Monday, 21 January 2013

Water Logged

Shooting kayaking in one of the UK’s worst periods of flooding was always going to be a challenge. Especially using a camera last used in Turkey on the dry and dusty set of Skyfall.

I had been considering shooting a number of action sports in a truly cinematic style for some time. Desensitised to the ubiquitous GoPro miniCAM videos, endless tracking shots and the like, I’d been thinking of other ways of showing sports and perhaps capturing something that isn’t often seen: true, ultra-slow motion.

In December I assembled a crew to film a couple of outdoor sports which would look good in slo-mo. One of them being white water kayaking.
I first considered using slow-motion whilst developing some ideas for the Kendal Mountain Festival in the Autumn of 2011. Inspired by the Film Four idents I suggested we shoot a number of sports to open the individual special evenings in the festival programme. This didn’t happen, but my idea lingered.

12 months later I mentioned these ideas to my regular DOP Steve Nelson. We discussed possibilities and we made some investigations into the Phantom Flex and more manageable Phantom Miro ultra-high speed video cameras. However, apart from some specific plus points of using the higher speed Phantom we decided that 300fps (frames per second) would be enough to capture slow motion sufficiently for our purpose. We settled on using the Red Epic camera, shooting log, and equipped with some nice lenses to conduct some tests. After all, a moving kayak isn’t a bullet, even if it has been launched down the River Swale in full flood.

What I needed now was bad weather and a river in full flood.
What my crew needed was dry weather and a nearby pub.
A compromise was required, as well a man with a kayak.

Fortunately Andy Smith at Cactus Creative introduced me to Steve Edmondson. He had what looked like a kayak shaped satsuma , and a thorough knowledge of white water, and more importantly the skills to navigate it. We discussed the project and he suggested options. Producers like options.

The time I don’t spend flying a spreadsheet and juggling budgets, I spend switching between weather forecast websites.  Fortunately I could see a storm was brewing. Returning from my recce with Steve late on the evening of Saturday 2nd December, the first spots of rain began to fall.  It would continue into Monday.

With the rain still falling, I was on the mobile directing a Nissan Navarra on the M1 out of London with a camera crew and equipment whilst in a meeting with an illustrator about another commission. I then received a telephone call from my cousin who lives 4 miles away from our chosen shoot location. She was speaking from the side of the road in Swaledale having driven her BMW 5 Series through a flood and was now waiting for an AA man with engine draining capabilities. I still had to collect a hard disk drive to copy all of the lovely 5K HD video and get myself into the now rain sodden Dales. With the rain bouncing off the windows of the office Teesside and the rest of the NE was beginning to resemble opening scenes of The Day After Tomorrow. Things weren’t looking good.

Fortunately, my crew had decided to drive up the M6 and approach the Upper Swale from Kirkby Stephen having shot up there many times before and were familiar with the high moor roads.
Although the closest to the shoot location all main approaches from Teesside were now under water. Fortunately I was able to pick my way through County Durham and up in the Dales from Barnard Castle. My Camera Assistant stuck  in Newcastle-upon-Tyne wasn’t so lucky.

At 11:00PM we were all drinking Black Sheep whilst dusting off the Red Epic video camera on the kitchen table after its return from shooting behind the scenes on the set of Skyfall.
Before bed, as if by magic, the rain stopped. Just as the weather forecast the previous Thursday had suggested. Our weather window was just about to open.
My location recce with Steve Edmondson the previous weekend paid off, as we were able to quickly set-up for our first shots as planned. We had selected a two-stage waterfall to maximise our shooting opportunity. We knew that the water level would steadily drop throughout the day and that we had to move quickly and systematically before the falls became unnavigable for Steve.
We began shooting some wide shots from a high vantage point to enable us to gauge movement and speed. It also enabled us to shoot some establishing shots, general views and long shots. Before long we were amongst the action, with Steve Nelson perched above a raging torrent of peaty water capturing Steve Edmondson in his inflatable LiquidLogic satsuma plummeting down into the foaming mass of water. Photographer Henry Iddon was also on hand to capture that equally important action in freeze frame. My job was to keep the shoot moving. Nelson and his assistant Dan having been briefed earlier about the imagery I wanted just needed to keep shooting. Between pulling the kayak out of the river and hauling it up out of the steep ravine ready for the next take I was able to film the action on our in house HD cameras. As well as managing the backward facing GoPro Hero2 camera I’d mounted on the front deck of the kayak.

After more than half a dozen attempts and a quick review on the monitor I called it a wrap and Team Fridge retired to the Farmers Arms in Muker for a well-earned round of Black Sheep, toasted sandwiches and chips.

Back at the cottage we transcoded the Red Code into a more manageable video format on Steve Nelson’s mobile studio and reviewed the days footage on the monitor. An evening meal in the CB Inn in Arkengarthdale was next on the cards in reparation for our shoot the following day over near Staveley. This time mountain biking.

David Jinks
Producer & Director
Fridge Productions Limited
Tel: 0845 604 3582

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