In the early months of 2020, Albert Zurashvili and Marina Karmolit received a brief from a potential client. As with many of the best projects it seemed ambitious, involving the construction of something resembling an entire Asian city for the set, around 200 extras, and the filming of cars and bikes driving up and along walls. Oh, and CGI would need to be kept to a minimum.
At any time, such an undertaking would pose a challenge. At the height of pandemic-induced global lockdowns, with very few guidelines established for live-action filming, you’d be forgiven for thinking it an impossibility. Better, perhaps, to park the project until the virus had been brought under control.
Thankfully, Ukraine-based shelter.film didn’t take that approach. Through a combination of out-of-the-box thinking and sheer grit and determination, one of 2020’s most jaw-dropping ads came to life. To find out how they did it, LBB spoke to Albert and Marina, the company’s executive producer and head of bidding respectively…
Above: CGI was kept to a minimum for the Gojek spot, meaning that cars driving along walls had to be captured through live-action footage
Albert> Thanks! I think any filmmaker would be excited by the scale of the idea, but the challenging aspect was that we had to figure out how to do it all on camera. Usually these types of tasks are initially based on the idea that we would film most of the video on greenscreen and then post production would do its magic. And yet, after going through the director’s treatment we realised that everything needed to be done in real life - and we were happy to accept the challenge.
Marina> I think we also had plan B in our back pocket for a little while - it wasn’t until the whole crew saw the cars driving on the walls with their own eyes that we finally all believed it could be done!
Albert> The film was made in July, so just after the ‘first wave’ had subsided and international travel was permitted on special conditions. However, yes we did have to develop and integrate solid measures including social distancing on-set, as well as ensuring everyone (including our 200-plus extras!) wore masks at all times off-camera.
Marina> As well as the scale of this project being a challenge in and of itself, it was our first post-quarantine shoot! We’ve made sure it followed all the necessary safety rules, like organising PCR tests before every shoot for all the crew members, having medical officers on-set to regularly check temperatures, enforcing social distance, wearing face masks and constant use of sanitisers. We marked every location with three ‘zones’ (green, yellow, and red) and divided crew members accordingly with a wristbands. That helped us to avoid concentrating people in one area.
Marina> Well the main cast was kindly brought by Caviar, and we were in charge of the extras. Guillaume Le Gat, line producer, was brilliant in securing key international casting, as always! Working with this many extras is always a challenge, but this time we had to find the right ethnicity for the cast, plus bring in a choreographer for synchronising the movement of people and vehicles. From first glance, you might say that finding two hundred Asian extras in Ukraine at a time of social distancing is not the best idea - but we say nothing is impossible!
Albert> Absolutely - we managed to do it really by working with universities and colleges, and basically asking anyone and everyone we could. It was a challenge, certainly, but after around a month of scouting we managed to assemble our team of two hundred!
Moreover, you’d be surprised to know that the key choreographer, who directed all the synchronised movements, and all the precision drivers were local Ukrainian specialists.
Albert> Filming while socially distancing will never be easy. Clearly it is still possible to get work done, but it will only get truly easier once we find a vaccine.
Marina> Finding the perfect location was one of the trickiest parts of the project. It had to be big enough to hold our heavy set, it had to be in a city to have the right ambience and backgrounds, and yet also far away from residential areas as we were going to be filming at night. Thanks to our brilliant scout and artistic approach we found an ideal location that allowed us to work comfortably and looked perfect in the frame.
Albert> Yeah, the location we settled on was actually at the site of a large shopping mall and a hotel (which weren’t really popular at the time). Helpfully, there was a huge LED screen normally used for digital ad billboards which doubled up as a great light source, for our talented DP Mauro Chiarello.
Above: A gallery of behind-the-scenes images taken throughout production
Albert> Haha, it was amazing actually - around a week after this went out I had a call from someone at an Asian agency asking me whether we filmed this in Hong Kong or Tokyo and how we managed permissions! We had a really cool production designer Mark Connell coming from the UK, who closely worked with our local team. He did an amazing job with our art director here, Misha Levchenko, so they should get the credit for the Asian look. We really look forward to working with Mark again soon!
Marina> Also, the director Henry Schofield is in love with Asia. So he was a great influence to have on the project as well.
Albert> Yes, Henry is a brilliant director - and very demanding, which is something we love! When he says he wants something done in a certain way, that’s how it’s going to happen. And that kind of vision is how you end up with results like this film.
Marina> Oh, I think this is going to be a project we remember for a long time. There were so many amazing moments!
Albert> As we mentioned earlier, I think one of the most impactful moments for me was when the stunt cars were riding on the wall for the first time. There was this incredible atmosphere on the set, we felt we were really doing something special, something that no one had done before on camera in Ukraine. You could feel like the whole ground beneath your feet literally shaking, seeing all the faces looking up - it was like some of them had just seen god!
Albert> I suppose one thing that could have gone better was that we actually had terrible weather three nights before the shoot, and a hurricane destroyed two of our buildings.
Marina> Haha yes, but we did rebuild it in time! So this is something that we would have preferred not to deal with, but what can you do? Fortunately we were able to rally together and the show went on and our clients never even realised that anything had happened.
Albert> Yeah, and one other thing I wish I could change would be that we should have had a bigger party! Caviar had to fly out at 2pm after the final morning of shooting I think, so it would have been nice to have had a bigger celebration.
Marina> And by the way, a huge thank you to the Caviar Paris team, Celine Roubaud and all the local crews who worked with us! You were all amazing and you made this project happen. Next time we will have a bigger party for sure!