“My entire creative approach for this commercial revolves around bringing as much variety to the spot as possible” said director Ryan Heron in his treatment during the bidding of this job. And he emphasised he wasn’t kidding.
Pre-production started early through several skype conferences with Ryan before his arrival in Jakarta. One topic of particular interest was the types of locations for the drift actions in the city of Bangkok as those near the palaces, government ministries and Buddhist temples were out-of-bounds.
After the pre-production meeting with the agency and clients, the production team left for recce in Bangkok, by which time, the team had already reviewed and shortlisted prospective locations uploaded by the Bangkok team. All locations which Ryan selected were then officially submitted to the Thailand Film Board for approval, a process which took several weeks. All went well with the Film Board till some night locations were changed to daytime scenarios due to a last minute decision by the client resulting from an earlier research’s findings. “Look, this the client’s film and I’ll go along with their wishes and do my best,” said a chilled Ryan. Renegotiation ensured with the Film Board and police which resulted in permitted periods for shooting of some locations being shortened.
The other important matter was that of the action drifts. After meeting with the stunt coordinator and precision drivers, a set of choreographed drift actions were agreed upon and the stunt team would practise and rehearse those prior to the shoot. All safety concerns were addressed and precision was KEY, at the speeds those cars are expected to drift in sync. The scene with the 5 moving tuk-tuks took a lot of finessing and rehearsing before they settled on a speed and separation for the tuk-tuks. Even the drivers of tuk-tuks had to be precision stunt drivers for this scene to work.
Finding the cars with the correct power and suspension set ups for the precision drifting Ryan designed was easy as there is an active drift community in Thailand. But most of these cars were heavily modified from older models, and getting two which were aesthetically acceptable to the clients took a while. After finally agreeing on the 2 models for the shoot, further cosmetic modifications not affecting their performance were required. And two other identical cars matching those same performance specifications needed to be sourced as alternate prop and backup cars.
With Ryan’s promise of shot variety, the DoP, Ian McCarroll also started early prep via skype conference. Several camera options were considered and we finally settled on using 3 Alexa Minis and 4 Blackmagic Pocket and Micro cameras with a variety of Canon and Olympus lenses.
“Insuring the whole production was another nightmare as Bangkok’s producers don’t pay much attention to this aspect” said Executive Producer, Joe Seow. “Even the equipment rental companies don’t specify insurance on rental contracts although everyone knows they keep their equipment insured. This resulted in double insurance as we had to provide further coverage” added Joe.
As all had expected, safety and traffic control on city streets were the most daunting challenges on a shoot like this. At any one time various cameras were deployed including those on the tracking vehicle and drone. The noise from the drifting cars brought out numerous spectators, some watching from the upper floors of neighbouring buildings. After the 1st day’s shoot at Ayutthaya’s Wat Sam Pluem, the news media picked up on social media postings which caused a near polemic. The footage made it to national television’s prime time news with lively debates on the economic benefits from visiting foreign film crew versus allowing drifting cars at a holy site such as Ayutthaya.
Although this settled down after interjections from high ranking government officials, it made the other authorities on the subsequent days’ filming locations nervous, even though the Film Board had approved them. This nervousness was obvious on the 2nd day’s shoot at Nonthaburi Bridge when the police wouldn’t hold traffic for the time interval originally agreed. The crew hurried along and managed to get all the critical action shots before rain arrived.
“It was quite a harrowing shoot with the cars drifting and crossing one another within a few centimetres” said Producer, Purbo Priyono. “Noise from the 700 bhp action cars was deafening at those speeds, and we were fortunate that only minor brushes of the cars and tuk-tuk occurred” he added. “Kudos to the precision drivers and Joey, the stunt coordinator, I’d say”.
What Purbo meant by "minor brushes"
With an abundance and a variety of footage shot, some hard decisions were required. Evaluating the options for the finished ads and cut downs caused post production to be drawn out beyond expectation. Other than which takes best suited the master 60-seconder, deliberations on cut-downs or additional shorter versions took a while. Finally, the clients settled on having three different 30 seconds versions for TV, selecting additional footage which weren’t used in the master 60 seconds ad.
“My first experience on a project in Indonesia is certainly enlightening, while thoroughly enjoyable” Ryan said before leaving for the airport. “I definitely look forward to coming back again”.