One of my all time heroes is the DOP Tim Chevallier. As a visiting lecturer during my journalism degree he basically inspired me to pursue the life of a freelance adventure cameraman. He’s done everything from filming the migration in Kenya, to climbing Kilimanjaro and filming in the Antarctic. I know lots of people feel the same way about Tim… there is a small tribe of people out there largely thanks to Tim. I used to do sound for Tim in my early days and at the end of a hard day’s shooting he would often say: “Dear Diary, what a day it has been…”. I’ve used it ever since then but for this post will amend it to “Dear Diary, what a year its been…”
At the end of every year I always wonder if it would be possible to be any busier the following year without having a nervous breakdown. I think I pushed the envelope pretty far this time. I am going to write individual pieces on all of these shoots as they each offered a different challenge and I learned different things on each one. Here is a quick overview of the posts which will follow:
The year started on 26 Dec as I headed off with a small team of South African adventurers to climb Mt Aconcagua in South America. Myself and fellow filmmaker Guy Hubbard have been documenting Pierre Carter’s attempt to be the first person to paraglide off the highest point on each continent (www.7summits7flights.co.za). It has been a steep learning curve shooting at altitude. Charging batteries is a challenge, as is the weight of gear. When filming on expeditions one has no choice but to be part of the expedition. This means carrying your fair share of food, cooking, melting water for drinking etc. Alongside all of this you also have to film and document.
Another part of being a freelance filmmaker is that is involves long periods of time away from home. This means one has to manage relationships and be fair to your partner. On Aconcagua I opted to bring my girlfriend Marthe along who had no experience in climbing big and dangerous mountains. Guy also brought his girl friend Clem. At one stage Clem had snow blindness and Marthe was suffering from Altitude sickness, it was touch and go as to whether we would pull it off or whether we should retreat. In this post I will look at how one balances personal safety with actually doing the job of filming in tough conditions.
In March I headed south with renowned polar explorer Robert Swan on a climate change expedition to the Antarctic Peninsula. I’ve been filming in the Antarctic for 8 seasons and it feels like a home away from home. Here we use a special brand of remote story telling by uploading daily videos via a Bgan satellite internet system. Filming in the cold has its challenges and the first time I shot in the Antarctic my footage was basically unusable. Luckily I was working with a director who disappeared into the woodwork after the expedition and no-one ever saw the crappy footage I had shot. Through lots of nagging I managed to get them to bring me back the next year and did a better job. In this post I will deal with protecting cameras from the cold, avoiding lenses fogging up when moving from the cold to warm and exposing correctly in a spectrum of white.
THE CONGO BASIN
My next assignment was filming Baka pygmies in the Congo Basin. 2011 was the International Year of the Forest. We spent over a month with the Baka filming them while they hunted, collected honey and how they were adjusting to the rampant deforestation in the region. Filming in rain forests has its own special challanges from protecting yourself from stinging insects and your gear from humidity and sudden downpours. On this shoot we were lucky enough to track and film lowland gorillas and forest elephants in both Cameroon and the Central African Republic. One of the toughest shoots I have ever done.
THE HORN OF AFRICA CRISIS
In May the famine began in the Horn of Africa. I arrived about a month later to film for UNICEF. Harrowing to say the least and very difficult and dusty filming conditions. Every time we stopped our vehicle anywhere in the 450 000 strong camp crowds of people would swarm thinking that help had arrived. It made filming very difficult. As part of this shoot I also shot a PSA with Mia Farrow urging people to take action and help. A month after I got back two aid workers were kidnapped by Al Shabab out of the camp and have not been heard of since. In this post I will also offer some thoughts as to how one deals emotionally with documenting human suffering.
As part of the Seven Summits expedition we climbed and flew off Kilimanjaro in September. Such a beautiful and iconic mountain. After the horrors of Dadaab this was just what was needed. Here the mountain was far less extreme and it was a challenge to find the drama one associates with this type of expedition film. In this post I will speak about being flexible and following the story you are presented in a compelling way. It is far too easy to try and fabricate one’s preconceptions and the results are always far from satisfactory. I also finally got the gopro mounting right on this trip and managed to get some great footage of flying above the Kilimanjaro icecap.
As part of my ongoing work with Robert Swan I documented his recent trip to India which involved filming at the source of the Ganges river as well as documenting Tiger Conservation from elephant back. At this point of the year I was so exhausted. I had filmed hundreds of hours of footage and been on 51 flights. I’d just moved to Norway to live with Marthe and my energy tank was basically empty. In this post I will speak about how to keep going and keep on top of the burnout while still bringing your best in terms of effort and creativity.
OK, so that is a little taste of what will be coming up over the next few weeks. Here is a short video I stumbled apon this morning which I think it spectacular and makes me want to get out there…