Filming Expeditions

Natures Warzone – Raine Island, Australia

While at university I volunteered for a local wildlife documentary production unit that were making films on the Great Barrier Reef. Working on the shoot for “Natures Warzone” was my first taste of the very exciting world of filmmaking. Raine Island is in the far northern section of the Great Barrier Reef and despite it being just 800m long by about 200 wide, it is the largest Green Turtle nesting site on Earth. In a single night over 22,000 female turtles can be found nesting there, and nesting goes on for over two months!! But Raine Island attracts more then turtles.

Thousands of nesting sea birds return here annually and so do Tiger Sharks…lots of them! My role on the film was basically a dog’s body…anything that needed to be carried or prepared above and below the water was my job. We spent three weeks on the island and it was an incredible experience working among so many turtles and diving with so many big sharks. I knew very quickly that this was definitely a career option I wanted to pursue. Nothing but science and adventure and all for a good cause…perfect!!!

Mystery Of the Shark Coast – East Coast, Australia

“Mystery of the Shark Coast” was the first documentary I worked on from start to finish. This was a 2hr doco for Discovery Channel’s Shark Week and I was hired as a cameraman in and out of the water. I had done lots of very basic camera work when I worked for Undersea Explorer, but never for a Discovery Channel documentary! But I love a challenge so took it on. The film was an extension of all the work we had done on Undersea Explorer tracking and tagging white tip, grey reef and silvertip reef sharks, potato cod, manta rays and of course tiger sharks. The whole shoot took eight months and we shot from Raine Island in the north down to Coffs Harbour in the south. I was fortunate enough to work with and learn from some real professionals in the industry.

This was also my first real screen debut as I was part of the shark research team. I assisted with all shark captures, co-designed and implemented the telemetry tracking system at Osprey Reef and co-created and built our tiger shark shark-cam that broke a record for the longest in-water deployment of 2.5 hours. But more than anything this film gave me the knowledge and experience to get out there and make my own documentaries. A good friend once told me “other people make documentaries, why cant you?” I decide then and there, I can!

Oceans – Great Barrier Reef, Australia

During my time working on “Mystery Of The Shark Coast” I was also involved in the production of the Disney nature film “Oceans”, a cinema release showcasing the best footage the worlds oceans have to offer. We worked on a lot of the close up footage of coral reef animals and I was mainly responsible for animal handling, especially the dangerous ones like the stonefish.

This was a huge production and for the two or so minutes of footage that finally made the final edit of the film, we worked tirelessly for three weeks with a crew of about 30 people. This was wildlife documentary making with a serious budget! A little overwhelming and very far removed from the kind of documentaries I wanted to make myself, but a beautiful film nonetheless and as always a great learning experience.

Macquarie Island – Sub-Antarctic, Australia

When I was offered a job as a scientist on the Fur Seal Research Program on Macquarie Island I couldn’t believe my luck. This six-month posting on an Australian Antarctic Station was the scientific expedition I had always dreamed of. Like the ones I had read about in books and had seen on TV. An island in the middle of nowhere, extreme environmental conditions, and millions of animals that I had never seen before. What an adventure! This was the opportunity to make my own documentary I had been chasing and I went out and spent all my life savings on HD professional camera equipment.

I wanted to capture each and every part of this expedition but that’s not easy in some of the most inhospitable conditions on the planet. It really was an incredible challenge and I learned so much about myself, filming and how much I could endure to go and get those amazing shots that would hopefully get these images out there and seen. After the six months was up it was time to come home, a little reluctantly by the way, and on my return a friend wrote an article in Melbourne’s leading paper about my time on the island, the research I was doing, and the footage I had been filming. The very next day the Sunday Night Program on Channel 7 called and asked if they could see the footage in the hope of creating a story. The producer saw some footage, loved it, and my first TV appearance followed soon after. Was it really that easy? I fell in love with Macquarie Island, so much so that I returned for another six-month stint, again researching the seal population there. This gave me another great opportunity for more footage, only this time something very strange happened. Icebergs started appearing on the horizon, dozens of them. This had never been seen or documented from Macquarie Island and being in the right place at the right time my camera was rolling non-stop.

Along with all the other amazing natural history events that occurred there a second Sunday Night story was created. I could get used to this! On my return I was determined to see all my footage become a full-length documentary. I produced a promo reel and sent it off to several production houses in Australia. I had great responses from all of them that told me I was definitely onto something. I decided to go with a Director whom I had met on the “Natures Warzone” shoot ten years earlier and together we created my first full-length wildlife and adventure film title “Edge of Nowhere” for the ABC. This film will air in February 2012. The dream comes true!

Dwarf Minke Whales – Great Barrier Reef, Australia

After Macquarie Island Sunday Night asked me if I was up to anything else exciting. Given my involvement with the Dwarf Minke Whale Project I was indeed heading out to sea for another season with my favourite whales. They asked if they could tag along and if I would film the whales for another story. I couldn’t think of anything better so I grabbed the camera, hired a housing and headed out to sea. We had some stunning weather, but much more than that we had one of the most incredible whale encounters any of us had ever experienced.

More then 50 whales interacted with us over a ten hour period and some of the best behavioural sequences of these whales was captured by my camera. Combine that with some fantastic science, good people and great times, the story went to air and had an incredible response from the public. You simply just have to watch it to understand how amazing this really is.

River Monsters – Kimberley, Australia

After meeting with several producers and directors in trying to get my Macquarie Island documentary off the ground, I was offered a position by a very experienced cameraman and now great friend, on a River Monsters shoot in Australia’s Kimberley. This opportunity was too good to pass up for two reasons: I had always wanted to explore the Kimberley, and I wanted to gain more experience in the industry.

The episode we were shooting was “Chainsaw Predator” about the very strange Sawfish: a shark that can grow up to seven metres, lives in fresh and salt water and has a massive chainsaw like rostrum armed with super sharp teeth. Not bad huh! We were out to determine if this massive animal was indeed a River Monster. I had a fantastic time on this shoot working with some real professionals and exploring some of the best country Australia has to offer. This was an awesome expedition as we travelled 150km of the Fitzroy River catching and filming Sawfish and bull sharks and all in heavily crocodile infested waters. Perfect!

Antarctica and Sub-Antarctic Islands

One of the adventures I have always dreamed of was Antarctica, and spending 12 months on the sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island just reinforced this more then ever. I think its simply because we are just not supposed to be there that makes it so attractive. It really is the final frontier as far as human survival goes.

When I was offered a position on an expedition vessel for four months to visit all the New Zealand sub-Antarctic Islands, Macquarie Island, and Commonwealth Bay and the Ross Sea in the Antarctic, I jumped at the chance! With two new cameras combined with my old faithful camera from Macquarie I was ready for anything and everything, and I got it! This part of the world is raw in every sense of the word. The weather can be fresh to frightening, probably more frightening, and we experienced the worst storm in the Ross Sea for 20 years with 18m waves and 80knot winds. But once you finally make it to the frozen continent it might as well be another planet. It is easy to forget the rest of world as you cruise silently around gigantic icebergs that made our 75m ship look tiny. For me it is by far and away the most scenically beautiful place I have ever been. The most difficult thing was working out when to sleep.

With 24hrs of daylight and so much excitement, a small nap here and there was the only answer. But it’s the wildlife that brings this region to life and it is stunning. Millions of penguins, seals and whales can be seen just going about their business, almost completely unaware of your presence at all. For me this was just incredible being around animals that had no fear whatsoever of humans. You just can’t experience that anywhere else. Do anything you can to see the Antarctic, and please don’t wait until you are too old to enjoy it. Needless to say I had an amazing time down south and with cameras rolling almost all of the time the footage I got was outstanding! Channel 7 were very happy and another great Sunday Night story was created.

Wrangel Island – Russian High Arctic

Based on the success of my wildlife/adventure stories, I was sent to the Russian high Arctic to film a polar bear story for seven weeks. Trust me it does not get much better than this! I have always loved polar bears but never did I think that I would see one in the wild, let alone be sent to film them.

Our destination was Wrangel Island which has the highest density of polar bear birthing dens on the planet and in just 15 days we saw over 500 bears. In fact there were so many at the sites we visited it was simply too dangerous to land there because polar bears are one of the only animals that have humans on the menu. We did however get many opportunities to walk with the bears and it was one of the most exciting experiences of my life, especially when a young male approached us and decided to have a closer look. So beautiful, so majestic, yet so deadly. Being the largest land predator on Earth means that smaller animals like us need to keep their distance if they want to live, and I did want to live. There is a fine line between getting amazing wildlife shots and surviving…I managed to do both.

Wrangel is also home to reindeer, muskoxen, lemmings, wolves, arctic fox and walrus. Interestingly it is also the last known place where woolly mammoths existed just 2,000 years ago and while we were there we found hundreds of tusks bones and teeth just laying on the tundra – very cool! We also explored much of the north eastern coast of Siberia meeting local Chukchi tribes that still hunt whales, seals and walrus. This was a real highlight to meet these people who have very little but were happy to give a lot. We were lucky enough to witness traditional dances, eat fresh salmon and drink tea with these fantastically warm people in such a cold, cold place. Russia is still one of those countries that you can still feel off the beaten track. There really is nothing better when travelling!

Department of Environment and Resource Management – Raine Island, Australia

Given the amount of time I have spent on Raine Island over the years, my experience as a camera man, and my ability to endure a long hot summer on a sand cay in the middle of nowhere, I was asked by the QLD Gov to be part of the Turtle Conservation Team for six weeks.

My role as Director of Photography was to film and document the team’s activities as well as filming the natural history events that unfold there. Raine Island is the most significant Green Turtle nesting site on Earth with hundreds of thousands of females coming to lay their eggs each summer. The Island is also a massive sea bird rookery and the reef that surrounds is teaming with life from the smallest shrimp to huge Tiger Sharks. Just being there is like living in a documentary and everywhere you look something is happening.

The entire food chain is right there and with so much life there must also be death. With daily temperatures over 40 degrees this is one very hot island and for the turtles this can be fatal. Most turtles will successfully lay their eggs and return to the water, but many will get buried by others, fall off small cliffs and flip over or simply become disorientated. If they do not get back in the water by about 9am they will literally cook in their shells which can get up to 75 degrees in direct sunlight. Queensland Rangers and Scientists are doing everything they can to minimise the mortality on the island to ensure the species long-term survival. But it’s not easy in the intense heat. These people really are committed beyond belief to help save the turtles. For the biggest and most ambitious project ever undertaken on the island it is anticipated that the footage taken will be used to create a documentary series about the island, the life it attracts and the tireless work of the scientists and rangers.

A Human History of the Great Barrier Reef

Having spent much of my professional career on and around the Great Barrier Reef, I was asked to come on board as the Director Of Photography for a 3-part series that looked into some of the more interesting aspects of human habitation with the largest Reef system on Earth.

Working with Professor Iain McCalman, an Australian historian and research professor at the University of Sydney, we travelled to three remote locations along the length of the Reef in some very challenging weather conditions! But that just made it all the more exciting. Iain is a specialist in eighteenth-century and early-nineteenth British and European history and his knowledge and passion for the region was clear and influential. The stories we covered were diverse and ranged from a young French boy who was shipwrecked for 17 years, a beachcomber who sparked Great Barrier Reef tourism, and the first Great Barrier Reef resource war. Early reports from the production team are very positive indeed and this small series is likely to generate a lot of interest!

Great Barrier Reef Dwarf Minke Whales with Red Bull Media

With only three days until the start of the 2012 Dwarf Minke Whale season, I was contacted by the Red Bull Media House in Austria. The message was clear – we have seen the Sunday Night story you filmed and we want to come and do the same! These guys were super organised and by the time we threw the ropes for the first trip of the season we had a Red Bull film crew on board and ready for action! Just so we are clear, Red Bull has other interests then just extreme sports and is branching out into natural history type stories too, which is great.

This was my 11th season with the whales and each and every year just gets better. It is great to see such worldwide interest in this unique whale-human interaction that occurs nowhere else on the planet!! The weather was great for filming and it wasn’t long before we were seeing pods of spinner dolphins, humpback whales, incredible dives at some of the best sites on the Reef and of course in-water interactions with the minke whales! They really turned it on and we spent many hours in water with these gentle giants with every camera on the boat rolling pretty much 24/7. It was a new experience for me to have a camera crew follow me around and document my role on the ship as crew, researcher and film maker but it was a hell of a lot of fun! The film will air worldwide in early 2013.

Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, QLD Government

I was asked to film a series of films for commercial fishers working on the Great Barrier Reef that looked into the best ways to handle and release species of conservation interest. These included sea snakes, freshwater and marine turtles, sharks and rays, and sawfish. This was a really exciting project because for the first time I got to spend some time out and about with commercial fishers which was a fantastic experience. These professionals really understand the environments in which they operate, and it was incredible to see how much knowledge and passion they had toward the protection of these habitats as well as minimising their own disturbance.

This project had me travelling all along the length of the Great Barrier Reef covering deep water trawling, eel trapping, tunnel netting and gill netting. But the best part was developing camera systems to cover all the different styles of fishing as one of the main objectives was to capture what is happening in the fishing gear with respect to target species and by-catch. This meant cameras were sent down to 40m in trawling gear for 80min (a very tense 80min), in freshwater traps, along the tunnel net and in the gill net. The footage was spectacular! All in all this was a great project and the videos will be available on Youtube in 2013.