Monday, March 23, 2015

War Stories: Battlefield Pankration

One of the projects I'm most proud of during my time as the director of video production for a small but notorious publisher was the book and video project Battlefield Pankration by Jim Arvanitis.  It's a turnkey personal defense system, including everything from pre-combat de-escalation techniques to handling weapons like sticks and knives.  Jim stands out among a hugely overpopulated crowd not just for his skill, knowledge base, and devotion to fitness, but also his personal experience in actual fighting.  Until you know how you'll react to being hit in the face, you have no business teaching self-defense.  Jim Arvanitis is the real deal.  

I'd worked with him before on his video Secrets of Pankration, so I was pleased when he'd approached us with a new project, one that bridged the gap between MMA sport and streetfighting reality.  We'd blocked out a week's worth of shooting, put it on the schedule, and worked out the details until he arrived.

Little did I know that the project would be one of the most difficult studio shoots of my career.

The first shoot day had gone splendidly.  Jim's one of those rare authors who doesn't need a second take.  Without getting too deep into the nuts and bolts of the shooting process (a subject worth discussing in future pieces), we did the usual thing which was to shoot through lunch and end the day in the late afternoon to give the author time to rest and me time to review some of the footage.  In those days I got to the office around 4:45 in the morning and left between 4 and 5 PM.  I loved the work.

And then around mid-morning on the second day, Jim strained a hamstring doing a side kick and we weren't sure if we could complete the shoot, let alone finish the day's work.  (I may have the exact details of the injury wrong, but it was definitely a leg thing.)  Jim's as tough as nails, the rub-some-dirt-on-it kind of man, but if you can't perform, you can't perform.  It was the worst luck imaginable.  Two weeks prior, we'd had to cut short another shoot because the author had rolled his ankle and could barely walk.  A great deal of money and time had been invested, and a work stoppage represented a real hardship.  

Pleasantly, the next day Jim was able to return to work, and things went well; you'd never know he was nursing an injury.  The morning after, I had some trouble starting my edit suite (a Final Cut Pro machine), but it finally did boot after a few odd error messages.  I made an offhand comment about it to one of Jim's assistants, who happened to be a computer engineer.  He told me that my edit suite was about to shit the bed (without using those exact words).  Macs don't have the same problems as PCs, and the errors I'd gotten were clear indicators that the hard drive was dying.

The next morning, it wouldn't start at all.  A large part of my job wasn't just shooting the videos, but editing them, too.  Without an edit suite, post-production ground to a halt.  So in the midst of a shoot where we were already behind due to injury, I had to deal with Mac repairs as well.  

In the end, we shot all the video parts, but couldn't finish the hundreds of still photos for the book, despite very long days and few breaks.

My wife's family lived not far from where Jim lives, so a couple months later during a vacation to Florida, I spent the day with Jim, his son Brandon, and his friend Bob to shoot the remaining photos.  Jim was in the midst of suffering a nasty flu bug, but it didn't slow him down at all.  Being the friendly, giving sort he is, I caught the bug myself and spent the plane ride home trying not to die from what I called the Greek Flu.  Fever, chills, coughing, you name it.  It sucked.

Despite everything, we produced a great piece of work that I'm proud of.  Out of the many authors I became friendly with during my time in publishing, Jim's one of the few I'm honored to still call a friend.  Even though he gave me the Greek Flu and almost killed me.

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