material to be released on social media. I don't believe in small projects versus big projects. Every endeavor I embark myself into has to be unique and worthy. I don't like to take anything lightly, not in my photos or in my films because you are as good as your last photo or your last film.


And so we started to prepare the project in late November 2019 to shoot it on late February 2020. I drafted some ideas to start writing the screen play thinking how best to sell this new Academy project, and I started watching these www.masterclass.com series which I adore, (mostly focusing on how these videos are shot), and then I even did a couple of story boards. As I repolished the screenplay so I repolished the storyboards, which ultimately meant that by christmas 2019 I had a very clear visual idea to present to my clients and we worked and changed dialogue, added different scenes until we all agreed on what we wanted to shoot.


Both Cayetano and Monica understood my concept and allowed me to take full charge of the project, which meant putting it together and executing it the way I see it. I love being involved in the entire pre production process like building sets, explaining to my team what I want and to relegate to everyone their own tasks, and preparing the talents (my mother and my uncle) for something that they have never ever lived before, which is of course being inside a film production. As a film director myself, my job is to tell my vision thru a specific visual narrative that has to be well understood by my crew and cast. I am very much a hands on director. I love playing with the toys, being behind a camera, setting up the shots, working with my DP, and ultimately allowing my make up artist and assistant director to do their duties before I give directions to my talents and call action. All of this is priceless to me.


So December 2019 is wrapped , and the new installations of the academy where ready, and I spend a lovely Christmas and then New Years at the beach, having an amazing time with friends, and not thinking too much about anything, but imagining here and there certain shots and scenes in my head for what was approaching because this is business to me and I take every project very serious. I had an enormous responsibility to make this project worthy of my client's approval. I was excited. I was stiff as a rock, but never nervous because I had a very clear idea in my mind of what I wanted to execute.


So the new decade starts, I come back from the beach and we went straight in to work while starting to hear the news from China about this new corona virus. My thinking was back then that despite this threat, we were going to make an amazing film, even if it felt as a wave that was slowly approaching land. Despite this, january flew by very quickly and then came February or as I referred it to as crunch time. As the month landed, many decisions took place. First, as the Cover 19 was lurking out of China, I cancelled a trip to a photo fair I had in Mexico City. It was probably a wise decision. Done. I didn't think about it too much. The virus spreads thru big crowds like a fish in the water and that that was that. I didn't wanted to be exposed to anything, let alone outside of Ecuador. Then, instead of adding more weight to my shoulders for what truly now was important (this short film), we decided to hire this small but steady production house based here in Quito, called Maki Films instead of producing it ourselves. You can find them on instagram as @makifilms, they are amazing.


Film wise it was one of the very best decisions I have ever made because they came with a crew that consisted of a producer, DP / editor , Art man, drone operator, grip crew, a sound man, best boy and a assistant director, which meant gracefully that now I was going to be able to solely focus on my job and to help our in-house people concentrate on building four amazing sets instead of worrying about budgets or crew calls or all those things that I truly hate. Don't get me wrong, going over budget can drive me crazy and as a director you should know where you are standing, by being in direct contact with the people in your crew that do this. I also love watching my sets being build and sharing ideas with the art department, which in this case was our in-house designer. For me, scenery is so important. What you see on camera needs to be both exiting and well executed. It needs to look real and not fake, and furthermost in this film I needed a scenery and atmosphere that would reflect the work of my clients, and at the same time attract new students. so along with her and with my director of photography, we decided that this film had to look both like a beauty shot and narrative film shot, therefore we established an idea that fitted right in between both looks and presented me with a variety of lenses and film examples shot with these lenses and we decided to use 25 mm, 35 mm, 50 mm and 80 mm lenses, all of them prime Zeiss, with an aperture of F 2.8 I think. I loved the texture, the cinematic look and the bokhe these lenses gave. I was marveled, and I was like: I am never ever going to ever shoot in celluloid again. Why even bother? We have now days amazing digital cameras and furthermost amazing lenses. Screw film. It's over, and with the camera that we were going to shoot this film with, it was a Sony something (I can't remember), I was all set. All of this took soo much weight off me and I was a happy camper, but more than happy, I was relieved because I don't think that I am a great multitasker. Some people can do it marvelously but I can't, and no film should ever be a one man project. Film is a collaborative effort, unless you are doing documentaries with two people, even still, those two people are making a project.


So, getting those aspects off the table, by mid February we had about 3 crew meetings of pre production and I had enough time to finalize a storyboard (I might have done close to eight storyboards overall), and it's funny because most great film directors can't draw at all, and I certainly can't, but my story boards even as ugly as they are, gave me, a clear sense of what I wanted to see. Wether you do storyboards or not, whether you love them or hate them (I don't particularly love them), It's so important to have somehow of an idea of what you are about to shoot before the start of principal photography, mainly because it's going to save you time and energy. It's better to arrive on set knowing exactly what you want rather than not knowing and making guesses and leaving everyone around you wondering wether you have the force, the energy and even the talent to command the ship. And if you find yourself that the shots that you had prepared before will not work, at least pretend that you are not panicking, and tell your crew about the shift of plans right when they are setting the camera, and not when they are ready to roll, or right after a take, so that they can move the camera and put it where you think the shot is going to work.


And in the middle of all this, we started to build the sets which took about 2-3 days. The film required five spaces: An office, a creative space studio, a design lab, a warehouse stacked with textiles and a space inside one of Ecuador´s most beautiful churches called "La Compania de Jesus". We basically locked the entire Cy M facility for a week prior to principal photography and the sets where finished on time and on schedule, mostly because Cayetano Y Monica decorations have the biggest warehouse of decorative elects in the country, so choosing which elements and decorating the different ambiances was never a problem, thank god . The church was obviously a different monster because we needed to ask them for permission to shoot, and because Cayetano Y Monica have done many weddings there over the years, they gave us a permit in record time, to shoot after 6 PM, once mass time is over, until 10 PM. This church, being the landmark that it is, is both a museum and a place of worship closes to the public at 6 pm, but we had the church and this was very important to me.


Shooting day arrived the 24rth like a thunderbolt and as always I had a bit of anxiety, like all film directors do prior to start shooting. That anxiety makes you think: Will I do a good job? Will this turn out to be a piece of shit? Will I have production issues?, and when you stop thinking about all these things, that same anxiety makes you concentrate even more on every shot. It makes you be obsessive with what you want. It makes you not to ask questions to your crew but rather make them understand what your vision is and what do you want them to shoot, according to your picture, that picture that you have in your mind of the shot you are about to record. In a way, you become the leader of the pack. You are telling the story the way the story deserves it according to you. You are the captain of the story, and you hire people that are better than you in what they do, but who are going to be servicing you. you have this picture in your mind of the type of frame, that edits itself with the rest of pictures that you have in your mind. Then you have to transmit those visions to the rest of the crew and see it on camera, or on a video assist. I hate to use directors viewfinders. I like ten times more to see it thru the viewfinder of the camera, and if I could set up the camera myself I would. Going back to my early years, in all the films I shot in Paris I never used video assist. I would be standing on the side of the camera (even while shooting on film) and focus directly on the performance of the actors. Once I have given my instructions to my crew, the next thing I love doing is directing my actors. I don't inundate them with too much bla bla bla, rather just very poignant directions so that they can feel free to do their job.


Overall, for me, the transmission of my ideas is not a problem because I don't consider myself to be an introverted person, while there are other directors that do have a problem because they are introverted. How you communicate your ideas to your crew and cast is essential. Sometimes what works the best, specially for me is being extremely didactical to my crew: move, do hand gestures, follow the track of the camera you want the camera operator to follow, and explain yourself with wise vocabulary and to my talents, like I said before, not confusing them, even if in this particular case the talent where not actors. I did not wanted to overwhelm them, but to make them feel comfortable. By conducting your work this way, people will start to respect you, and crews love when they see that you have your shit together, not by being angry or throwing insults. Your crews want clarity, and your talents need not to be confused, yet you also need to keep your eye on the time, this means that you start shooting at a certain time and wrap at a certain time, therefore you optimize your shooting rhythm, specially when you have a tight schedule like we did.


The first shots we ever did where using a DJI inspire drone because I wanted to shoot aerial footage of Quito´s old district, and we went up the hill to a place called "El Pànecillo" where there is a famous statue of the Virgin Mary and we probably shot 2 hours worth of footage there. It's not that easy to do this in this part of the city mainly because around that radius you have the presidential palace and the ministry of defense. They have these defense mechanisms against drones that the second a non authorized aircraft passes near these premises, they will be brought down, so we looked for a church near by, we placed the drone with the camera in a centinal position facing the roof of this church-convent and we took the drone up 200 meters then we operated the camera so that it moved from this cenital position to a panoramic angle in which we we would see the entirety of the city. This DJI inspire it the top of the line of drones produced by DJI. It requires a drone operator and a camera operator. We shot the footage with a wide angle lens (almost fish eye), and the quality of the pictures were stunning. I was very impressed, specially when I operate a DJI spark myself. The inspire is about 10.000 USD (not included the lens), while mine is 600 US with the fly more combo. But this was only the beginning.


Shooting was a very pleasant experience. It took us two days but they went by in a flash, and that's where you know the ambiance and the experience was good because you want more and everything is already wrapped up. We shot in beautiful locations such as the Iglesia de la compania. We even shot drone footage inside of it which was never ever done before. This church is like no other church you have been before except some churches in the Vatican, but outside of it there is nothing like it, not even in places like Lima, Bogota or Mexico City. It is breath taking. The chapel, the works in the ceiling, the details, the cloisters. It is amazing, and we were crazy enough to set up a scene where both Cayetano and Monica where starting to arrange a wedding decoration using the alter and ten rows behind it, but the drone was my idea and we were petrified. Imagine crashing a 10.000 USD machinery onto a church that is 500 years old and a patrimony of humanity. We would have been absolutely screwed, but somehow the crazier the idea I have of shooting something, the more I enjoy it while everyone around suffers. Anyways, nothing happened and we where able to get stunning shots, and we where lucky enough to have the entire church for ourselves, and with the gold lighting and a few tricks, we where able to get beautiful material, as I told my DP this over and over: "I want beautiful pictures that resemble the elegance and glamour of the work of Cayetano Y Monica", and that was the first day.


The second and last day I woke up at 4: 30 AM and came back home at 12 midnight. The sets where amazing, my crew was fast and amazing, I was up to standard I think in terms of leading the pack and most important my talents where extremely cooperative and they really had a good time, and they listened to me. I did not wanted to spend too much data (or like I would have said 10 years ago too much film stock", but I wanted to get what I wanted and if that meant doing more than 6 takes per shot I did it, until I got what I wanted. It's funny because in a shoot (aside from the director, Art Director and the DP watch the footage, everyone gathers around a monitor to see, and I told everyone who was not allowed to see the monitor NOT to be around the monitor at any time. I don't believe in people clustering around a monitor because the director feels distracted and could loose his focus and the cast could loose their focus and think that they where horrible saying the lines etc. I hate it. I do pay extraordinary attention to my sound man. If I find that there is anything destroying the sound (boom microphones for instance pick up so many sounds from the street), I would repeat the take again, and again, until I find exactly what I want. As a director you have to not only be focused but obsessive. That obsession is going to drive everyone mad around you but it's going to make you not feel that you are a waste of talent in the editing floor because trust me, there is nothing more heartbreaking than we you are seated alongside the editor and telling yourself that you should have done this, or you should have done that, and what you are looking at is nothing in comparison to what you had in mind. I told myself that everything that I was going to shoot I was going to get, and in this project everything that I wanted to shoot I got it. I think this is very important to understand because everyone in your crew wants or has an idea of their own of the film they are working, but as a director, it is your way of telling the story the one that has to prevail, not because you are servicing your ego, but because you are servicing the story, and I want the best quality, not for me entirely, but for the project, for the story.


We shot five sets in total and I was able to move my crew very swiftly without any drama. I am not going to say more about what we shot because we are in the middle of post production, but I had a crew that listened to me and my ideas. They understood that this was particularly a very important shoot for me and they gave me their energies and talent to put this the way that I wanted.


We shot this in late February and now it's late march, and I am in the middle of a full lockdown at my moms apartment. Ecuador, as like 90 percent t of the world is just beginning to struggle with the tsunami called COVID 19. The world just flipped on everyone on this planet and all of our plans for the remainder of this year prior to the epidemic becoming pandemic have come abruptly to a deadly and harsh stop, that we don't really know how long is it going to last, because we are at the mercy of the virus, and it's the bug who is dictating all of our lives now. Those of us who have downplayed this disease as being minor are probably sick, intubated, with a ventilator or dead. Now, all of us who are in our homes are prioritizing our health and the well being of us and those we love through isolation. Today march 29 2020 is going to be my 14th day of not leaving the house, and looking at the evolution of the infections here in Ecuador, we could be isolated a few weeks more if not more. However, to keep my sanity at bay (and most probably my crews as well), we have been polishing the film in these past weeks. They give me cuts and I provide them very specific feedback. I think we are getting very close to what I want, and in these strange times, one´ s mind has to be busy. I often think that astronauts who spend months on end on the ISS rely on one word only that will keep their insanity at bay: ROUTINE.


Routine is what helps me write this blog without thinking that the world is going to end. Every day I wake up at the same hour, eat three healthy meals at the same time along side my morning vitamin pills, I take a shower, I get dressed, I work out with my trainer for two hours at the same time (afternoons), I dedicate myself to this blog or revising the material that my crew sends me at this time, and after dinner I dedicate myself to watch only 30 minutes of news if not even less, talk to family and friends, watch a movie or a documentary and go to sleep. I do this because under these strange circumstances a Monday is the same as a Tuesday, which is the same as a Thursday or as a Sunday. But.... here we are, living the day by day and hoping that one day soon enough, we would be able to re enter the world, even if we know that from now on, the world we knew three weeks ago is not going to be the same world we know. Reinvention will be key, but one thing is for clear: I am a romantic that always believes that better days are ahead because it is something that keeps my spirits up, and my love of the image (whether its moving image or still image) will certainly not fade away. I will go on, and this film will lead me to other films, and other projects. And once its completed and approved by my clients, I will post it on my instagram profile (@correaphotofilmstudio). The world continues and so we will. Our habits will change but we will find a way to move forward.

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