Instep: Tell us about the training of the cameramen.
Zeeshan Parwez: We (me and Adnan) trained and tested about 18 cameramen over a stretch of two weeks. Eight of them were finalized after extensive evaluation and two were fixed to be jib operators. That's a total of 10. Some of them were seniors who've worked with television for a lot of years and some were young with limited experience but their dedication and command on the camera got them in.
Adnan Malik: I had been shooting the behind the scenes a few weeks before Zeeshan showed up, and was developing the aesthetics of the final show while shooting daily rehearsals. When Zeeshan joined the rehearsals we both realized very quickly that we shared a sense of how we wanted to shoot the program. Rohail (Hyatt) showed us some references of how he wanted the show to look, and that combined with our individual predeictions for close ups, capturing raw emotion and developing a visual harmony, led to a selection process for the 10 cameramen who would shoot our show.
We auditioned over 20 camera men over the course of two weeks and had each one come in and take directions as we directed them through CCU headpieces.
We came up with a rating system for each camera man which included their framing (close ups, long shots, etc.), panning, confidence with the camera, natural intuition and rhythm, and ability to take directions etc. obviously, a lot of these camera men were very experienced in their own right and brought a lot to the table as well. Our selection process was just based on whether they were in synch with our vision, and how passionate they were about this project. Because at the end of the day, for everyone involved, Coke Studio was a passion project. And that passion starts right at the top with Rohail and Umber.
Instep: What was the technical infrastructure like? How difficult was it recording live music while taking care of the visuals?
Zeeshan: Having made performance based videos in the past, I tried my level best to capture as much instrumentation as possible.
Technically, I can write a whole case study book on this matter. I'll say that we had about 45 people dedicated only for video, of which approx twenty were on the floor, three on the studio roof, ten were in the video room and the rest in the waiting room who came in between songs. Our video equipment came from Videotech (Ahmar Raza) and it consisted of computers, television monitors, recorders of all sorts, cables running everywhere, waveform monitors and etc.
Shoot wise, we've tried our level best to capture a lot of instrumentation.
We were looking at a zoomed up feel rather than making the whole thing wide. You also see the amalgamation of track and hand held shots going side by side.
Every shoot required me to yell, asking if everything was rolling. When the shooting days were finally upon us, I had completely transformed into this guy who was yelling left and right. I was Amjad Khan from Sholay! I had made the whole video team's lives miserable.
It was even funny to see a 'cool' model like Adnan Malik turn into a screaming Tazmanian devil. But I'm happy to see that cameramen, engineers and assistants call me to this day and they tell me they loved working with us.
And then, just when we thought it was over, post started. I spent about two months, editing all the videos. I had to unlearn my previous style of editing to learn a new way suggested by Rohail and the results came out good Mashallah.
Adnan: Zeeshan was much more in tune with the technical angle, whereas I was more focused on the aesthetics and the behind the scenes. Zeeshan worked incredibly hard on the technical side to make sure there were minimal slip ups, especially since we shot the whole thing on a tapeless format - A first for Pakistan!
Both of us divided up the cameras on the day of the shoot, and controlled them through mouth pieces. We had hand placed each camera man according to his individual strengths and had given them very specific areas to cover on the floor. Each song had a different camera configuration, and it was our job to direct the camera man to shoot in harmony with the song being played.
Of all the five months or so that I have worked on this project, those days of shoot were by far the most exhilarating.
Instep: Coke Studio was a multi-camera shoot on a massive scale. What difficulties did you face?
Zeeshan: A multi-cam shoot of this level brought with it a lot of challenges. And a lot of headaches and sleepless nights. But in order to attain this sort of standard, you have to go through this.
The first challenge was the size of the video room inside the studio. To load massive equipment for a 10 cam shoot inside a room that only fits... well... only me... was an impossible task. So the careful loading took five six nights by itself.
During work, I like to give myself headaches because that's how I stretch boundaries, or at least I try to. Even though I had a huge team under me, I checked and supervised every little thing; every little cable was working fine. As a producer, I found it only fair not to just command cameramen and assistants, but to get behind every technical detail and to make sure we won't be having many headaches during shoots and in post.
The other difficulty was choosing positions for the cameras. We were working around the respective positions of the musicians and the main stars. So that meant limited space, both of us came up with good strategies. At the end of the day, we were looking at camera changes after every song played.
In the post stage, Rohail had a terrible time backing up all the footage which took him days. And on the other hand, it took me even more days to align all the footage together so I could get ready for edit.
Adnan: The toughest part was trying to make sure that we captured every note of music played since the videos were shot live. We didn't have backup takes to cover us in the edit if we missed a specific solo or bridge. And considering that we shot about 30 videos, we couldn't memorize every part of every song, so we had to really go by intuition. I dare say, when we re-saw what we had shot live on that day, Rohail pointed out quite a few places where we missed the musical parts! Even with numerous cameras, you can never capture everything as it happens! And especially since the cameras were divided between Zeeshan and I, there were times where we were overlapping on the same artist, while completely ignoring another! These are all learnings, however, and we hope to improve on them in the future.
Instep: Both of you have worked together for the first time. What was the equation like between the two of you?
Zeeshan: This is the first time we worked together. It was great working with Adnan. I had a lot of fun being with him. Even though he was in charge of BTS (behind the scenes), he stepped in to help me in the video shoots by taking care of four cams, and he did a good job. In short, I was very comfortable working with him. We were also partners in foosball (a foosball table was present in the studio) playing against the musicians teams. Damn you musicians! I kill you!!!! I physically keel youuu!!!!
Adnan: We worked together for the first time via Coke Studio. I had heard that Zeeshan was a terror to work with, which is not true at all. And he had heard that I was just a pretty 'mawdel' and socialite, which is partly true.
Both Zeeshan and I share a very strong, yet distinct, aesthetic vision. We both brought a lot to the table as the eyes of Coke Studio and our combined aesthetic is apparent in the way the videos look. Zeeshan has a very edgy, raw and dynamic sensibility that comes from his experience in music videos, and mine is a confluence of years of documentary work, photography and dabbling in fashion. But our sensibilities gelled really well, and we actually had a blast working together. We both shared a passion for what we were doing and there was absolutely no ego involved. We shared responsibilities according to our strengths and it all worked out quite organically at the end. It was a pleasure working with Zeeshan, he's very talented, focused and quite hilarious! We have even discussed collaborating on more projects together in the future. And with Rohail at the head of the totem pole, we were very much part of a holistic, supportive team.
Instep: How was the experience of working together with producers Rohail and Umber Hyatt, the artists and the house band?
– Photos by Kohi Marri and Rizwan ul Haq
Zeeshan: For me, Rohail, Umber and Gumby are family. Rohail is by far one of the most competent people I've ever met. I am in awe of this guy, for the person he is and how technically superior he is. His way of looking into things is an inspiration for me altogether and his skills of solving problems are amazing. With Coke Studio, he provided a platform for not only me, but countless others, where we could work our own way, the way we wanted to. He believed in us as much as we have faith in him.
Umber is the other reason why Coke Studio is so successful. Many managers and producers can't pull off half the things she can do. She is too organized and I'll never forget all the advice she's given me that's helped me work so efficiently.
This time around, I would be texting her messages, writing to her about funny conversations between me and the engineers... we had a few characters who used to crack us up.
As for the house band, this is first time I interacted with Jaffer Zaidi and Assad Ahmed and they were great. Jaffer and I shared a secret Sanskriti language made up by us. Assad and I would incorporate rock n roll terminologies to every small thing. Omran Shafique and Kamran "Mannu" Zafar are great. And Gumby is Gumby. That's my Coke Studio experience.
Adnan: My gig with Coke Studio has been the best thing that has happened to me in Pakistan. Rohail aka 'Pa', is a wonderfully magnanimous, insightful, passionate and absorbingly intelligent human being, and being under his wing has been a fantastic learning experience both in the professional realm and on the personal growth front. Umber, aka 'Ma', is the rock behind Coke Studio and made sure that everything ran smoothly and seamlessly. Together, Rohail and Umber created a wonderful familial vibe on and around the set, and it is one of the most pleasurable playgrounds I have ever been on!
Working on this project has reaffirmed my belief that good things can come with pure intentions and dedicated hard work. In fact, I walk away from this season of Coke Studio as a richer, more evolved, and spiritually ignited human being than when I entered it because of the dynamic created by Rohail, Umber, the production team and the supremely talented musicians.
I would always anticipate the arrival of a new character or artist on to the Coke Studio set and would be amazed at how their egos would vanish in seconds after interacting with the aura of the place and its people. The energy of Coke Studio is much greater than the sum of its parts!