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Penang Land Reclamation Doc Short

My sixth doc short but it’s still a long road ahead.

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SOFIA, Bulgaria- I’m getting better but I’m still not quite there yet. Honest, I probably still have a long way to go.

The objective here is to be a one man wrecking crew — to be able to go anywhere in the world and come out with a project that can be delivered in text, still images, and video. If I can fully operate on my own — taking on every stage of production at an elite level from start to finish without needing much outside assistance — I will be able to do something that few other journalists can do. I could be cheaper, more versatile, and, yes, useful.

But I’m not there just yet. I probably have another five more projects to go before I start getting close.

It’s the combination of tasks that’s the hard part. If I go out on projects with only one role: if I’m just a researcher or a fixer or a journalist or a photographer or a videographer or a sound guy or maybe even an editor I could pretty much nail it as everything stands now. But it’s the doing everything at once at a high level that’s challenge — and this is something that very few people actually do.

You usually work in text or video. There is a reason for this, as how you approach a project, how you interact with people, and the content that you need to collect is very different. When you mix the two you’re essentially layering two very different forms of content collection on top of each other.

I mean, doing projects like this is kind of ridiculous. At the same time you’re interacting with people on a friendly level, doing interviews, observing and absorbing what’s around you, handling logistics on your phone, all while filming — which means using a camera in fully manual mode, setting up proper lighting, and getting clean audio. Then you have to add to the mix the fact that you need to do all of this as fast as possible — often needing to be able to set up and roll in a matter of moments.

… while at the same time interacting and being personable with the interview subject and everybody else around you.

This is really the job of five people, and it’s the absolute absurdity — the craziness, the fast pace, the quick decision making — that I kind of like.

Although I’m not there yet. I’m not there yet but I am getting closer.

This was a documentary short that I filmed the day before I left Penang.

The good thing is that there are many good mistakes in it: the rings on my right hand can sometimes be heard clanking against the cage of my camera (face palm), my lens isn’t clean in some shots (face palm). For the interview with the second fisherman I set up my audio recorder on the table and opted to go with it’s native microphone rather than micing him up with a lav and setting up the recorder in more stable position. The audio wasn’t usable and I learned, yet again, to never put an audio recorder on a table that is prone to being pounded during an interview. The interview with Andrew Han was filmed indoors at a Starbucks because it started pouring rain outside. While there was nothing I could do about this and I was able to successfully plead with the manager to turn off the music, I probably should have set up an additional light coming from the direction of the windows and composed the image a little more to the right to provided more depth in the background.

A good mistake is a mistake that you notice and can fix for next time.

A bad mistake is the one that you don’t notice.

There’s probably a few of the latter type in there too …

This is still my practice round. Last summer I told myself that I would take one year to practice filmmaking — one year where I wouldn’t be focused on the results but on the process. It was about 100X more complex of an endeavor than I first believed — I’m laughing now at my foolishness of thinking that I could go out and just do my normal work “only with a camera.” The change here wasn’t just adding in an additional piece of equipment and pressing record every now and then but a complete upheaval of the process of collecting and processing content.


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Filed under: Development, Filmmaking, Malaysia

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3720 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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