Equipped with drama and thrills, focus puller Alex Rawson shares his filmmaking journey across the world for a documentary about Patrón’s prestigious cocktail contest.
Over 60 miles, the road from Guadalajara to Atotonilco El Alto offers commanding views of the horizon. As dense suburbs give way to rolling fields of blue-green agave and rust-red soil, billboards promote the alcohol that has made this region of Mexico famous for 400 years. This is tequila country – and at its heart is Hacienda Patrón, annual host of the Patrón Perfectionists global final.
Last year, a filmmaking crew was invited to document seven out of the 22 mixologists who had entered the competition and made it through regional heats in their own countries – before being flown to Patrón’s HQ to decide the ultimate winner. Unlike many similar contests, there is no cash prize for winning. But people from all over the world are still keen to enter, as Patrón provide unrivalled insight into how the spirit is made – and even offer tours of its fields and distilleries.
For focus puller Alex Rawson, this was one of those unforgettable once-in-a- lifetime experiences. Not only for the thrill of seeing something unique, but because of the sheer exhaustion that came with creating what was essentially a travel doc with booze.
“We did 30 days of travel with two days off,” explains Rawson. “First, we flew to Mexico for the competition, and then left to film the mixologists in their home towns across the US and Europe, where they were being interviewed about the inspiration behind their drinks.
“Getting to Mexico with our kit was gruelling, because although we had thought about packing a lighter load, there was an issue with our transfer at LAX. There was no layover, so we had to get another flight to Mexico – this meant having to import and export all our kit in and out of the US within the space of two hours at the airport.
Carnets are laborious enough without having to do everything twice, especially since each bit of equipment – including cables – has to be labelled and authorised by a government body.”
He adds: “Then, when we finally got to Mexico, all the kit had to be taken out of their boxes and checked again because the officials didn’t understand the carnet, which was written in English. It was a 29-hour travel day. I was so exhausted when we arrived at the hotel. But, after a day’s rest, the fun began: shooting in rural Mexico.”
Filming among crops, semi-arid landscapes and old haciendas isn’t for the faint-hearted. Yes, it’s hot, but you also need your head screwed on. There’s a lot of preparation involved in a shoot that combines searing, challenging desert temperatures with limited access to resources.
“It was just me, the DOP Daniel Jaroschik and director Niall Coffey – as a focus puller in a small crew, you run the camera department. You’re responsible
for maintenance of the kit; that it’s all there and working as it should be,” explains Rawson. “I had to ensure the batteries were fully charged and we had enough of them, because in some areas of rural Mexico there was no power. It also meant keeping in constant communication with the DOP and director. If we were running low on juice, they would need to be more selective with their shots.”
Because the team were constantly on the move, the equipment had to be lightweight. “We used Bebob micro batteries, and shot handheld on the Movi Pro with an Arri Alexa Mini,” explains Rawson. “The Movi Pro had all the Ignite Digi [Australian engineering company that custom-make battery plates for use with the Movi] upgrades, so we could use Ronin 2 batteries – three times as powerful as standard Movi batteries. This meant we could put devices with a much higher draw on there.”
He adds: “We didn’t go with the Ronin 2 as our handheld stabiliser because it’s very system-based; it’s so heavy compared to the Movi, which remains light, even with battery upgrades. At one point, we were driving through the Guadalajara desert with a jimador in his pickup truck, and Jaroschik was just hanging out the back of it with the Movi, capturing B roll shots of sunsets. It absolutely had to be agile.
“Before going to rural Mexico, I was a bit nervous. You hear horror stories of cartels, and I just didn’t know what to expect. But the locals are super friendly. We ended up staying on a ranch in the mountains with some of them – they were so attentive and really looked after us. It was a completely unique experience.”
TRUST YOUR SUPPLIER
To control the lens, Rawson used the Teradek RT, an ultra-light three-channel receiver, featuring full focus, iris and zoom support. He explains, “It’s got a very small MDR, which is the brain that controls the motors. Certain systems, like Prestons, have big MDRs and therefore better range, but I didn’t care about that. I like to work next to the DOP when I’m pulling focus. Some focus pullers like to be on the sidelines next to the monitor, but I think a mix works best – so the monitor I used was the SmallHD Cine 7. It’s lightweight and, because it has Teradek Bolt 4K wireless modules built-in, it’s also got a low profile – I could carry it all day.”
All the kit used on the shoot was supplied by Rawson. Over the years, he has amassed an enormous collection of gear – and he’s always gone with CVP as his supplier. This collection – comprising cameras, lenses, follow focus systems, wireless video transmitters and monitors – has given him an entrepreneurial disposition. Rawson is set to release his own wet-hire camera department.
“I’ve always bought my kit from CVP, and have a great relationship with my account manager Dave Morris. He and I often hash out ideas, to work out what’s best for me and my projects. Morris doesn’t work in the field, but he has incredible knowledge of manufacturers, what they make and how it can work to my advantage. He’ll never recommend gear that isn’t going to be of interest,” he explains.
With the shoot finished and now airing as an in-flight documentary for British Airways, Rawson reflects on establishing a good work-life balance in the industry: “It’s important to take time out. I’m a big advocate for better mental health in the entertainment sector, because with productions up 300%, there’s very little downtime for crew.
“The working hours are intense, and people are experiencing burnout. It’s
time for intervention from productions, to switch up schedules and dispel the notion that working shorter, more humane hours means increased costs. The key to better working hours is changing a mindset. People are creatures of habit – we do what we’ve always done until we stop, think and say: there’s got to be a better way.”