Abu Dhabi, The Capital documents Abu Dhabi’s journey to modernity. In an exclusive interview with the film’s producer, Beno Saradzic, BroadcastPro ME finds out how the project used high-security, sensitive locations to tell the emirate’s story
Capturing a city’s growth can be a challenge, especially when the city has grown exponentially in a short time. This was exactly what Beno Saradzic had to deliver when his production company, Timesand Studios, was awarded the project to showcase Abu Dhabi’s development in key areas and give a view of the emirate’s future.
The brief given to Saradzic’s team was that the film should convey a unified message covering key government sectors, and offer an optimistic view of the emirate’s future by depicting a positive image for residents and visitors. The film also had to offer previews of major employment sectors in Abu Dhabi, as well as the most important achievements and ongoing key projects; and all of this needed to fit into a 12- to 15-minute time capsule.
Titled Abu Dhabi, The Capital, the film was screened at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival just before the premiere of Ali Mostafa’s feature film From A to B, which officially opened the Festival. It was also announced as the winner of the Silver Dolphin at the Cannes Corporate Media & TV Awards.
“Awards are always welcome and an international award such as this one further propels us to do quality work,” says Saradzic, who was the executive producer of the film along with Hermann Meingast. Saradzic was also the time lapse and aerial cinematographer on the project.
Saradzic explains that the main reason the film won because it connects with its audience.
“Audio-visual media should strike a chord with the audience and put forth what it was meant for, in a simple and straightforward manner, and that’s what our film did. The film required a documentary approach. We didn’t script this film, we worked with certain guidelines and questions that we wanted to ask our interviewees. We spoke to people who have contributed to the growth of the emirate of Abu Dhabi and are proud to say so. We realised that there was a genuine sense of pride in their voices and a sense of achievement, which we wanted to capture. These, I think, came through very clearly on screen and worked in our favour,” he says.
The production team at Timesand Studios began by scouting for locations that would best depict the growth of the emirate, aiming to capture the most significant milestones and destinations in Abu Dhabi’s road to progress.
“Right from the Airbus factory in Al Ain to Sky News Arabia’s broadcast hub to filming the way 999 operates, we decided to capture the most impactful shots that would sum up the UAE capital’s growth,” says Saradzic.
Saradzic handled the aerial footage of the film as the director of aerial cinematography.
The producer’s role landed him with much more responsibility. “The producer’s job is not easy. As a producer, my mandate extended way beyond cinematography; it was multidisciplinary, as I had to be involved at every level of the project.”
Shooting in natural light
Saradzic explains that because the film was a documentary, the director didn’t want to light it up. It had to be shot as much as possible in natural light to give it an authentic and credible look.
“We wanted to achieve a natural reportage look in this film. Everything was shot using Steadicam, and whenever possible, minimal lighting was used. The end result has a raw feel to it.”
One of the challenges that documentary filmmakers face is the involvement of non-actors. To avoid uncomfortable situations, the film was shot with a very small crew.
“We recorded the audio very discreetly and apart from the director, DoP and sound engineer, no one was allowed to be around our interviewees,” Saradzics says.
Shooting in high-security, sensitive locations, however, was the biggest challenge in this film.
“Broadcast stations are out of bounds to just walk in. It’s very rare that a camera crew is allowed inside, and that’s exactly what we did. We filmed a live newscast at Sky News Arabia, which required a lot of permissions. We had special permission to enter the broadcast room at the time when the presenter was actually on air. We were given a very limited window to achieve this in terms of filming. The interviews were conducted the broadcasters in a limited frame of time,” explains Saradzic.
The Airbus factory and Shams 1 Solar Power Plant were equally difficult locations. Shooting there was challenging but rewarding for the film’s crew.
“We were all surprised with a piece of France in Al Ain. It’s a state-of-the-art factory, made to the highest standards, to produce aircraft. The factory is staffed by a large number of young Emiratis, both men and women. We had Arabic speakers in the crew to facilitate our communication with the factory staff and they ensured that the interviewees were not intimidated or stressed. As a result, we managed to capture sound bites from happy, proud workers, who knew they had a role to play in their country’s progress,” comments Saradzic.
Time lapse was a critical part of this project. In time lapse, a large sequence of still pictures is transformed into video. The still cameras are used with motion control equipment so that when you see the playback in real time, it looks like a dolly was used.
“We shot for 40 days back-to-back, averaging between 12-14 hours each day to capture five minutes of time lapse shots, and ended up with well over 2TB of still images to output five minutes of real time footage,” explains Saradzic.
While time lapse was captured with Canon DSLRs, aerial filming was done using Sony Cineflex, which features a gyro-stabilised system. The Canon 5D Mk III was used for aerial still photography, and the ground shots were done on a RED Epic Dragon camera. The film was edited and graded with Adobe Premiere and various plug-ins.
“Premiere has made tremendous advances in the past few years and can deftly handle 2K, 4K, RedRaw or any format for that matter, with minimum hassle. All you need to do is drop the footage in the bin and drag it on the edit timeline and you are ready to go. Post production is very user-friendly these days,” comments Saradzic.
Editing and shooting went on simultaneously, “we would send the day’s footage to the editor on FTP, which would then go on the timeline.”
To save time, we even edited some of the scenes right there on the film set. The editing was carried out at the edit suite in Sharjah at Limbada Film Production Equipment Trading & Rental post production studio. All of the camera and lighting equipment was rented from there as well.
“We used the Canon 300 and 500 extensively to shoot all aspects of the emirate, from deep desert to the city. With a super 35mm sensor depth of film, this camera can achieve a great cinematic look instead of a TV look. Both these cameras have big sensors that allow you to do that. The cine lenses used were from Zeiss. In addition to that Canon’s entire range of primes to capture the city’s nuances. The aerial filming was done using the Sony Cineflex system – we were in the air for a total of 15 hours in the helicopter over the period of three days. Aerial filming can be tricky because you are granted permission for a limited time,” adds Saradzic.
Aerial shooting was a key feature of this film that made many impossible shots possible. A combination of technology and creativity contributed to the film’s success.