Polecam on Safari



Safaricam
"No, you can’t get out of the car", the voice replied. "Why not?’ I asked.

"Because you might get eaten by a lion."

I put the phone down and contemplated what it was I had just agreed to do.
The Kenya project started with a call from a French production company expressing an interest in hiring my Polecam system for three weeks. The series, for Animal Planet, was to show life through the eyes of animals, from the female point of view.

Polecam operators rent to each other but rarely to people they don't know. I initially agreed to go out for six days to assist the main unit cameraman and then leave the Polecam with the production team while they got on with it. This situation turned quite quickly into yours truly operating for two weeks!

Nobody had apparently taken a Polecam into the Masai Mara before. If they did, they have kept very quiet about it. Traditional camera cranes have been used there before but it is a very difficult location to reach and the rig time restricts the number of locations per day. The road trip from Nairobi is an adventure in itself. The journey takes about seven hours and the roads are in a terrible condition.

On arrival the Polecam was mounted on the roof of a Landcruiser. The plan was to work through a large roof hatch but this vehicle proved to have three small hatches so I had to operate sitting on the roof with one leg in the hatch and the other on the outside. This worried the guide as it potentially offered the lions an easy meal!.


First find the animals...

Normally you use a long lens when shooting wildlife. With Polecam, the camera really can be right in among the subjects. But you have to let the animals come to you rather than the other way round. Getting them to do so requires a skilled guide and a lot of patience. Our guide, Clive, doubled as a driver. He was hugely experienced and could spot the animals before any of the crew. He was also able to interpret their behaviour and direction.

A lot of time was spent looking for elephant herds and making sure that the bull elephants were calm enough to be recorded safely, concealing the Polecam behind bushes or trees, downwind of the subjects. Then sitting and waiting. If they came, good. If they didn't, we moved on and tried again.
You learn a lot about these animals very quickly. We were charged several times by female elephants. These charges are (we were assured) normally fake and stop after a couple of metres. Bull elephants, however, don't stop and will not hesitate to turn a vehicle over, so it is necessary to spot calm bulls and keep them that way by moving into position slowly and quietly. We were rewarded on several occasions when entire herds passed within a couple of metres of the camera head.

One of Polecams main benefits is the amount of height it provides. The roof of a Land Cruiser is over 2 metres high so we were able to get the camera up to 7 metres above ground. Coupled with the Fujinon 4 mm lens, this provided some stunning footage of the elephants from directly above.


Intimate crocodile

The Polecam jib helped me to obtain good shots of crocodiles during one filming session. We were actually filming hippo behaviour at the time. I had the camera partially concealed in branches about a metre above the river when I spotted the crocodile swimming towards us. The croc (who I suspect holds an Equity card) obliged us by swimming directly below the camera head. A very intimate sequence.

One of the highlights of the trip for me was filming a pride of lions just after a kill. I positioned the camera at a length of 4 metres and approximately 50 cm above the ground, using tall grasses as the foreground. Clive superbly predicted the lions' behavior and, after waiting for quite some time, he was able to record a 6 metre tracking sequence, using tall grasses as the foreground, with the lion only 2 metres from the camera. That type of shot would normally only be achieved with the camera on tracks. In this environment, that is simply not an option.

‘My time in the Mara was memorable for many reasons. Being able to get up really close to some of the animals, especially the lions and elephants, was a privilege and that shot of the lion will stay high in my memory for a long time.


Chris Taber is Director of Pedestal Television Ltd, founded in 2002 and specialises in providing location and studio camera crews. www.pedestaltv.com

Tags: polecam | iss031 | safari | pedestal televsion | shooting wildlife | N/A
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