by Tom Hugh-Jones, Producer/Director – Oceans and Jungles team
I know that working on Human Planet is supposed to be a dream job and don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, but it doesn’t half try your nerves sometimes. This is definitely not the right career path for those who suffer from stress and nothing proves my point better than my recent experiences of filming in Jungles. I’m sure some people will disagree, but for me this has to be the most challenging environment to work in.
For a start the weather is just too unpredictable. Ok, so you know it is going to rain, but you don’t know when or for how long. Every day we seem to be in a never ending cycle of setting up kit ready to shoot, only to have to pack it up again as the next rain storm passes by. Rain is an ever-present menace, but it’s the 100 % humidity that causes the serious problems. Not only does it make for unbearably sticky working conditions, it also has the habit of rendering our equipment totally unusable. Our extremely expensive camera lenses constantly fog up, making it look as if everything’s being shot in a misty 70s dream style. No big deal, an hour of clenching the lens in the warmth of your groin area solves that issue. The light is better now anyway and god knows what the tribe is doing, but it looks amazing…..OK, let’s shoot! But wait, not so fast! what’s that flashing red light on top of the camera? Oh yeah, that’s the humidity warning and now our only option is to pack the camera body away in a hot-box for a day to drive out the condensation. Well, never mind, there’s always tomorrow.
After a wet night we get up ready for action, only to find that now there’s an even more serious technical issue that’s beyond the cameraman’s fixing abilities. This is when the next jungle challenge presents itself. Jungle locations are invariably very difficult to access, making communication with the outside world close to impossible. When things break, trying to get replacements sent in usually means sending some poor local person off on a three day hike to the nearest village to meet an aeroplane we’ve had to charter at great expense.
It isn’t just kit that falls apart in the forest; it’s the crew as well. Rain and sweat combine to ensure your clothes and shoes are never truly dry and pretty soon the rot sets in. Any minor cuts from the myriad of spikes and spines you inevitably encounter soon becoming gaping septic wounds. And to top it all there’s the constant assault from leeches, ticks, mosquitoes and all sorts of other unidentified parasites that are after your blood. With every daily wash I seem to discover a new colony of animals that have chosen to make their home on my body.
Each time I go on a trip in the rainforest, I swear I’ll never do it again, but somehow I keep on finding myself coming back for more. After I’ve got back home, slept in a proper bed, had about ten baths, been to the doctor to get my various tropical infections treated and then put in my insurance claims for all of our broken cameras; I begin to realise it is all these trials that make for my most cherished memories of filming for Human Planet.
My latest trip to film with the Korowai tribe of West Papua was a perfect case in point. We had all the usual battles with the elements, technical glitches and medical mishaps but having the opportunity to spend time with this tribe was perhaps my most amazing filming experience ever. Although their culture is about as far as you can get from our western world, the Korowai welcomed us into their lives with amazing warmth and it was just incredible to see how they managed to live such rich lives with nothing but what they found in the forest. What’s more I think we got a pretty stunning sequence but you’ll have to judge for yourselves when Human Planet comes out in 2011.
Dale Templar – Series producer, Human Planet
I have no real idea what Tom is moaning on about! He’s clearly not been in the UK enough this summer. Based here in Bristol most of the time I am beginning to wonder if we’ve been secretly transported to the tropics. I’m finding it impossible to plan anything outdoors; lots of crazy unpredictable rain, some of it torrential; lots of bugs (swine flu is rampant). The only big difference is that it’s so cold and I hate the cold. Summertime in the British urban jungle is not without its frustrations!
by Mark Flowers, Producer/Director Rivers/Urban team
The most heart-stealing and downright soul- enhancing benefit of working on a Human Planet shoot is the children we encounter while we are filming. It’s unbelievably refreshing to step outside of a regulated, fast-paced and impersonal modern, urban society and meet people who live in a more open, communal and for me personally, a far more “Human” way.
The children we met during our trip to film living root bridges in one of the most remote areas of North-East India were fantastic – cheeky, smart and funny.
To the young people who live in isolated hill villages in the rainforests of Meghalaya, the arrival of a gangly bunch of giant, pale-skinned strangers, brandishing weird black boxes, screens and cables, was the most surprising thing to happen in a long while. The circus had come to town!
Within minutes of us stepping out of the cars, there were bright eyes at the windows and small hands waving from the homes we passed. High pitched “hellos” echoed all around while tiny toddlers stood dumb struck for a few seconds in doorways and then exploded into howls. Dogs barked and sulky, caged cuckoos crooned from dark corners.
Whenever we set up to film very quickly we were surrounded in a small lava flow of children, far to shy to talk to us individually, but en masse, well that’s different, isn’t it? Whenever we got the camera out we were mobbed!
The funny thing was that we were hoping to shoot short stories for our sister production, working title “Little Human Planet”, showing how children live in different parts of the world. This depended on the little people we were hoping to film behaving as if the camera wasn’t there: Fat- chance!
We soon realised that if we were to get any shots that looked even vaguely natural, the crowd of children needed to be distracted, and that meant entertaining them. Guess who had to do the entertaining: Me. Yikes!
Just so you know I am a greying man in early middle age. I am not a totally serious person but as a director on location I have a role to play out, a reputation to maintain. I have to be seen to be in charge! Usually you’d find me in earnest conversation with the team, or looking sternly down my monitor checking that each shot is right.
I didn’t have a white rabbit, I don’t know any tricks, so the only thing I could think of to do instantly was to sing! it was raining too , I had an umbrella – so I started with “I’m singing in the rain” but soon moved on to nursery rhymes to keep the “show” on the road.
I am not sure if the footage of the crowd and the children will end up being used as everyone looks very surprised or is laughing, but the most magical thing is that the little children joined in with me. Incredibly in such a remote part of the world they knew “Baa Baa black sheep” and “Twinkle Twinkle little star”! The memory of singing in the rain with little children holding technicolour parasols is a memory I will always cherish.
Here is a clip. Unbeknown to me, Richard our cameraman turned the movie camera on me and caught me during my act. Enjoy!