If you ever venture to the ‘dark side’, all the way to Sham Shui Po, chances are you’ll run into a Spanish bloke manoeuvring through the small alleyways, backpack and heavy gear on his back, until he disappears up a dilapidated building. His name is Alex Rodriguez, or ‘Alex Timelapse’, as he is known on social media. With a studio overlooking Nam Cheong Street and Ap Liu Street, Alex will gladly be your local pointer on the best place to get your wanton noodles in Sham Shui Po.
But Rodriguez hasn’t always lived in Sham Shui Po. Until he came to Hong Kong in 2011, he was working at a local TV news station in Galicia, Spain, making occasional trips to Barcelona in search of better opportunities. Like many expats in Hong Kong, Rodriguez first settled down in Discovery Bay, until it dawned on him that D-Bay was “nothing like Hong Kong”. And so to Sham Shui Po he moved, and has been fascinated by the dynamics of the area since.
As fellow Hongkongers, we have his relocation decision to thank, for it was in Sham Shui Po where the ‘DIY freak’ (in his own words) with a passion for photography and videography discovered the plethora of easily affordable equipment and parts, which would later enable his creation of spectacular time-lapse videos of Hong Kong and beyond. That his ‘Hong Kong Urban Tour’ won the Sony #NoLimits 2015 competition came as little surprise, for he was able to capture not just the metropolitan skyscrapers and dazzling skyline, but also quintessentially Hong Kong tidbits such as cardboard collectors, fishmongers at wet markets, a ride on the minibus, the locals’ favourite Cantonese barbecue, and bamboo scaffolding that has laid the foundation of the city.
Readily confessing his love of Hong Kong, Rodriguez says he is grateful to the city for the endless opportunities it offers. “After my time-lapse video Hong Kong Urban Tour won the Sony award in 2015, I was contacted by many companies to work on different time-lapse jobs. I was even offered by the mayor in Galicia the opportunity to shoot a time-lapse video of my hometown, to be promoted by travel agencies in Hong Kong and China - Hong Kong Urban Tour’s winning of an award was in the local news there. The real prize of the Sony competition isn’t really the camera, it’s the opportunities that I’ve been given since. It’s crazy how one things leads to another, I still find it pretty unbelievable.”
1. Tell us a bit about yourself?
I’ve been a professional videographer since 2005, and I’ve been living in Hong Kong since 2011. I started my career with a local news channel in Spain, for five years, but I also like to shoot action sports videos. It was after coming to Hong Kong that I discovered my new passion in time-lapse videography.
I came from Galicia, in the northwest of Spain. My childhood was spent in the countryside, I’ve always had a lot of freedom to do what I wanted. I would spent whole days on the street doing whatever I wanted, and I think that contributes to my creativity and the way I see things in the world. I’m a guy who has never experienced something like the MTR until I came to Hong Kong. I came from a small city, with small thinking. When you’re from such a tiny place you’d want to go to the capital, to find work and kickstart your career in Barcelona or Madrid, even if you don’t have the ambition to go elsewhere in the world, to places like Hong Kong, for instance.
2. What brought you to Hong Kong in 2011?
I was on my way back home from one of the many trips to Barcelona, where I was looking to find a job, and then I met this girl from Hong Kong. She told me that she was coming back to Hong Kong, and I said to her to visit me in my hometown one day. Which she did, and we became a couple!
She stayed at my home for a few months. When it came time for her to return to Hong Kong for work, I was already in love, and she convinced me - quite a silly idea at the time - to try living in Hong Kong.
3. Your first impression of Hong Kong?
It’s an extremely dynamic city. It’s very obvious that the city is among the most densely populated in the world, and it is very safe. I’d be out and about with expensive equipment on me, and I don’t feel the danger of being robbed anytime of the day, even very late at night. It’s different in Spain, you’d better not go out with such expensive equipment after midnight.
I’ve lived a life of the biggest contrast ever. Coming from this small city in Spain, where nobody spoke English or have the intention of travelling abroad, to the international city called Hong Kong, offering me big opportunities with big companies and big clients. I’ve come so far that I wouldn’t have dreamt of even in Barcelona.
I first had to learn the English language, now I’ve started learning Cantonese, so I can get myself something to eat here in Sham Shui Po. I love wanton noodles. I usually walk around the local area and see which shop has the most customers.
4. Why did you decide to live in Sham Shui Po?
At first I was living in Discovery Bay, but I had the feeling that I wasn’t living in Hong Kong at all. I love the real, local Hong Kong style, and so when I happened upon Sham Shui Po one day, I spent the whole day just walking around, discovering various Hong Kong elements. For someone like me, who makes a living with all these equipment and gear, Sham Shui Po is a paradise. I’m a DIY freak. At the beginning of my career as a time-lapser I used to make my own equipment, and living in Ap Liu Street makes it so much easier.
5. When did you become interested in time-lapse videography?
Around four years ago, I became interested in this fast-forward technique that is used to make time-lapse videos. I downloaded an app onto my phone which would allow me to make time-lapse videos. I discovered the different settings: for instance, for every five seconds I can record the beautiful movements of the clouds, every eight seconds I can record car movements. But my love of time-lapse videography is more than that, it is also that this city is amazing with all the different kinds of movements, making it easy to create a fascinating time-lapse video.
When I wanted to create videos with better quality, I upgraded my gear from my mobile app to camera - you can’t get desirable quality if you take a time-lapse video with your phone at night.
6. What was the main inspiration behind your award-winning Hong Kong Urban Tour time-lapse video?
Because of my background in news production, I feel compelled to tell a story. It’s not just a nice time-lapse video with random music, it is very important to create a story board for the video to tell something.
For instance, the Hong Kong Urban Tour is a tour of the real Hong Kong. If you’ve never been to Hong Kong before, the time-lapse video will give you a glimpse of the dynamics of the city. Many of the time-lapse videos of Hong Kong that I’ve seen seem to be created by people who don’t actually live here. My guess is that they are tourists who didn’t have enough time to discover the city, because their time-lapse videos cover mostly Hong Kong Island, while in my opinion, Kowloon is where the real Hong Kong experience is. I included many local elements with shots taken in Sham Shui Po, such as the cardboard box collector, noodle places, as well as shots taken on public transport, from the MTR to the minibus, bus and the tram. I couldn’t include clips taken on the ferry because that would be difficult to take, but I’ll include that in my next challenge. What I’d also like to include in my next Hong Kong time-lapse would be my new technique called ‘walk-lapse’, which is done by me hand-holding the camera, following another person closely. I think it’s quite cool because it works magic in transitional scenes, so one minute you’re at the Peak, and the next you’ll be in a restaurant.
7. What are the pros and cons of shooting a time-lapse video of Hong Kong?
Sometimes you may encounter issues with the security guards when shooting, but to be honest, you have more problems in this aspect in other countries. The air pollution is a problem, however. The air can be very polluted sometimes that you have to wait for the sky to clear to shoot - I had to wait two months just to get a shot of a clear - but not cloudless - sky. When shooting time-lapse I’ll need to show movements, it can be the motion of the clouds, the people, the cars. When I’m shooting the skyline, the buildings of course won’t move, so I’ll need the motion of the clouds. But if it turns out to be a fine, cloudless day, I won’t get a good time-lapse clip, and it gets stressful when I am not left with many days to finish the shooting. I’ve learnt to improvise: if there is no motion in the sky, look for places where there are motions. But since Hong Kong is a dynamic city, the resultant time-lapse video is amazing.
8. How long did it take you to produce Hong Kong Urban Tour, from filming to final editing?
I spent a week on devising the story board and checking the different locations, so that they would help the audience make sense of the journey. Once I’ve decided on the locations and the kind of set-ups I needed, I spent two weeks shooting, working 16 hours every day. I had only one week for editing because the deadline of the Sony ‘No Limits’ competition was approaching.
9. Your favourite aspects of Hong Kong?
I love Hong Kong. I like the transportation system. Despite being an expensive city to live in, the fares for Hong Kong’s public transportation are fairly reasonable. In Barcelona, if you want to travel the distance of Sham Shui Po to Prince Edward, you’ll have to pay around HKD20; in Hong Kong, I can go from Sham Shui Po to Central in around 15 minutes, and it costs me only around HKD11. If I speak better Cantonese, I can get around even more cheaply because then I can take the minibus and the bus. Sometimes I may need to take a clip of the sunrise and I’ll be working until 4am, I can always take the Star Ferry and then a minibus to get home, and it wouldn’t cost me much.
I like the fact that Hong Kong is a city that never sleeps. There were times when I was editing until 5am. I’d be hungry and there’d always be a good cha chaan teng open for breakfast service - I enjoy the food and the atmosphere of cha chaan teng in Sham Shui Po.
10. You were a volunteer with European youth exchange programmes from year 2003 to 2006 - how do you think that has influenced your life?
That was the first time in my life that I got to travel abroad, meet people from other countries, and also to speak English. It was at that time that I discovered my passion for travelling.
11. What’s the best thing about being Alex Rodriguez right now?
I came from a place with very few job opportunities, not even if I wanted to work at the local supermarket. In Hong Kong, I’m happy because I get to make a living by doing what I’m passionate about - it’s incredible. Back in Spain, it took me four years to find a job at the local TV news production company. The pay wasn’t much, but I had to hold onto it because the economy is bad, and it’s better to have a job than not.
When I first came to Hong Kong I worked as a freelance videographer, and as a hobby I started shooting time-lapse videos. After my time-lapse video Hong Kong Urban Tour won the Sony award in 2015, I was contacted by many companies to work on different time-lapse jobs. I was even offered by the mayor in Galicia the opportunity to shoot a time-lapse video of my hometown, to be promoted by travel agencies in Hong Kong and China - Hong Kong Urban Tour’s winning of an award was in the local news there. The real prize of the Sony competition isn’t really the camera, it’s the opportunities that I’ve been given since. It’s crazy how one things leads to another, I still find it pretty unbelievable.