New week, new world.
Come and take a look around

June 2017,

it’s 6am in the foyer of La Gare hotel in Murano, a small island found about 20 minutes by water taxi from Venice, Italy.  Early breakfast prep is still ongoing, the night porter clocks off and nips outside for a cigarette.  I’m standing, as per usual, with camera op Ryan and four peli cases; camera, lenses, lights, grip.  I’ll admit to being a bit tired, the flight in was disrupted by an electrical storm and I don’t sleep much before shoots anyway – but that’s my problem, not our client’s so it goes to the back of my head and I’m thinking solely about the day ahead.  In about 2 hours time we’ll roll on a seasonal ad campaign for North Sea Air, on behalf of DFS, the travel retail arm of Louis Vuitton – in their flagship T-Galleria store no less, directly under the Rialto bridge in Venice.  Director Graeme appears from the lift, always calm and confident, always better dressed than us and somewhere between a client call, the call-sheet and his second coffee.  “Morning lads.  Boats will be here in 2 minutes.”


We rumble the peli cases, and ourselves, along ancient cobble into a beautiful lacquered wood panelled water taxi which speeds off in the direction of Venice proper.  St Mark’s square rises above the terracotta tiles, sea spray kicks up over the hull and the sun breaks over arguably the most beautiful city in the world.   At times like these I often think back to the day, or two it’s hard to remember, I spent in Stromness, Orkney, filming 8 hours of crab and shellfish processing in a windowless factory while a grey sleet-storm piled by outside.

Back to now, and per Graeme’s call-sheet, my role is Director of Photography; this has always been a bit of a hoot to me, as a self-taught, self-shooting filmmaker from Elgin, I certainly haven’t earned that title but I’ve also had my fair share of barriers to getting on in the industry, so if this production, and these lovely creative people, want to skip me up the queue, who I am to stop them?  We dock at the T Galleria VIP entrance, a wooden jetty reserved for clients.  Our producer Amy is already here, bright-eyed and upbeat, she looks the kind of ready I’ll need to be once I shake off my sea sickness.  We are immediately met by 4 local camera techs, including 1st AC Davide, who has just come off Spiderman. Gulp.


We gather in the staff room, a further 2 local crew appear for the briefing.  They all look pretty serious, time-served, cordial but focussed and some with only minimal English.  Ryan and I begin unpacking the gear, they all take over immediately and it’s unpacked within a minute; batteries set to charge, cards formatted, hard-drives connected for rushes.  It’s now time for the briefing for the day’s plan.  Looking around the room at the talent and experience on display, I’m certainly looking forward to hearing from whoever is in charge of this unit.  Oh wait.  I fumble around in my carry-on bag and pull out the storyboard; I gradually remember that we’ve already walked each shot through the previous evening, we’ve even pre-set a dolly, jib and steadicam sequence – the main thing we all need to know is how long we have before first shot.  We start in the jewellery section of the store, Bulgari to be exact, each piece on show is valued at around £25-50K.  No mistakes here and we have about 25 minutes.

My first ask is to flag off the spotlights directly above the counter, they create a harsh downward shadow which isn’t too flattering for luxury lifestyle work.  We then set up a soft back light out of shot behind the counter.  Sandbagging stands, tying cables and gaffer-taping said cables out of sight and under foot.  Ryan walks through a couple of gimbal moves and we test the 50/85mm lenses on the jewellery guarding against flicker from any unusual light fittings they may have in place – we decide on the 85mm.  Davide’s colleague radios him and he gives Ryan a nod.  Producer Amy enters the room, “Talent in 2”.  Director Graeme enters next with two models/actors, we talk through the action together, ask for big energy from the staff and quiet from the crew; we clear the set and…ACTION!


~ Tom Duncan

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