Boats, drones, grandads and us.
The sky was not awake, but I was! At 4:30am, we loaded our Flowcine Black Arm, Ronin 2, Ursa Mini and Pro, and all the other gubbins into the van and headed for Southampton.
There we met (ex-Parachute Regiment) grandads Neil Young and Peter Ketley. Their aim, simple: set the new World Record for the oldest pair to row across any ocean. And we had the pleasure of capturing the weight of this massive feat; putting it into a promotional video which would go out to Regional News and social media channels to raise money for their charities: Royal British Legion Industries, Dreams Come True and Support Our Paras.
We drove the van to a ledge overlooking the deep blue channel. The perfect backdrop for the Grandads to speak about the adventure they were about to undertake.
Luckily for us, it was a beautiful, sunny day! However, this did bring about challenges when thinking about how to control the light - to give our Grandads a chiselled and rugged appearance to suit the tone of the film. Our solution: Lastolite 2x2m frames! Using the mid-morning sun’s position, we erected a 2-stop diffusion on the left side of our talent and a negative fill on the right to bring some shape to their faces. Being near the sea, the wind was bellowing but it was nothing a few beefy baby Avenger stands couldn’t handle (along with a few sandbags that I filled a few months previously). For a twinkle in their eyes - we Hollywood-ed a 1x2m silver Lastolite bounce.
Blackmagic Ursa Mini and Ursa Mini Pro were our cameras of choice - although they are different models, there isn’t too much finagling to match the colours with the help of Film Convert and Magic Bullet Looks Premier Pro addons. I put the Pro on a Manfrotto Nitro-tech head Tripod and built and balanced up the Mini onto the Ronin for Ben to wear on the Ready Rig- slowly drifting, evoking a sea-like feel when watching the interviews back. For Audio we had our trusty Tascam and Sennheiser MKH 416 P48 Boom Mic with a deadcat to combat any wind interference.
We interviewed Neil and Peter separately, Dale asked about why they wanted to row the Atlantic in the “Talisker Atlantic Challenge”, the charities they were supporting, how they expected to raise money for the charities, breaking the world record for oldest pair to cross the Atlantic, the amount of discipline needed for training regimes and diet, how their military background informed them, their friendship, shift rowing, what their families thought, how they will celebrate at the finish line, and lastly, the safety measures needed - especially when up against a 40ft wave!!
Eyes in the sky
This was certainly one of our most exhilarating flights so far, with the opportunity to capture the Granddads in the expansive landscapes they would call home for almost 10 weeks! Before any drone flight, we cross reference airspace maps and NOTAM reports to ensure we’re metaphorically ‘free as a bird’ (if birds filed paperwork that is) and safe to fly. We primarily use Skydemon, DJI GeoMap and NoFlyDrones. We found coordinates for the areas in the sea that we planned to use - away from any airport, heliport or military bases. As there are military bases dotted around the coast, I used the handy Royal Airforce Line to let them know our coordinates out of courtesy prior.
After doing a hardware check of the drone, writing risk assessments and briefing all crew on board, we were ready to go out on the rib! We got a good distance ahead of the Granddads during the BlackArm part of the shoot (they were fast!), we docked the rib up alongside a marker buoy to give us a clear GPS home point for extra security. Taking off and landing from such a small vessel was exciting - if not a little nerve racking - but we took measures to create a landing pad at the front from a black flag, secured onto our BlackArm box for a bigger surface area (no catching here!)
It was a bright day, so an ND16/Polariser allowed a cinematic feel with lower shutter speeds and less reflections on the water. As with almost all flights, I had a dedicated observer extraordinaire (Dale), who helped ensure the drone was in our sites at all times. The temptation to invest in a nautical telescope was released on this! The Mavic Pro proved to be the tool for the job, with its small but powerful demeanour, making launching from the middle of the sea more possible than ever.
The weather and views were spectacular, the expanse of sea mixed with the distance we could get with the drone meant we could give the audience a flavour of just how small and isolated their rowboat could feel when out on the Atlantic!
Making a camera float
Whilst the Grandads gave Ben a tour of their vessel, Dale and I set out to the docks to rig the Flowcine Black Arm to the rib boat we would be in.
It took a while to unload all of the cases and the poles from the van, down the (floating) sloping walkway to the dock but it was a beautiful day and we were excited to film on the ocean and such an epic-looking boat!
We stared at the Rib and contrived a plan for the best way to triangulate the poles (could’ve been a scaffolder in a previous life!) For the frame, we used 3 large poles (two on either side of the boat and one vertical) to create the main frame which the Black Arm would be cinched onto, one medium pole across the two side poles and another medium one going to the top of the standing pole. I built the rods and two PD Movie focus motors onto the Ursa Mini Pro, put it on the Ronin 2 and with a satisfying click, the Black Arm was ready (rigging the Black Arm is one of my favourite parts of the job). We also rigged a pole between two seats at the back of the boat to mount our Small HD Screen.
The Grandads met us in their mirrored vessel, we loaded our crew onto the rib and we were off! To get the more visually spectacular shots, we drove out to a spot where the ocean was endless. Dale drove the Ronin, I focus pulled and Ben was filming/photographing on the GH5 and on Mavic Pro 2 drone duty. Here, we followed, went alongside and before the rowing Grandads. We even did donuts around them - I was pretty sure I was moments from falling off at one point! But I had a job to do and kept my focus on focusing whilst my legs were clinging onto the boat for dear life. Nothing quite like the thrill of realising you could be thrown into the ocean at any point, fully clothed. Velocity made some large waves for the Grandads, but it was nothing they couldn’t handle, they had been training to take on 40ft waves! Zooming across the ocean, we captured the sun’s slow setting, bathing the ocean and boat in gold. Unfortunately, one of the crew overhydrated and spent the majority of the ride bobbing up and down. Legs crossed. Dreaming of the bathroom. Surrounded by water. Unluckily, the tide was out, and we needed to use a lock. Water slowly trickled in, they were considering climbing out via the escape ladders.
We sat there, stationary, for about 10 minutes. Time was endless. The sight of dry land was a welcome relief, and when we docked; they bolted.
Breaking the Rig down was a fast process – it’s always quicker dismantling, right?! Dale and I worked together, the final clamp stood between us and wrapping. The sun was setting, and we were hungry after a long day of shooting. In slow-mo, the spanner slipped from my fingers and plopped into the ocean. Never to be seen again. Now we have a spanner named Ratheka, shame immortalised…