The Behind-the-scenes Sketches of Human Diaries
Text and Pictures: Shannen Ho
“Musicians are only for the talented.”
“Their lives only revolve around music, music and music.”
The Human Diaries series came about to debunk these stereotypes, providing glimpses of our musicians’ lives outside of the concert hall. More than being god-like on stage, or just another person in the orchestra, they are human beings with their unique stories to share.
The Game Plan
We had our first brainstorming session at a teahouse during our marketing department retreat. As we sipped our tea, we pondered about the best way to encourage our musicians to take off their professional masks and get personal with us. What kind of storytelling format would get our musicians to open up about their fun-loving, heartwarming and philosophical sides? How can we get our audience to know our musicians better through a video series? Eventually, we decided on our game plan:
- Make this an in-house production so that our musicians would not be taken aback by the unfamiliar crew
- Adopt the youtube vlog and capsule interview formats for more opportunities to reveal their offstage selves
- Use the office sofa and fill them with soft toys to get them comfortable in the casual setting
None of us had produced such videos for the orchestra before. Nevertheless, we were ready to expand our creativity and go beyond the usual tactical content.
Into the Unknown
It was one week before our production began when the office’s Canon DSLR died on us. This prompted a frantic search for substitute cameras to borrow. Having purchased new video lights as well, the production technicalities proved to be a feat for me as I had only practiced setting up the equipment at home a few times. The substitute camera felt foreign in my hands as I fumbled through the buttons and various functions.
Crafting the interview questions and brief of each episode was another uphill task. Keeping in mind that every musician is unique, we had to find out more about each of the 19 musicians that we decided to film before deciding on the relevant questions to ask.
There are 4 different types of video content under the umbrella series of Human Diaries:
- #HumanDiaries - Casual interview by the sofa
- #ADayintheLife - Vlog about the musician’s entire day
- #Questionswith - Rapid fire question and answer sessions
- #PracticeChallenge - Practising the instrument until perfection
This complicated the overall pre-production process, as separate briefs were required for musicians that were working on different video types. It was a challenge to transform our creative vision into reality.
Feeling lost and unsure about what to expect for the entire shoot
The night before the start of the shoot, I kept thinking to myself, will I mess this up? It was a rare in-house production with an increase in production quality. With 19 musicians to film, I wondered if we should have called in for a professional crew instead. With the nation heading towards DORSCON yellow, then orange, there was no time to lose. We could only keep our fingers crossed.
The first day of the shoot began on a brilliant note, with our first interviewee, ruan musician Jonathan Rao, arriving 15 minutes earlier when we were nowhere done with our setup. Embarrassed and flustered as we were, it took great effort to put on the smiles on our faces, making sure that everything seemed fine while putting him at ease. When we were all settled and muttered our first “camera rolling” and “action!”, Jonathan began introducing himself:
“Hi, I am Jonathan and I am from SCO… am I?”
We broke into hysterical laughter. It was a very human moment, where none of us were perfect, embracing one another as we figured our way through a maiden production like this.
In another interview, we witnessed one of the most candid moments of our concertmaster Li Baoshun decked out in a blue tshirt and jeans, crossing his legs while sitting comfortably on the sofa among the soft toys and pillows as props. Offstage, he was a friendly guy who engages in a number of hobbies not just for enjoyment but to find opportunities to reflect about work matters more clearly. While he dotes on his daughter, he does not have expectations of her to become a musician just like him. It was a sight to behold, watching him opening up his heart to us onscreen.
Many other stories followed through, such as the joy of parenthood, the struggles in juggling both performance and composition as a full-time musician, seeking various interests outside of music such as cooking, painting, business, DJ-ing, scale modelling, etc. Some of them revealed more of their personalities through their actions, such as the way they hugged the soft toys available on the sofa. We also had two musicians, Min Hui and Kevin, who were adventurous enough to film their very own #ADayintheLife episodes.
With every musician sharing slices of their lives, it made me realise that before they are musicians, they are first human beings. How they are as human beings, with stories and interests outside of music are precisely the very elements that shape the way they are as musicians.
It was an intensive 1 week of filming, speaking and learning about the lives of 19 musicians. We were exhausted at the end of the production, and when the Circuit Breaker finally kicked in, we had our editors to work on the videos and released all of the episodes in the second half of 2020. Looking back, it was a mountain to climb, and I could not have felt more human with all of the imperfections that showed up throughout the entire course of the project. Yet it was an important reminder to look beyond a person’s occupation or status, and to see someone for who they really are. Deep down inside, all of us are human beings with stories, emotions, beliefs and values. All these supposed gods whom we revere on stage, they share similarities with you and I.
As many of you would have known by now, the first season has come to an end and the second season is in the works. We have decided to engage a production house this time round to bring the storytelling to greater heights. However, as we chase for a higher production quality, our core remains the same - to tell the stories of our musicians and conductors as human beings above all else.
Check out our entire first season here, and look out for the second season premiering in June 2021!