Diary of a Production Assistant – My first shoot.
Posted on: September 27th, 2019
This Summer, I set off to Cape Cod on my first shoot. An opportunity to work alongside top scientists and cameramen, and to see Director Nick Stringer in the field!
So there I was mid-July, a year and a half after joining Big Wave, out on the Atlantic Ocean… surrounded by great white sharks!!!
The preparation for this moment was a whirlwind of insurance, risk assessments, scheduling and permitting, to name just a few…
As a production assistant, I am able to gain a practical understanding of so many elements of the industry and work with producers and directors to bring an idea into reality. From the moment a programme is commissioned it is full steam ahead. Months of succeeding, failing, learning, adapting and ultimately… making it happen!
‘”Yeah!!!… We’ve got him John!… Tag On!!!”
Dr. Greg Skomal jumps around precariously on the pulpit of the Aleutian Dream, shouting up to boat captain John King with the infectious enthusiasm that has made him a Discovery Shark Week legend. Greg has managed to successfully tag a 14 foot white shark, and the tracking begins! We’ve been searching the shoreline with the help of spotter pilot Wayne Davis for several hours and have seen nothing. Notoriously murky waters and a recent tornado hinders visibility. Now, with a tag finally on a shark (a BIG shark), the atmosphere on the boat is electric!
I can barely believe I’m right there, on the boat with Greg Skomal and the team, seeing it all unfold. I’m keeping still and quiet (albeit with an enormous grin on my face) because the cameras are rolling and the drone is flying overhead. Cameraman Joe Brunette is capturing this magic moment with impressive balance for a tall man on a small boat with 15kg of equipment on his shoulder!
The day as a production assistant began early, as they all did, with the important task of getting the crew to breakfast and a decent coffee; and seriously it really is an important task. The logistics of ensuring a smooth, comfortable transition from one day to the next was up to me. The crew has a huge amount to think about in their role of directing, filming or presenting and it is essential to maximise the time we have. It was important to be thinking ahead, responding quickly to the director and keeping track of what needed to be organised.
One of my shoot highlights was spending a day on the beach interviewing members of the public and some of the amazing Lifeguards. It turns out, if you walk up to a crowd wearing a Shark Week hat and accompanied by a TV camera, people in Cape Cod are pretty excited to talk to you!
Another highlight was definitely finding ourselves meters away from a group of humpback whales feeding around the boat. They dive down deep and blow a spiral of bubbles, then lunging upwards they scoop up all the fish herded in the ‘net’ finally bursting to the surface mouths agape; where I was waiting awestruck with my trusty DSLR.
I also can’t leave out a mention for the strange sunfish waving at us as we cruised past in search of the next great white. An unfortunate looking fish nicknamed ‘the swimming head’ It swims clumsily along, often with its dorsal flapping above the surface of the water. They may not have been as stealthy and impressive as the sharks… but they almost fooled me every time.
‘There’s a shark!!… Nope, sunfish again.’ sneaky 🙂
At the end of each day, I was tasked with the data management, downloading and logging all the day’s footage onto drives ready to be edited into the final programme. This was the most daunting task for me in anticipation of our Cape Cod adventure. This was the first time I’d done data management and if I missed a card or failed to spot a corrupt file, it could be disastrous! Luckily, I found the process more therapeutic than stressful, even at 3 am! (Getting the first glimpse of the day’s footage was pretty cool too!)
I’m back in England now and we’re getting stuck into the schedule of post production paperwork. Reflecting on the summer I can safely say that heading out with the team to film in Cape Cod was an opportunity of a lifetime that I’ll never forget.