New Zealand's hidden gem : Shahir Daud

WELLINGTON - Talented New Zealand filmmaker Shahir Daud is a prolific filmmaker, whose work has garnered international recognition. His videos have over 2 million views on youtube and continue to inspire independent filmmakers to match his mastery in direction. Among his works are promotional videos he created for a group of Wellington Parkour practitioners (Physical Graffiti), short films and two music videos.

One of his recent projects; a music video for Percieve, entitled Whoa uses a 4 minute tracking shot and is set in a parking garage, seemingly with a cast of thousands. Shot with the new A-R Rig steadycam system, the camera towers, crouches and even spins on every axis. Unique in conception and exceptionally challenging to film, Shahir's video is an exceptional technical achievement. Have a look here and find out more about how it was made below.

Interview with Shahir Daud

Iain: How did you build the concept of the Whoa music video?

Shahir: I'm not a big fan of 'band' music videos, where the artist performing in a room or studio, but Percieve's track really lent itself to being about "the artist". It was nearly impossible to try and tack any narrative or story to it convincingly. So we went with this idea of having them perform to camera, but have the environment behind them telling a story.

We developed a whole variety of different concepts for the video, some were really complicated, involving motion graphics, or 3D and greenscreen shots. But when I sat down to think about it, what I really wanted was for the video to be simple. It also needed to tie into this idea of 'whoa', so there had to be some big moments in it.

I've always loved long tracking shots, not because of the co-ordination and bravado it takes to pull them off, but because they're continually engaging. As you watch, your brain keeps asking 'what's going to happen next?, where's the camera going to go? Who am I going to see around the next corner?'. So in the end, we knew we wanted a single tracking shot, and a big crowd scene at the end to reveal that all these seemingly random events are building up to a huge gig. We had to leave everything in between those ideas to chance because we had no budget! We put calls out to see who we could get into the building to fill the space - but we had no idea who was going to turn up. Luckily in the end, word got out, and we managed to get a really eclectic range of physical performers and extras who were willing to run around for us for two days straight!

Whoa Music Video

Iain: How did you manage to make this all in one shot?

Shahir: Practice, practice, practice! We scheduled a two day shoot, the first day just trying to co-ordinate where the shot would go, and then filling all the spaces with people and performers. It felt a bit like laying out the tracks in front of the train, because we never had enough people. So on every floor of the parking building, there was a co-ordinator ushering everyone around. The whole video was done with about 30-40 extra's (including a lot of the crew filling in) running from floor to floor behind the camera.

On the first day, we only had about 20 extras to rehearse with, so after we'd worked out our camera move, we locked the camera off on the top floor and shot those 20 extras in several different positions up and down on the road. We then took all those shots and composited them together, essentially turning 20 people into about 10,000. After we'd rehearsed for that first day, we did our final stage dressing and then shot the video on the second night. We did about 4 takes, and we eventually used take 2.

Iain: What were the constraints of the shoot, and how did you meet the challenges?

Shahir: Money and resources! I think this is always going to be the constraint on any project, but for us it literally pushed our post schedule out for 7 months! Because we were making it up, there were a couple of points where the backgrounds of the video looked quite bland and empty - so we decided to challenge ourselves and add 3D elements to 'flesh it out'. We'd toyed around with full 3D matchmoving and CG before but not to this extent. It was really important that the 3D elements were absolutely photo-realistic and not doing anything to draw attention to itself. So on the second floor - all those cars are CG. If you look closely, you can see this pretty clearly, but in the context of the video, your eye shouldn't necessarily be looking at them anyway.

We had two incredible artists, Darwin Go and David Alve working on that, and I also stepped in and took up some rotoscoping duties, along with a couple of students who were keen to help out.You can check out Darwin Go's showreel here, which has breakdowns from the video:

All of the post effects were designed to be quite seamless, so the helicopters were done mostly with sound. The fireworks are probably the most 'CG' moment of the video, but that was a last minute addition by me, just to have the video end with a 'bang' - so to speak. Because we had no money, we were also reliant on sponsorship, so we had to incorporate the cellphone element in there somehow, since the phone company had donated some resources to us.

Iain: Has anyone inspired your filmmaking style?

Shahir: I'm really passionate about a lot of different mediums; literature, music, architecture, photography and painting, but at the core, I'm a film fanatic. I'm not one of those guys that grew up with a Super-8 camera or started filmmaking at a really young age. I actually wanted to be an architect for most of my life, but I was always addicted to film. I obsess over all the small details when it comes to watching films.

So when I started making films, I drew on the filmmakers who I'd watched a lot growing up, people like Spielberg, Hitchcock and I was always fascinated by Jan Svankmejer and stop motion. As I made more films, I think I've started drawing from other mediums more. So I made a film that was inspired by a passage from Gabriel Garcia Marquez's '100 Days of Solitude', and a comedy I dreamt up while listening to 'The Planets by Holst. It's really incredible to see that what makes those great works timeless in almost any medium is the sense of story. You can even see it in great architecture, there's a flow from one space to the next which tells a narrative.

Iain: If you could make a music video for any artist who would it be?

Shahir: There's a kiwi/American band I'm loving right now called The Ruby Suns who I've been hounding for a while to do a video. But in a wish list kind of scenario, I'm not too sure, there's lots of artists out there who are really tackling music videos as part of the milieu of their work. So people like Bjork and Radiohead really use the music video as an extension of their work rather than just a publicity tool.

I think what I'd really love is to collaborate with an artist to create a new work where music and visuals were kind of feeding off each other. Chris Cunningham did some amazing work with Aphex Twin like this, and Geoffery Regio's Qatsi trilogy is probably the most remarkable collaboration between filmmaker and musician. It would be pretty remarkable to be able to work with someone like Phillip Glass!

Iain: What kind of projects are you looking to do in the future?

Shahir: I'm really pushing myself into narrative filmmaking right now, short films and a feature film which I'm working towards. When I was a film student I used to think that narrative was 'the easy route' because it's the most prolific type of filmmaking. But it's incredibly difficult and challenging to create meaningful stories that actually engage the audience completely. It's probably even harder now because we're consuming so much media all the time (I'm often watching something on YouTube, while checking my e-mail, while listening to music, and checking Facebook).

Shahir's Showreel

But great films or television demand that you pay attention and some of the most beautiful films do this without really having much 'stuff happening' on screen. One of the most arresting moments in a film I've seen in years is the opening minutes in Lee-Chang Dong's Oasis. The main character walks over to a man at a bus-stop and asks for a cigarette. There's something about the way this scene is constructed and performed, that I just found myself completely absorbed in this situation, and as a result, I couldn't take my eyes off the screen for the entire film.

But I just love just going out there and experimenting on all sorts of smaller projects. Music videos, television commercials, and short little personal projects give me the chance to just mess around and try a new idea. The parkour projects I've been working on have been a real creative outlet, and I'm hoping to do some more of those soon when I can fit it in.

To find out more on Shahir's projects check out his website :
Contact: [email protected], +64 27 415 1207

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