The first shoot day was already set to be one of our most complex and potentially chaotic days of the entire trip. The logistics required to pull off the shots needed were quite intricate. We spent the first half of the day in the Kolkata train station. This station rivals Grand Central or Penn Station on even the busiest of days. There are so many people flowing in and out of the station, crowding the platforms, and pouring on and off the trains that you can barely keep up with the person right in front of you.
Our first setup was filming Alan getting on and riding a train. Thankfully, since we were leaving Kolkata in the morning, we were going against the flow of human traffic. We had to move quickly to load the camera and grip equipment into the train, before it either left the station or the passengers trampled us. The train was relatively unoccupied, at least for Indian standards, so we were able to carve out a corner with the help of the train’s security guards. While Tom was shooting Alan interacting with the other passengers and observing the passing scene out the window, Claude Fortin, our key grip, set up the slider.
The slider was built in a way that would extend the camera out of the side door, to allow for a fantastic vantage point of the side of the train and the passing world blowing by. Occasionally, we got an incredible shot of an oncoming train with people hanging off the side whizzing past the lens.
After an hour or so, we got off the train and boarded another headed back to Kolkata. This ride was not nearly as spacious as the ride down… By the time we reached the city, we were all packed in like sardines, gripping the equipment for dear life while people hung over us.
While the A camera unit was on the train, the B unit was getting some great stuff of their own. Neil Oakshott, our Steadicam operator, roamed the train station getting beautiful shots of the sea of humanity flowing into Kolkata for work.
Once the A camera arrived back in Kolkata, we met up with Neil and the rest of his unit and set out to get some Steadicam shots of Alan walking through the train station. The hardest part of getting this footage was not the logistics of the shot itself, but rather coming up with creative ways to keep the mass of people from crowding the camera and/or staring at the lens. We hid in corners or set up diversions to distract people enough to pick off a shot. The images turned out beautifully in the end, with Neil’s steady tracking shots of Alan against a dramatic backdrop of people and trains flowing through the station.
Our last shot at the train station was the most challenging yet. Claude set up a jib out in front of the station to get a shot of Alan passing the lens to then crane up revealing the vast expanse of people and cars. When we arrived outside, a massive crowd had already gathered around the jib. We ran a couple trial runs, and then did our best to keep people from crowding into the frame and staring at the camera. We were successful in the end, getting the shot in only a couple takes.
Without having had a proper prep day, still being jetlagged, and dealing with the insanity of Kolkata train station, we were able to pull off some extremely elaborate setups involving trains, octocopters, a Steadicam and a crane on our first shoot day in India.
Now we set sail for the Sundarbans!