Australian cinematographer Mark Hobz battles the heat and sand of the Middle East for a new reality show concept – by Mark Hobz
Where is my Lamborghini?, or ‘WIML’ as we came to call it, is a new concept that merges mobile gaming into a casting for an action/adventure reality television series in Dubai to win your very own Lamborghini.
The television concept worked by having top gamers each week selected to a casting where eight were chosen to move forward onto the show. In the final episode, one lucky person would walk away with a Lamborghini Huracan. Second place being an Audi R8, not bad huh? The entire project was a pilot, being a new hybrid of mobile gaming and television. There were no proven results that it worked, so for a pilot you could say this was quite ambitious.
Having lived in Finland for nine years after my original move from Australia in 2009, I came into the Scandinavian film world where I networked with gaming producer Perttu Saarela and award-winning director Pete Veijalainen. With several projects together and a growing friendship, we were introduced in 2017 to WIML. We began pre-production on the mobile gaming concept and how it would integrate winning gamers into reality television stars and, eventually, Lamborghini owners.
Reality television being a very stale format in most regions of the world, we thought that the fit needed a facelift. With a name like Lamborghini and a film location like Dubai, Veijalainen and I thought that we needed to go a step higher from your typical Electronic News Gathering (ENG) setups. I wanted to run with the Sony FS7s for budgetary reasons, however Veijalainen didn’t like the ‘Sony look’ and thought we needed to remember this was, as he put it, “Dubai plus Lamborghini.” Our selection consisted of ARRI Amiras and Minis because of the post-production ease of in-camera ProRes, as well as the in-built neutral-density filters for the field.
Even with such an ambitious vision there is a budget, and we were lucky enough that the concept was so new and unique that rental houses were willing to help with our budget needs. Icon Art Production in Dubai, who have supplied some of Bollywood’s craziest demands, were willing to fit our needs and supplies to the best that they could. In the end our kits on the photography days were ARRIs and REDs of all assortments. When it came to glass, Zak Zorro at Icon Art supported the director’s vision and gave us kits of Aluras, Optimos, Master Primes and Ultra Primes to cover all of our cameras. Little did we know, however, that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had all the technology to offer but not the person-power.
After one year of concept and development it was time to begin pre-production for the television show which began in mid-2018 in our home base of Helsinki, Finland. I was at the time filming a feature in Iran which made pre-production quite difficult being remote, but it well prepared me for the desert conditions I was about to face in Dubai some months later.
“ …on the majority of days I required between eight and sixteen cameras on set… “
Big locations, massive challenges for the contestants along with producers and a director wanting the challenges to be non-scripted; all offered little chance for re-takes and simply having one chance to get all the shots during these challenges. To execute this, on the majority of days I required between eight and sixteen cameras on set, most being the ARRI Alexa Mini. With the shortage of camera operators in Dubai, I was forced to hire four other experienced cinematographers – Alessandro Martella from Italy, Hani Talat from Egypt, Amir G’nia from Iran and Tom Lebaric -from Croatia – to ensure that the different camera stations I had mapped out were all being framed and exposed correctly and someone was micro-managing the small teams scattered across the challenge locations.
I’m heavy on planning. I usually prepare pre-visualisations in Unreal Engine and mud-maps for setups. This is one production where all of these tools really came into play. With various cameras being very remote and only relying sometimes on the trust of who is on camera when the video signal and radio drops out, it was so important to have all the prepared documents ready for my camera team. Every day entailed a sit down with the whole camera crew and going over plans with my four other cinematographers. With the bigger days and assortments of gear I tried to maintain all exteriors at T4-T5.6 and interiors at T2.8-T4.
One of our trickiest challenges was in Dubai Mall, and with the strict film regulations here, we were not allowed at all to use anything larger than a DSLR due to security and public liability issues. The director was still stuck on an aversion to the ‘Sony look’ and we ran with the new GH5s with 10bit 4K internal recording, and Leica glass. We were very surprised with the results during post-production, the colourist did an amazing job with colour matching. Post-production was done at Mile Studios under Leo Joseph, the colorist was Lulian Papaghiuc.
If you have ever been to Dubai between August and October you would know its hot. Temperatures were reaching above 58°C. Some days it was so hot that you needed to ensure your camera handles were taped up or wrapped in rubber as any metal housings or grips just get too hot to handle. With the heat and the sandy conditions, most gear needed to be cleaned down properly after each day. You would be surprised where desert sand ends up; lens mounts, filter trays, magic arms, even memory cards that have been inside a sealed bag the entire day.
Some of our challenges required tracking vehicles and underwater shots. With special thanks to Irene Proimos at Dubai Film, they supplied us with Gates housings, Alexa Minis and Master Primes for the underwater shots and an Ultimate Arm with a Spacecam Maximus 7 head mounted on a Ford Raptor tracking vehicle. Fun to operate, not just because of the crew but because it had bloody air-conditioning!
After four episodes being filmed, two episodes edited and gamers already being cast and winning episodes… the CEO of our development company pulled the pin on the pilot and to hold any further development this year. Now the concept has been proven to work and the investors are happy, the ‘real season’ is expected to start principal photography in November this year.
Following the learning curve of the pilot season, I’d say what we could have done better is just the creation of the challenges and in making them less location heavy. It would have made the setups smaller and also team management far easier. Despite these issues, the results were a reality show which looks nothing like any reality show that has ever been shot before, and of which we can be proud.
Mark Hobz is an Australian cinematographer, steadicam operator and filmmaker.