Sucre was the original capital of Bolivia and remains one of my most cherished cities among the ones I've visited around the world. It's not a city I was very familiar with before departing in the Spring of 2015, but one I was determined to share with everyone I met after visiting.
I had the chance to visit Sucre while travelling for three months through much of Bolivia and Peru. Among the few things on my back was my camera which I had brought hoping to rekindle my long-dormant documentary video skills. Before leaving on the trip, I had calculated that it had been over seven years since I had produced a video on my own. During that time, I had worked tirelessly in various post-production facilities and worked only with other people's footage.
In South America, I was determined to find and tell a story.
Many travelers brag about packing lite. They get along with the bare minimum just to fluant the fact. I only did it because of money, safety, and comfort. I didn't want to pay baggage fees while on the road, I didn't want to check any of my bags under any circumstances, and I definitely didn't want to be traveling with sore shoulders from heavy bags.
One of two bags had my camera equipment and backup storage space. The other housed everything else I needed, along with my computer. In the bags:
- Canon 5D Mark II
- Zoom lens: Canon 24-70mm f4.0
- Four battery packs
- Two battery chargers
- Manfrotto PIXI Mini Table Top Tripod
- Camera strap (useless - stayed in bag the entire trip)
- Three SanDisk SD cards (16 GB each)
- Two 2TB Seagate Flash Drives
- Apple MacBook Pro
- Lexar Professional USB 3.0 Dual Slot Reader
- Apple iPhone Headphones
- Rode VideoPro Mic
All of this fit in my two bags, along with my clothing, books, and the journals I had decided were important enough to bring along as well. I thought I had packed too much (I still do). Yet, on the road, I was often laughed at for having so little: "That's all you brought?!"
Guess I did pretty good.
Execution / Production
After a week of roaming the streets and exploring the city of Sucre, I found my subject: the bustling market in the heart of downtown, Mercado Central. I found myself spending hours strolling the stalls and eating in the cafeteria on the third floor. I watched people swarm in and out of the market to buy groceries and eat lunch.
The energy of the place grabbed me. This is what I'd film.
Weekdays in Sucre always started with four hours of Spanish Study (the main reason I had gone to Sucre in the first place). After class, I'd walk to Mercado Central to film during the lunch rush. Often, I'd end up filming street scenes as I approached the market and as I left the market.
As I shot, I had to face the fears of having a camera in my hand again. While shooting, I often concealed the fact that I was doing just that. On some occasions, as my Spanish improved, I asked permission to shoot. Other occassions, I was met with anger for shooting. I did my best to apologize and move on.
I shot nine days. In total, I shot about 150 minutes of footage.
Every night after shooting, my seven years of assistant editing experience would insist I back up footage immediately. Footage was backed up to two separate exteral drives. After verifying backups, cards were cleared and returned to my bag for a new day of shooting. One external drive traveled in my camera bag while the other was placed in my backpack. This protected the footage against one of the bags getting stolen.
Footage organization was paramount. I had no intention of editing while traveling; editing a final video would be done once home. Because of this, it was important to provide brief descriptions of what footage was on which footage cards.
Remember when I said I shot about 150 minutes of footage. After months of not seeing the footage while spending months conceptualizing what the video might become, I booted up the drives to discover just how much footage I had shot. Again, my experiences in reality television post kicked in and I began the process of watching down, marking, and organizing the footage.
For every unique location or event, I created a stringout of that footage. Using detailed markers, I then trimmed those sequences down to just the best of the footage from those events. As I edited, I'd pull up these trimmed sequences to select shots, cut in selects, and review footage again.
Throughout the edit, I began to see the video was lacking a visual element that could tie all the meals and food vendors together. While watching the footage, I discovered footage of a plywood board spray painted with the daily menu of the cafeteria. I had shot this board from every angle.
I got the idea to recreate the board, or at least show the creation of the board. This new footage would provide me with some very visual close ups and help me create a design for the lower thirds shown throughout the piece. I set out to spray paint a plywood board with stencils using the colors of the Bolivian flag.
The lower thirds and the texture behind them were created in Photoshop CC. The stencil font was found here after searching and testing multiple similar fonts. The texture was pulled from the footage of the painted plywood board.
All editing was handled using Adobe Premiere CC. With a final edit complete, color grading was seemlessly rendered in Adobe Speedgrade using Adobe's Dynamic Link protocol. Moving back and forth between the edit in Premiere and the correction in Speedgrade was easy.
The final video was published to YouTube, where I intend to continue publishing all my future content. Because of it's integration with Google, YouTube guarentees a larger audience through search. In the end, my video is not about me but about helping other travelers discover the beauty of Sucre and the amazing food cooked by its people. I hope my videos help with an aspiring traveler's planning just as so many other YouTube videos helped me leading up to my departure.
In the end, my biggest takeaway was my renewed interest in production. After eight years of not making any videos and remaining entrenched in post-production, I feel this project gave me the confidence to once again work behind the camera.
My time in post-production has brought some necessary lessons to bear on my shooting style, and a rigor to my media management while shooting. I see some flaws in the actual video shot, but these "mistakes" will only help improve my skills and be reflected in the videos to come as I continue to improve and grow as a filmmaker.