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Socks, chocolate and saddle sores: Filming The Hunt

Sophie Darlington and Mandi Stark

Camerawoman and assistant producer

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Being thrust together with a colleague for weeks in wild, faraway landscapes while your family are a whole continent away: it could go either way, right? So it was a good job that crew members Sophie and Mandi bonded for life through shooting The Hunt, camping together in the isolated mountains and coasts of Ethiopia and Patagonia.

It all comes down to boosting each other's mood in the low moments and sharing socks when it gets too cold. Meeting these two left us smiling at their stories of coping strategies – from a phone ban to a chocolate stash.

On filming what they’d always wanted to

Sophie: Mandi and I have wanted to film Ethiopian wolves since the beginning of the mention of The Hunt. And so we couldn’t quite believe our luck I think.

Mandi: They’re extraordinary animals, and quite rare - there are fewer than 500 of them in the wild. I love wolves anyway: I am really interested in animals that have such sociability. I love the pack structure and their bonds and the hierarchy. And also I really wanted to go to the Bale Mountains where they live: it’s epically beautiful.

Sophie: It’s like this mad, alien landscape isn’t it? You’re up high and it’s incredibly green but quite other-worldly. It’s quite like you are in outer space. And then the wolves are bright red.

We had quite an epic journey with all our kit, because you never travel light, and so we finally get there after I don't know how many days of being on the road and the guy said to us: "Welcome to Bale Mountains". And at that moment this wolf just bounced through. It was magical. 

The Ethiopian wolves were 'tolerant' of the crew, hunting close by them

On long trips away

Mandi: I’d say typically, for the type of filming that we do, very infrequently would you be away for less than three weeks: three to five is typical. The longest one I had for The Hunt was nine and a half, but that was two shoots back to back.

My husband and I met working at the Natural History Unit, so for our entire relationship this has been the normality. But nine and a half, ten weeks is pushing it for any relationship (laughs) and I would say that would be the absolute limit. I only did that because it was Ethiopian wolves, and I wasn’t missing that for anything.

Sophie: But because of the nature of the job, you go away for a month and then you have to come back and live life and do all of that boring stuff. You have to pay your bills. And of course we’ve both got family. Mandi’s got a husband, I’ve got a son. And they’ve got used to it.

Mandi: My personal way of dealing with it is to switch off. It’s too difficult. I find it easier to actually not speak to my husband very often when I’m away because it makes it harder. I find emails easier.

Sophie: And my son is 15 now and he’s like: "Mum, just go away". I‘ve had to learn not to go on about what I’ve been doing. He’s like: "Yeah, whatever, I got an A in science".

Mandi (left) and Sophie also worked together on The Hunt in Patagonia

On creature comforts

Mandi: My mum sends me the same advent calendar every year which I really love, so I’ve taken it on trips. It’s super old fashioned, and last year we had a little ceremony every day.

Sophie: It was to break the day up, because you do go slightly bonkers on shoots. You are in these very remote, beautiful, exquisite places, just very few of you. We decided because each country we were filming in has such beautiful traditions, we would start showing them some of ours. So every morning or evening we would stand and sing random carols in front of the calendar. Really seriously too.

Mandi: And Sophie’s great with food. I generally get through my treats by day five. Then you’ll get to three days before the end of a shoot and Sophie will whip out some amazing chocolate that she happened to get in Paris, that she just hadn’t mentioned the whole way through!

Sophie: You’ve got to wait for that really low moment. We do the best job in the world, there’s no doubt about it, we’re lucky lucky lucky, but there are days which are tough, and there are days when you need high quality chocolate.

Mandi: What are the things that I always take?

Sophie: Not enough socks!

Mandi: (laughs) Yeah, never enough socks! I’ve still got a pair of your socks actually. 

Sophie (left) was one of Mandi's wedding photographers after the pair became close

On facing their fears

Sophie: There were also some amazing moments of madness. Mandi is allergic to horses, but she had to go and do a recce and the only way to get to the nearest town, 22 kilometres away, was by horse. So we’re loading Mandi up onto a horse, watching her, just going: "Will she ever come back? Will she be alive? Will she… explode from this horse?"

Mandi: I mean it was the size of a Shetland pony in fairness, but if you’re scared of horses, you’re scared of horses, OK!

Sophie: And if you haven’t been on a horse in 20 years, and your horse happens to have a wooden saddle as well, she came back - I promise you - she couldn’t sit down.  

Mandi: It was so painful.

Sophie: It was so funny – sorry, I mean… really awful!

Mandi: I’m never forgetting that!

Sophie: On our last day, because I had laughed so hard, Mandi organised for both of us to leave by horse, and so we both went down singing. It was one of the best journeys of my life: the two of us on horses who wouldn’t respond to any known signals. It was 22 kilometres of us singing Christmas carols as we headed home to our families. Although, it did make sitting on a plane hard! 

Sophie Darlington is a camerawoman and Mandi Stark is an assistant producer on The Hunt.

The Hunt continues on Sunday, 29 November at 9pm on BBC One. Each episode will be available in BBC iPlayer for 30 days after broadcast on TV.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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