She’ll be Wearing Pink Pyjamas When She Comes!
by Ben Southwell, Producer/Director, Jungles and
Jo Manley, Production Coordinator, Oceans & Jungles
I have never sweated so much in my life. Just sitting still I’d be dripping. Within minutes of leaving camp each day I’d be drenched as much as if I’d jumped in the river. It wasn’t the heat, it was the cloying humidity that made it so hard to move around.
We were filming the British Army Jungle Warfare Advisers’ Course in Brunei, one of the toughest courses the army runs. After a week of trekking after ‘students’ up and down steep tree-covered slopes, I fully understood why the army choose this terrain for their course. It doesn’t so much sap your energy as rip it out of you and stamp all over it. There were soldiers putting battered boots on over feet almost stripped of skin in order to complete this first stage of their training.
The Instructors on the course deserve immense credit. Many of them have spent years working in the jungle and their knowledge of this environment and their care for it was clear for all to see. The army have a no cutting policy here – they don’t want this primary forest becoming a wasteland because of their actions. They have a deep respect for the jungle.
For me the hardest thing was remembering to drink, drink again, and drink some more. We were advised that we would be sweating so much that we should be drinking 10 litres a day. This after leaving Britain in snow! Our production co-ordinator Jo Manley had never filmed in the jungle which presented her with a unique set of challenges…
…..and a ‘worry list’ as long as my arm!
Having been on Human Planet for over two years and sent off countless crews to all over the world, I had never actually been on a foreign trip myself. However, with the rest of the Jungle team filming in Brazil and Tom the Producer awaiting a new baby in Bristol, this time I was sent on location! I went with Ben the Director (my blog co-writer) , Toby the cameraman and Mihali sound/camera assistant to experience first hand the difficulties of operating in the field and how annoying it is trying to get Sat Phone reception from a Jungle!
I was quite nervous about a number of things before I left the UK. Ben joked that I would be transformed from pink-loving Jo to Rambette, the jungle ninja, never seen without a knife between her teeth! I wasn’t convinced.…
Before I left, my ‘worry list’ was pretty comprehensive: here’s a taster…
I had an irrational fear of moths and was told they would be every-where and as big as dinner plates (thanks for that Dale – Series Producer!)
I didn’t like the thought of bugs in my breakfast or bugs having me for breakfast including leeches sucking my blood
Getting out of my hammock for a wee in the night and not being able to find my way back (as it turns out this did happen to one of the students but thankfully not to me!)
Being the only girl amongst 60 men
Being told off by the Sergeant Major for not having the correct boots (I did have a few comments but it wasn’t my fault I couldn’t get Jungle boots in a size 3!!)
I could go on…
We flew in to the jungle by helicopter, which was amazing. I’d never been in a helicopter before and I loved it! I thought the jungle below looked just like broccoli, the tops of trees were packed together and looked totally impenetrable to anything, including light. I thought about how dark it would be under the canopy and it made me think about all the creepy crawlies hiding down there waiting to get me!
When we arrived at the LP (Landing point) we had to walk down a hill to our camp and my eyes were on constant bug watch looking out for leeches and anything else trying to crawl up my trouser leg! Brunei has a pristine primary jungle and I’d been told it was a ‘clean’ jungle but I still didn’t really appreciate how beautiful and bug free it would be until we got there. The longer I was there the shorter my worry list became and I started to really like being in the Jungle, sleeping in a hammock and being woken up by the gibbons singing to each other. I even let a moth land on my hand! The first night I had to get Mihali to escort me to the toilet but by the end of the week I was happily walking there on my own in the dark so I could see the glowing fungi. Rambette was in the making!
Towards the end of the week we went on the Close Target Recognisance (CTR) part of the course and we stayed in the enemy camp overnight whilst the students observed what was going on. The next morning Sally the tracker dog took us to find the students, who had spent a long night sitting on the jungle floor in the moonless night getting eaten alive by bugs and leeches. One of the students said to me ‘was it my imagination or were you walking around the enemy camp in a pair of pink pyjamas last night?’ it seems my transformation into Rambette was still a way off….
Jo rose to the occasion magnificently and I’m sure those pink pyjamas will become part of the course folklore for years to come.
by Joanna Manley, Production Coordinator, Jungles/Oceans team
Being the Production Coordinator on the Jungles and Oceans team means I’m responsible for sending Tom, Charlotte, Willow and Rachael to Jungles and Oceans all over the world. I seem to be in a constant state of organised chaos and even though I get left behind with the damp life jackets and lingering smell of the Jungle whilst the team flies off to the next amazing destination, I love my job and my team.
I have several time zones set on my phone which I continuously update as teams leave, come back, move on and go out again. It’s sometimes difficult to keep track of where everyone is and invariably they all phone at the same time (usually just as I’m trying to get some lunch!) needing a new camera, flights changed or just someone back in reality to talk to when they’re in the middle of a wet jungle with broken kit and infected feet!
On Human Planet we’re often dependent on people and animals being the same place at the same time when the conditions are right. This is how not to do it….
Jon in Indonesia trying to film a Whale Hunt close to two earthquakes
Charlotte trying to film a shark whilst there was a tsunami warning for the area
Willow in Bristol trying to track Hurricanes to film in the Caribbean and there weren’t any
Tom and Rachael leaving for the Philippines to live on a boat for 7 days in the midst of the worst typhoon season the Philippines have seen in years.
With so many shoots going off and coming back and with heaps of kit needed, our office has got a reputation for a being a bit of a muddle. Danny who delivers post to our office says he has nightmares about it and grumbles it’s like an assault course trying to get from one side of the room to the other. To be honest he’s right, especially as there is a camouflage theme to a lot of the objects such as hammocks, tarps, tents and thermarests. We’ve got wetsuits and life jackets hanging off the back of the door, waterproof bags and jungle ponchos in a heap behind my desk with a solar shower perched on top and on Tom’s desk at the moment is a pile of coconut shells used to call sharks in Papua New Guinea.
My two sets of desk drawers are filled with all sorts of things not usually found in an office drawer…
Muddy batteries from the jungle
Leaking bottles of anti mosquito repellent
Boxes of antibacterial hand wash
A box of latex gloves for covering radio mics
Several dead Central African Republic bees
A tangle of 4 way plug adaptors and extension leads
I’ve got a heap of tapes, gaffer tape and loose cable ties all over my desk and a pair of size 12 flippers along with three Mauritanian jilbabs the team wore whilst filming in Mauritania to the side of my drawers.
Even though I don’t get to see the places we’re filming in person I get a good idea of what’s it like there even before I see the footage. From the smells emerging from their kit bags when they get back, to the sound of pouring rain and bugs I hear in the background when I’m talking to them on the Satellite phone.
Our next shoot is going off to Brazil on 8th January so we’re battling through our Christmas party hangovers to get everything packed up and ready so we can take a much needed break before another crazy year on Human Planet starts!