by Patrick Murray, Technical Assistant, Cardiff
When I started on Human Planet as the Technical assistant I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. Turns out it was Rivers, Urban, Arctic and Mountains. In the last seven months I have been involved in sequences ranging from Mud Mosques to Bats and the ever elusive Narwhal. It has been a fantastic experience being involved in the roller coaster that is HUMAN PLANET!
But like anything this good, it has its price….WORK! And lots of it. From putting tissues into cleaning kits to debating physics with engineers, my role really does encompass everything and anything. My day consists of making sure the Human Planet kit is where it is meant to be, doing what it is meant to be doing.
The aspects of my job I most enjoy are coming up with ways to film difficult and often dangerous situations. We like to think big at Human Planet but we also like to think cheap! This can be a challenge when asked to come up with a Steadicam that attaches to the front of kayaks and then HD Pole cams that mysteriously turn into A1s (small cameras) on boom poles. All in all we manage to get the job done and to an incredible standard, thanks to the amazing crews we put together.
Recently I was given the opportunity to go on a shoot to Austin, Texas filming 1.5 million Mexican Free-Tail Bats that live under the Congress Bridge. I guess I was in the right place at the right time because I got to go by myself to direct part of a sequence. My mission was BAT FEST! A once a year extravaganza that encompasses two stages, several bands and lots of Austinites celebrating the day the bats move in and turn the agriculture around Austin into a moth-free organic wonderland.
After frantically getting permits and a local crew together, I flew out on a Friday evening, thanks to the help of Andrea Jones and Kate Borde. Once in Austin I had a morning to recce the location and meet the local organiser. Then it was straight down to a pontoon raft we had arranged, through city officials, to stand on to film the emergence of the bats. We had just set up the jib and practised some moves when to my disbelief, and then horror, I saw a full wedding party standing behind me wondering what we were doing ruining their special day! After a brief discussion with the bride, her party very kindly moved a mile downriver. I felt a bit guilty but very pleased to get the shot!
With my soul scarred, we got some great shots of the bats heading out to feed and then headed up to the bridge to take in the Texas air and to get some bat fanatics -. while avoiding annoyed looking men in tuxedos! By midnight I was spent and we called it a night, no beer for me, straight back to the hotel and to bed. Sunday I was up packed and off to the airport to fly back to London. 36 hours in Austin Texas, that’s what I call a weekend!
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.