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  • Writer's pictureColin Rich


Several months ago, I received a Facebook message from Bling Empire's Executive Producer, Brandon Panaligan. His show had launched on Netflix and had become a staple for millions of viewers and a rolling success and naturally to a green light for Season 2.

I congratulated Brandon on his show's success as we all know it is no easy fete. Brandon thanked me then sent me a screenshot from Twitter reading:

"Bling Empire is a lot of fun but in all seriousness, has anyone seen LA shot like this before? All the b-roll is epic"

I laughed to myself, then told him, well, looks like we need to raise the bar for Season 2.

Rewind to one year ago:

Brandon first contacted me after he had seen my work at OUE Skyspace's and wanted to inquire about me shooting Los Angeles for his new show.

He had some great insights about what he wanted to showcase, themes such as the unseen natural elements (clouds, fog, marine layers and a balance between nature and the city).

I explained to Brandon that all this is possible. I prefer to setup a shooting schedule that is a bit loose so I can grab the best looking stuff when the weather lines up for that type of shot. If we want to shoot inversions, we need to time it out for the right dew point. If we want long vistas, we need clarity. The time frame we had to work with was about one month, which is not ideal but doable, especially for the amount of footage they needed.

And sure enough, the very next day, LA and the surrounding areas began experiencing massive wildfires.

"You cannot control the elements but you can use them to get what you want."

For the next month or so, I watched wind charts, monitored remote camera feeds, and drove like a madman looking for shots when I could grab them all the while seemingly everyday, a new fire would breakout.

The fires also proved to be a headache when dealing with TFR's (temporary flight restrictions) for the aerial cinematography as you are not allowed to fly when emergency personnel are operating nearby.

But, when life gives you lemons....

The good thing is that I first learned to shoot by running complex, well thought-out, planned timelapse shots, the kind where you only have one take to capture it. You learn quickly that you cannot control the elements but you can use them to get what you want.

So, did what I could and used the elements to my advantage. If I couldn't get a clear vista, I would shoot an epic sunrise or sunset using the wildfire's smoke to get a really orange intense shot. This worked particularly well for silhouette shots of things like palm trees.

If I needed to showcase the city, I would go close to it instead of using telephoto compression.

If I needed a sunset and the weather wasn't working for me, I'd shoot something indicative of LA but also ambiguous enough that shot direction wouldn't give away the trickery, shoot it as a sunset, reverse playback and flop the image so the sun's azimuth matched a sunset.

I really wanted this show to work for Brandon and some things you can't fake. In these cases, I went through my archives and pulled out some special.

In the end, I think it all worked out perfectly and provided exactly what Brandon and company was looking for all along. It's always fun to hear feedback from people online about your work and makes going "beyond the call" worth it every time. If you're looking for a fun series checkout "Bling Empire"


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