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Behind the Scenes in Uganda or: How production continues after all the gear is stolen

The true story of making do with what you have on a video shoot off of the beaten path.

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March 25, 2016

This past summer of 2015, I, along with Callie, produced and shot the short film “Reach”. It’s about a group of students that traveled to Uganda to meet and understand a life-destroying condition known as “obstetric fistula”. We traveled with these students and shared the experience of hearing devastating stories and meeting women who have survived the disease. However, I’m not here to talk about the film itself. I’m here to talk about how we lost the majority of our equipment and continued to produce a film.reach-animationOur stay comprised of about 2 weeks in the country. We were greeted with the most open arms and to extremely gracious hosts. We were welcomed to their homes as they cooked, cleaned and did everything to make our group feel comfortable. And beside a bit more humidity and heat than I’d prefer, we felt safe. I tell you this because our hosts became our friends and they played such an important role after we discovered our equipment vanished.

It’s taken a while for me to come to terms to the fact that our equipment was stolen. Personally, it was hard to know that it happened under my watch but without going into too much detail into why and how, the fact of the matter still remained: Everything was gone.

Gone were the thoughts of “What does my next shoot look like? Who do I interview next? How many timelapses can I get tonight?” Immediately, I sprung into action and started listing out exactly what was missing. Our hosts, being as helpful and beyond appalled as to what happened, helped us file a police report. The police then brought dogs, to see if they could sniff anything out, to no avail.

It wasn’t until noon when I sat down, it all started to sink in. I realized that we were 1 week into our 2 week trip. Callie told me that not all was lost. She kept the hard drives and a camera with her that night to work on. We still had something to shoot on! Gears started turning and I began to think what we needed to continue our production.

    • This is what we had: A camera, lens, one battery, two chargers, one memory card and two hard drives. Those two hard drives were a miracle, as they had everything we’d shot backed up.
    • This is what we needed: an acceptable microphone and a tripod.

I thought I was fair in thinking we only needed two things. I was also confident to think that in Uganda, those two things could be found somewhere. Our hosts arranged a ride for me to take me into the market to find a camera store. Any camera store.

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This is me proudly displaying my craftsmanship in taping back the headphones for our new lav mic.

It must have been 6+ hours until we got back from the city. We probably checked five different places, made multiple calls and came home with one of those two things: a tripod. During dinner, I sat there and felt defeated. We had a camera that could record ambient audio, but not interview audio. Maybe we could use our phone as a recorder, that would have worked better than in-camera audio.

Then, a moment of brilliance. I asked our group, “Does anyone have iPhone headphones?” All of them turned to me and several started to speak and said they do. Bingo.

The microphone on the headphones, it was crazy but it just might work. After testing it, we concluded: it worked surprisingly well.

So for the next week, production moved forward using a Ugandan tripod and makeshift iPhone headphones lavalier mic.

For the first time that day, I felt pretty good about myself.

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A still from one of our interviews using the our new “mic”

Reach: Partnering With the Forgotten Women of Uganda will be released within the next month and preliminary viewers swear they wouldn’t have noticed that all our gear was stolen during production. Also, a special thanks to our friends at Terrewode who without their help and understanding, we would be looking at terribly shaky interviews and barely audible anything. 

 

-Darryl

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