We recently released a new short film dealing with the idea of home. This film was shot in Cuba over eight days in January 2014 in collaboration with Brent Foster. In this post, Preston Kanak talks about the project and how it came about.
The story of ‘home’ is one I’ve been wanting to tell for awhile. I had previously shot a project dealing with the idea of ‘home’ but wasn’t happy with it so never released it. When Brent, mentioned that he wanted to check out Cuba, I was extremely excited and thought that this may be a good opportunity to revisit this concept.
About the Film
What drives us to create and to tell stories is our desire to express ourselves in a visual medium. We make art that makes us happy and hopefully in turn motivates others to go out and explore. There is no better feeling than sharing a laugh or a story with a stranger and meeting new people on these journeys.
A Place Called Home / Mi Tierra, Mi Hogar documents the journey of one man who, at 8 years old, moved with his mother to America to start a new life. Our lead character, who has longed for a place to call ‘home’, revisits his past memories and childhood hangout spots in Cuba after having spent 15 years in the United States.
Driven by Passion
It all started when my brother told me he wanted to get married in Jamaica. He asked if I could produce a wedding video for him and also take photos – while also being a part of the wedding party. I agreed – with a shielded frustration. I’m sure most media professionals can relate to this situation.
Luckily, I had a an idea that would lighten the load. Earlier in the year I had done a project with Brent Foster who is an extremely talented wedding photographer and asked if he would be willing to come in and help with my brother’s wedding at a heavily reduced rate. He luckily said yes and also came to the table with the idea of extending the trip to shoot a personal short film in Cuba. I was sold.
Going into this project, we didn’t completely know the story we wanted to tell. We just knew that we wanted to find a way to capture the landscape and culture.
We booked our flights and we were set to head to Cuba for eight days.
Cuba: A Place Like No Other
I fell in love with Cuba immediately. The landscape, the people and culture. It all just takes you in and makes you smile. It is a place full of proud and hard working people who work with what they have and give back to their family and friends however possible.
It is almost a care-free society where spending time with family and friends is most important.
Their willingness to support neighbours is something I have never seen. I remember when we went to rooftop for shot of car driving by, a lady mopping was pissed we walked through with our dirty shoes which showed how much she took pride in what she had. I respect that.
We got into Cuba on January 9th and our last day of filming was on January 14th. Our plan of attack for the project was to first find a Casa to not only get us closer to central Havana but also immerse ourselves in the local culture. I haven’t had the opportunity to explore much outside of North America but luckily Brent was a seasoned traveler so I figured this wouldn’t be very difficult to find. We were able to quickly find one with the help of a local who spoke both english and spanish.
After securing our accommodations for the rest of the trip, we then needed to find both transportation and a fixer. Our original fixer was a no show so we decided to attack the streets for our initial scout solo. A few hours into day two, we came across a really cool car and our driver happened to speak great english so we asked if he would be interested in hanging out with us for the rest of the week. This was the best decision we made the entire trip as he acted as our fixer, driver and tour guide!
For the rest of the trip, our goal was to capture a variety of perspectives through vignettes. We had a few specific segments we wanted to capture but also wanted to be flexible and capture different vignettes as we came across them. We definitely feel like this story wouldn’t have come together the way it did without meeting Yadir. Yadir is the man in the blue taxi. He was our fixer, driver, star of the video and friend by the end of the trip. He taught us so much about the culture and landscape of Cuba, and really lead us into the heart of our story.
Out of all the days, January 10th was the most fruitful for sequences. We shot the bike building, chess, body building, and soccer segments. Everything just seemed to fall into place. On January 12th we shot the sequence on the rooftop of the car driving by, fishing by the water, fencing, cleaning bike and the steadicam segments. On January 13th, we headed out into rural Cuba. We drove for about two hours out into the countryside to film the segments with the tobacco farmer. On our last day of filming, we shot the segments with the fishing nets, the tracking car shots and the live band.
How we approached the project
Our approach for the project was very observational. We didn’t come in with a set shot list of storyline but knew our general focus for the project. It was great as we were able to have film at a very nice pace and just capture things as they happened. We took a hybrid approach as we made sure to look at the trip as a vacation and a time to recharge.
Preparing for the trip, we knew we might have issues getting into the country with all our gear so Brent headed to the Cuban embassy in Toronto prior to leaving.
Getting into Cuba, we were questioned, and the questioned again. After all of our gear was jotted down piece by piece, we were able to leave the airport and head to our hotel to get settled in.
When approaching the story, we wanted to make sure it was as authentic as possible. We took everything we had heard and observed about the culture and crafted a story around that. We then partnered with Beau Stephenson who then took our script and translated it into spanish with the help of others more closely linked to the culture.
This trip really taught me about teamwork and working together to take advantage of each other’s strengths. It was truly refreshing to come together as a team for this story.
Time and time again during the editing process, when wishing that one of us would have had that one extra shot, sure enough the other had thought to shoot it, in a completely unexpected way. Our visions and ways of seeing the world are so different, but compliment each other wonderfully.
Inspiration during the edit came from the film, ‘Una Noche’ which documents three teenagers journey as they try to leave Cuba. It’s a really well done film and is currently available for viewing on Canadian Netflix. At about the one minute mark of this film, there was a great segment that inspired the direction of the story and we used this as motivation for the story.
One thing during the shooting process that we focused on was developing a thread that could drive the story and for us this was the taxi driver. He was our vessel to take us from one area to another and what brought all the segments together.
Social Strategy Breakdown
Leading up to the release of this film, we planned an extensive social campaign across all platforms. We planned to tease content out starting a week before the release and had each days content broken down beforehand.
We also developed a website for the film, launched a community based system for people to share their stories of home and developed blog posts for both our personal and business websites talking about a different aspect of the project. Outside of our own personal channels, we also reached out to gear manufacturers and content sharing sites to share our story as well.
Gear Breakdown / Analysis
Gear-wise, we took a hybrid approach and shot both Nikon and Canon. I shot with the Nikon D800 and Brent shot with the 5D Mark III. It was interesting to see in post how we were able to push each of the images and it was easy to see how much easier it was to push the images that came out of the D800. For support gear, we had the Kessler Pocket Jib Traveler, Kessler Stealth, HD4000 glidecam and a monopod.
Challenges / Obstacles
During production we didn’t have a lot of obstacles to overcome and I think the main reason for this was because we were flexible with our approach to the project. However, even with how smooth things went, we still had a few obstacles to overcome. Our first was the language barrier and this was most present at customs. Because they didn’t have a great understanding of english and we had an even worse understanding of spanish, we struggled to explain what the gear we had with us was for. We ended up describing all of our support gear as tripods. We were stuck in customs for about two hours just trying to sort everything out.
Our second challenge was with our fixer. Our initial fixer was a no show so we were forced to find another one while in Cuba. Luckily, we were able to find a replacement on our second day of looking. We found this fixer by simply finding a taxi driver that happened to speak great english and asking if he had any interest in hanging out with us for the week. It couldn’t have worked out better!
Another challenge was the local shop schedule. On most days, the shops didn’t open until around 11am and most of the street were empty until then as well. What really surprised me is how late people stay up at night – most days into the early hours of the morning.
The last obstacle we had to overcome was the lack of internet and cell service. The lack of both forced me to take a step back and disconnect. It was both refreshing and much needed! I highly recommend this for others as it was a great time to think about the bigger picture and what is important to me.
What We Were Trying To Accomplish
For this project, the biggest thing I was hoping to accomplish was to produce something that transcended my normal style of storytelling but still having a similar vibe to the piece. For the last few months, my focus has been on developing and refining this voice and finding a way that I can use it in a way to help others tell their stories.
I am learning and I am growing with each project I work on. With all of my work, the focus has always been on making films that make me happy and I will continue to push for this in the work I produce. For the film itself, my goal was to address some of the elements we observed about the culture and craft a story around what we learned on our trip. I am extremely happy how it came out and hope you enjoy the story we are trying to share.
What I Learned
Like any trip, I learned a lot from my time in Cuba. I learned the importance of traveling with someone who is willing to take risks and is driven. This trip has truly inspired me to want to travel more and has also left me with a love for Cuba and a desire to return very soon.