Weeks of work will last minutes on screen. Here's why natural history film-making is so time consuming.
Day 3: Stanley, East Falkland
Our flashiest piece of kit is a jib arm (picture below), rather like an expensive rotating see-saw. The camera is mounted on one end, counterbalanced so it can 'fly' around. We hope to reveal the 200,000 penguins in all their splendour. For transportation, the jib breaks down into three cases, and we used our time ashore on Falkland to practise assembling it. Several hours later - with help from several onlookers - it was up. Next time we use it, it will just be Steve and me doing the whole thing; no helpers.
Day 10: In the can
Set off to get the first shots of the assignment. Steve had the big camera in a rucksack and was carrying a case as well. I had two small rucksacks and the tripod with the head on it. A tripod head is a big lump of metal that allows the camera to move smoothly. Like all film kit, it's very heavy.
We got to the clifftop. Steve started filming whilst my role was to hang on to the bags in case they got blown away. This was quite a cold job at the top of the ridge. Once we've streamlined the gear a bit, I'm sure Steve can film single handed. The cliff edges are quite crumbly mud. Steve and I agree our biggest safety concern is something giving way underfoot. We have handheld radios to keep in touch.
By 8pm the light had dropped too low for filming, so we set about making dinner. We had pasta, baked beans and sweetcorn (spiced up with a bit of tobasco) and washed down with a glass of wine each to celebrate the first rushes in the can.
Day 12: Wave action
A beautiful, sunny day! We spent the morning on the beach getting shots of the penguins in the surf. Whilst Steve stood on the shore filming, I was on big wave watch in case a huge breaker should knock him and the camera over. I got some stills of him in action whilst the sun was out, then came back to the tent and tried to run a digital timelapse of the penguins moving around. It didn't work as well as I had hoped but I have lots of time to practise!
The light wasn't great in the afternoon, so we went on another recce walk around the colony, looking for good nest spots and other potential locations to set up the jib. Green Rock and Brown Mound seem like good options.
Day 13: Wind stops play
We'd arranged to check out morning rush hour at the beach. It doesn't get dark for long here in the Antarctic summer, so we may even have been too late at 6am. The numbers were the same as usual (impressive enough) but we're keen to see if there are peak times for the birds to go out fishing, or come back ashore. You can easily contrast the black backs of those heading out with the white tummies of those returning.
|The camera jib in position, ready for the camera to be mounted|
The wind was unusually light, so we decided to skip breakfast and start assembling the jib. This took an hour or so (we were glad that we had practised in the Falklands) by which time the wind was more like normal. Steve has to operate the joystick controlling the camera while I raise and lower the jib arm itself. I struggled to drive the jib against the force of the wind.
Dry run over, and with the breeze picking up further, we partially de-rigged the jib to make it safe and I came back to the tent to make us some food and a hot drink. We must have been out for about four hours in all, and were both exhausted and feeling the lack of breakfast. Steve weatherproofed the electrical bits and came back to the tent, and we both crashed out for an hour.
Day 14: Snow for good measure
By 8am the snow had built up enough for Steve to think it would show up on camera, so he bravely set about filming the penguins. I bravely stayed in my tent. There is not a lot that I can contribute when he is huddled over the camera, wrestling with its flapping waterproof cover, and trying to blow life into his numb fingertips.
Day 17: The day of the jib
There was hardly a breath of wind today, so we hurried down to our partly-assembled jib site, quickly rigged the camera and rebalanced it with the weights. We spent all morning getting 'reveals' of the colony. Success! Several shots were a bit bodged by a penguin or two turning and staring right in the lens as the camera flew over their heads, but I think we have some really good stuff in the can. What a relief!
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