GKN, Who Are They?
It’s easy to recognize names like Apple and Microsoft, but many technology companies fly under your radar because they do not manufacture consumer goods. GKN is a global engineering firm that creates items used in the consumer market, but they are indeed an institution for industry related corporations. They work with big names like Boeing and Bombardier, but those companies don’t market who produces their parts. So, GKN is the man behind the curtain, so to speak. And it is a large curtain.
GKN has facilities in 36 countries. Their net worth is almost 6 billion. They are comprised of some of the most diverse and unique people I have ever met, and their global thumbprint is huge.
The International Project
The news came late last Fall that we were most likely going to get a project that would take us around the world. GKN wanted us to showcase the diverse and inclusive culture that makes up their large company, and to also expand their brand message. As the weeks carried into the Winter months, confirmation came that the project was a green-light.
Logistics for an international production is a daunting task. Between passports to flights, to Carnet’s, to rental equipment, to hotels, to rental cars, to customs and to the beyond, it is a job unto itself. Two of us in the office worked on it along with a travel agent and a GKN associate. Our combined effort got the job done, so when the first wheels went up above Raleigh, we were prepared.
The question that loomed around our office for a few weeks was whether we would rent equipment or carry it. And if we did choose to do so how many items do we rent and how many do we take? Those questions were answered decidedly by weight and price. It was more responsible to take most of the equipment and only rent what we needed to supplement. We ultimately required the capability to shoot a full day without relying on a rental house. So, we packed three cases—all under 50 pounds. The only items we had to rent were jibs, sliders and C-Stands. It was a lot to lug around the world, but it worked. The rental houses we used along the way were also very reliable.
The European Union or the EU
When taking equipment though the EU, the best thing to know is you only need to declare your equipment once you enter and once you exit. Now, that’s the whole EU. So, as long as you don’t leave the countries included, then you won’t get a large headache with having to visit customs each and every time you enter an airport.
Also, the EU has what is called a VAT. A VAT is a tax for being member of the EU. It’s 20% of the cost of sale for whatever you purchase. We are an American company, so when renting equipment the VAT was not applied. But in all other costs incurred, we forked over the fee.
Jolly Old England was our first stop on the trip once we left the continental US. The flight into Heathrow was uneventful, save the fact we had whole rows to ourselves due to the shortage of passengers. Most of us watched a single movie, then dozed the rest of the flight.
English weather was to be expected – grey overcast skies, light rain and mildly cold temperatures. This made the two-hour drive to Redditch less than appealing, but actually being in a different country kept us engaged well enough. Our companion Carmalita drove, and even though she had to grow accustomed to the opposite side of the road, she transported us safely.
English villages are enchanting. It’s too easy to lose your imagination around the old architecture and quaint accents. Solihull is where we laid our heads during our first night, and it is exactly what you would want it to be. Everything closes around 5pm, save for pubs and restaurants, making room for peaceful and quiet evenings. The streets are narrow and traffic is confusing, while churches abound in numbers with intricate designs. The locals are friendly and happy. This is a good place to take midnight strolls. The streets and store fronts are quite picturesque. Sean and I walked contently, stopping by a few watering holes to quench our thirst. Solihull provided us the perfect first day, and afterwards we all had a good sleep.
HQ Production in Redditch
Our first day of international production took place at GKN’s headquarters in Redditch. They welcomed us with tea, coffee and pleasant smiles. It was a great way to start the tour, and our time in Redditch was well spent. We shot for two days at the location, and during those hours we locked down some great interviews and B-Roll of the facility. We had an amazing fixer with us as well. Chris Fleming from ProCam helped us make both days a success.
And since I brought it up, allow me to briefly discuss fixers. If you are shooting out of the country or in a difficult city, I recommend and urge you to hire a Fixer. What is a fixer? He or she is exactly that, a person who fixes problems encountered during a production. That includes rental equipment, locations, local customs and procedures, laws and general know-how for your project. They are invaluable and will yield noticeable results for your capital investment.
There is the country side of England, and then there is London. London is electrified with life and business. It’s like New York, but smaller, less dirty and with pedestrians who don’t obey traffic lights. You can find a pub and a café on most corners, and a convenient store in between. Walking into their little bodegas is like walking into the candy store in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory—there are literal walls of delectable bars.
We were afforded a day to shoot in this keen city, and during lunch we walked and mingled within the hustle and bustle. London is where we interviewed Nigel Stein, the CEO of GKN. He had some poignant things to say about our project and the company. His words hold much gravity, and not just because of his title, but because he carries his responsibility well.
If our video is a puzzle, then London gave us more than one good piece. Along with Nigel, we talked to a handful of VP’s and other notable members of the GKN family. They also expressed their enthusiasm for the project. We left London feeling a stronger sense of direction for the trip.
Our first impression of Germany came on the flight into Munich in the shape of a red packaged chocolate bar. The flight attendants passed these out as our in-flight snack. We couldn’t help but chuckle to ourselves—a German airline passing out German chocolate. The only thing missing from our American imaginations were the low-cut dresses and braided hair. We loved it.
We connected in Munich, only as if to say see you soon, and departed for Cologne. It was a quick flight, and soon we were on the German expressway towards Siegburg and Lohmar.
This area of Germany is truly wonderful. The people are happy and productive. They value life and the quality of it even more so. You can observe that they work hard and play hard. Considering how much the Germans out produce the rest of the world, we suspected this was a good enough place to see why.
The town of Siegburg is small and dreamy. It has a large square surrounded by shops, pubs, cafes and people. Sean and I visited an authentic Butcher/Baker just to smell the shop—we weren’t let down. It did not snow, but we could envision the wonderland this place would become if blanketed by fresh powder. Our stay in Siegburg was short, but quite memorable. We hope to return one day.
Munich is a city in which you can still see the struggles of former communism carved into the people’s faces. It’s a harder area than that of Siegburg and Lohmar, but it also holds plenty of beauty as well. We were told the area had grown up substantially in the last 15 years. There is a large arena for their local futbol club, FC Bayern Munich. This is an obvious source of pride, and they fly their colors high. The city brims with culture despite its past, and the food and drinks will put a smile on your face.
In Munich, we did get some snow. It wasn’t a white out by any means, but seeing white flakes falling in a German city was enough to satisfy our romantic side. This area of Germany has a large Italian population because the border is so close. This afforded us some savory dinners, as well as another accent to catalogue. Our time in Germany came to a quick end, but its weather prepared us for what was to come in Poland.
Poland marked the first small airport in which we travelled. The architecture was stunning, but the space was limited and the walk was short. We entered the city of Wroclaw at night time, and that is how we came to really know it.
Our productions took place during the day, and it was usually dark by the time we wrapped. Wroclaw has a stunning silence about it. Even with the traffic and pedestrians, it seems to breathe quietly in the evenings. We walked the calming streets and snapped some pictures. The resulting images are both beautiful and Gothic. We approved.
Poland was also the location we decided to finally do some laundry. Europe as a whole closes shop early, so we didn’t have any options besides the hotel service—which was quite expensive. Lacking certain and basic articles of clothing to get through the day, we decided to pay the piper and let them do our laundry. They picked it up that evening and it was in our closets the next day fresh, clean and neat. It was the only time during the trip we had to do so, and for that we were thankful.
In Romania, people drive in an insane manner. The roads we travelled consisted of 1 ½ lanes, yes 1 ½. The half lane looks more like an oversized bike lane. If you are driving fast and passing cars, then the full lane is reserved for you. Otherwise get over or the faster drivers will honk you out of the way. It’s exciting and scary and unnecessary. Nothing is that important to drive in such a fashion, but we chalked it up to an experience that we just needed to have to understand.
Romania is another place where you can see the hardships of life. The people are proud of their progress, and from where they came, but even they will admit they have much more to do. Despite their past, the people have an ingrained sense of hospitality and kindness we appreciated.
Romanian food is good, but we didn’t seem to find any particular dish that was essentially “Romanian.” We just found good food, period.
We stayed in Bucharest for three nights, which marked the longest stint for any of our locations. The extra time allowed us to explore the area and do some shopping for our loved ones. Because when you are away for three weeks, you better bring back some presents. 😉 It was a pleasant and rejuvenating break from travelling, and with the last destination to come, we were grateful.
Goodbye Cold Weather, Hello Thailand
The warm air and intriguing smells were welcomed when we left the terminal. We had endured cold weather for the entire trip, and 78 degrees Fahrenheit felt amazing. The heat invaded our senses like it does when you arrive at your vacation destination. We were excited with anticipation of what was to come, and we couldn’t wait to see this country.
It was a two-hour drive to our hotel. The highways were not too unlike those in America, save the type and age of vehicles. The landscapes were covered with Palm Trees and green foliage, with crops making up the spaces in between. The drive was nice despite the distance, and we had some photos to show for it.
Wow! That was the first thing we all said when we saw our hotel. In Thailand, you can either spend some money or go cheap, but if you go cheap you may regret it. You won’t regret spending a little bit more than usual, because what you get for it is worth the investment. Our hotel looked like an exotic resort fit for families or couples to vacation and forget about the worries of life. The entrance was grand and elegant. When you walk through the doors the inside garden area grabs your attention. But your gaze is held short as you scan the decor and layout. Even though we were only going to be there for less than 36 hours, it was obvious that our time in Thailand would be special.
We had been travelling for a whole day, so we needed to clean up and relax. A fresh shower can have the same effect as a night’s sleep. We all felt better and ready for Thailand’s culture. The hotel had a nice restaurant, so we dined there. The menu selection covered local fare to more familiar dishes, but we decided to do as the Romans do. Our items were all delicious and spicy. The total bill came to less than 70 dollars American, and for three people in a place like that, the price was shocking in a positive way.
Shooting in Thailand
The production day in Thailand was one of our best shooting days for the trip. We accomplished a lot of interviews and B-Roll to be done by 3:30pm. The scenes looked stunning, and we appreciated the efficiency by which the locals work.
Many of the employees in the Thailand plant were younger by comparison to the other locations we visited. They covered most age groups of course, but the bright and youthful faces were abundant. In a way, it was an indication of hope for their future. The energy young life brings into a work place is unique. At lunch, we were able to eat with them and observe this culture. It reminded us of a cafeteria during High School, which made us smile, if only to ourselves.
When we wrapped production that day, it meant we wrapped production for the entire trip. So many hours and Gigabytes of footage logged over the course of three weeks. So many people. So many faces. So many stories. And now a story for us to tell. Packing up the gear that day was both happy and sad, bittersweet if you will. The journey was coming to its inevitable conclusion, and we were ready. But we also understood missing our experiences would be inescapable. We had one more night in Thailand, and we planned to enjoy it.
Nights in Pattaya
The most traversed street in Pattaya was just outside our hotel. It ran along the shoreline, placing tranquil beauty on one side with merchants and bright lights on the other. There were so many people it was like wading through a current at times. Every sense tingled, some in good ways—some not. You could buy ANYTHING you desired. This place is a shopper’s paradise. We had a lot of fun haggling with the locals over items that really only cost 1 or 2 dollars American. We didn’t eat on the strip, but that doesn’t mean the choices were slim. The fish and meat markets advertised with in-your-face tactics. They placed the raw items right up front, either cleaned and hanged or swimming and waiting.
Karaoke was also everywhere. We couldn’t walk a block without going past one or two bars with bad songs sung by bad singers, echoing through the night. These venues were usually packed to the brim, everyone drinking and laughing at the enjoyment of the novelty.
You need not worry about drinking and driving in Pattaya because they have so many cabs available. That of course depends on whether or not you wish to ride on the back of a scooter. The scooter drivers hung out in small herds in front of establishments or on the corners of streets, engaging with whomever walked past to jump onto their two-wheeled death traps for a ride home. We were all about experiences, but no thank you to that one.
We catalogued more pictures in Thailand than anywhere else. Not only was the weather more conducive for snapping photos, but the life in general overflows with picturesque potential. From the lights, to the people, to the scooters, to the shops, to the food, to the streets, to the beaches, to the culture that is Thailand, there is much to capture. The images will live in your head long after you depart.
As we started our walk back to the hotel, we noticed our building far in the distance, stretching into the heavens. It reminded us of how we first viewed the length of this trip. Our final destination looked so far away that we couldn’t imagine all that would happen in between. But just as our steps would carry us to our rooms, so did our goals and daily objectives for the project bring us back home. We walked quietly, embracing the culture that we only got to know for a short time.
Sean and I stood on our balcony when we got back to the rooms, remembering the trip. We still had to get home, and a long journey that would be, but we felt accomplished nevertheless. We breathed in deeply and smiled before laying our heads down for a quick slumber.
Leaving Thailand, Coming to America
3AM came early. Our driver arrived on time at 4, and we were on our way to start 24 hours of travel, give or take. We walked into the airport three hours ahead of our flight. International travel is full of the unexpected, as we learned pretty well that morning. After finally making it through security, we literally ran to make our flight. Breathing heavily and slightly sweating, we made it to our seats with a smile. As the wheels went up and gravity took hold, we gave a silent nod to Thailand for our time together.
Tokyo, No Time
We had planned to enjoy some sushi in the Tokyo airport before our connecting flight into the US, but best laid plans of mice and men. A stiff head wind kept us in a holding pattern for over a half an hour, and since we initially only had an hour or so in between planes, our sushi dreams would remain just that. We finally landed and exited the aircraft to be greeted by a nice lady holding an iPad with our connecting flight number. She was a sight for sore eyes as we thought we would miss our ride home. She ran us to our gate, and with a pleasant smile and slightly out of breath speech, she bid us safe travels. We thanked her even though we never got to know her name, but to us she was an angel.
Something to Declare
Sean and I boarded our flight that would take us back to America. We were finally coming home. The flight time was expected to be over 12 hours, so we still had many more miles to go before we slept. We both picked a movie and put our headphones over our ears, and laid back to enjoy some entertainment. The food was Asian cuisine, and quite good for airline standards. We spent a few hours just walking, standing and talking during the travel time. It was a good flight.
We landed in Chicago around 2pm on a Thursday afternoon. For everyone else it was a normal day, but for Sean and me it was almost shocking. We had to grow accustomed to our own culture, again.
We made it through customs with ease, declaring our equipment carnet as instructed. The officer made small talk about our travels and the industry in which we worked. We laughed and talked verbosely, and realized in doing so it was good to be back home.
Short Layover, Short Flight Home
The layover in Chicago went by fast. One stop for pizza, one for the bathroom and one at a bar to watch some TV, then we were sitting on our final leg home. The flight didn’t seem to take an hour, and we saw the lights of Greensboro beneath us. Within minutes, our wheels touched the tarmac and we were home. Greensboro is a small airport, so it didn’t take long to disembark, get our luggage and pick up our vehicle in long term parking. I dropped Sean off at his apartment, and we said our goodbyes until the following Monday. An hour after we landed, I was inside my apartment more than ready to take a much needed shower. It felt perfect.
Jet Lag, Back to Work
The first weekend back was catch up time with family and friends. We were given three days off in a row, and we used every minute of that time wisely. Jet lag set in after a couple days, but eventually we were back to normal. When we returned to work on Monday, the memories of the trip began to dance in our minds as we viewed some of the footage. Sean worked on finishing the edit for almost three weeks. So much footage to comb through, and he did a fine job. GKN is happy with their investment return.
Since the weeks following the trip, Sean and I have talked about our experiences and reconciling them with our lives. We clearly see problems with our culture, and problems with the cultures we visited. The wish is that we can take the best from both and combine them to live a peaceful existence in a perfect utopia. But we live in a real world, and that gives us the understanding to embrace and celebrate those differences. You can find flaws in every place and within every person on this planet, but how we decide those flaws affect our lives will determine what kind of person we will be.
What We Learned
The trip taught us a better understanding of creating a plan and trusting it all the way through, and all the while working hard on the day to day tasks that support the grand scheme. We learned to adapt to our changing environments. Success doesn’t always come in a straight line, so it’s important to be flexible.
When you travel, don’t turn down a meal or snack, and be sure to drink plenty of water. Remove your shoes during those long flights. Take a spare shirt in your carry-on luggage. Always bring a good book, and talk to the other passengers as well. It’s a big and beautiful world full of interesting people, and you never want to take that for granted. The people we met and the places we saw have changed us forever. And for that we say, thank you.