A Life in the Day of a Production Coordinator
by Isabelle Corr, Production Coordinator, Deserts and Grasslands
I’m sure a lot of you are now getting bored with reading about the fabulous places that all the crew get to visit and would love to know how the rest of the crew left behind in the office pass their days? .. It might not be very exciting but it might make you feel better!
Being the Production Coordinator (PC) for the Human Planet Deserts and Grasslands team means I’ve certainly got my work cut out! So what exactly do I do all day? …. Well, apart from contracting the freelance cameramen, sound recordists, rope access experts, general foreign fixers etc, there’s the health and safety on location to organise, the varied travel arrangements for both crew and kit, insurances for crew and kit, complicated insurance claims, scheduling and budgeting (that’s telling my team what they can and can’t afford to do).
I have also had on occasion to:-
Organise special insurance for horses in Namibia in case they get eaten by hyenas during the night! (apparently a common occurrence)
Approve expenses for a 4×4 tyre that was eaten by a Lion while the researcher was sitting in the vehicle
Organise the last minute shipment of a replacement Varicam camera to the Masai Mara in Kenya. We were told of the broken camera by the crew mid morning and managed to get the replacement on that evening’s flight to Nairobi!
So who can I thank for making that work for us?
Well, let’s start with Sam at Visual Impact or Dave at Films@59 who get me replacement kit in record time. Then, once I have my hands on the camera, I send the serial numbers to BBC shipping. Julie in the Bristol post room organises a courier to pick up the camera and take it straight to BBC shipping in Hayes. Once there, Geoff arranges the essential kit list for UK and Kenyan customs. The camera is then put on the next flight from Heathrow to Nairobi. Luckily for us, this time there was an internal flight to one of the landing strips in the Mara the following morning. Our Kenyan Fixer was able to pick up the camera, get it though Kenyan customs super quick and the crew got their replacement camera just in time to catch an exciting lion hunt!
Some of the challenges of the job are less predictable. Today I have been in discussion with the accommodation provider in North Africa, who tells me that he has spent some of the deposit money I sent him at great expense through Western Union on new “western-style toilets” for the crew so they won’t have to use the existing “hole in the ground”. I told him that the crew were well used to slumming it on location and certainly did not need the excessive comfort of western-style “sitting down” toilets. But it was too late, they have already been plumbed in!
So the sad fact is, the PCs on Human Planet are always too busy preparing for the next shoot and sorting out things going wrong on location to be able to go on a shoot themselves. Although they do keep promising that I will leave the Broom Cupboard one day! So maybe my next blog will be far more interesting than these moanings from the office.. I bet you can’t wait!
by Ellen Davies, Production Manager, Arctic/Mountains team
My location is Cardiff and my office is on the top floor of BBC Wales which overlooks Llandaff Cathedral. Here I enjoy the comforts of my work place where so many of our day to day facilities are taken for granted. I’m comfortable. One of my teams are currently in Greenland, the other is about to head off to Mongolia (for more see below my blog). Geoff from BBC Shipping has a very soft, gentle voice and says: “Calm. Calm.” It works. I’m now calmer and I’m in the process of freighting my second shipment of kit to Qaanaaq, the most northern town in Greenland. Geoff simplifies the process.
We hire, purchase, gather and pack our kit with our wonderful Patrick Murray, Cardiff’s Technical Assistant on Human Planet (what would we do without Patrick?). For Greenland this includes a crane with hothead, a kayak with specially designed rig, camping gear, cameras, sound, first aid kit and enough warm clothes and sleeping bags to make sure the crew don’t freeze.
Getting the kit to our destination is quite straightforward – from Heathrow to Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq to Illulissat to Pituffik to Qaanaaq and onto Siorapualuk. Easy. (I can even pronounce these names now!) The kit gets there. It takes two days. The last ride is by helicopter where you would fly along the rocky coast line over icebergs and fiords. It must be pretty spectacular. The third shipment of kit travels with the crew and I’ve only booked a seven seater people carrier to transport three people and kit! Where and how do we accumulate so much? We’ve now exceeded over 1000 kgs of kit. The Arctic crew are out of the door and I’m already on the next shoot for the Mountains programme….
My Greenland team are filming two stories for the Arctic episode and one involves filming on sea ice that is starting the break up. Because of the dangers of trying to film the narwhals (sea unicorns) from the kayak and on the ice edge, we have a strict protocol – Bethan Evans (researcher) or Nicolas Brown (producer/director) must call me at 16.00 hrs daily. If I don’t hear from them after four hours, I then make contact to their local police. I look forward to my cup of tea after I’ve received their phone call. I can relax for another day. My schedule and two mobile phones rest on my bed side table and I warn my husband that I might just get a call. I put my phones on silent but vibrate.
Sometimes I wish I was the one going on these amazing filming trips but generally I enjoy being on the end of a satellite phone, the welcome voice of home for the guys on location. By working on this series I’ve really come to understand the incredible way people live in these remote environments. More than ever I appreciate the comforts of my home, my family and friends and the BBC office. Roll on 2011, when I will enjoy watching the fantastic footage and amazing stories on my 52” plasma screen in HD!
Dale Templar, Series Producer, A Return to the Last Disco in Mongolia
I don’t get out much these days, one of the few down sides of running Human Planet. On Sunday I am due to return to Mongolia to film golden eagle nests. I say “due” because I’ve just had a phone call from Dina, our researcher, to say the eagle chicks we wanted to film have been taken! Poor Dina! As I write, there are men on horses galloping around the western Mongolia mountains looking for eagle nests. They are seven hours ahead and if there is no joy soon we may have to cancel the shoot.
Anyway, back to my original story. If we do fly on Sunday this will be a strange return. The last time I filmed in Mongolia was in 1993, soon after Russia pulled out of the country. It ‘s still one of the most God forsaken places I have ever visited. The economic rug had been pulled from underneath the country – they’d been left abandoned. Ulaanbaator was a sad, bleak capital city filled with stark Stalinist buildings, empty shops, abandoned hospitals and truly disgusting food. No longer needed as a buffer zone with China, they’d been left to start again.
I had gone to make a film with Fergal Keane about the sewer children and spent a fair bit of time underneath the rat ridden streets of the capital. We had knives pulled on us, stones thrown at us, sewer covers slammed on us……. umm Mongolia, can’t wait to return. Thank goodness for the disco at the Ulaanbaatar Hotel !
Seventeen years on, I’m told Mongolia has changed significantly. I actually can’t wait to see it. The boy I filmed was called Batzayan, he will now be a man. Hopefully he will be successfully forging his way, feeding his children and keeping them warm as this now established democracy pushes open the doors of the market economy.