Exploring the Red City

Chapter 2 of Stay One Degree’s Limitless Stories campaign took Explore Impossible to the Red City… Marrakech. 

With work on the first instalment of the series (Whistler with Minh T) having just been completed, the team immediately began the preparations for the second shoot of the series in Morocco. From the outset, we knew that production on episode two would be a challenge - Morocco is a notoriously tricky country to shoot in, owing to their stringent import regulations and conservative, religious culture, not to mention the desert-like heat that blasted Marrakech daily from the nearby Sahara. 

With that in mind, we enlisted the help of local fixer Fred. With his own Marrakech-based business dedicated to assisting international productions in the city and a rich back catalogue of fashion and lifestyle shoots to his name, we knew he would be a valuable asset to our team.

Pre-shoot: the team on their recce of the city

Pre-shoot: the team on their recce of the city

Over the next few weeks, our in-house producers worked tirelessly to organise everything from accommodation, flights, carnets, logistics, locations, catering and everything in between. The production team, alongside Director Adam De Silva, began PPMs with Wild Things & Stay One Degree to further hash out the films’ structure and messaging. 

Before long, it was go time. The Explore Impossible contingent flew out to Marrakech a day early to allow time for customs checks and a whistle-stop recce of the city, and were met by Wild Things’ Alex Wilson and Sella Concept in the beautiful Morroccan villa the following day.

Sella - comprised of Gayle Noonan & Tatjana von Stein - are a married and accomplished design duo. Their style meant they were the perfect pairing for the vibrant & unique architecture that Marrakech offered. Where Minh T ended his film showcasing the stunning image he shot at Lost Lake, Sella planned to use their time in Marrakech to inspire a more practical output; a traditional Moroccan tea table, crafted back in London using clay & glass.

A peaceful oasis - the beautiful villa was the star of the film, as well as the team’s home for the week

A peaceful oasis - the beautiful villa was the star of the film, as well as the team’s home for the week

The shoot kicked off in the property itself, one of Stay One Degree’s premium offerings in Morocco. Set just outside the hustle and bustle of the city, the home was a peaceful oasis that boasted beautifully-kept grounds, a magical interior filled with all manner of trinkets and a roof terrace with spectacular views over the Atlas Mountains. 

Day one was all about Sella & their ‘stay’ in the property. Having already had time to plan a route around the house that made best use of the changing light, the crew moved from room-to-room, capturing the pair going about everything from chilling by the pool, sketching on the porch and even enjoying a candlelit dinner on the roof terrace. 

Behind the shot: Sella’s dinner against the picture-perfect background of the Atlas Mountains

Behind the shot: Sella’s dinner against the picture-perfect background of the Atlas Mountains

Director Adam De Silva was keen to really showcase the dynamic & fun-filled relationship the duo had with each other, so after setting up the scene, would often let the couple simply play off of each other, leading to golden unscripted moments. When needed, he would interject, offering simple direction as to not interrupt their flow too much. 

From a visual standpoint, DOP Josh Monie was very much at home with this project. Where the tranquil, natural beauty of Whistler called for a more considered approach to camera angles and movement, Josh wanted to convey the frenetic vibe of Marrakech through a more organic blend of handheld camera and soft, naturalistic lighting. 

Josh is a big fan of being able to shoot ‘360 degrees’ - allowing the camera to move wherever it pleases or feels best to capture the moment. As such, lighting was constrained solely to white bounce cards and black negative fill, offering a simple yet effective approach to creating shape on Sella’s faces.

Because everyone knows any filmmaker worth their salt wears a hat

Because everyone knows any filmmaker worth their salt wears a hat

Day two started pre-dawn, as all good shoot days should. After a bleary-eyed breakfast of delicious Moroccan pancakes, the production vehicles pulled up outside, accompanied by Fred, his production manager Said Andam and production assistants. We were off. 

Filming began in one of the exquisitely-appointed riads that the production team at EI had lined up. With some production design and clever camera work, we managed to turn the beautiful white & gold courtyard into something that resembled an upmarket café, and blocked extras into the background to further sell the effect. This scene was the all-important ‘inspiration’ moment when Sella dream up their Moroccan table after witnessing the traditional tea ceremony. 

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Following this, we moved out into the narrow, maze-like streets of the Medina. Shooting with a large crew in public is always tricky, but the added factors of donkey-drawn carriages, mopeds & crowds of tourists made the afternoon a real challenge. Thankfully, our local team was on hand once again to aide the situation, exploiting their contacts with the local police force to ensure we had an escort at all times; helpful when you need to hold back the public or ward off any over-excitable shop keepers. 

We stuck to our carefully planned route through the city, visiting the colourful wool-dyeing district, the bustling spice quarter and the famous ‘lantern quarter’ within the souk. But the highlight for all involved came that afternoon when DOP Josh Monie set the local team the task of finding a fogger - something the crew could use to enhance the shafts of sunlight that filtered through the iron slatted roofs of the souk. Quite ingeniously, local producer Said returned not with a fogger or smoke machine, but with a man pushing a cart, upon which sat an enormous flaming pot of incense.

Into the Red City - Josh captures Sella exploring Marrakech

Into the Red City - Josh captures Sella exploring Marrakech

In what we were told was a Marrakech first, ‘Gary the Fire Man’ (as he affectionately became known) pushed the smoking cart straight through the souks busiest arcade, as the crew followed behind with Sella & the camera. Whilst this did earn the crew some confused & bewildered looks, the results were spectacular; the duo meandering their way through the chaotic marketplace, stepping in and out of sharp beams of sunlight. 

A Marrakech first - Explore Impossible fogs the souk

A Marrakech first - Explore Impossible fogs the souk

The final set up for our second day was, fittingly, on a rooftop overlooking the entire city. As Sella worked up their initial drawings into their sketchbooks, the blood-red Moroccan sun sank below the horizon, silhouetting the eclectic skyline of the city. For it’s final act, the city came alive with the haunting call to prayer, the sound coming from all directions as the sky turned a spectacular blue-hour pink. It was the perfect dream like way to end the shoot.

Wrap: the sun sets on Marrakech and day two of our shoot as Sella enjoy a glass of wine looking over the city.

Wrap: the sun sets on Marrakech and day two of our shoot as Sella enjoy a glass of wine looking over the city.

As with Chapter One, all post production was completed in-house by Explore Impossible, overseen by Alex Wilson @ Wild Things. Soundnode stepped in once again to bring the film to life sonically, and their contribution to the Marrakech atmosphere was incredible; adding everything from the subtle ambiences at the villa to the clatters and shouts of the souks. 

Big thanks to everyone involved who helped make it a memorable experience.

Watch Episode 2 of Stay One Degree’s Limitless Stories with Sella Concept below.