Last week, I had an opportunity to head to Siem Reap with the talented, hilarious Ryan Drewe Taylor of The Dollhouse Salon to work on set for GQ Russia. Respectively as Makeup Artist and Hair Stylist.
We jumped at the opportunity, because rarely- at least for me- does this sort of thing come up. After a bumpy, head jostling 7 hour bus ride to SR, we were able to go over our kits, concept photos, and discuss our concerns about how hot and humid the following day of shooting would be.
We met the GQ team at Raffles that evening to meet the styling team, model, and photographer’s assistant and found them all to be pleasant and welcoming (although some suffering from SE Asia bowel problems), which was a relief considering we were expecting hard-ass Miranda Priestly types with no room for jokes and anything but Prada. Ryan and I later Googled the model back in the hotel and found that he really is “kind of a big deal” and “the top man in the modeling world”, as he had shamelessly boasted.
The next day, we woke before the sun, packed up our kits, and sucked down a cigarette before walking down the street to our meeting spot. Luckily, the model had the beard-scruff thing going on and a bit of concealer and powder was all it took to cover up the wrinkles and even out the skin tone- not that he believed he was anything short of an Adonis anyway. He was never once rude to either of us, in fact pleasant in many instances, but his own self-obsession was absolutely overwhelming and by the end of the trip, I found him to be one of the least attractive people I’ve ever encountered. It was as if I was living my own version of Shallow Hal and began to see what was really under that layer of photogenic skin and genetically gifted bone structure. Once the styling was complete, the team made it’s way to Ta Prohm just as the sun was rising. The air was cool, the location was perfectly shaded and moody, and all was going well as Tom Ford, Givenchy, and Louis Vuitton made its rounds before the camera lens. The incredible foundation of the temple and creeping tree roots made for a gorgeous backdrop and it was a delight to return under such different circumstances than when I first visited last year.
When we started shooting at the second nook and cranny of the ancient temple with a new Indiana Jones-esque ensemble, we began to come under suspicion of the local authorities and soon were surrounded by guards and police- saying we were not allowed to conduct a professional photo shoot without proper licensing and permission. Fortunately, or so we thought, a representative of a regarded and well known tour and interactive guide group had the day before paid the large chunk of change for a license to shoot at any temple chosen for the backdrop. Unfortunately, the money hadn’t made its way into the proper hands on time and the license somehow had not gone through and didn’t look to be any time during our lengthy sit. For the following three plus hours, the majority of the team sat in a secluded area surrounded detained by a random smattering of Khmer police, tour guides, and authorities who disallowed leaving the premises.
Ryan and I knew we couldn’t do much, that if the license had mysteriously disappeared along with the money it was going to be a good while before it appeared, if at all, and just sat among the ruins, hundreds of dragon flies, mossy rocks, and frustrated team. The police leered on- asking and hoping for bribes, sometimes even attempting to take photos of each individual in our group; we gave good face. Eventually, three hours later we were allowed to leave (escorted, really) off the premises after the photographer “deleted” the images they had taken. When they started trying to take everyone’s personal cameras and phones, we scurried out of there fast- I was not going to give up my grainy iPhone photos, quality stuff, man! The model had stormed off a few hours prior and ended up waiting in the hot van for about 2 hours and when we finally all reconnected, decided it would be a great idea to hop out and scream at the non-English speaking temple guards and threatened that he would call Angelina and Brad and tell them to never come back to Cambodia and that their tourism industry was “expletive expletive expletive“. We knew this 1) was only making matter worse 2) no one at the brunt of his tantrum could even understand him 3) even if they could understand, they knew it was likely he didn’t have the Jolie-Pitt’s personal contact info 4) and even if he did, Miss Jolie would be appalled at his behavior towards a country she claims to love so deeply. We tried to usher the team back into the van and move on. In a pure comedic fashion, the model sauntered back into the van drawling “oh yeah, he was scared. I could tell, I scared the shit out of him.” Mmhmm.
After losing three prime hours of shooting and now without a license, we couldn’t move on to the next location and headed back to Raffles for a $21 cheeseburger (it was delicious, I have to say) and wait to see when and if the paperwork would come through. Eventually, and surprisingly so, it did and we made our way to Banteay Kdei for round 2. I got to spend some time speaking with the styling assistant, a wonderful young man, who has for the past 5 years worked for Condé Nast and shared his horror/success stories and a little overview of the week-long shoot’s happenings, where they were in Kep previously. I admired his wherewithal, patience, and hard work considering some of the demands made of him and how they were commanded and respect him for how far he’s made it in his journey. He admitted that his time was dwindling in the business and larger things called to him- and it completely solidified my thoughts about never really wanting to get into the industry as a serious player only to lose any semblance of humility or sense of humanity.
After a fifteen hour day of shooting, we finally wrapped up with the cover shoot back at the hotel with sweaty brows, tired feet, over-smoked lungs, and a strong need for a massage for achy muscles. Ryan and I got our massages, mine at the small but welcoming Devatara (only $16 for 1 hour) and Ryan and his tried and true place. We then strolled pub street to find Il Forno and indulged in hearty tagliatelle bolognese and calamari bruschetta. Over our Italian delights, we laughed about our experiences, the individuals we encountered, and the complete insanity of some specific moments before we hailed a tuk tuk back to the hotel and fell into a deep sleep devoid of barking demands, $6,000 sweaters, and flashing bulbs.