Went camping for the first time in ages! Except this time it was in Thailand, I looked super fashionable, and there was a huge camera crew getting the whole thing. Had no time to roast some s'mores but had loads of pad thai instead!
I recently came back to Singapore after a whirlwind trip to Bangkok. I was there for two nights, one and a half days, to shoot a commercial for Friso. This was my first gig working under Mint Management, and I was really excited to be on set and see it all in action. Here's what I got up to!
The Night Before
"Is this carry-on too big for a two night trip?" I asked my suitemate. I had just started packing my cosmetic bags into the suitcase when it dawned on me that the other girl I was with would likely be carrying a backpack, and here I am with all my katundus in a sleek, silver carry-on case, looking like I was on a business trip to Japan. I honestly don't know how people do it. How do you fit everything you need into a teeny little rucksack? I mean, I had everything I needed, neatly packed into three different toiletry bags:
- one for make-up wipes, cotton pads, period supplies, medicine
- one for tooth stuff, face stuff, and body stuff
- one for makeup (because I know they wouldn't have my shade of foundation - it's Thailand and I'm black)
I also had one dress per day (plus two extra equally compact dresses just in case!), my laptop (because my job is never done), my camera (because I'm still deluding myself that I'm a youtuber) and a book to read on the plane (which I hardly touched).
This all fit perfectly into the case without squashing and creasing, with loads of extra space in case I got a chance to buy some new head scarves (the decorative kind). You see! Only everything I needed, and not a thing more! After much deliberation about whether to be a humble hobo or a business princess I decided not to swap out my case for a heavily stuffed backpack, because I value my spine and I quite liked the idea of looking far more important than I actually am.
I made the terrible decision of staying up until midnight because I went to a friend's farewell in the next building. Waking up four hours later to go to the airport was not fun. Being the wise owl I'd like to think I am, I had neatly placed everything the night before so that upon waking up I took a quick shower, popped my remaining toiletries in my bag, dressed up, zipped it and was out the door in 30 minutes. Those of you who know me would know how ridiculously chuffed I was with myself for leaving the house early.
It was still dark outside and in my timely ways, I arrived 10 minutes before the first bus of the morning. Hopping onto the bus, I was surrounded by a group of aunties and uncles on their way to start cooking at hawker centres. Hopping off the bus and onto the train, I found a comfortable seat in a surprisingly populated cabin and dozed my way across the country for an hour. In my haste to check in - somewhere along the journey to the airport, a lot of time had passed without me noticing - I forgot to get myself breakfast. I also realised that I had forgotten my cardigan at home. Both problems were somewhat remedied by hot milo and biscuits on the short flight, but not for long.
We arrived in Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport just before noon. I was travelling with a woman named Emma who was from Sweden, however for some strange reason I kept convincing myself that she was Norwegian (apologies again, Emma). We landed in the mid-afternoon and shortly found ourselves in a minibus, driving into the city. Having been in Singapore for so long, with its tall and neat skyline, Bangkok was an interesting change. It reminded more of the cities back home, like Maputo or Durban, so there was something oddly comforting about the slight chaos of it all.
We arrived at our hotel and stepped into the sweltering midday heat. There was a faint smell of sewage from the street mixed in with the fragrant perfume that came wafting out of the lobby every time the automatic doors swished open and closed. I had the strange feeling of being in a jungle, in which one feels enclosed from above. This was because the low buildings around the hotel, and the raised walkway connecting the surrounding malls, made everything feel very close together.
After slumping on our beds and enjoying the cold aircon, we headed out in search of food. We set off in a random direction and hoped for the best, but luckily around the corner was an extremely hipster-looking cafe, The Black Box. Torn between looking for another equally hipster place or stuffing our faces immediately, we chose the latter, obviously. We both ordered the "Grandma's Pad Thai," a scrumptious noodle dish with a generous helping of chilli flakes on the side. My brain must have leaked out of my ears in the heat because I got right into it and mixed the peanut and all the chilli flakes into the noodles with more gusto than a plump Italian chef. Two bites into the dish, my mouth was on the brink of death, but I couldn't stop eating because the food was so good (and/or I was very hungry).
Once I had regained feeling in my mouth, we set off on a clueless attempt at sightseeing in forty minutes. Unfortunately, we didn't get very far before we had to turn around and head back for the fitting. It was held around the corner from our place at the Sakura hotel, a beautiful hotel that had me inwardly fan-girling over the aesthetics. I had to play it cool, of course, because I'm a model now darling and we're not supposed to be impressed by anything.
The view from the fitting room was AMAZING. You could see the whole city from the different windows, which is a welcome break in a nine hour fitting. It was slightly embarrassing introducing ourselves to everyone, because after learning their name, I'd reply "I'm Iwani!" and most would reply, "I know." AWKS. (Duh, Iwani, they cast you and are paying for you to come to Thailand. Of course they know who you are).
Meeting the makeup team was very amusing, especially seeing them get really excited when I brought out my own foundation and powder. I can also tell that the hair team had no clue about what to do with my locs, and it was a relief for all of us when the casting directors said they wanted my hair down.
After hair and makeup came the fittings. Our wardrobe was "camping chic" and were certainly the most stylish clothes I'd ever worn to go mucking about in the wilderness. It was amusing seeing the decision-making process, because the whole room would stop and everyone in it tilted their heads back and forth before someone jumped in with a yes or a no, which caused a flurry of comments all at once to five different people, followed by photographs from every angle and a series of texts to the mysterious "client."
Once The Client had approved my look, I was free to sit down in the corner and get intimate with a box of take-away pad thai. I stayed at the fitting until about 10pm waiting for poor Emma, who had to sit in a chair and have her hairstyle changed over and over. The chain of communication was a bit like "broken telephone," a game I played as a kid: the hairstylists didn't speak English very well, so there were two people translating and since everyone had a comment to put in, some things got lost in translation. In retrospect it was quite funny, but at the time I could tell that everyone's nerves were a bit shot.
No one was as angry as the camera operator, a tall Austrian man who suddenly strode into the room for the first time, yelling at a group of people about "the packets," which resulted in a shouting match in which he turned an even angrier shade of red. Very confusing. Granted, I had a very vague idea of what any of the thirty people in the room did exactly, so for all I know he could have been shouting at the producer or the delivery man.
It was all very entertaining, but being the professional model that I am (who is also unfazed by everything), I chuckled on the inside and instead suddenly became very fascinated by the writing on my water bottle.
When Emma was finished, we set off to a long-awaited dinner, in which we wolfed down pizza and pasta like it had been years since we'd seen food (which it had been for Emma, I'm just perpetually hungry so I managed half a pizza even after my second pad thai of the day). I was happy and sleepy and stuffed like a sausage but I managed to make it back to my bed at the hotel just before I slipped into a food coma.
We woke up obscenely early in the morning (6am) to leave on a two hour ride out of the city. We were joined by two other models who had been at the fitting, Vanida and Nina, who would be playing the role of "camping friend" with me, whilst Emma was the "pregnant mum," fitted with a six-month belly that I think we called George. Or perhaps it was Robert. It was named after the father, so I'll just call him Junior.
It was a very hot day, but luckily one of the tents had aircon (science never ceases to amaze me) and I spent the day attached to a one cold water bottle after another. Having had so little sleep the past few days, my face suddenly decided to betray me, and my eyelids became really puffy during the shoot. I looked like an extra on the walking dead, which was not far from the truth, to be fair.
The day started quite slow, because first they filmed the real star of the commercial, the product. This was also what the cameraman was referring to when he said "the packets." Once the attention turned to us, however, it was non-stop madness.
The first scene filmed was Emma inside the tent doing top secret things that I can't talk about yet. That sounds rather sketchy, but the shots looked very beautiful. Then came my big moment: (drum roll please) opening the tent door! (Life is so hard as a model, innit?) Actually it was a bit tricky to get the shot, especially considering I was standing over two people whilst doing it and had to be dabbed my the makeup team after every take because I was dressed for autumn and it was hot outside.
Eventually, we got the shot we wanted and called a short lunch break. We must have angered the gods somehow because over the course of thirty minutes, clouds rolled in from nowhere and the wind picked up very suddenly. The lighter equipment was blown away and everyone scurried frantically to secure everything down. Just when it looked like the wind was dying down, it started to rain quite considerably.
The look of horror on everyones faces would have made Edvard Munch proud, as half the team stared bitterly at the sky and the other half continued to run around in a slight panic. We had to be escorted everywhere by umbrella, accompanied by shouts saying, "Don't let the talents get wet! Models! Models, please stay dry. Stay inside the tent, we'll come and fetch you when it's clearer!"
The rain finally died down and we switched from filming the commercial to shooting stills for the print ads. Vanida, Nina and I were laughing constantly in the background (because, as very serious and totally not distracted models, we know how to laugh on cue). As soon as the stills were done everyone started running in the direction of the minivans.
Before we knew what was going on, we were bundled into a van, driven offsite to another location, swiftly deposited, given backpacks and told to smile. We found ourselves at a wooden suspension bridge, which we walked up and down several times acting very excited to be best friends on a hike. For some reason Emma was at one point given hiking poles to use on the bridge, which kept on slipping in between the planks. Somehow she managed to make it look natural, and deserves a round of applause for it.
We were rushed back to the set to film the final scene. We had to wait a little while as the set designers shifted the tent backwards and forwards to get the right spot (which was not an easy thing to do, considering that it was a gigantic tent). The clouds had moved a bit to reveal the most magical sunset we ever could have hoped for, which made such a stunning and unreal backdrop that at times made us look like we were in front of a green screen. Within seconds, the fire was assembled and set ablaze, and we were ready to shoot again!
We did several takes from different angles, sitting around the campfire and looking exuberant. My stellar contribution was as follows:
1. Hold Emma's hand
2. Walk out of the tent together looking joyful and youthful and fun
3. Walk three steps, do a L'Oreal-style hair flip and smile back at Emma
4. Release Emma's hand
5. Walk three more steps to my seat
I also commend us for not breaking character during the last shot, which was actually one long take in which the director zipped about between us, filming from all angles whilst a frantic team trailed behind him steadying the mount, adjusting the lens, and making sure the cable didn't trail into the fire next to us. We just managed to get the shots before the sun disappeared behind a mountain, marking an end to the shoot.
After a tasty dinner with the directors and crew, we thanked everyone for their hard work, got back into the van and drove into the city again. Despite being exhausted, I could hardly sleep from all the excitement during the day. I was aching to get the photos from the set that had been taken by one of the many photographers getting behind-the-scenes footage. I had hoped to include some in this blog post, but the commercial is not being released until 2017 so it has to stay top secret until then (but I have seen the various trailers and they're so beautiful! I have the only speaking role in the longer ones, so at this rate, Hollywood better watch out! - That is if two-word cameos are what Hollywood is looking for).
I wish I had slept a little earlier, because we had another early morning wakeup and a drive to the airport. The sun was just rising as we drove on the raised highway, which wound through the city so that it felt like we were driving through the sky. I managed to get quite a bit on my snapchat story, but seeing how I still have an iPhone 4S, the quality came out somewhat blurry.
My sister later sent me a voice note in which she was laughing her ass off at the "painful" quality of my snapchat story. She's one to talk considering that her phone is older than North West Kardashian. Mine is too, but that's besides the point. After a short flight, we landed in Singapore midday and I promptly went home to crash on my bed.
Bangkok was a blast, and I wish I'd gotten to see more of it, but I made some awesome friends there so I'm sure that if I'm ever back, it'll be even better!
Pepper & Söl