My Jakarta: Bernice, Freelance TV Producer

Bernice isn’t allergic to everything, it just seems that way. But being allergic to peanuts, shellfish, MSG, metals and a handful of other things hasn’t stopped this freelance TV producer from seeing the world and shooting some of Indonesia’s most memorable commercials.

Bernice, who has been in the business for 32 years, took some time out to talk about how she brought Central Jakarta to a halt, how Agnes Monica’s smarts make her the easiest actress to work with and why the bajaj is the best form of transportation in the city.

You have a lot of allergies, so is Jakarta the right city for you?

I’m allergic to birch tree pollen, which is cross-reactive to 39 other allergies, and I pretty much have them all. So basically I’m allergic to peanuts, shellfish, MSG, metal, clothing dyes and many more things. I don’t miss lobster because I’ve never had it, so it’s not a problem. But in Jakarta, it’s hard to avoid food with MSG. To overcome my metal allergy I have to ask for a plastic spoon or I carry my own every time I eat out. And I avoid contact with metal as much as I can. When people ask why I always wear white clothes, I really don’t feel like explaining to them that I’m allergic to clothing dyes, so I just say that it’s my favorite color. I don’t really care if they think that I’m weird, because there are a lot of strange people around. They probably think that my traditional healer suggested that I don’t touch metal or wear any color other than white.

Tell us about one of your favorite commercials.

It was shot for Mitsubishi a couple of years back. It was fun, because we blocked all roads to the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle at night and had the water fountain turned on. We brought the car from Ancol all the way down to Citos [Cilandak Town Square], then from there to Hotel Indonesia with a police escort, and we shot one frame per second, which had never been done before. I was the producer, production designer, and the first assistant director. In a big production, it’s better to control everything rather than having three different people doing it.

Besides Jakarta, where else in the world have you worked?

America, Europe, Central Europe, Northern Europe, Asia, Japan, India and Thailand. And I hope to do a project in New Zealand soon.

What do you like about Jakarta? What makes you come back here for projects?

I like the dynamism in Jakarta. In Europe everything is organized well in advance. In Jakarta, a client can call and say, “Hey, we’ve got this project, could you come now?” Then I ask, “When is the shoot?” and they’ll answer, “In about three days from now!” And you have to accept the challenge, because if you don’t, then you’re out and they will find a substitute in a second, because competition is so intense here. So either you’re in or you’re out. I’ll give you an example. In Finland, when there is an “urgent project” that means it is due in six months. In Jakarta, when they say it’s urgent that means the deadline was yesterday.

Who is your favorite actor or actress to work with?

Actress, I would say Agnes Monica. She is not easy to work with, but I think she is one of the few with a brain that can interpret the shoot, very professional and very fast. She will give you options. If we ask for her to turn her head, she will do it 12 times and every take is beautiful. I think because she was a child actress, and the fact that she speaks English, makes it easier for the foreign crew. She’s got stamina, and more importantly she’s very smart.

How do you get around the city?

Bajaj [auto-rickshaw] of course, because when I get into a taxi cab and tell the driver the address, I’m always asked which way I prefer to go and the fare is always unpredictable. I don’t even know how to get to my destination, so don’t expect me to give you alternative routes. With a bajaj it’s very simple. Jump in, tell the driver where to go, negotiate the price, and somehow he will find it.

What’s your favorite area in Jakarta?

Kemang, because it’s the area I know best. I’ve spent a lot of time there. Today, most of the agencies, production houses and everything else related to advertising are located around there. So when I’m working, I can just walk.

What do you like most about Jakarta?

Definitely not the traffic … but I do enjoy working here. The variety of projects, encountering problems and solving them. For example, one week I may shoot a car commercial, then the next I’ll be doing a shampoo ad. In the West, if you make one great car commercial, you’ll most likely get stuck making them. But in Jakarta, never expect that everything that you have learned in the West can be applied here. Don’t use your yardstick, but Jakarta’s, which is great.

Your schedule seems hectic. Can you tell me what you’re up to now?

Well, I arrived here three months ago because I have to write a children’s program for Dubai. It’s a 10-episode audio book that was made entirely in Bali. While there, I also shot a Jetstar Airlines TV commercial for Australia, and next week I’m shooting a documentary for Yayasan Melania, a Catholic organization, which is actually community work because I didn’t take any money for making the film.

Bernice was talking to Iwan Putuhena

Original interview was published in The Jakarta Globe

My Jakarta: Bernice, Freelance TV Producer