A film clip sampler of my cinematography. With web compression not the best image quality but glad to be able to share it with you. Happy surfing!
HOTEL HELICONIA OPENING
As a tropical biologist, I fell in love with the Heliconia plant. This was always going to be a personal project, and it took me 14 years to sell. Execs tend to shy away from 50 min of telly focused on a plant. In the end they gave me the money just to get me out of the office! Trying to bring a plant to life as the focus of a film dictates camera movement of every possible sort. I contacted Steadicam inventor Garret Brown explaining I wanted to charge through the jungle with a hummingbirds POV, a bit like the brilliant “The Return of the Jedi” speeder bike chase through the redwoods he filmed for George Lucas in Starwars. Also mentioning as a wildlife filmmaker there was little money to do so. Garret was very gracious and helpful, guiding me through the process on the cheap. The opening combines live-action, Steadicam, a sliding aircraft cable dolly and bluescreen, it broke new ground for a natural history film. It was a big hit and remains the personal project I’m most proud of. Some days we were running 5 cameras – from insitu month-long jungle time lapses to 3-Perf 35mm jib to slo-mo hummingbirds. I’m forever grateful to everyone who assisted during the two years of field production especially my fantastic Costa Rican crew – Jimmy Trejos Camacho, Canudo “Noodles” Mudoz Briones, Gerado Vega Chavarria and camera assistants Ted Giffords, Nick Turner, Michael Dilger. Hotel Heliconia BBC Natural World #HotelHeliconia
When the Borassus Palms produce nuts in the African jungles of Gabon every creature in the forest is on it. For this shot of the Mandrill plucking nuts, I stuffed the camera with a 10mm lens right next to the bunch, held in place with gardening wire and waited quietly 30 feet away holding my remote cable trigger. It didn’t take long before this stunning Mandrill showed up. Delighted I hit the switch to run the camera. The big male snatched a few nuts all the while glancing at me straight in the eye. I sat grinning from ear to ear knowing I was getting a special shot, but that didn’t last long. After briefly looking away, quick as a flash he snatched the camera with such force it came loose and he tried to run off with it! With me on the other end with the cable! Luckily he saw I was right behind him and didn’t get far before dropping it. Sadly this was before the ‘making of ‘ films commonly seen today – it would of made a very good one for sure. I was just glad to get my camera back with my 10mm wide angle in one piece!
The Mandrill mass migration had never been filmed before, in fact, it had been seen by very few people. After a month of waiting with cameras at the ready the radio call from the scientific researcher finally crackled ‘their coming’! And it was over in 20 minutes. BBC CONGO series Footprints in the Forest
To film the disco dance of the Red-capped Manakin, you have to find them first. Local’s call them ‘El Stenographo’, due to their loud wing-snapping they sound exactly like the long-forgotten typewriter. So we used our ears – as males gather in the jungle treetops to attract the ladies the racket recalls a busy office of yore. After locating a group of randy males and hoisting up the camera kit & tripod into the trees, I ratchet strapped the lot to a tree trunk, including myself.
A good production backstory on this one. The display happens 45 feet up in the jungle understory where it’s still quite dark photographically speaking and we were still shooting film at the time. Coincidentally Martin Hammond from Kodak GB had just gotten in touch telling me Eastman had a new fast stock rated @ 640 iso called Primetime. He asked if I wanted to have some pre-release test samples. I replied I had a shoot the next week and I’d be delighted – the problem was it was only available in 100-foot loads. Hence this sequence was shot with my Nikon still lenses on a wind-up clockwork Bolex – the only camera the NHU had that would take 100ft loads. I can still recall being strapped to a tree 45 feet up for three weeks having to crank up the camera every 40 seconds to shoot the next shot. Good times!
In the end, the sequence was quite a hit, re-cut into several big series by different broadcasters as well as going viral plastered all over Youtube with millions of plays. BBC Battle of the Sexes series #ManakinMoonwalk
ATTENBOROUGH’S AMBER ANTS
Producer / Cameraman John Aitchinson asked me to film some bits for a project on Amber with Attenborough. He wanted to shoot ants tending scale insects, milking them like cattle, however, the scale insects were only 1mm in size.
The sequence had to be shot outside without disturbing them to get the behaviour. We needed to wait over two weeks for a completely still calm windless day – at this magnification, any breeze looked like a tornado making filming impossible. Hence the plant, light, tripod was all braced together with a number of magic arms. Shot with Zeiss Luminar microscope objectives mounted on my Arri using a focus stage and tilt wedge for positioning. Lighting was with a 400w Joker shot through a water scrim to absorb heat and a 5mm washer wrapped in foil positioned with an alligator clamp for fill. Amber Time Machine BBC Natural World
BIG SKY BEARS OPENING
Tracked two bear cubs in the Montana backwoods as they grew up. Over the two years of production, there was lots of long lens on this one, myself and fellow cameraman Jeff Hogan were on 800mm most days. My daughter, who was 6 at the time, adored them. She christened them Archie and Luke and was delighted to learn ‘her’ cubs would be on telly. Hard not to be charmed, Archie and Luke are exceptionally endearing. Big Sky Bears BBC Natural World #BigSkyBears
A FEW FEET
When Canon first introduced DSLRs that could shoot motion it was a major imaging milestone. We tested a 7D as an orginiation camera in this short river study made in the depth of Montana Winter. Good fun it was and glad to say it still plays well. In the end we gave it to Montana PBS who still use it as a local filler. #AFewFeet
ANDES TO AMAZON
When HD first took off Apple approached the BBC Natural History Unit for some shorts they could use to show off Apple HDTV. HD telly and video streaming were in its infancy and there was very little HD content at the time. As I was in the office the boss told me to make myself useful and produce a few for them. I only shot a few snippets on this the rest is Beeb library. MIP Com short for Apple / BBC Motion
Finding an active hummingbird nest in the middle of the rainforest jungle is like a needle in the haystack. Finding one under construction is the Holy Grail! At last, we walked right into this female on a trail we used daily. And as luck would have it she had just started web weaving. We dropped everything and started shooting her delicate homemaking. As a cameraman, there is no greater thrill than seeing your work paired with Sir Davids’s marvelous voice. Animal House BBC Natural World
Filming around water is always fun. We wanted to film Splendid Damselflies mating, the difficult bit is the entire love affair happens just inches over the water. Keen to shoot some of the sequence at high speed I called Alan Neil at Photosconics, who had recently made a 360fps Super 16mm camera. He asked just what I was going to do with it –I told him “put it in a stream in France”. To which he calmly replied, “how long do you need it”? He added it was the one and only High-Speed Super 16 camera in existence and not to drop it in the water.
In France we needed to dip the periscope to get the opening shot of the sequence so we made the usual gaffer tape job… it leaked. The stream cut through wine-growing country, miles and miles of vineyards. At an agricultural supply house, we bought some tubing used to irrigate the fields – it was perfect, flexible PVC with a 3in ID. We made up a large ‘condom’ with a dome port on the end – it worked a treat. I still have it, the vineyard periscope condom has been employed to film salmon, trout and others on two continents.
The Photosconics never fell into the water – but the Cinematography Electronics Precision Speed control did …. twice – a quick trip back to the hotel, circuit boards laid out on the bed, and judicious use of a hairdryer did the trick. I knelt in that stream for over two weeks. My knees ache just thinking about this job. But forget that – get a load of those flor green shorts baby!! BBC Battle of the Sexes Series
A MOOSE NAMED MADELINE
I followed a moose calf growing up in Canada for two years – and it took all of two years to get footage of wild moose feeding underwater. Dave Reichert came up with the goods, but it took a full re-breather and a relaxed munching moose to get it in the can. The Moose biologists we were working with were as thrilled as we were – no one had seen their foot-long tongue in action. A Moose Named Madeline BBC Natural World #AMooseNamedMadeline
WHITE TENT MAKING BATS
A clip for Hotel Heliconia introducing you to one of the most fabulous creatures on the planet ~ Honduran white tent-making bats. These delightful fluffy mini snowballs are fig specialists, building tents to camp out next to fruiting fig trees. Certainly in the bat top ten! Hotel Heliconia BBC Natural World #HotelHeliconia
Autumn puts Salmon on the move and lights up the forest in spectacular fashion. When I first arrived at this salmon pool a Lynx was peering over the edge eyeing the fish. I watched him for 5 minutes before he quietly walked out of sight. A Moose Named Madeline BBC Natural World #AMooseNamedMadeline
Motion clips © BBC with the exception of ‘A Few Feet’ – do not copy or use without permission