My 2 Weeks in Mali

Hello all,

I got back on Sunday from spending two weeks in the southern region of Mali, Africa in the capital city of Bamako shooting and producing video content for a USAID project. My girlfriend Ashton and I went as volunteers and were the first people they had sent with a mission of capturing other volunteers teaching in rural villages. We had to figure out without any guidance or knowledge how to create a meaningful story or impactful video that will show the country and the projects that volunteers are working on. The goal of the volunteers was to help show them best practices to raise and maintain sheep and goat herds. You can learn more about the project here: 

http://commonpastures.org/

So Ashton and I sat down before leaving to create something of a plan knowing full well that the plan could get thrown out as soon as we set foot in country because we left without knowing what to expect.

I won't detail everything but just some main highlights that pushed me professionally and some of the things I learned that will make me a better filmmaker moving forward. 

Now first of all, I don't shoot very often... Really ever anymore.

But for this, I was a one man band. I had to shoot with a camera I really had no personal experience shooting with and capturing audio myself while trying to conduct interviews with many people who didn't speak english. I was completely out of my comfort zone on every level which was awesome and terrifying all at the same time.

I can't think of a time that I was responsible for so many different aspects of production completely on my own without support within reach if need be. Now of course Ashton was with me, but she had her own marketing assignment for this project. She had to soak up her own knowledge to write her report and make an assessment of the project. We would write up and go through the interview questions together and she would ask the questions to our interviewees which was very helpful, but often that left me holding the boom pole over the camera and monitoring the frame at all times to make sure they stayed in focus, I didn't dip the mic into frame and that the lighting didn't change dramatically. A few times, I would hand the boom pole to our driver Momoussa or our translator Michael (pronounced Michel) which was interesting trying to explain at a very basic level what I need. 

Myself and Ashton after our last village trip of our journey. Michael, our translator on the left and Momoussa, our driver on the right. 

Myself and Ashton after our last village trip of our journey. Michael, our translator on the left and Momoussa, our driver on the right. 

Momoussa holding the boom pole for an interview. He would do a great job holding the mic still and had a good sense of where the mic would float to stay out of frame. Although one time his cell phone rang and I had to scold him. 

Momoussa holding the boom pole for an interview. He would do a great job holding the mic still and had a good sense of where the mic would float to stay out of frame. Although one time his cell phone rang and I had to scold him. 

Something very fun and unexpected was how much Momoussa and Michael learned about the process of shooting. They were with us virtually everyday driving us around and Momoussa would have to unlock the car for me every time I needed to grab an accessory or lens. He would always watch me unpacking my bag and setting up the camera. Near the end of the trip, I would just hand him cables and the microphone and he would know where it goes and how it all gets put away. We didn't speak the same language, but we had a non-verbal understanding of parts of the filmmaking process which was really amazing.

I shot for 10 of the 13 days we were in country. It was hot, dirty and exhausting. 4 hour shooting days felt like 14. We often would drive 2-4 hours per day to the different remote villages to capture everything. The heat alone would wipe you out, but the exhaustion of being a full crew at all times also contributed to the chaos. 

So many of the interviewees were really helpful when it came to carrying gear which I was thrilled for. 

So many of the interviewees were really helpful when it came to carrying gear which I was thrilled for. 

In the evening's I would dump footage and log everything. It was important doing this as we went along so it was less daunting than having to do it all at once when I got back. I noticed that the last few days in country I shot the most. I didn't get anything particularly better or more interesting than the previous days, but I think I was feeling that I had to get everything I can because there are no re-shoots. And not really knowing what was important at any given time, left me getting anything I thought looked interesting which may or may not be used in the final video(s). That was a frustrating thing to deal with and again totally out of my working comfort zone. I like a scripted and controlled environment to shoot in. This entire shooting experience was the complete opposite of that..

Overall, I am extremely grateful and thrilled that I was able to have this incredible learning experience both personally and professionally. As I begin to start putting the pieces together for these videos I will learn even more about what I was able to accomplish and more importantly what I failed at. All these amazing opportunities I was given for this project will only make me a stronger filmmaker, and for that alone, I am thankful.

Here's to the next adventure. 

Cheers and Hugs,

james