Monday Morning - The Phone Call:
It was early in the morning, I was on the computer writing an article for my website when I get a phone call. “Unknown number.” I know a plethora of people that simply won’t pick up when they see those words on their phones. I on the other hand, always pick up.
“Hi, is this Farid?” a lady with a heavy French accent replies
The lady swiftly begins to explain that she works for the media company that has been commissioned to produce the latest advertising campaign for Clark’s new shoe. She just as rapidly mentions a male model, a female model, a choreographer and an audition. Before I can even get a word in, she finishes with:
“We had a look at your website and we want you on board, are you interested?”
Of course I’m interested, but at this point I’m not entirely sure what I’m getting myself into. There were 2 out of the 3 positions that she mentioned that I could fit the role of, Male Model and Choreographer. Now I know all too well from previous experience that when it comes to work of this magnitude, you don’t just front flip in with a blindfold on.
I ask her exactly what she needs and what she’s looking for to get a feeling for what the expectations are. She fires another few things at me at machine gun rate in her glorious French accent, and closes with an invite to come for a meeting on Friday. There’s only so many times you can ask someone to repeat or explain what they mean, especially on a business call. I figure a meeting sounds exactly like what we need anyway. So I clear my Friday, pencil it in and finish with:
“Great Melissa, I will see you then.”
Friday Morning - The Meeting:
Call Time: 10:00am
Friday morning arrives. As I load my stuff onto the bike to make my way to the meeting, I’m still wondering if they want me to audition for the part of the model. Perhaps they want to audition a few different choreographers, or maybe something entirely different.
I get to the building, and realise I don’t have a floor number. I call Melissa, nothing. It’s early. I know I’m in the right place, so I swiftly follow in behind a couple that enters the building. Completely empty lobby, some stairs on one side and a lift on the other. Those are the only two options. I get in the lift with the couple and hit 1st floor. Doors open and I see some signs with "Audition" on them. I’m definitely in the right place.
I walk through some a hallways and am immediately greeted by a chap who seems to know exactly who I am and what he’s doing. He shows me into a room with a camera setup, a desk, and some open floor space.
“I’m going to be filming everything today, Alan and Melissa will be here shortly.” He tells me.
“Perfect” I say, hiding how oblivious I am to what's actually about to unfold.
Sure enough, moments later a lady walks into the room and greets me.
“Yes, hi” I reply.
“Melissa, welcome! Here’s a list of the models. Alan the director will be here shortly, he will explain everything.”
And she darts out. I have a look at the list. It’s got a ton of names and categories on them. One of the categories is “Movement” I quickly scan it and funnily enough, immediately recognise a bunch of names. I’m still just about as confused as when we spoke on the phone, but I’m getting the feeling that I’m not going to be auditioning for anything anymore.
Moments later Melissa walks back in with another chap, blonde, short, dapper looking. He greets me and introduces himself as Alan, the director.
“So come over Farid, I need to show you what we’ve got.”
We walk over to the desk and he opens up a black box to reveal 3 small origami shapes, a wedge, a cube, and a rectangle.
“What do you think?” He asks.
At this point I’m doing my best to piece together all of the information I’ve been given and create a coherent account of the situation and the expectations around it all. But I can’t be sure unless I just ask.
“Looks great Alan. So tell me, what exactly is it that you guys want me to do for you just so I’m clear?”
He starts explaining everything. The origami shapes are going to be made into life size structures for the models that are auditioning today. They want me to advise and choreograph their movements and interactions with the shapes based on the setup we chose to go with. If necessary, also prepare the models to be able to adequately perform all of the movements safely and correctly on the day. Because as he explained, some of the people auditioning won’t have any movement background at all. The shoot will happen in a weeks’ time at a great big studio in London, and we need to be prepared.
“Got it.” I say.
Turns out they did all their due diligence and they had in fact picked the right person for the job. I knew exactly where I stood and what the expectations were.
That Afternoon - The Auditions:
Alan explains that he has been given a broad criteria to work with in terms of picking the models. Movement ability is not top of the list, looks and personality are the priority here. I think back to the dimensions he gave me for the 3 different shapes and also the particular lines we spoke about having the models perform.
If movement ability is not top of the list, I’m imagining a conversation between a German and a Chinese man on a Friday night when model meets the set. I raise my concerns to Alan about this, he cracks a cheeky smile and says:
“That’s what you’re here for, Farid.”
"Love it" I think to myself as I genuinely smile back.
As the auditions go on, Alan and I exchange thoughts on characters, personalities and movement skills. The participants were asked to demonstrate some of their own movements, as well as particular jumps and patterns they will be doing on the set. I was mostly looking out for solid movement skills, Alan was looking out for personality and profile.
The Following Tuesday, Training Day 1 - Kirby:
Call Time: 9:00am
For the training, I suggested we use the Chainstore facility in East London. That was going to provide us with our best shot at mimicking the structures we were going to have on the actual set.
We all meet up and discuss the specific movements in question for Kirby’s run, and I ask her if she feels up for the challenge. Without any hesitation, she throws a genuinely smile on her face and says:
We begin our training and I start coaching her through different movements. She takes to them with some degree of technical prowess which is relieving. However, it’s clear that we will have to increase her confidence because she is required to do a 2 step wall run along the wedge at a height of about 1.7m give or take.
When height is involved, even a simple pattern like walking becomes a whole different beast. All of sudden the safety mechanisms inside of your mind start kicking in with intensity and create doubt. Sometimes causing shakes and even complete muscle lock down to keep you from putting yourself in too much danger. So to jump from a cube, take 2 steps along a wall like Trinity from The Matrix movie, and then land on the rectangle block is no easy feat.
I ask Kirby if she has any vertigo or problem with heights, to which she replies:
“I don’t think so.”
“Well, we’re about to find out” I say with a smile.
I start stacking some of the boxes and equipment available to best re-create the structure we are going to be using on shoot day. Alan is with us taking pictures and from the pensive look on his face, seems to be editing and re-editing the whole scene and route as we move along. I finish setting it all up. He seems excited. Kirby seems excited. So here we go.
Based on her previous attempts on a wall at floor level, I’m confident she understands what she needs to do. In any case, I position myself appropriately so that if something doesn’t go to plan, I’m ready to catch her.
“When you’re ready Kirby” I tell her.
“Here I go!” She shouts.
She starts her run up, leaps into the air between the blocks, right foot on the wall, left foot on the wall, turns, pushes off and lands perfectly in the designated area. She nailed it. I turn to Alan, he’s got a great big smile on his face and a look of awe. Kirby is pleased and so am I.
We carry on with the training, I make sure her technique is clean, and we work on the nuances and positions that she needs to hit. There’s a bit of an emphasis on the body language that Alan wants to capture, so we chip away at all of it. 16:00 hits, we are all exhausted.
It’s a wrap.
The following Thursday, Training Day 2 - Oliver:
Call Time: 09:00am
We all meet up at the same place again and start by discussing Oli’s run together. It also involves some very technical movements in between the boxes. At this point, Oli tells us he’s never done Parkour before. We all laugh.
We get straight to it and I work with him on the wall run 180 degree jump he needs to do, which is by far his hardest move. It comprises of running up the rectangle wall, grabbing the top, pulling himself as high as he can and kicking off it whilst turning 180 degrees in mid-air and landing on top of the 1.5m cube.
Once again, I put together as close to a perfect copy of the set as I can with the equipment from the Chainstore and we are ready to give it a shot. Oli has taken to all of the progressions really well. We are just worried that a foot slip at any point in the wall run could cause some problems for him. Nevertheless, we have to give it a go.
I talk with him about it and reassure him that I genuinely don’t think anything will go wrong. I’ve seen and taught this movement so many times and have witnessed the many different ways it could go wrong. So I’m going to be positioned in the best place to spot him just in case. I remind him how well he’s done on the build ups. I’m confident, and despite being tentative, I know he’s also confident in himself.
“You ready?” I ask him.
“Yeah, I’m going to go for it this time” He replies.
I position myself out of his way for when he starts his run up to the rectangle. As he begins to run up it, I swiftly dart into the gap between the wall and the cube to make sure that if he does slip, I’m going to be able to catch and support him as he comes down. Alan and I watch him build up some serious height as he runs up whilst pulling himself up the wall. Finally he turns and leaps across the gap to land on top of the box and balance himself. No slips, no close calls. He nailed it.
Once again I turn to look over at Alan. He’s happy and he can’t quite believe it. We keep going till the end of the day. Considering Oli’s level of exposure to these movements, in the space of 4 hours we’ve come a long way. We all celebrate. It’s the end of the day, we are all tired, and our brains are fried. We head back to the lobby and close the day with some logistics.
Next time we meet, it will be on set for shoot day.
1 Week Later, Tuesday Shoot Day 1 – Kirby:
Call Time: 08:00am
I wake up nice and early and have all my stuff ready and set up from the night before. My phone is charged, I’m set to go. I don’t like being late. And if I am running late, it means I’ve got to go into race mode on the bike in the morning and that’s no good for anyone.
I arrive to the studio in good time. One of the staff from the studio who also turns out to be a biker walks out and greets me. He starts opening the massive glass hanger doors and tells me to ride right into studio 2. It’s not in use today. I laugh as I ride into the building through the reception, past all the staff and park up inside, no need to lock up – The dream.
So we all meet in the lobby where breakfast is being served, I sit down with some delicious food as everyone starts walking in. Alan and Kirby arrive. There’s a lot of preparation that needs to happen before we can even begin to start shooting. Kirby has to have her hair/makeup done and try on all the clothes and sizes.
I’m in the main studio with Alan and we start discussing distances and positioning for the structures. We have to be decisive because the shapes will be secured onto the floor. We get it all done and wait around for the rest of the crew and camera’s to set up. If you’ve never been on a shoot like this before, the coordination between all of the different elements that go into getting it all right is immense. There is at least one designated person for every single task that needs doing. There’s a whole lighting crew, a whole camera crew, hospitality, set builders, the house staff, photographers, make up crew, stylist crew and the list goes on.
So shoot time arrives, Kirby, Alan and I have discussed and decided the distances of the actual structures, set builders have bolted them down, camera crew and everyone else is ready and it’s time to begin the movement.
I ask for a little bit of time with Kirby on the actual set to get her ready. We don’t have the luxury of being able to re-create the set with some lower boxes here, so she has to just go, at full height with not much progression. We do however have some mats. I place them all down in the key areas of risk and position myself in between the walls ready to spot her for when she leaps into the air.
The run requires her to start on top of the cube. There’s only space for her to take 1 step in preparation for the leap across onto the slanted wedge. I bring her back to our training day when I limited her run up with some sticks on the floor.
“Nothing new for us” I tell her.
“Yep, I’m ready” she says.
I quickly scan her expression and body language for some doubt, but she seems ready and on board. I’m happy to have her go. So she does.
She leaps off the cube, first step, second step on the slant, turns and makes it down onto the rectangle problem.
“How was it Kirby?” I ask
“How about without the mats?”
She laughs a bit, “Yeah, let’s do it!”
Again, I look for more signs of doubt or pressure, and find none. Given how the last run went, I don’t see any reason for her to have any. I’m OK with having all the mats removed.
It’s go time. We start all over again.
As the day progresses, we have to repeat the shot time and time again, from different angles, using different cameras. The process is lengthy and tiresome. We are getting to the end of the storyboard, and we need one final shot. A wide angle of her doing the whole run in one take.
We set up for it and Kirby is ready to go once again.
She goes through the motions, leaps off the cube, takes her first step on the slant and it slips off. She quickly steps on the wall with the other leg to try to save the movement, pushes off and undershoots the landing. She didn’t quite make the rectangle.
I scan the room real quick as I walk towards her. Everyone except the onsite medic and myself have turned into frozen ice lollies. I’ve seen this kind of stuff happen time and time again, and know from experience that it looked a lot worse than it was. Kirby springs up and before I even ask she says:
I knew she would be, I was slightly more concerned about the fatigue and the confidence after this one. The first aid guy checked her out and confirmed she’s OK.
I have a word with her about focus and suggest I step in to spot on the next couple runs to help with confidence before she goes again on her own. We all agree and off she goes.
Her next couple of goes aren’t as clean as they were this morning, but her confidence is definitely building back up. It seems as though she has one final surge of energy left for the day, which amounts to a few more tries before things start actually getting risky.
I’m happy with her confidence so I step out and we try to get the shot before she completely runs out of energy. She ended up doing another 10 wall runs give or take, and the shot came out awesome.
Day 1 is wrap.
Well done Kirby, you nailed it.
Here's the video:
“When you’re not required to do anything, make sure you rest and relax till you’re called back on again” I tell him.
He takes it on board.
I know he is an experienced model and has been on countless shoots, however nothing quite with this level of movement novelty. It’s easy to get distracted and swept away on shoots like this and end up burning a lot more energy than you need.
We move into the big studio and start by figuring out the optimal distances for the blocks according to Oli’s potential and the run we want him to do. We start having a play. The two set builders manually hold the blocks for us as we tweak the distances. After about 45 minutes, we finalise them, and they start bolting the set down. Time to rock and roll.
Oli’s geared up in the clothes, ready to go for the first shot. We build back up again focusing on his upwards momentum for the wall run. Alan mentioned he really wanted the height and body language to maximise the impact of the shot. There’s a lot to focus on to make that happen.
Oli has to correctly run up to the wall, hit it at the right distance with enough height with the correct foot. He then has to continue driving upwards whilst reaching for the top of the wall with his hands. Next he has to engage in a pull up to further lift himself as high up the wall as he can, and finally, has to start turning himself around whilst kicking with the correct foot (the right one in our case) to land on top of the cube. Once again, no easy feat.
Here's a demo run I did for him:
Oli struggles with the first couple of goes. So we decide to put a spring board at the bottom of the rectangle to give him a little bit of a boost. I know he has the strength to do it without the springboard, he just needs to increase his confidence in the movement pattern. I remind him that they’re going to want a full 1 take shot of this run later, which means the springboard can’t be in it. This is important because I don’t want him to overly depend on it both physically, and mentally.
I watch and coach him as he starts getting the hang of all the working parts of the pattern. Camera crew are getting some of the basic shots they need, but soon it will be time to take the springboard out.
We have a break whilst they prepare the cameras for the next bit. Oli has done 20 runs give or take, all of which include an explosive run up with a pull up at the end. A break is well deserved.
When we come back, Oli has to nail the 180 jump, without the springboard because they need the whole shot. I suggest we leave it in for him to practice with on his first couple of tries back, then we will remove it. Everyone agrees. He seems to have gotten the pattern, so it’s time to slide that thing out of the way and go for gold.
I ask Oli how he’s feeling about it.
“Yeah, good let’s do it” He replies.
I feel a slight sense of angst in his tone, so I suggest to stand in for his first attempt without the board in case something goes wrong. I want him to feel safe. I remind him that he’s going to have to put in more effort now that he doesn’t have the bounce from the board. I watch him as he makes a mental note of what I just said and nods.
We quickly work on his run up together and figure out where exactly he needs to take off from and with what foot. This is important because if his run up is staggered and weak, not only is he not going to hit the correct shape, but he might not even make it onto the block, which would be way worse.
Once that’s all figured out, I take my position and give him the green light. He looks confident and ready. He goes for it, runs up, turns and lands on the block safely, no springboard. Textbook.
I ask him how it felt, he tells me it was better than he expected. I agreed. I tell him I’m stepping out on this next one so he’s on his own. He’s totally up for it. Off he goes again. He’s definitely getting the hang of the movement. Time to put it all together.
Once he lands, he now needs to vault over the top of the slanted wedge, and slide down it to finish off the shoot. It’s a tricky movement because of the position of the wedge. Oli only has the sharpish corner at the top to vault over so hand placement is key here or he could slip and fall over wrong.
It’s almost the end of the day, we’re all tired but we have to get this last shot. Oli repeats the movement another bunch of times and the crew seem to be happy with it. Just as soon as we think it’s a wrap, one of the camera guys shouts:
“Can we do one more?”
I look over at Oli.
“How you feeling?”
“Good” he says.
I know he’s soldiering it. He’s done about 50 reps of the wall run with the pull up, some shots of him jumping and landing, about 25 slides with a run at the end and around 10 full runs. He's exhausted.
“Stay in it, now is when you start trying hard” I say.
He’s on it.
Off he goes. Two more reps and on the second one:
“We got it!” They shout.
It’s a wrap.
Well played Oli, you're a stud sir.
Here's the video:
Day 3, Friday - Boy:
There was a whole 3rd day of shooting with 2 super cool little boys for the kids range too. One did stills and the other did video.
They were both complete champs but in the interest of their privacy, i'll just keep this one short.
Needless to say, they both nailed it.
Here's the final run:
You can catch the final shots and designs if you are in London at the Oxford Street Flagship Store!
Movement Teacher and practitioner.