Tuesday, February 28, 2012

“Modeling” for Panama Tourism

I really wish I had more pictures of this whole day. While there is lots of pictures and film somewhere, it is not yet in my possession, so unfortunately I will have to post it all later. 
Doesn´t this add look legit to you?
The whole opportunity was too good to be true, so I didn’t mention it to many people before it happened in case it did not turn out the way I thought. A couple weeks ago they were promoting a tourism campaign with Markez World Wide http://www.blogger.com/post-create.g?blogID=3604174840679045883and I heard about it though one of the AIESECers, on the facebook page (totally legit right?). They were looking for “European looking” people to help promote Panama as a tourist destination. I didn´t believe it but that little voice in the back of my head was like “hmm, what if it is that easy?” So I started doing research. I talked to the guy who supposedly knew the people from the agency. I checked with some other AIESECers to make sure they knew the guy and the agency. I researched them online. When I finally found a news article about how the agency had won this contract from the government, I decided it was legit and that I would not be kidnapped and sold into sex slavery. 

So I emailed in a little letter with some adventurous pictures and heard back within an hour that not only were they interested, but that I had already been picked. My suspicious side told me they were a little over-zealous, but it still sounded like fun because they were going to be shooting various activities so I might be able to see several things and have touristy experiences not only for free, but they would pay me for my time. Woot.
A few days before filming started, they had a meeting for all the models to assign roles and tell people when and where to show up. Still cautious, I asked Mauricio to accompany me after work that day, just in case. It turns out the agency was only a block away from where I worked. It was off the main road but looked like such a fun place to work. Bright colors, really imaginative designs and decorations, a great ambiance for a creative, marketing firm.  We were some of the last people to arrive but we still had to wait for it to get started. Oh Latin time. 

There were all different kinds of people there because they were trying to display all the different aspects of Panama. More or less one by one or in small groups, they told us what we would be portraying. Finally my turn came. They told me that I looked very mature and carried myself well, so I would be playing the mother of a 9 year old in a family that was visiting the canal. They introduced me to my son and husband… which was actually hilarious because the kid they picked was a pretty good mix of my “husband” and I. They gave me some instructions on what kind of clothes to bring and said to come back at 5 am that Thursday.
Since they were still looking for people and Mauricio was conveniently right there, they asked him to be in the commercial too. He very excitedly agreed. The funniest part is that he would be playing a Panamanian. The Bolivian guy was going to play a Panamanian… haha! Either way we both left the agency very excited and antsy to get started. 

Wednesday was Mauricio´s turn to go to the filming and I only heard about the experience afterward. The group they had for that day was taken to the Caribbean super early in the morning. Because they were going to film on and around an island, they could only take a few at a time including the camera crew and everyone so some of the extras had to stay on the beach. What a way to spend the day, right? As Mauricio told me, they had to do a lot of shots and ended up pretty behind schedule so he didn’t get to film that day. They paid him for his time anyway ($100) to sit on a beach all day) and said they would call him when they rescheduled.  Unfortunately he is still waiting. The word is that several of the scenes were behind schedule, so they postponed the rest of the filming until March. My fingers are still crossed for him to play a Panamanian! 

Hearing about his experience I was super excited. While I had wanted to be on the beach instead of playing a 23 yr old mother I knew no matter what I would have a good time, get to see new things and get $$. My only problem was I was having trouble “getting into character.” I did not bring much clothing that fit the role of “European mother” and did not have much to go off of. I kept on thinking of how my host mom from Spain, Pilar dressed. Very classy and feminine. Yeah let´s go with that. I ended up hitting up the inexpensive mall by my work and buying a few thing I thought they might approve of and packed a bag for Thursday morning.

Markez at 5 am. Whomp whomp.
I don’t  care who you are or what you´re going to do, 4 am is not an hour of the morning to get excited about something. I had to take a cab to the agency because it was still pitch black out and around here my hair pretty much glows in the dark. I got there just after 5 and the bus and a couple of the other “models” were there waiting; a Panamanian my age, my son and his grandma. We settled in to wait for the others since the building was closed and others began to arrive. I should have known better than to get there on time. The majority of the commercial crew didn’t even show up until 5:45 and we weren´t in the bus ready to leave until after 6. I should have slept on the bus on the way there but I wanted to see the countryside more than I wanted to sleep. 

On the way there I found out that the crew would be filming two scenes that day; the first of the family at the locks and the second of a group doing zip-lining through the forest. Damn… zip lining… And I had to stand next to a boat with a kid I had when I was 14. Maybe I would get extra EXTRA lucky and they would need more people as extras to zip-line. We stopped at a supermarket in Colón for breakfast. That was another great part of the filming, they fed us and hydrated us all day. We hung around chatting in the little café area for about 30 minutes getting to know each other and munching on empanadas. 

Hair and makeup!
It might not even be fair how much luck I have. When we got to the Gatún Locks on the entrance to the Caribbean side we had to wait a bit to go into the tourist area. The camera crew was preparing and they started doing makeup for those in the scene. As it turns out, the girl that they had selected to go zip-lining later was scared of heights. They pulled me aside and asked if I minded switching. Mind? Do I MIND? Ahhhhh this is perfect!  That is what went through my head at least. I was calm and flexible and said I could do whatever they needed me to do. So it was decided. I got to relax at the locks while the other girl was prepared for the camera as far as wardrobe. (WIN). 
The Husband I Left
The Son I Dont Have

Everyone was invited into the lock area because we had a while to wait until the boat they wanted to film would arrive and be lowered into the Caribbean. While most people just sat and waiting, I was exploring (even though I had already been there) and chatting with everyone around. I even told my orphaned son to look at some of the information and displays they had around the locks to kill some time. He was a lot of fun to be around and definitely the liveliest of the group. I got to know the makeup artist, talk with my husband a very little before he was put into makeup and hung out with the other extras. After about 30 minutes the group went down to film and the rest of us stayed for a bit up in the observation deck. I started talking to a kid from Venezuela who would supposedly be my zip-lining partner. We watched some boats go by, took some pictures, then went down to join the others who were filming on the platform a few feet from the lock. Very exclusive access. I accidentally wandered in to that area and was told to wait out where everyone else was seated. Whoops. 

tractor to where we ate and ziplined
The lock filming seemed to go quickly and we packed up and were off to the next spot. We drove through part of Colón and out a semi-country road with some rural housing. Over some hills and curves we turned into a place call the Granja, literally the ranch. This is where I would be zip-lining. The entrance was pretty dry and dusty with the registration office so looking over the valley I was a little disappointed I might be zipping over grass and dirt. But no… we just checked in a headed down the road further into the ranch. It was more like an extreme sports area and had a little bit of everything; dirt biking, paintball, horses, and other things I couldn’t see from the dirt road. Our bus and a tractor pulled covered cart made our way through the mini mountains to area that over looked the river and lake. That was more like it. The bus could not make it down the last hill so everyone switched to the covered cart down to a restaurant the overlooked the valley and the lake. This was definitely the spot. Gorgeous. And I could even see some lines and platforms. Now I´m excited.

View from above
At the Restaurant
Everyone unloaded from the cart and settled in to have lunch. We sat at the tables overlooking the water and chatted. Most of us were pretty famished and the food took a little while longer than we would have liked to wait but it was delicious when it came. I had fried fish, rice, lentils and patacones and did not even come close to finishing it all. Plus they had this fresh squeezed juice that I had no idea what fruit it was. Orange, carrot, and… delicious. 

After lunch we got ready to go farther up the hill and film. We had a slight problem since I had brought clothes to play a mom but were able to settle on a light blue tshirt and jeans. The second problem was shoes. I did not bring tennis shoes and ended up having to borrow a pair from one of the camera guys. That probably would have been the one thing I would have changed about the day, because my feet looks like boats. Maybe they can crop that out? I changed and they did my make-up and we were off. 

Once we got up the hill we were put into harnesses and helmets. There would be 4 of us in the scene; the Venezuelan and myself as the main characters and two extra guys plus the zip instructor. We were directed to act like a couple, here for the first time, and super excited and taken back by the beauty of the area. That was easy, he was good looking and it was a beautiful spot which I was seeing for the first time. Done and done.
Lets go Zipline!
We did a couple shots of us climbing up onto the platform where we would be taking off from. Then we did a couple different angles of us up on the platform with the instructor adjusting my harness and giving instructions. The best part was that we didn’t actually have lines to say because it would be dubbed over later. They tried a couple different positions and foci with minimum instruction; look like a couple, look excited, pay attention to the instructor. Everything was easy up until that point. 

The next shot was to be of me being hoisted onto the line and taking off. They wanted the instructor to say a line after I left the platform which made things a bit more complicated. It obviously wasn´t going to be perfect the first time and there was no way to bring me back once I was at the next platform. If I went all the way, I´d have to do the whole course and they would have to fetch me at the bottom to bring me back up. The only option was for me to take off, break, and drag me back up. No problem. 

We did the first take and slid a ways down the line, stopped myself, looked at the wire and decided I could hoist myself back up without help. It was surprisingly easier than expected yet completely unexpected and everyone started to cheer, which I found hilarious. The catch phrase was something like “look at the American girl go!” woohooo. So we did a couple takes that way. After two or three my arms were getting a little tired but the hardest part was trying squeeze the tough leather hand grip to break and stop quickly. After the 3rd someone made a joke saying “only 4 or 5 more” and we all laughed. But it wasn’t a joke! We ended up doing 8 total and my arms were protesting. In the last couple they had to grab and pull me in. The funniest part was the last one because everyone could see that I was getting tired and the worry showed on the extras’ faces. So for the final shot the director was like “Please, guys, for Lauren. She´s still smiling so look like you’re having fun too.” 

And yet after all that… I wasn´t able to go to the next platform. They wanted to take some still shots of the group in action as well. So they back the cart a bit down the hill to get a good angle. They wanted it to look at real as possible so the instructor couldn’t hold me in place. I had to hold myself on the line while they took the pictures. While it sounds easy, I had already done 8 where I had to hoist myself back up, the angle on the cable made gravity an extra factor, and I couldn’t hold myself with the glove, only with the tough leather break so it would look believable. We did that 4 times and my arms were absolutely shaking. There is no way they can say I didn’t earn my money that day! 

It didnt suck
Finally they let me take off and continue down the course. The way it works is each group goes with two instructors. One in front who watching you come in and one behind to make sure no one has problems. Zipping was super fun and I can’t wait to do it again. The 4 of us were followed around the course by the make-up artist with a helmet camera and she would film us taking off and coming in. The part I found funny was the way they keep you hooked up even on the platform. The instructors have done it a million times so it’s a bit mechanical and like switching dog leashes from one line to another. 

I think there were 8 or 9 lines in total but the best were the last two toward the bottom of the valley over the water. They were extra long too, right in front of the restaurant where we had eaten. Between the 8th and 9th was a short walk and we were all caught up in the fun. The instructors were doing crazy upside-down tricks and the Venezuelan decided to try it as well, which did not turn out as gracefully. I cut a little loose on the last one too and did a couple 360s but nothing upside down. Maybe next time. 

By that time it was one of the best times of the day, about 4 o clock, good and hot, but absolutely gorgeous overlooking everything.  We walked back up to the restaurant and gathered out things. I changed out of my pants and borrowed shoes and was left by the cart who made its way back already so I rode up with the director. I boarded the bus and we rolled out heading back to Panama. Supposedly they saw a sloth heading out of the Granja but I missed it. I have to see one, that is still on my to-do list. 

The ride back also felt quick as everyone was tired and even I slept a bit. I also chatted with the others my age about a free concert that was supposed to be happening that night and trying to talk them into going. I asked them what they were doing for Carnaval which was coming up and what I should try to do to have the best time possible for my one Carnaval in Panama. Someone suggested Las Tablas and the Venezuelan said he was going. I expressed my interest and he said he would look into it. I half laughed to myself at how down this kid was for whatever came up because on the way back we also talked about the Free Trade Zone and San Blas. The answer was always “Let´s do it.”  Little did I know he would be such a good friend and I did end up going with him to Carnaval (Venezuelan = Alejandro, see pictures from Carnaval, Taboga, etc.) and probably to the other things we´ve talked about as well! He is probably one of my closest friends here!

We arrived back at the agency at about 5:30 and they started paying everyone. For me, $200 cash and some great memories. So much fun. A group of us exchanged contact to exchange pictures and go to the free concert that night. Then I started walking home with the biggest smile on my face because I had had such an amazing day. Free zip-lining and money in my pocket. Halfway home another one of the extras, a Colombian, drove by and gave me a ride on his way to film the evening part in Casco Viejo. I meet some of the nicest people.

Campaign After Party
That night I convinced Vinicius, Mica, and Carlos to come to the concert with us. Alejandro picked us up later than planned because he picked up Jorge the Panamanian and we headed to Parque Omar where the concert supposedly was. Unfortunately, we got there at the end and missed the whole thing. Instead, we headed back, bought beverage and played kings most of the night and laughed the whole time. People here love that game. Ok, not gonna lie I do too. When the night was winding down Jorge invited us to a bus party on Saturday. We agreed but never found the time to meet up with him that night because we were out with a group of AIESECers. Ale also showed me one of those card tricks that I can never figure out and kept tricking me into mini bets. I got him on the last one though because I put the card in the wrong place. Sneaky sneaky. I think that had something to do with why I got to go to Carnaval.

So that was my “modeling” experience. I am more than excited to see the pictures and the commercial when it is all done and edited. Hopefully I will get to see it playing or someone will pick it out where ever they decide to air it. Either way, it was an awesome, fun, new experience and I met some great people. I´m so glad I didn’t let the opportunity slip by and will never forget what great things can come from well researched opportunities. 

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