Last week, Steven and myself released our short documentary “Taiwan Chewing Gum“. This documentary project on the Taiwanese betel nut industry was for both of us a tremendous project to work on. Myself learned a lot from Steven in terms of photography, composition and his very own style and look.
For this post, I wanted to share with you my insider perspective on a few of the project’s major phases. Let’s go behind the scenes!
First meet: storyboarding
Steven and me met through a mutual connection in Taiwan: Anje. I knew Anje from a while back when she used to run a restaurant called the fairy caffe before becoming a video blogger. For her vblog, she interviewed Steven on his work in Taiwan. That’s how we connected.
Initially, Steven and me met a first time to talk Taiwan, photography and videography. Up for doing something cool, we stopped on the betel nut documentary idea and met some days later at a coffee in Taipei to discuss ideas, story line and draw a very early draft of the storyboard.
Challenge: finding a betel nut shop allowing us to shoot
There might be betel nut shops all over Taiwan, all of them are not like the one we wanted. We needed to find one that would have a good production value with interesting lights, a possibly cute and young girl that sells (yeah, some are really old) and finally we get approval to shoot.
That last point was the hardest as even though legal, betel shop owners tend to be keen on avoiding any exposure. There are many rumors on soft prostitution going on at some shops and of course, owners don’t want people to know about it. Also, most owners are afraid to give a bad image of the industry due to the fact that they are using young girls to sell. And often most shop owners just wanted us to pay to be able to shoot. Of course we refused to do so. Steven did a great job at convincing one owner and the deal was sealed.
The shop we found was perfect. It had it all: great lights, plenty of traffic, easy location and a young girl selling. We were allowed to shoot for two days at this location and we ended up getting some pretty awesome close-up shots.
The betel nut farm in Nantou County
Other documentaries shot in the past on the same subject all focused on the betel nut sale process in Taiwan. But we wanted to go further. We wanted to show how the nuts are harvested, sorted and prepared. We had to go to a farm. The farm we went to was located in Nantou county. Steven went to the farm twice while I stayed in Taipei to work on other things.
Truly interesting, these additional shots are the ones that I personally prefer in this video. The harvesting of the nuts is a very demanding task that is nowhere near something industrialized. But contrastingly, the sorting and counting back at the farm is done by clever machines and helps to visualize the scale of the betel nut production in Taiwan.
Editing: bringing the pieces of the puzzle together
We had a pretty good visualization of how things would fit together. Steven that had received music samples from Kearly, prepared a quick demo edit on which we based the final cut. The whole editing / post-production work was done on Apple Finalcut with time lapse sequences assembled on both Adobe after effects and LRTimelapse using the holy grail mode for the 101 sunset section.
There is definitely much more to be said about some technicalities of the work done here, but what matters is that we took a great pleasure at editing this short together. Ones the editing finalized we went on with the color grading work to give to the film this colorful look which is particular to Steven’s photography.
I learned a lot during that process. Till now I wasn’t too familiar with color grading, but now, I am definitely much more confident at it. I can now see things that I was never looking for before – that’s something I have always in mind now when editing.
The final production details: the credits
For the credits we wanted something special. We spend a day on shooting betel nut spits both in the street and on green screen to use in the credits and at the opening of the video. Fun to do, less fun to taste, shooting spits ended up not being as easy as it looks. It’s a precision job … To spit … To spit right!
Have a look at the video if you haven’t seen it yet. The first spit (black and white) is the result of our green-screen keying work.
I personally was thrilled to work along with Steven on this project. A learning experience form the beginning to the end. I’m now confidently looking forward for kicking off any future projects. For the next one, I will be back to frost!
Thanks Steven, thanks everyone that inspired, contributed and supported this project!