Trouble in Paradise
::Note to self:: When you are going on a trip out of country, and the first leg is a train trip and the train is cancelled due to a mudslide, turn around and go home. I'm not kidding.
I was booked for a 6 day shoot in Mexico. 3 days shooting, 2 days travel, and one day to chill in the sun. Sounds awesome doesn't it? It should have been, but alas....issues.
The art director, her assistant (which happened to be her sister) and I were to meet at 7am at the train station in Portland Oregon. We were flying out of Seattle, and had a fitting with one of the models there midday. I got of of the Uber to hear "the train to Seattle has been cancelled due to a mudslide, there are no other routes, please find another way there." Then the art director showed up. Her name is Adrianna, and let me tell you she was on point from this time forward.
We booked a rental car, and as she had driven from San Francisco the day earlier, I decided to drive. The drive up was a tad rainy, but not a bad drive at all.
We then made it to the airport in the evening, as it was a red eye to Atlanta, followed by a flight to Cancun, then we would drive the 1.5 hours to Tulum for the shoot. There was a large group of us going to Mexico together. The crew was a total of 8 without the models. As usual, I was the only guy on the crew. The models would show up a day later.
So we made it to Cancun, everyone was tired, but happy with the warmth. Loading all those people and bags including clothes to shoot, was not easy, but we made it happen. Off we went, and Adrianna was the driver, and drive she did!
After a stop for fuel (of course the van was empty when we got it) we headed off to the location and to waste some time. We couldn't get into the airbnb until later in the afternoon, so we stopped at a beachside restaurant for lunch. It was wonderful!
After a late lunch we headed to our airbnb to get set up. We were driving through a nice neighborhood, and then the maps took us on a couple turns, and I noticed the "hood" didn't look so nice anymore. It was a full blown slum, and watching the way people were living there, made me really sad. We sometimes take for granted what we have, and don't realize how a lot of people around the world live. Gives one pause.
We got to the place and even though the neighborhood didn't look so great, you could see it was being built up. I'm sure in a few years, it will be really nice. Right now, we were in the only nice place for at least a mile. It had a wall around it, sort of like a compound. On inspection, I noticed that there was no lock on the front gate, and was informed that it wasn't installed yet as they had just opened. At that point, I decided to take the first room on the bottom floor closest to the gate. I am a light sleeper, and as I was the only guy on the team, thought it was the right thing to do. Not that the women couldn't take care of themselves, but my parents taught me to be a gentleman always, so I took the first room. The AD and her sister took the room adjoined to mine with those double doors that you can unlock in the middle and every one else went to the other building and upstairs.
So after checking in, I was feeling very apprehensive. It just felt off, and like the people who owned it were not up front about something. I didn't want to say anything, as I didn't want to make others nervous. ::Note to self:: always listen to your gut!
So off we went to dinner at another lovely restaurant. On the way out of our place, I saw 3 small children in a bombed out truck waving at us strangely. We seriously must have been being watched. All through dinner I was texting my fiancé Karli saying that I felt really strange energy. I just wanted to get out of there. I didn't know what it was. I thought maybe it was because I didn't know some of the people or something. Once again, I should have listened to my gut.
We headed back to our place. I went in my room and was chilling when I got a knock on the door between my room and Adrianna's and her sisters room. Her sister came flying in my room saying they had been robbed, and that they thought they were still there. Then we started hearing more people saying they had been robbed. I decided to check the front door of the compound, as I had closed it on the way in. It was open. so whoever was there, was probably gone. We gathered everyone in one place, and Adrianna called the owner and the police.
Now it starts to get really strange. The owner and police showed up at the exact same time. We did a tally and found that a laptop, various clothing items, cash and one of the safes had been ripped off the wall. The one with the rings for the shoot in it. Some passports were also missing.
Soon the place was full of police and then Adrianna heard out back that they found the rings. She went stomping off because she thought she herd them talking about taking them. When she got around the back, I guess the boxes were there and no rings. Her sister asked me to check on her. I had a dilemma that the rest of the ladies were gathered around, and I had to check on Adrianna. The police had large machine guns and I didn't want to get shot, so I made a lot of noise saying it was me coming around. Adrianna, is one tough cookie, so after a quick check on her, I knew she was fine and went back to the group.
After a few hours of dealing with this mess, we decided the whole thing smelled like a set up from the beginning. They knew we were a photo team, but thank god they hit 6 of the 8 rooms, and mine with the gear wasn't one of them. We decide to leave and find another place to stay. Now it was after midnight, spring break, and none of the hotels in the area had phones. We were going to have to drive around and find a place for 8 people! After driving for hours, and Adrianna hopping out at every hotel, she found enough rooms for everyone except her, her sister and me. This was around 3:30 am! After another hour of driving, she found a place with a couple rooms for us. They didn't take AMEX, so she had to figure out a way to pay them with not enough cash. She ended up using PayPal somehow. WOW!
It was now 4:30 am and we could barely keep our eyes open. The 3 of us figured out that we had not been horizontal in almost 48 hours. Throughout the whole thing, Adrianna did not lose her cool at all. She stayed on point, she had a whole crew to take care of and did an amazing job doing that.
So 4:30 am we got to our rooms. Mine was an actual grass hut, and I'm not kidding.
The grass hut did have AC though, so we were good to go. The next day the models were showing up, and she had to make sure that they all got to the location. As with everything on this trip, the taxi that was hired didn't show up for either groups. The one model who had never travelled, didn't read the email that said to bring cash and make sure your bank knew you were coming into Mexico, so your atm would work. None of her stuff worked, so once again Adrianna to the rescue. She figured out a way to get the model to the hotel. Then on the day before the shoot, the hotel told us that the room we were supposed to have for use for the shoot, had been booked. Adrianna to the rescue again! She had to get on the phone to the main pr office in NYC and get it sorted out.
There were smaller things that happened when we were shooting, but in the end everyone rallied. The location was stunning, as well as the shots too. I can post a few iPhone shots, but none of the finals until it gets published. It was interesting shooting for several magazines at once. 3 standard bridal mags, and a LGBT one. We were sort of interchanging 4 models the whole time, and all of them were just amazing.
After having stuff stolen from the crew, I was extra careful. My gear went with me everywhere. Dinner, breakfast, the beach, I didn't care, it was going with me. I also took the extra precaution of giving the duplicate hard drive to the AD every night. That way we had images two places. I learned my lesson from my shoot in Oakland. Always have your images in two places.
iPhone shot, beautiful model, beautiful location....winning!
The main thing in a situation like this, is to get everyone to try and forget the bad stuff, and really focus. The great thing is that everyone on the shoot was professional, and was able to tune out the bad and really hone in on the job ahead. Adrianna was the glue that held the ship together in a storm of bad shit. She kept a lot of the stuff that was going on behind the scenes quiet, as it would just affect the crew. The models never knew anything happened, as they came a day earlier. We decided they didn't need to know, as it would just adversely affect them.
On a personal note, I really want to thank the art director Adrianna. Most people would have crumbled under the pressure, but she didn't. She waited until she was alone or with me and her sister to break down. Unreal what she went through to pull off this shoot. I've worked with some bad ass art directors, but none under these circumstances. She went above and beyond IMHO.
We got everyone back to the airport, and as usual small things happened. We left at the crack of dawn, even though most of us left in the late afternoon. On the way there, the person who's plane was supposed to leave at 9am didn't actually check their ticket. In reality, it left after 11, so we all got up really early for nothing.
After dropping everyone off, we noticed that the van was full of sand. They would charge a hefty cleaning fee if we left it like that. So here we are, in this amazing country, and Adrianna and I were at some random gas station borrowing brooms to sweep out the sand. We were laughing our asses off doing it. It's a glamorous life for sure.
One more thing. The night before we left, I decided that I should try the worlds best pizza. The sign said it was, and I decided to see if it was true. It was good, but not sure if it was the worlds best. What it was good at was clearing out my intestines! So on top of it all, in the end after not drinking or even brushing my teeth with any water there, I got montezuma's revenge from my favorite food of pizza. Made for a really nice flight back and ending to this trip.
All in a few days work. The funny thing is, when the magazine comes out and people are looking at the beautiful images, they will never know all the trials and tribulations we went through to get them.
Check out the behind the scenes video below.