by Julia Wellard, Production Team Assistant, Bristol
The photo below was taken after a jungle shoot in the Central African Republic. The tents came back damp and smelly and needed a good airing, so Rachael Kinley (the researcher) and I had the bright idea of draping them over every surface we could find, including the office of our Series Producer, who was away at the time. We were planning to dry them out so they’d be in better shape to send off to be cleaned. What we weren’t planning on was a large eight-legged hitchhiker crawling out of one of the tents and multi-legging it down the stairs!
Since then, we’ve had other uninvited guests from overseas dropping into the office – the best count came after another jungle shoot – this time to western Papua to shoot treehouses. Final count was five cockroaches, two earwigs and another large spider! A few more to add to the many legends about animals coming back from NHU shoots and flying, slithering or creeping away into the bushes round the BBC Bristol car park.
As Production Team Assistant, this is the nearest I get to experiencing the wildlife the teams meet and film on location. But there are other ways I share in the challenges and excitement of location filming. Like Jasper in an earlier blog, I’ve had a few calls in the middle of the night, usually reassuring me that crews have arrived at the right place at the right time, but occasionally explaining they’ve had to beat a rapid retreat because of suspected guerrillas in the area – or mentioning that a bomb has just gone off near their hotel.
It can be fascinating building a complicated schedule involving flights, boat rides, horses, camels, helicopters and having to rearrange everything when one of the links in the chain breaks down. But the one I remember best is the day a long and very complex travel chain to Borneo had to be completely rejigged because of snow at Bristol Airport!
by Jasper Montana, Technical Assistant
I am the technical assistant on Human Planet , which means that I am responsible for getting tons of filming kit out of the door and safely on location. Since I joined the series, it’s become normal for the Ethiopia team to telephone when I’m jumping on the train on a Friday night, Greenland to text me on a Saturday afternoon, or Mongolia to ring five times before 7am on a Sunday morning. In fact, on weekends my mobile phone becomes a hot spot of international activity! So it was no surprise when yet another international number popped up on my mobile screen at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon while I was on a trip to the Welsh countryside.
The phone line wasn’t very good – it had that one-second delay that makes you feel like you are being constantly interrupted by someone with the same voice as you – it was the Jungles team in the Central African Republic. Their main camera had given in to the humidity of the jungle by developing an electrical fault and needed replacing. I could see that my relaxing weekend in Wales was coming to an abrupt halt. Boy! Was I was right!
Two hours later I was back in our Bristol office. Jo Manley, the production coordinator – talking away on two phone lines to two different continents as I entered the room – was already on the case. Unfortunately, weekends are not the best time to arrange anything, let alone the complicated transport of expensive filming equipment from Bristol to the Bayaka tribe in the heart of Africa, but Jo had done an amazing job and had a replacement camera all ready to go. ‘Jasper’, Jo said to me across the desk as I sat down, ‘How would you like to go to Cameroon tonight?’ With little time to consider, I said ‘Sure, no problem’ and within six hours I was heading down the M4 to Heathrow Terminal 2.
Once in Cameroon’s capital, Douala, I was to be met at the door of the plane by two of our local fixers, who would collect the camera from me and continue the two-day drive overland with the camera to our crew in the Central African jungle. Having been relieved of the equipment, I would return on the next plane back to the UK. Stepping out of the plane and into the thick humid air of the Cameroon capital, I looked around. There was no sign of our fixers.
Before I knew it I was being ushered through Immigration and Customs. I was without a visa, had £30,000 worth of equipment, claimed to be meeting two men who were notably absent and with a return flight to the UK that departed in just three hours time, so I didn’t blame them for being a little cautious. I was taken into the office of the Chief of Police and tried to explain myself in the most persuasive French I could muster.
After 30 slow minutes of interrogation, both our fixers arrived and took over the negotiations. I was banished into the waiting room and as I sat nervously outside the office of the Chief of Police, looking at the shirtless men hanging out of cages just two metres away and the female official with an immigration records book of formidable proportions, I thought back to what I had originally planned for that Sunday afternoon: a jog around the park and a film with a friend.
The office door in front of me opened and the smile on our fixers’ faces told me I was free! Got back on my plane and next thing you know I’m back in the office – it’s Monday morning (I think) - the start of another normal week on Human Planet.
Dale Templar – Series Producer …. And Finally
People often think that television programmes are all about cameras and filming . That certainly is Jasper’s world right now. Music is also very important to a landmark series like Human Planet. We’ve been working hard to bring a very special composer on to the series and I hope to formally announce who this is in a few weeks. The composer will be working closely with the Radio 3 World Music department. They have an incredible archive of recordings of musicians and vocalists from tribes and ethnic groups from all around the world. They have offered us access to this musical treasure trove which we will be able to use when creating the Human Planet sound track.