Wednesday, March 31, 2010

UWP Commercial in Berlin - Production Notes Commercial from MA Shumin on Vimeo.

If it takes a village to raise a child (African proverb) - then it takes a global village (virtual & local) to make a 60 second commercial.

The idea all started when I saw the Sony PlayStation spot “Double Life”, I felt something of the same style could be adapted: a well-written prose, many diverse people talking, in different settings, film in dynamic shots. I pitched to Sebastian Hesse in Berlin and Leonardo Victorazzi in Brussels about doing an Up With People (UWP) Europe commercial with this style. I thought this could work very well, as it is a program about many diverse people having the global education experience – I envisioned many faces and voices in different settings, speaking meaningful lines – something relevant and timeless.

Pre-production officially started the first week of March in New York, and production was to take place three weeks later on location in Berlin. The script is like the foundation of a house, crucial to a project - I needed to work with a writer who had the UWP experience. Andrew Lanham, an alumnus studying Master in screenwriting in Texas came in as the copywriter. We worked together over the weekend via Skype, and by Monday morning Andrew got the script done.

I have never / Felt summer and winter / In the same month
I have never / Made a brother / In Mexico / And then helped him build his home
I have never / Overcome stage fright / In front of three thousand Thai children
I have never / Had Kimchi for breakfast / Or Surstromming for lunch
I have never / Known how much / There is to find / Not written in a book
I have never / Lived for a week / With a family/ Who couldn’t speak my language / And known the meaning of the word / Zusammen (subtitled: together)
I have never / Learned so much / Laughed so hard / Felt so strong / Or seen such heights
Until Now

Soon after then, Christine Paluf based in Connecticut who had worked as a UWP staff came on board as the Art Director. We spent the following days on Skype brainstorming visual ideas for the script. Sebastian Hesse, the UWP Europe Alumni Representative had a strong vision of the program and was the Creative Director. Danni Nielsen, also a UWP alumnus has a band in Copenhagen and participated by composing original music. It was starting to come together before my flight to Berlin.

The city of Berlin turned out to be the perfect location for the UWP commercial. So much history yet so much future, it is a coming together of east and west, dynamic arts and music scene with vibrant young people. Many UWP alumni flew in from various European cities to participate for shooting day. For the rest of the casts, we were able to recruit Berlin residents, both local Germans and international people. As they tell me, they wanted to participate because it was a meaningful, a cause they believe in. I hired Dimitri Hempel, a talented local cameraman whom I knew through a program I participated in 2006 in Italy, European Social Documentary via ZeLIG School. Jasper Brandt joined as our soundman. Sam Muirhead, New Zealand native who lived in South America and now living in Berlin worked on the editing. Michael Stuber, a Swiss based in Boston did audio post, keeping the diverse voices but unifying the sound. Between the cast and crew, this project was represented by over 17 nationalities: Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, USA, Russia, China, Ghana, Senegal, Brazil, Peru, New Zealand - a true taste of what UWP could be like.

I learned a lot throughout the whole intense production, particularly on production day: I thought I was prepared enough, yet even more could have been done in terms of production coordination, schedule and cast management, the need for an Assistant Director. It was a realization of skills I lack, the art of delegation of responsibilities, leveraging resources and people that are available. It was a test of leadership, keeping my vision yet accepting other people's views. I learn with each bigger project I do - I am getting better at directing. Above all, I am humbled and grateful to all the people who contributed. The UWP commercial is something we are all very proud of, and I hope it will be relevant and timeless.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Europe, I’ve Missed You

As Delta Airlines crosses the Atlantic Ocean on a night flight from New York to Berlin, I sit at my seat with notebook out. Never a need for movies or music or sleep to preoccupy me, I am a happy camper with just a notebook and pen at hand. Such an old habit now I wonder if this is how I first traveled over ten years ago when I came to Europe for the first time.

Summer 1999 was my first study abroad experience in a small town in France. I chose Dijon, not because of its well known Kir or mustard but because of my French penpal whom I started corresponding via postal letters five years prior. That summer I studied French at Université de Bourgogne, stayed with a host family the Robbes in their castle home. I ate a lot of fresh baked bread for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I drank for the first time and got drunk over Kir during aperatif at the evening parties of chez Robbes. I tried the best wine from Bourgogne and Bordeaux, explored and got lost in Carrefour, felt I could live on a diet of cheese forever. I celebrated my 20th birthday with my penpal and his family in the village of Selongey. Like other Americans I backpacked through Europe. A lot of the little details are forgotten in time, but the highlights are still strong in my memory. If life is about the moments that take our breath away, I have gotten more than my share just in that summer.

The two months of studying abroad has as huge impact on my life. It developed in me the desire to live abroad, to be a local in a foreign country where I don’t speak their language well or understand their customs. It encouraged me to see beyond my own native Chinese heritage and my adopted American culture. I learned to be to be less petty and more easygoing, to try to understand other people’s circumstances. I became more outgoing, more social, more confident and thrive on wanting to see more, learn more, do more.

I am now returning to Europe in my 30s, while older and more experienced the last decade of travels did not lessen my enthusiasm or appreciation for Europe. It is like seeing an old friend who has watched me grown up – I’ve been nurtured so much that I feel a desire to give back. The morning sunlight shines bright onto the city of Berlin – I eagerly anticipate a creative and productive two weeks of work ahead.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Banjo Jim – Feel the Love

When people get sad some turn to eating or drinking or smoking, playing video games all day and night, or shopping and buying lots of shoes or gadgets … I turn to music. Music of all kinds, from instrumental to vocal, traditional to experimental, jazz to electronic, Classical to blues, rock to country – especially to be able hear music live soothes my soul and uplifts my spirit like no other.

I feel blessed to live above a place where I can always hear good music. For years in Alphabet City of East Village on the corner of Avenue C and 9th Street is a music bar. My family moved into the neighborhood back in 1992 when the neighborhood was still in transition but there was always a bar on the corner. It used to be called a different name - I always have heard the music from upstairs but never went in. In 1998 I left the neighborhood, and the city to go away to college and after graduation moved to Europe. I came back to New York City almost a decade later and settled again on Ave C & 9 St. By then that bar had been sold and since 2005 was called Banjo Jim.

Banjo Jim
is one of the rare gems in an ever-gentrified neighborhood of pricy restaurants and high-end bars and clubs. In a sea of homogeneity, there is uniqueness and distinct character to this bar. No cover, a friendly environment, one can have a beer in a wooden setting listening to music on a small stage. Whether it's bluegrass or blues or jazz, the music is guaranteed to be good. Known to be the best music venue in the East Village and the coziest dive on the East side, Banjo Jim’s slogan is “Feel the Love” – come and listen and judge for yourself.