An editing major, Miwa Sakulrat (BFA Editing ’17) was the go-to production designer for Ameer and many of her peers. She just wrote and directed her own thesis film, shot last week by many of the same people who worked on Blindfold. No matter what the job, Miwa gives it her all. Here, she shares her thoughts on the experience of the Coke/Regal Film competition, along with her personal production lookbook.
I’ll never forget the afternoon Ameer called me up and asked me to be a part of this project. It was cloudy, and I had terrible reception as I was browsing around in this little boutique called “Pussywillow.” I missed Ameer’s call the first time and we kept losing connection throughout. When we finally held a connection for more than a minute, he revealed to me that he got the opportunity to direct and shoot a commercial for the Regal/Coca Film competition. I was in total shock – even more so when he asked me to be his production designer. Ameer and I have been entangled in each other’s creative endeavors since we met three years ago in Igor Sunara’s first year production class, and it’s bloomed into this beautiful friendship and creative partnership. I told him that I’ll always do absolutely anything to help him, so it was an easy yes.
Although I’m in the editing track at SVA, I’ve found myself more and more involved in the art department simply because it’s the place where I feel like I can express and execute myself and my vision the best. It’s always such a humbling experience being asked to be the PD of any of my friends’ projects, since it solidifies their faith in what I consider beauty intertwined with the universe they want to create. Like most productions I’m on, I quickly became the entire, multi-limbed organism of the art department and got involved in prop mastering, wardrobe, and makeup artistry.
Throughout the pre-production process, there were lots of conference calls on a software I’ve never heard of with people I wouldn’t meet for another month, visits to Regal Cinema on 14th (which has sort of become an enchanted landmark to me after all of this), and fantastic meetings with lovely Ameer, Liam Christoffers (our producer, and the source of all of our positive energy), and Alex Echevarria (the director of photography of my life). All of these boys are so close to me now, after working on countless projects – it felt right seeing them almost every other day, chatting with them 24/7. Ameer also included me in the casting process, which was something I haven’t been able to do for a couple years. I managed to do this between shopping, researching product styling tips, responding to emails every ten minutes, and buying acrylic for $40 a pop.
A huge part of the spot was the blindfold itself– and I found inspiration from Audrey Hepburn’s very iconic teal sleeping mask with that delicate gold embroidery of shut eyes. I luckily found a replica on Etsy in red and gold and did some embellishments to it to make it less busy. I wanted to make it as cartoony and sweet as possible, trying to avoid any other connotations that were brought up at the start of pre-pro.
Coca Cola and Regal were in contact with us very often, and we got a nifty little package of tutorial videos on how to photograph and dress the product, how to sip the Coca Cola, and many other little details about commercial filmmaking that I’ve never considered before. There were also lots of emails concerning wardrobe choices, color palettes, look and mood boards, and atmosphere. Since this was the first time I’ve had to work for a client instead of just a friend, it was a bit harder getting my vision across to the creatives on these brands. I learned how to adjust my language to theirs and think for a more general audience than the edgy artists that I’m used to working with. It was also important to me that our actresses were dressed as different girls we see around NYC: busy, making it happen, but still looking very fashion forward and comfortable. I really wanted our strong leading ladies to own the frame. The back and forth with the brand was definitely a challenge, but thankfully we came to an agreement and they were very excited to see what I could deliver. Before I knew it, it was 10PM and my set decorator and best friend, Rob Christie and I were stuffing a dozen pink tote bags full of hero cups, Coca Cola bottles, wardrobe, my makeup kit, and a director’s chair into the back of an Uber XL heading to location.
We had two shoot days – the first was for the apartment, which was at a gorgeous apartment in Carroll Gardens that a friend let us use for the day. It was a relatively easy and smooth shoot day with very little complications on my end except for the excessive use of spray adhesive for the soda bottles and lots of refrigerator re-organizing. The big day was when we were actually in the theatre and I went in expecting the worst, as I do. Fortunately, we ended up having more than enough time to dress with the help of all of the fantastic people at Regal Cinemas who installed movie posters made by our friends at SVA, cleaned popcorn off of the floor and countertops, and moved around cardboard promos that were too heavy for me to do on my own. I was in charge of production design, wardrobe, and makeup that day so I was a bit dizzy and quickly broke a sweat – but it gave me this lovely opportunity to talk with all of our actresses and extras as I stood millimeters away from their face with an eyelash curler and Beauty Blender.
Luckily, there were only a few small hiccups during the shoot. The first one happened while re-arranging the concession treats to make sure they were OK’d by the brand. We went back and forth on that for 20 minutes but it was figured out quickly and it was a nice wakeup call to get my blood rushing. Another one was the product shot – which was unfortunately the last shot of the night, which had turned into 9AM. We saw people outside getting their breakfast sandwiches and coffee to start their work week, and we were slowly losing speed. I must have had upwards of ten cups of coffee, and drinking it like water. Who would have known that we needed a rehearsal day just for pouring the Coca Cola. The caffeine hit my bloodstream all at once and I was very meticulously placing the fake ice by the millimeter and sprinkling sugar over our flattening soda – shaking, but still throwing a smile on my face. It wasn’t the fatigue that hit me, just the heavy breath of the rest of the crew looking at Rob and me – quietly and politely pleading to get this done. After many, many takes, we got the nod from our Coca Cola representatives and called it a wrap. It was one of the quickest wraps I’ve ever witnessed – and I let it sink in how special this crew was.I went to the restroom and splashed my face with some cold water, remembering all of the hugs and kisses of encouragement we gave to each other throughout the overnight. I looked at myself in the mirror under the fluorescent lights, stripped away my film crew t-shirt, exited and let out a massive scream of relief and collapsed on the ground with Rob. In a blink, we found that everything was exactly how we left it the night before and people were already coming into the theatre to watch a movie. We also found a Thelma and Louise promotional stand where you can put your faces in a little polaroid cutout like Geena and Susan in the film. We asked a very tall man to take a photo of us in it and then we zipped away, still carrying a million bags and that director’s chair.
I only got to see the final cut about a week ago, and I am so incredibly proud of it. I didn’t’ expect anything less from us – especially Ameer and Godfred, our 1st AC and editor, who are one of the best duos of creatives and friends I’ve seen. I just can’t believe we did that! We made that! There are so many lessons I learned on this shoot as a production designer. From learning corporate speak, to discovering that Salvation Army on 23rd has an “everything is 50% off” deal on Wednesdays, it was such an enriching experience and solidified my love for all of the people I work with – both my SVA family and the new friends I’ve seen on set over the past few months. There is visibly so much love and fun that reverberates off of our little spot– it’s lighthearted, atmospheric, and completely sensory. We’ll see what card is drawn in just a little under a week, but I’ll always have this experience and many stories to share in ten years time.
It’s incredibly rewarding to find out our film won, and I’m ecstatic that I was lucky enough to make this happen with all of my friends, who really feel like family to me. There’s was so much love on set and I hope that it can be seen in the film.