It’s hard to know what to include in a 3 1/2 minute representation of an entire years work of Media Production across the Pacific. The obvious answer is “the best bits” or make it longer than 3 1/2 minutes!. But it’s not that simple. Because without wishing to appear like a braggart, it has been a very busy 2018.
There has been 3 filming expeditions. One to the South West Islands of Palau and two to Kiribati. There has been projects on the Protected Areas Network of Palau and Dugong conservation. Various spawning aggregation documenting and VR 360 projects. Aerial Surveillance missions. National Geographic assignments, even Taro cultivation and responsible cat ownership…The list is certainly diverse!
Compared to last years show reel, we have expanded our range out across the Pacific. Filming in some extremely remote locations but also doing a lot of work still in Palau.
I haven’t been able to include a bit of everything into this years show reel but hope that what is included is representative and entertaining at the same time.
Over the year we have expanded our range for media production across the Pacific, providing underwater and drone filming services to clients including Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute of which you can read about here.
It’s who you know for media production in the Pacific region
At the same time we have increased our range of contacts across the Pacific region. We visited a variety of Environmental and Fisheries themed workshops thereby networking with a huge number of contacts. This networking is hugely valuable in future media production projects across the Pacific. From the Solomon Islands to Hawaii, Vanuatu to Pohnpei, Yap to Fiji. We can help put you in touch with media production professionals across the region. Contact us if you would like to know more.
If we can’t help you directly, we can certainly help you find someone that will. We look forward to hearing from you.
The odds of being asked to go on a filming expedition twice in six months are low. The odds of being asked to go to a location as isolated as Kanton Atoll in Kiribati must be even lower. But that is exactly what I was asked to do in November.
As filming projects go, this expedition was an extremely short notice affair. Less than a month from first client email to jumping on the plane. Thankfully it was only 5 months since my last filming expedition so everything went right back into the packing cases much as it had before. The big difference this time was that instead of sailing to our destination we were flying in a light aircraft and weight was a major issue.
The dilemma that existed was to be prepared for camera failures etc but still pack light enough. Underwater filming is extremely equipment intensive…..
Our flight to Kanton was to be in a Beachcraft King Air, Twin Engine. Much like the one we used here in Palau to spot illegal fishing vessels.
My client this time was Economist films. We had worked together previously on a project in Palau and so it was good to catch up with their Producer Samuel Hunt again. Samuel and I were joined by Freelancer Sam Farmar who bought with him buckets of experience in documentary filmmaking.
We were on our way out to document Dr Greg Stone as he continues to study the near pristine reefs of the Phoenix Islands. Greg has in the last couple of months predicted the likely occurrence of a new El Nino warming event. The Phoenix islands lie right in the path of it. It was a race against time to get there and install temperature measuring equipment.
Touchdown on Kanton
We landed and were greeted by the residents of Kanton, who I had only said goodbye to in June. It was great to see them again especially the surprise on their faces as they weren’t expecting me at all.
After our reunion we were shown to our accommodations, simple beach huts, and set about preparing for filming. It was then that we had our second, not particularly pleasant news delivered…
The first had been that almost half of our bags had not arrived in Christmas island from Honolulu via Air Fiji….thanks guys…We were down camera equipment, clothes…. all sorts of things.
The second bit of news was that the tank compressor that had been flown in from Tarawa only a few days previously would only pump our dive tanks to 50 bar….Hardly the best news for a dive expedition filming project.
Pump up the jam
The compressor started easily enough but the main belt started slipping as soon as any load was put on it. We set about trying to get the thing working. In the end taking a hacksaw to the chassis and pulling the small Honda engine away from the compressor to put some tension in the connecting belt.
We had to also fashion a snorkel out of pvc piping to get the intake away from the exhaust…..
Any certified diver will tell you, it’s normal for a full tank to be at 200 bar and that you should be exiting the water at 50 bar…Instead, we were STARTING our dive with 50 bar…. Still…50 bar is 50 bar…
Needless to say our plans to install temperature loggers at 100 feet were shelved. A shallower goal was more prudent. It wasn’t even as if we had a huge number of tanks all at 50 bar, we literally had 5 tanks between 3 of us and a compressor that took 45 minutes to do a pitiful job with one of them. wtf
Stiff Upper Lip and all that
So whilst it wasn’t quite going to plan, all was not lost. We still had some air, we still had some cameras. So we really had almost everything vital we needed to be able to pull this off, and we set about doing just that. We dived and filmed the placement of 11 temperature loggers both inside and outside the lagoon. Interviews were conducted with the Kanton residents. Aerial scenics were filmed by me with the drone (a nice new Mavic 2 Pro). Greg was able to deliver to camera his knowledge of why this expedition was so vital to help understand the impacts of warming events on coral reefs.
One very cool thing about chartering a plane is that we were able to extend our stay on Kanton by an extra day.
The reefs within the atoll and close to the entrance are predominantly made up of table coral forms. One of the benefits of having so little air was that I had to stay shallow, which of course ensured better colours in the footage.
The glass is half full right!
After 4 days filming on Kanton, we had to be heading back to Christmas island and the only flight out of there that week. It was a shame to be leaving. There is still so much to film around Kanton, we barely scratched the surface again.
I only hope that the same fate that took me there twice this year, will enable me to document the beauty of this incredible place in more depth another time.
Many thanks to Greg Stone, Sam Hunt, Sam Farmar, Christine Greene. Peter Rive, Val Serna, Pilots George and Dave and all the residents of Kanton that welcomed us so warmly.
The film from this expedition is due to be Premiered in March. Watch this space for details.
For more insights on working as an underwater cameraman see here.
Fast forward and we arrive on Christmas island and board the “Sea Dragon” a 72 ft sailing boat. That afternoon we set sail for our first destination; the Atoll of Kanton.
For a week we sailed along a 240 degree heading, crossing the equator. Sampling water from the Equatorial Under Current as we went.
The atoll of Kanton has 56 residents. They live a quiet peaceful life but long for visitors and welcomed us warmly. During WW2 it was very different. Kanton was a US and British air base with over 1200 servicemen present. The abandoned wreckage from that era still litters the atoll.
We went to work almost immediately in a baptism of fire. My first task as underwater cameraman on this expedition was documenting the deployment of scientific instruments. The site in a tidal channel to the inner lagoon. Easier said than done when the current barely stops moving and can get as fast as 6 knots….
Diving in a Pristine environment.
Working in strong currents is as any diver who has experienced it, a struggle. Filming stable footage is especially challenging, but after two dives we had achieved our goal. A large and heavy scientific package was positioned and activated, gathering important data on the tidal dynamics of this near pristine environment.
The next few days flew by as we dived on some of the most pristine reefs on the planet. The Phoenix Islands are in one of the largest marine protected areas of the world. It’s obvious as soon as you slip beneath the waves. It’s likely that these reefs are only dived maybe once every two years by a handful of people. In that situation the local fish find divers very interesting. Within seconds the fish start arriving and continue to follow you, circling for the whole dive.
Being the underwater cameraman on this expedition meant I was charged with documenting everything the scientists did. This meant diving sometimes 9 times a day, retrieving scientific instruments, conducting scientific surveys, shooting everything in fact. The end products will be used to promote the work done by WHOI.
With there being so much diving, battery management and data wrangling was especially important and by the end of the trip I had over 3 GB of data which I had been backing up daily. On top of that I was also flying a drone and shooting anything happening on the boat too….Much of what I shot is still under wraps so what I have been able to release so far is a tiny fraction.
At this stage I should mention how good the crew were on Sea Dragon. Eric, Shanlee, Charles, Shannon and Jess were there for us the entire time. They tended the boats, cooked, filled our tanks and remained positive throughout. It made our jobs that much easier and the experience onboard wholly enjoyable. I can’t thank you enough!
Onwards to new horizons
After 5 days in Kanton we set sail again, this time for Nikumororo. Two more days pass.
This small atoll was where Amelia Earhart hopefully ended her round the world attempt in 1937. The romantic end to her valiant effort has yet to be verified and what we find is nothing short of miraculous.
We arrived to be greeted by Sperm Whales, and on almost every dive by Dolphins who immediately disappeared as soon as we hit the water…. We even were escorted by a Killer Whale at one stage….
The reefs here are again incredible. The isolation palpable.
The fish take turns to swim around you and check you out. Even in environments devoid of corals and only covered with algae there are still thousands of herbivorous fish.
One morning we locate the one reasonable landing spot on the island and go ashore. Beforehand we have to have our clothes sprayed with heavy duty disinfectant to minimize the chance of taking any invasive species with us.
What strikes me is that there is no plastic on the beaches. Compared to somewhere like Palau where there is huge amounts on practically every coastline, here at last we are free from it.
The inner lagoon supports a huge number of Black-tip reef sharks. The scientists take water samples but it quickly becomes apparent that this is a dangerous activity. Numerous sharks come in very close to check them out. One scientist even gets a nip on his heel. The love bite opens up 3 surgical cuts on his heel. We decide that it’s not worth trying to retrieve a logger submerged in the middle of the lagoon….
One of the nicest aspects that highlighted our isolation was how tame the birds are. Boobies nest on the beach here and are completely unafraid of us.
We again departed before we had really scratched the surface and after another day of sailing we approached Orona. This atoll had a different feel to it. It had been inhabited up until only 15 or so years ago but the colonists disliked being there so much they left. When we made landfall, there were still buildings in good condition but the amount of trash and leftover rubbish from those inhabitants really bought home how isolated they were and yet how much of an impact humans have, even just 30 people….. The reefs too had seen better days and were still recovering from the most recent warm water event.
In preparation for this trip I had looked at maps of the proposed atolls and of them all, I wanted to fly the drone over Orona the most. It has what is called “Hoa and Motu”, Polynesian words for channels and small islands sometimes found on Pacific Atolls.
Our next island was Rawaki, about 1km square, treeless and covered in seabirds. We dived and cored here for two days before making our way back to Kanton.
After a couple more days we are back in Kanton to pick up the scientific instruments we had left there previously, it goes without a hitch but the feeling we are on our way home is both happy and sad. Sad to be leaving this incredible place that we have only just scratched the surface of, happy knowing that in about 10 days we will be home again with our families. And so we say goodbye to the our friends on Kanton and set sail for Christmas Island and our flights back to civilization.
That was the easy part
For the next 7 days we sailed into a steadily increasing wind. The sea state worsened, the progress slowed. The Sea Dragon, whilst having been designed to do just this sort of passage handled it all in the capable hands of the crew and Skipper it was still a struggle. The main sail developed a tear and had to be replaced with a storm sail, and for about 5 days we were tacking into 25+ knot winds meaning the whole boat was heeling over at an impressive angle. Squalls hit us and night watches were particularly hard especially for a Green horn with practically no sailing experience. Our spirits were challenged by our slow hard going but camaraderie prevailed.
And finally after a week of bad weather and hard sailing we finally arrive at Christmas Island. Almost as soon as we drop anchor we crack open a celebratory beer. Even now I’m laughing at that moment of relief. Damn that beer tasted good.
We had a couple more days of filming and diving and coring left as we were joined by the Laboratory head Dr Anne Cohen. So the very next day we were out again, rounding off the research and ensuring the money shots were in the bag. For all the basic amenities available on Christmas island the diving was still phenomenal and the Dolphin population huge.
It looks idyllic…
Looks nice doesn’t it and postcards do, but what doesn’t come across is the heat, the flies, the heavy pack on your back, the blisters on your feet, did I mention the heat? Being an expedition cameraman is hard especially if you are a sole shooter. Even if you do have a team of sherpas to help carry your gear, you are still concerned about that gear. Is it packed properly? What if it gets dropped, will it survive that drop? Is that packing case properly waterproof? Insurance for your gear is of course something only a fool would avoid, but a busted camera in the middle of nowhere is still busted without a hope of being replaced for weeks. So, taking two of everything important is something you really need to consider doing. I had two drones, 4 cameras, extras of so many things just in case….
It means you don’t travel light, it’s impossible. If you are aiming to get aerial, underwater and topside shots at a professional level and have backups in case of accidents or failures…that’s a lot of equipment.
On this trip I nearly lost a drone, and one of the Underwater camera sensors had an obvious dust speck that I couldn’t clean. As it was I had a backup for both. Things could have been worse but thankfully the gear was packed well and stowed well on board a boat that was heeling over by 30 degrees at times.
Making it home
I approached this project with extreme caution, I made sure (as much as possible) that my personal gear was safe, that I was safe, that I would be able to bring home the footage (and duplicates) and that my client would be happy with the results. It was not easy, but then the best things in life are never easy. But it is one of the best things I have ever done and something I would jump at again.
I wish I could show you more of what I did on this trip and one day I may be able to but for now it’s still in the process of being edited so patience is key.
If you’ve made it this far, I’m impressed, it’s a marathon post! I hope it’s given you some insight into both what we experienced and what it took for me to film this expedition in what was literally the middle of nowhere.
If you’d like to read more about what it takes to be an underwater cameraman this post might be of some interest.
If you like to contact me about any filming opportunities please find me at this address.