This was a challenging, rewarding, and fun project to undertake. One of my students, Eviana, agreed to be the subject of my "day in the life" video, which entailed her being interviewed and followed around by my camera for an entire day. We chose to shoot on a Saturday because I don't teach on Saturdays, and thus I could devote my full attention to filming.
If you haven't seen the video yet, I encourage you to watch it here before reading further.
The Prep Work and Permission
A week before I started filming, Mr. Muhlis, who is my fixer, and I went to Evi's house to ask her mom for permission to make my video. We also went to Evi's Islamic boarding house to ask for permission to shoot there when Evi would be studying. Both Evi's parents and the owners of the boarding house granted me permission, and we all took photos after meeting.
Well in advance of filming, I did some story boarding so I could have an idea of what I wanted the video to look like. Unfortunately, I can't draw very well, but the act of making the storyboard at least got me thinking about what I wanted to capture and what lenses I would use. When it came time to shoot, I was able to think ahead about what I wanted to capture next, which lens I would need, and where I would need to be. It was already in my head.
I wanted to have Evi sit away from any walls so I could separate her from the background, create nice bokeh around her, and really focus the audience's attention on her face. Once she was moved away from the walls and windows, there wasn't enough light to make a pleasing image. I don't have a proper light stand yet, so I set up my Aputure Amaran LED light with a couple of books underneath the batteries to keep it upright and then put the whole contraption on a desk. The LED made all the difference.
The Saturday Shoot
I arrived at Evi's house at around four AM. We immediately began with the shot I had story boarded and had been fantasizing about: the silhouette from behind Evi while she's praying. I knew it would be a cool shot to start off with. It's a bold image that draws a viewer in, both because it's a silhouette and because the viewer doesn't know what it is right away.
I thought I could pull the shot off with my LED, but I wasn't positive. When what I had pictured in my head so many times during the week was being captured by my camera, I got a rush of adrenaline.
A Note On Culture
After getting the shots in Evi's prayer room, I took my gear out so Evi could pray and prepare for her day. I went into the living room with Evi's brother. We chatted about American culture and film making. Shortly thereafter, Evi's mother brought me some noodles, a cup of coffee, and a tin of chocolate wafer snacks.
This is the Indonesian hospitality to which I've become accustomed over the past year and a half. The three times I was in Evi's home that day, and the two times in the guest room of Evi's boarding house, my hosts were constantly feeding me and chatting me up. This led to my feeling very comfortable and welcome (and also led to my drinking way too much coffee and eating way too much rice for one day!)
Shooting At School
Getting the shots I wanted was tricky. I wanted to get shots of Evi from in front of her because all of the female students wear hijabs (veils) in my school. So if I shot from the back of the room the whole time, the viewer wouldn't be able to pick Evi out of the group. But when I shot from the front, I was getting in the way of the teacher or becoming a distraction. Despite my feeling like I wasn't getting what I'd hoped for, the footage ended up looking good.
After School: The Boarding House
Evi and I went back to her house while I recorded her en route. Then we parted for a couple hours so she could take a nap. I went back home and put the footage from the morning onto my computer. Six PM came around, and Evi, Mr. Muhlis, and I went to Evi's boarding house. I shot one of Evi's lessons and the final prayer of the day.
Evi was always surrounded by people during shooting. There were times I wanted to have just Evi in the frame. In order to do this, I would record with my camera near something like a door frame or Evi's instructor's black hat. This allowed me to cover up the other people with the foreground object and really focus on Evi. In narrative forms, this technique could be used to show a character as "trapped," but that was not the sentiment I was going for with this video. Like I wrote before, I just wanted the viewer to focus solely on Evi. The two shots below cut very nicely together because Evi's face is almost in the same spot in each shot.
A Note On Lenses
I'm so glad I bought the 35mm and 50mm lenses last summer. These lenses open up to f1.8, which allow me to get a nice, cinematic shallow depth of field. The lenses are also very useful in low light situations like in the last shot of the video.
During my first two years of making images, I only had the Nikon 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens. If I used that lens in the low light situations presented during this project, I would have had to crank the ISO (the camera's light sensitivity) way high, introducing nasty digital noise into the image, likely rendering the image unusable. With my fast 35mm and 50mm f1.8s, I could keep my ISO at 800 or lower, get good exposures, and keep noise to a minimum.
Right now I'm a solo shooter, but that doesn't mean that all the credit for this video goes to me. On the contrary, perhaps only five percent can go to me for coming up with the creative idea and making the images. This project was successful because of the wind I had beneath my wings: the support I had from other people.
I'm insanely grateful to Eviana, her family, her boarding house owners, Mr. Muhlis, and my school for their support. If any of them didn't have my back, the video would have fallen apart.
Have you ever filmed a "day in the life" type of video? How was it different from mine? What could I have done to make this video better? Please leave any comments, suggestions, or questions you have in the space below. I'd love to get your feedback.
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Take care and keep creating.