Trends and Insight in association withSynapse Virtual Production

“Production Must Refocus on What Matters Most: The Work”

Production Services
Milan, Italy
Shoot in the Alps’ founder Paolo Sassi tells LBB why smaller crews are getting the best results

Production is in a moment of re-evaluation, with questions such as ‘can the budget stretch to a location shoot?’ and ‘can it be more sustainable?’ being asked across the world. These are questions with which Paolo Sassi, founder of service production company Shoot in the Alps, is all too familiar. Covering the Alpine region, Paolo has worked with brands such as Moncler, Hermes, Asics, Adidas, and Dolce & Gabbana. In doing so he’s navigated the famously majestic alpine landscape to create breathtaking work that encapsulates the depth and possibilities in the Alps. 

A part of Paolo’s work is convincing clients - whether they be brand, agency, or production company - to keep the number of crew on location to what is needed to avoid overcrowding and to manage the logistics of safely bringing everybody to the Alpine locations. Whilst the industry loves a location visit, Paolo notes, it’s ‘coming at the cost of creativity.’ 

Here, Paolo tells LBB how clients should be eschewing certain luxuries on set and limiting crew numbers in favour of better results, and why doing so can be a benefit to both creativity and the climate. 

Eschewing unnecessary luxury 

Of great importance to Paolo is ensuring production shoots are doing what they should be: producing great images. He tells LBB that, recently, he’s witnessed more brands and agencies wanting to put the money where the image is rather than on unnecessary luxury on set.

But still, there’s a stumbling block. As Paolo describes, crews are still keen to replicate the kind of luxuries on location that they enjoy in a studio - or even more. Paolo relays a story of how one client requested last minute a different style of a chair on set, as opposed to the classic director-style chairs that Shoot in the Alps uses. He tells LBB: “The thing is, the requested chairs would have sunk into the snow and they would have only served an unpractical aesthetic purpose, and one not even requested by the VIP entourage. 

As he continues, with last-minute creative changes pressing, ‘the last thing we wanted to do was waste an assistant to go look for the ‘perfect’ chair in the middle of the Alps.” 

Ultimately, Paolo says it’s about ‘making the client understand that we work in remote areas and at certain points, production has to decide what the real priority is on set and eventually say no to the client,’ where necessary for the benefit of the production.

“Service and production companies should draw a limit to useless requests and say no more often. Super unnecessary luxury onset belongs to a different era” he adds. “We can bring almost whatever amenities on set but we need to discuss with the client if it is really necessary, the time it requires, and the costs.”
Brands are well attuned to their brand image, but are they considering image whilst on location? Paolo says they should consider what image they’re conveying to tourists, villagers, and workers who witness what’s happening. “In the ‘80s or 90s they would have commented positively on the luxury as a sign of the power of a brand. Now, their comments would aim more at the waste, the money, the disturbance, and the related pollution that a brand produces during a shoot.”

Paolo puts forward his case for why these old-school location shoots should be on their way out, “Even before the pandemic, I noticed a positive change in how some clients were approaching their shoots - now it’s time to see it across the board.” 

Lean, mean Filming Machine

And it’s not just a case of saying no to on-location extravagances. It’s also about the work that is produced. To illustrate his point, Paolo walks LBB through three recent case history shoots that have managed to nail the on-location crew balance. For example, Shoot in the Alps has worked with Moncler across many campaigns in the Alpine region, and on one occasion there was an added level of urgency with timing and weather conditions. “We ended up shooting in 100m/h winds with minimal possibility for shelter,” he tells LBB.

“As a result, the photographer Thomas Lohr was able to make the most of the surreal light and the strength of the model Alton Mason to keep moving and posing, using the wind as an element in the picture rather than an obstacle. With just the creative director, photographer, assistant photographer, stylist, producer, two PAs, and a mountain guide, the result was amazing – and would have been impossible to do with a big crew,” he says.

The Alps comprise far more than just one landscape, and certain areas are trickier to access. Shoot in the Alps always work with one or more mountain guides for their productions, and due diligence is a consistent priority. In terms of safety, a more streamlined crew is invariably the better option. For a shoot with photographer Bas Van Est for Audemars Piguet Watches, the campaign starred rock climber Michael Kemeter on what Paolo describes as a ‘super-scenic climbing route, with very tricky access to a unique view. The choice was to either limit the crew or to go for a more easy access location.” The Agency Highsnobiety made the right choice to limit the crew and gain the best location ever for that campaign shot. 

For Dust Magazine, Shoot in the Alps worked with photographer Brett Lloyd to create a fashion story inspired by the rock climbing movements born out of California’s Yosemite Valley. The photographer and models were placed on the vertical rock face, with the help of the guides, while the crew was safely roped a few feet from the 400mt high cliff. The crew consisted of the photographer, photo assistant, stylist, two production workers, two mountain guides, and the models; Paolo tells LBB it’s a great example of when working minimally can give maximalist results. 

With larger crews, accessing hidden beauty spots and difficult-to-reach areas comes with an added risk: the environment. 100 people with equipment traipsing into these tricky areas is never going to work unless we have time to prepare and budget to allow it, says Paolo: “We have done it and brought crews of 120 members on the glaciers below the 4000mt peaks but we had the time and the budget to make it workable and safe and even then, there were few frills and no unnecessary crew. “It’s important for clients to understand that if they want to reach certain locations - certain environments with particular views - they need to compromise a bit on the production experience to maximize the end result.” 

As he aptly points out: “A recent high-profile fashion brand client said to me, ‘Paolo, I’m fed up of seeing productions prioritise the food they serve on-set ahead of the images we produce.” 

The solution 

For Paolo, the fun part of production is the ability to allow filmmakers and photographers to get the best shots possible and to see their eyes sparkle with enthusiasm when he brings them to a location. As a result, comfort when shooting in the alps is not necessarily the same as the luxuries found in traditional studios. “What we can do is keep people warm, and provide the right conditions to create the best work,” says Paolo. “If you’re cold, obviously you cannot perform right. We can provide warmth, but we don’t need fancy catering and champagne. It’s about some warm food, some shelter from the wind, and some heat for the models and the fingertips of the photographer.” 

Moving forward, Paolo hopes that more productions will realise the benefits of a smaller crew which prioritises necessity over luxury. Those benefits, he argues, extend into budgets, the environment, and ultimately the quality of work being created. That, after all, is what matters most. 

Work from Shoot in the Alps