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Per Diems Are in the Envelope: Part 1

Production Company
London, UK
Great Guns director Calum Macdiarmid kicks off his three-part travel diary, detailing his experiences in Shanghai and Prague

One of the great joys of this industry has been, until recently, all the travel.

I’ve heard shoots abroad referred to as a ‘sholiday’ - even though they can be incredibly stressful, you are nonetheless in a foreign land away from all the more ordinary stresses, where the pressures of delivering expands to fill your entire consciousness. For a brief week or two, nothing in the world matters… from paying your rent to social obligations, it all goes out the window. Coupled with room service this can be a strangely pleasurable escape.

The following is a photo diary of those adventures abroad, for work, leisure and everything in-between.


Shanghai can be lonely… in the best possible way.

It’s a beautiful melancholic loneliness that I love to wallow in as the alien surroundings and language barrier create a powerful sense of isolation. There’s nothing better than listening to the Blade Runner soundtrack while walking through the skyscrapers, unable to interact with the world and instead becoming a passenger, deeply immersed in your own introversion.

I’ve done five or six jobs over there over the years. The last two times I went without any UK based producers, instead working with local service companies which upped that sense of isolation even more… it was awesome.

On the most recent one, after a successful shoot I was invited out to dinner with the owner of the production company who couldn’t speak English. We had a producer there who was able to translate for us but the boss wanted to speak to me directly… so we went to a bar where he ordered this giant tray of 20 tequila shots. My heavy drinking years are a bit behind me, however I could see value in this tactic and was game to put the work in.

It worked to perfection. We slowly worked our way through every one of those shots that evening and by the end of it were blathering away to each other like old women at a hairdressers. He, of course, was speaking Mandarin and me English but we understood each other implicitly and danced the rest of the night away. Through it we became genuine friends later using google translate over email to catch up after I was back in the UK.

In the third picture down you can see a ‘selfie’ on set, where my 1st AD (an amazing woman, Gig, who despite appearances was an absolute Rottweiler with her crew) is photobombing me.

I don’t usually take selfies… but I think it’s telling that the one selfie I have in all these pictures, is in Shanghai… after all that introversion I was probably just looking in the mirror to double check I exist.


Prague, similar to Ukraine, is one of the busiest shooting places in Europe due to a forgiving exchange rate and good local service companies.

In Prague I always find myself staying at the intercontinental hotel, it is famously known for being a KGB hotspot during the Cold War, filled with a 50/50 mix of visiting western politician and people listening in to them. These days it’s a bit like Disneyland for commercial shoots. Every time I’m there there will be two or three other productions going on. They’re easy to spot - self important pricks with laptops clogging up the bar, or looking back at you from the mirror.

The funniest thing is how the hotel has become so well acclimatised to these guests. I remember checking in and the hotel receptionist explaining to me that my PPM and subsequent test shoot had been pushed back two hours… but also mentioned that the light would be better then anyway.

During that PPM there was a discussion about whether we shoot spherical or anamorphic… I was tempted to bring the hotel receptionist in and get his opinion.

In my downtime I had our driver Mirec take me to some of the abandoned communist factories so I could grab some pictures and took his portrait too.

At the bottom is a photo of Gulsina, one of the models from a commercial we were shooting. She had to do a stills shoot that day but we also wanted to get a shot for our own books while she had the make-up on. We went on top of the hotel and got this amazing shot with no other lighting than the setting sun. It was quite an education for me and changed the way I shoot a lot - half my music videos now take place using available light so that we can spend the budget on more bonkers ideas.

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