by Erica Wilson, Researcher, Human Planet
There aren’t many filming trips where you can eat your central character at the end of the shooting period. Normally contracts, agents and morals put a stop to that! For the crew filming for the urban episode of Human Planet, however, the only thing stopping us getting our teeth into the central character was over 6000 nautical miles, unpredictable shipping schedules and the untimely eruption of a volcano in Iceland.
With two cameramen, Mark MacEwen and Kieran Doherty, I had been tasked with filming a story about mass consumption in Barcelona – a sequence focusing on the central character we fondly called “hero peach”, who had travelled all the way from Chile to satisfy the Catalan hunger for fresh produce.
With flights cancelled due to the volcano, the three of us had the pleasure of getting to know one another over a 900-mile road trip across Europe. Unfortunately the mountain of time lapse and HD equipment took space priority and we all had to squish into the tiny front seat of our van.
A full day and an unhealthy amount of European truck stop food later, we arrived in Barcelona to find that our “hero peach” had already arrived. They say you should never work with animals or children, perhaps this saying could also be applied to boats and ports! What ensued over the following days was a blur of timelapse and HD filming at one of Europe’s busiest ports to catch a glimpse of the peach. Kieran expertly used his DSLRs to timelapse the chaos, some of it using a fantastic tilt shift lens, whilst Mark patiently got some beautiful HD shots with the traditional TV camera.
Our “Hero” was literally wrapped up in cotton wool and transported to a market stall in La Boquería Market. It was absolutely teeming with people so more timelapses were in order for Kieran, whilst Mark struggled to move more than two steps with his weighty Steadicam rig. Pickpockets came and went, taking with them Kieran’s beloved iPhone and also temporarily our senses of humour. Lugging kit around and relentlessly battling against the hordes in the heat became even more frustrating. Each day we started at the crack of dawn and we never finished until late but at least we always had a delicious Catalan supper to look forward to. However, there was one sweet pudding we all avoided – peaches and cream!
By Andrea Jones, Production Coordinator, Rivers/Urban Team
The lead up to a shoot can be hectic – especially when one team is heading off to Dubai, another is getting ready for a frozen river trek in the Himalayas with 400kg of kit and another’s filming creepy crawlies in London all in the space of a month! Things normally calm down for myself and the office team once the crew leaves for the airport. We pack them into the van, wish them well and then breathe a sigh of relief as we watch them drive off into the sunset. Apart from the regular check in calls, we don’t hear much from them until they get back. This time was different – after 18 months sending my team all over the world, I found myself in the van with crew and kit, on the way to Heathrow on my first Human Planet shoot. Mark Flowers (director), the crew and I were heading for Dubai to film the story of a falconer for our Urban episode.
I couldn’t believe how easy they made it seem to get 18 cases of camera kit onto the plane, then off again at the other end – not to mention clearing customs with it. I think I’ve got a tough time when I travel back home to Oz with 2 cases. The funny thing is, 18 cases is nothing compared to the 40 we sometimes travel with! The ability to steer two to three airport trolleys at a time should be a pre-requisite for anyone going on location – it’s quite a skill. With all the kit safely at the hotel, our thoughts turned to the fun yet frightening part – the filming! We spent the next eight days with falconer David Stead and his amazing falcons at two of Dubai’s five star hotels. To get the full story you will need to watch the series.
Early on in the shoot, we were given permission to film from the helipad of the Burj Al Arab hotel – perched onto the front of the building over 200m up! As we walked up the red carpet and onto the helipad, we realised what a privilege it was to be able to film from such a great vantage point, where you could see the ever changing skyline of Dubai’s business district in all its glory – it’s lucky none of us were afraid of heights!
Speaking of heights, we were also lucky enough to travel to the 124th floor observation deck of the recently opened Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. Being up that high gave us a different perspective of the city, and a perfect spot to film the sun rising over the desert. Looking at it now, it’s hard to believe that just 31 years ago Dubai’s business district had only one skyscraper, the World Trade Centre.
The most challenging day of the trip for me was the Aerial filming day, where I was on the ground coordinating David and his birds, while my producer Mark and our Cineflex (Aerial) cameraman Simon were up in the helicopter. We had arranged for David and his falcons to be on the roof of the hotel ready for filming at 7:45am, so you can imagine my surprise when I heard the unmistakable buzzing of the chopper flying over just before 7:30! Luckily they were just getting a feel for the location, but I must admit I got a little worried, as we were on the ground at the time with one lift, 6 flights of stairs and a 10 foot ladder standing between us and the rooftop! As the production coordinator I look after the budgets and know the considerable investment needed to commission a Cineflex aerial shoot. I certainly didn’t want to be the one to jeopardise it – luckily our characters, human and animal, we were ready on time and all went to plan, David and his falcons did a fantastic job and we ended up with some extremely exciting footage.
It was great to get out on location and get a taste for some of the challenges the team has to deal with every time they go away. We were lucky , working in a fully functioning stunning city with a great subject in David and his birds, coupled with our talented crew. The alchemy that is television production all came together and we left with another stunning sequence for the series.
The eight days on location went by so quickly, and before I knew it we were on our way back home. So for now it’s back in the office for me, where we are getting ready for another shoot, this time to Ottawa. Hopefully there’s another adventure in the not too distant future, but for now it’s back to budgets…