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What Being In A New City Rising From The Desert Is Like

Running and gunning in the desert.

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Filming conditions out there were intense. Bright sun, constant wind, dust. Mix this into the fact that this was all run and gun filming — nothing except the interview with Moni was set up — and it presented me with some pretty vast … learning experiences. The natural conditions made getting proper exposure tough, keeping the lens clean challenging, and getting clean audio, well, virtually impossible.

However, I was able to produce something usable.

Things I will do differently next time:

1. Prepare better for the wind. I went out to the desert. There’s wind in the desert. There’s not much blocking the wind in the desert. I was in a new city that doesn’t really have many buildings in the desert. While I pretty much had to film outdoors — this would have been pretty boring to watch if I didn’t — and I made amends for the wind, such as filming with the shotguns facing downwind, etc. and I’m going to have to accept the fact that the wind is going to adulterate the audio to some degree, there are some things that I could have done to further limit its impact. Namely, I could have wrapped the mics in dead cats. But I didn’t pack any …

How could I not have packed any?!? I was going out to the f’cking desert!

This issue was due to a lack of proper gear selection during the preparation stage of this project. That said, it will be easy to mitigate next time.

2. I could have scouted out better interview locations. I’m actually surprised at how well the two formal interviews that I shot for this came out given the filming conditions.

The interview with Moni — the foundational interview of the film — was shot in an open air restaurant next to a highway. The owner cut the music for us and there weren’t any big disruptions — such as other customers, loud sounds from the highway. This didn’t have to happen like this, and the interview came out as well as I could have hoped for in this situation.

The interview with Alamin Jahid was done in a doorway. Yes, a doorway. While you probably can’t imagine a worst location for an interview it was the best we had. Where do you go to get out of the wind and sun in a new city in the desert???

We actually did a first take out by the highway. Although it resulted in picturesque composition and Alamin nailed it, I knew the audio wouldn’t hold up so we had to shoot it all over again. I wanted to sit on the steps of the mosque where the workers often hang out but Alamin didn’t feel comfortable with that. So I had to quickly come up with another location. He lives with five other guys in a dormitory, so we couldn’t go to his room. The dining halls were locked. The work camp’s administrative buildings generally have people moving around talking (you also don’t want to let on to the authorities that you’re interviewing workers as that messes with their status structures). And there really wasn’t much else.

The doorway ended up being the best option. It was facing the sun so it was well lit but cut out the direct beams and it was protected from the wind on three sides and above. It worked but I had to be really careful that my reflection in the glass doors behind Alamin was not visible in the shot. This wasn’t easy as I didn’t do it perfectly. I had to shoot tight and kind of hide in front of Alamin … all while maintaining an attractive frame.

However, you can hear what he’s saying and the image clearly shows the subject. At one point where a truck drove by I was able to use that abrasiveness sound as sort of a climax to what he was talking about in the edit. Where prettiness is stunted strive for the practical.

I make these videos both to chronicle the subject matter and my own travels as well as for practice filming run and gun documentaries solo. I like the style and I like working this way, but it isn’t easy and has taken an extended amount of time to develop my strategies and techniques.

Unless filming myself, where I use autofocus, I shoot fully manual. It’s one thing to screw up your exposure or focus yourself, it’s quite another when the camera does it on its own. I get a little irate when my cameras make poor decisions, so I don’t give them the opportunity.

This means that when I’m out filming I’m engaging my surroundings, going through the protocols of travel, interviewing people, collecting information, and running my cameras and audio all at the same time. I suppose it wouldn’t be called an art if it wasn’t difficult.

Watch on Vimeo:

Duqm: A New City Rising Up From The Desert from Wade Shepard on Vimeo.

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Filed under: New Cities, Oman, Vlog

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 3717 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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