A Production Manager’s Perspective: Our Shoot in Port of Salalah

Imagine Dubai many years ago, before the shimmering surreal skyline appeared. Welcome to Salalah, ‘sleepy hollow’ of the fast developing Gulf region. Like Dubai, for hundreds of years Salalah has been a bustling centre for trade and travel, from the biblical frankincense to its close ties with Africa. We were off to this enigmatic place to shoot two films for the Port of Salalah; a corporate video and a CSR documentary.

It was a bit of a scramble to schedule the shoot before the “Khareef” arrived, the cooling annual monsoon that hits Salalah from June to September and turns the dry mountains into a lush green wonderland. There were forecasts of a possible typhoon and having to reschedule. As Production Manager, the schedule is king and I didn’t want to deviate from the plan. Luckily the closer we got to our leaving date, the less likely the typhoon was going to hit Oman shores.

Our overseas shoot started as we expected; we knew there would be some waiting involved while Dubai Customs cleared all of our camera equipment. No surprises there, until Ollie, our cameraman, put his hand luggage through the scanner and we were stopped forcibly and told the bag could not go on to the plane! There was a large roll of gaffer tape attached, as well as cables inside the bag, which could potentially be used to restrain a passenger! Ibrahim, our camera assistant, had to rush back to the check-in counter to pack the items in the main luggage, just in the knick of time.

Drama over and, after an uneventful flight, we arrived at Salalah airport which was, as expected, somewhat quiet and sleepy after the rush of Dubai.

We were welcomed with big smiles. Omanis are generally very friendly and happy. While my colleagues had to pay for their visas, mine was free, us Kiwis being friendly types too!

The first thing we noticed was the extreme humidity. You could noticeably feel the moisture in the air. There were a few dark clouds about but the sun was trying to break through. Jana, our Director, and Bruce, our client, were eternally optimistic about the weather.

On the evening of our arrival I wandered onto the beach at the Hilton hotel and, as I looked out to sea at the wild coastline and rather large waves, I didn’t feel the same optimism about the weather; however the shoot passed by with no rain and even some blue skies as a reward for positive thinking!

While breathing in the fresh sea air I looked into the distance and saw a small herd of camels. I walked closer to investigate and what I thought were a few camels wandering on to the beach was in fact a huge group numbering in the hundreds! It was an awesome sight; there were baby camels with their mums, old granddaddies, noisy ones, quiet ones, some galloping and others sloping along.

They were herded along the beach every evening, so we got Ollie to stand in the middle of the herd and film them to get some stunning close ups.

Our shoot started with a safety briefing about being on a port, particularly donning the safety vest and helmet (to be worn at all times on the terminals) and not straying from the safety paths!

It was like going into another world as we looked up at the enormous gantry cranes and huge container ships. Jana had the (brave) idea to climb up on one of the gantry cranes to get a bird’s eye view and ended up using it as a giant dolly to do a tracking shot of the terminal, resulting in some amazing footage!

The “spreaders” which picked up the containers were very alien-looking. We experienced a bit of a sci-fi movie moment imagining this bizarre machine coming to life.

The scale of operations is immense, with complex logistics handled by computer operators who seem to speak another language as they coordinate hundreds of trucks, containers and ships. The container ships seem majestic, their containers a patchwork of colour.

We interviewed a ship captain and realised how different life at sea is, a very transient existence. However he had the bridge looking quite homely with plants and photos of the places he’d been.

We also filmed a very cool time-lapse of a car carrier coming into port, a behemoth of a vessel which took some manoeuvring to line up with the dock. It really brought home the enormity of how much freight is transported by sea.

In the cargo terminal, operations were on a smaller scale but showed a real contrast, with locals and seafarers sitting and chatting, very low tech compared to the container terminal, and took us back in time.

The Port has created its own very lively community, best experienced at the Oasis Club where a real mix of nationalities socialise and we filmed a fiercely contested snooker tournament as well as 10 pin bowling.

The young Omani guys, who were the heroes of our CSR film, felt proud to be working for the Port. I also felt privileged to get an insight into the fascinating world of a major transshipment hub, its Omani employees and the company’s importance in the region.

By the way, Salalah (and Southern Oman) is a really fascinating part of the world to visit should you get the chance!