Shoots are Cursed

Behind the Scenes|by Adam Chan

I find that it’s always healthy to approach each shoot with the same mental disposition you have when watching a horror show. You can bet your soiled undies that there will be ghostly horrors behind the corner. And the sooner you’re comfortable with that level of discomfort, the better.

My first two shoots at Bonsey Jaden, like any good horror flick, typified the classic horror set up: First, lull unsuspecting viewer into a false sense of security. That way, when the next act comes in and a man wearing a bear carcass jumps out, it makes said viewer spray mouth popcorn all over the front seats.

Enter stage left: shoot tres. ‘EdgeProp’

The idea involved a moving house making its way across the city as a young couple go back and forth between possible home choices. It was inspired by the literal moving of houses in kampungs: where villagers used bamboo trunks propped under a house’s beams to lift it on their shoulders and move it whole to a new location. What could go wrong, right?

The production crew created a bouncy set, with huge metal springs welded to the bottom of the structure. To mimic the illusion of the house moving, we had the most gorilla-built crew members push up and down on either side of the set to create the effect. It didn’t work exactly as planned, as the metal springs weren’t springy enough. At the end of day 1, barely 10% of the shootboard covered, the crew stayed back to troubleshoot the matter. I got a call at 3am.

Cue: Eerie waterphone SFX.

The production house’s executive producer started with, “We have a problem.” Hearing that we have a problem is one thing. Hearing it at 3am in the dead of night is something else entirely.

“The set collapsed.” Cue: Screeching violin SFX.

I got up to assess the damage. The set was split in two, broken beyond repair. We had to call the clients. Cut to: Coffin dance meme

Sod's Law
FML. Picture: Bonsey Jaden, 2020.

Fast forward, two weeks later, and things did work out. We pushed the delivery date, sucked in half the contingency costs and rebuilt the set with a ‘metal rocking horse’ undercarriage. And the effect was, objectively, a thousand times better than the springs. 

Ride the (cursed) lightning. Video: Bonsey Jaden, 2020. 

It’s enough to make you think that perhaps, things break for a reason (other than shortening my life expectancy). The client was very pleased with the results and after nabbing a few awards, including a Silver Spike, it went a long way in putting BJ on the creative map.

Cut to Nakala Mountains, Fiji, a rolling landscape of verdant green. Down in a ditch, just off the dirt track, lies a film director and BJ client manager stuck under a 300kg quad bike. The film director, barely conscious, is repeating the same question for the tenth time, “Where’s Peter?” Peter, the client manager, lies moaning in pain right next to him.

Cursed. What did I tell you?

The Great Fiji Challenge was a reality TV content piece we did for Tourism Fiji. They wanted to be known as more than just an idyllic postcard-esque destination. Thrills and spills. What could go wrong?

To get a lay of the land, a skeleton crew flew to Fiji to plan out the shoot. It took us through the Tatooine-looking Sigatoka Sand Dunes, white water rafting through the Navua Gorge, and lastly, quad biking up the Nakala Mountains. The experience was a mosaic of friendly “Bula” greetings, pristine waters and loads of mouth-numbing psychoactive Kava. Yup, just like the opening montage to summer getaway horror flicks before the killer shark/squid/zombie/alien/escaped-lab-experiment-gone-wrong emerges.

Right on cue, the waterphone SFX decided to make a comeback.

Nobody knows exactly how it happened. The director and client manager had sped ahead of us. Three pairs of quad riders and tandems were playing catch up. But as we neared the exit, there was no sign of them. We circled back slowly, only to find a villager waving us over to a slip road not twenty meters off the dirt track. There it was. Their blue quad bike, down in a ten-foot ditch. This is the part in horror movies when you know shit just got real. Cut to alien exploding from spaceman’s stomach.

Collapsed set
FML. Picture: Bonsey Jaden, 2020. 

We called an ambulance. The guys were stretchered out. They spent nights in the nearest hospital. As far as curses go, this was one of the worst. But it could have been tragic. Thankfully, none the worse for wear (other than a few bruises and fractured ribs, of course) the film director and crew were back a month later to complete the production.

Shoots are cursed. Even if you adopt a Murphy’s Law approach to them, and plan as best you can for every possibility and random eventuality, shit still happens. Think Final Destination. It always gets you in the end.

Which is why I much prefer Sod’s Law to Murphy’s. Murphy’s is an upbeat way of planning for possible bad events. Which is hygiene and due diligence and a bloody given. Sod’s Law says that you can never plan for a set to break or your crew to fall in a ditch. It says that you have to just accept that there will be things beyond your control. Some factors are down to acts of God. Some will be due to the fact that you just don’t know enough at the time. But when you stop dwelling on the tragedy of the curse itself, you can start planning on purging it.

Since then, there have been setbacks. Shoots cancelled. Budgets cut. Ideas sold and unsold. And now this steaming pile of a crisis we’re all in. But if curses of old have proved anything, it’s that we have some of the best exorcists in the business. And if we play our tarot cards right, heck, we might even have fun along the way.

So, bring on the witchcraft. We’ve got some wizardry of our own.

Twice ranked among the top 10 copywriters in the world by the Big Won Report, Adam is a firm believer in insight-driven problem solving. He’s always on the lookout for the next great story and is driven to make Bonsey Jaden a creative solutions powerhouse in the region.

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