photo-glass-klaus

(This contribution was made at our invitation for Klaus Fuxjager, DP, to share his impressions and experiences from working in the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia.) 

The film community’s characters seem neighbourly as if from the global village. Life on set and equipment is of international standards. It’s sure good to know I have a universally applicable trade.

Film crowd/crew tend to be recognisable types no matter where – call them stereotypes if you like. You can’t help but pick them out, in Asia, Europe, Africa, the Americas or anywhere on planet Earth. Has that got to do with their way of dressing, behaviour, body language, dreamy looks, arrogance at time, OR what is that something special? i never found out, but it’s fun to watch.

Asian crew seem to work harder and sometimes I couldn’t explain to myself how they managed to do it. Wrap after midnight downtown, with an early morning call in a jungle “just” a couple of hours out of town. I arrive on set with swollen, dreary eyes trying to remember my name or where I am. Yet, after being dragged into a gourmet tent for a delicious, reviving breakfast, I walk out to discover a perfectly prepared set with extensively rigged heavy gear hidden cleverly in the greenery. Smiling, easy going crew in a chilled mood – is that some kind of wonder drug, traditional medicine perhaps which we Westerners are not privy to?

 As everywhere, people tend to be shy and embarassed if their language skills are not so on top. But instead of a “sorry I didn’t understand, tell me again please”, you receive a spontaneous “YES, no problem sir”, only to find out later that lost in translation and conversation is a gross understatement.

 Distances and traffic – horrendous. Bad news. To an European mind unimaginable, as if you’re rushing home on X’mas eve. The traffic transforms seemingly easy neighborhood visits into nerve-wrecking jams leading to sore bumps and backs. Location scouting, production meetings, equipment checks or company moves between locations are extremely taxing on the mind, bumps, back and time consuming. The differences between Jakarka, Bangkok or Manila are marginal.

Shooting in public places seems to be of relatively little hassle. Permissions happen very efficiently even in impenetrable backgrounds. Building sets, costumes and props happen over night. Manpower seems to be of no issue – I gather India is even more of a miracle in that aspect where, often, more than a hundred people work overnight to have your set assembled by the time you rock up in the morning.

Shooting times tend to be super long. Welcome to the world of tighter budgets, I said to myself. We’re expected to shoot more, better and more exciting stuff in less time for less money. What more in this day and age of digital. I only pity those poor editors who have to pour through hours and hours of footage for a 30 seconds TV commercial compared to the hours of footage normally onlyl evident on full-length feature movies in those good old days of shooting film.

Equipment checks before shooting is definitely a good idea, practised by most countries with an affluent production industry. Nobody wants bad surprises on set. Yet in Asia, this is often not in the schedule unless one specifically requests for that. Apart from avoiding misunderstandings and controlling the functional state of the equipment, it helps to bond with the technical crew and rental houses who often have hidden gems for their favourite DPs, understandably.

In Asia, I tend to get pleasant surprises on a bigger scale and of larger magnitude. Case in hand is a shoot in Jakarta when my fave gaffer, Buadi, prepared a “roof” without being asked with a huge white canvas on cables to shelter the set from the scorching tropical sun. “I thought maybe you like it” was the disarming explanation delivered with a huge grin.

One aspect which struck me is crew wearing departmental T-shirts like football teams with numbers and names — grips in blue, sparks in red etc. Looks funny but organised and great. Great in that they take pride in their respective departments, great that producers have thought out in detail how to break-in crew working together for the first time. So instead of calling everyone “mas” (Mister) in Indonesia or “Pi” (brother) or “Khun” (Mister) in Thailand, you’re able to address them on a first name basis. The only bane is the crew size. At meal times, you suddenly realise that the production is feeding more than a hundred mouths. Hey but who’s complaining? If it needs that number to get the job done, efficiently and expediently, so be it.

Since the digital revolution, DPs suffer an ignominious loss of image and stature in the production unit. When shooting film, the DP was the only one who could imagine what would come out of a developed negative, so much so that we are glorified as the trusted alchemist who can make things happen. In Europe, we fight to be authors of an art, the art of cinematography; not considered as mere technicians, digital artists whose proficiencies are hardly realised with the WYSIWYG world of digital film making. But, in Asia, we find solace, comfort and a sense of reborn again for there is this natural respect for a DP occupying a leading role in the craft of film making. Age and experience are considered virtues, at least to the discerning directors and producers I’ve worked with. The younger ones who’ve never or never had the opportunity to appreciate image acquisiton with good old celluloid will sometimes, naturally, perceive that we are dinosaurs in the digital age.

A sure bet in Bangkok is that you will find top crew and high end equipment such as set of 10 prime lenses instead of 5, due to their exposure to international productions, especially those big Hollywood productions like Apocalypse Now and James Bond, A walk in the park I’d say for sourcing pros and anything pro. Jakarta is a bit less mainstream, especially if your budget on equipment is rather limited. But the state of productions there is developing prodigiously fast. Personally I count myself super lucky to have worked with amazing gaffers, focus pullers DITs; so it’s all sunshine 😉

One aspect which struck me is crew wearing departmental T-shirts like football teams with numbers and names — grips in blue, sparks in red etc. Looks funny but organised and great. Great in that they take pride in their respective departments, great that producers have thought out in detail how to break-in crew working together for the first time. So instead of calling everyone “mas” (Mister) in Indonesia or “Pi” (brother) or “Khun” (Mister) in Thailand, you’re able to address them on a first name basis. The only bane is the crew size. At meal times, you suddenly realise that the production is feeding more than a hundred mouths. Hey but who’s complaining? If it needs that number to get the job done, efficiently and expediently, so be it.

One feature I wish to highlight about South East Asia is that people tend to smile more; sounds superficial, but it certainly makes for more pleasant experiences for people coming from outside the region 😉

From my memoirs
From my memoirs

About the author

Klaus Fuxjager graduated with a Masters in Cinematography from FAMU (Film and TV School of Academy of Fine Arts) in Prague. Whenever, he can find some spare time, he will spend them back at his alma mater lecturing new cohorts pursuing dreams in film making.

 Throughout his career, he has won multiple accolades for his cinematographic works in full-length feature movies, short films, music videos as well as TV commercials. Fluent in German, English, Italian, Czech and colloquial Spanish, he works around the world and began venturing into Asia a few years ago.

 His impressions of Asia have been fascination and admiration for the hard work crew put into each work day, and the efficiency things are done whenever there’s a will. Klaus was invited and participated in the judging of the Indonesian Citra Pariwara Craft Awards in 2013.

You can find out more about Klaus at www.klausfuxjager.com