When the pressure's on and you're neck-deep in schedule, it's raining most heavily and you're being blown off your feet in 70+mph winds it's not unusual to question yourself, asking what on earth it is you are doing with your life. There's a reason you do it though...
This is a slightly longer post than normal but stick with me or if you're short on time, scroll down for the usual 'final result' videos!
2015 was a pretty hectic year for me with back to back shoots travelling all over the place and whilst shooting in Croatia at the end of September, I received a call asking if I'd be interested in shooting a commercial for Visit Scotland. My answer was an immediate yes as I love Scotland and had shot there many a time in the past. It was a challenge to organise as it was all a little bit last minute and I was abroad but having fixed the dates the job was confirmed to go ahead towards the start of October.
I was genuinely excited for this shoot as I'd been informed we were shooting on anamorphic lenses and in timelapse terms, I don't get this challenging opportunity enough! I'd also be working with award winning director Ben Craig, and that's never a bad thing!
What's a recce? It's an informal term for reconnaissance, a military term adopted by the tv and film industries to basically take a look at locations and see what kind of shots we can grab and what kit we'll need. I got back from Croatia on the 1st September, took a shower, grabbed some food, had around 3hrs sleep then flew up to Glasgow to meet with the crew.
For the next five days, we travelled over 2000 miles jumping between mainland and islands on planes, ferries and by minivans taking in some incredible sights and growing my excitement even more. The only doubt in my mind was the weather. Ninety percent of the time I've shot in Scotland, it's rained. We were about to undertake a shoot in October and as you all know, timelapse and rain don't mix that well unless you're going to commit to wiping the lens inbetween each frame! For some reason though, although it was windy in places, the sun stayed out during the recce - even to the point I was eating Ice-cream in Maillig!
The question was, would it stay sunny for the rest of the shoot? We arrived back in Glasgow on Wednesday night and just the travelling alone had tired me out! I grabbed a bit of sleep then awoke on Thursday to the news that there'd been a huge aurora display the night before and I'd missed it.
Technically, you don't normally do any shooting on a recce but I did have my camera with me for the odd pic which made it all the more painful, especially knowing that the client wanted some Northern Lights action if possible. I spent most of Thursday watching aurora forecasts and towards the end of the day, we decided I should go out and attempt at least one shot of the aurora just in case.
The only problem was that I was in Glasgow and it would have made sense to shoot one of the locations up north but we didn't have time for that so I grabbed a runner and we drove out as far as possible with my head hanging out the window looking for dark skies and a glimmer of white, shape-shifting clouds.
We eventually found a location by a lake, pointed my camera North and hoped for the best! The skies were fairly clear and after around an hour there was a small glimmer of green on the horizon. Nothing compared to the pictures I'd seen from the night before which were making me cry but it was something! We headed back at around 2am and I grabbed my usual couple of hours sleep before finishing our last day of recce-ing on Friday.
The Violated Assistant
We decided on the recce that I needed an assistant and a driver as although we'd be spending some time with the crew, I needed to be independent for some of the shots and also because we might spot some opportunities on our travels and stop to shoot if time permitted.
I've worked with Rob Myler for a few years now. He's very switched on, can just about keep up with my mental lack-of-sleep pace and we share the same twisted humour which helps when you're spending long nights together in the cold. Bromance is a word I use sparingly but we do occasionally hold the odd wistful gaze.
I was glad he could make the shoot, even though every shoot I've taken him on he's been violated in some way or another. He also doesn't complain much for a Mancunian and can read my mind before I know what I want - a useful skill for every pro camera assistant.
I flew back from Scotland on Friday night from the recce and Rob travelled down to London to come and help me prep the kit as there was a lot of it! We spent all of Saturday sorting the kit out which seemed like an endless task at the time as I'd not slept much then loaded the van and headed up to St. Andrews on Sunday afternoon - just a short nine hour drive away!
This is where the deviant in me started to show - every time Rob fell asleep before me, I'd take a picture of him. This not only proves that I remained awake, but that my 10-year age difference and being able to cope without sleep still outshines that of someone who's got ten years less age on me. You can see from the few select pics, I'm doing ok.
I won't cover the full 14 days of shooting here as this post will go on for eternity but I will cover my favourite bits!
Organised brutality - partly self-inflicted and partly foreseeable - that would pretty much sum up the shoot. We'd already travelled 500 miles (no proclaimers pun intended) to get to location and over two weeks of shooting, we'd travel another 2100. We arrived in St. Andrews on Sunday night and met with our driver and second camera assistant Tom Bearne. Although technically a designated driver, he and Rob took it in turns when sleep was at a minimum.
An early start on Monday morning, just in time for sunrise pretty much set the bar for the amount of sleep we were going to get over two weeks. Our first shot was of a restaurant with (hopefully) a decent sunrise in the background. Unfortunately, this didn't happen so as the rest of the crew headed to Glasgow for the 2nd day's location, we stayed on and decided to try and re-shoot it to see if we'd get lucky with some cloud action. This was our only opportunity in the schedule to do something like this so I made the call - a small step but showing the client from day one that you're dedicated to your passion is never a bad move.
I wouldn't say that you should run yourself into the ground for 24hrs a day until you get the shot but if you have a hunch and you think it's worth it then go for it. The sunset wasn't perfect by any means but it turned out much better than the sunrise so we headed towards Glasgow for day two, a little tired and weary but ready for action!
Glasgow was a day of fun shooting long hyperlapses, drivelapses and nightscenes. I left Rob on the roof by the river for 5hrs shooting a day to night shot I'd set up whilst I travelled around shooting the city. I'd filmed in Glasgow a few times but I really enjoyed capturing it's diversity and beauty in detail.
From Glasgow we travelled to Oban, jumped on a ferry and arrived in Tiree on Wednesday for a couple of days. From there we went to Fort William, then to the Glenfinnan Viaduct then onwards to Mallaig. On Friday we travelled to the beautiful Skye...
Skye, the deliverer of goodness
It was Friday night, I'd only slept for 45 minutes the night before and we were itching to take a break. A gap in the schedule meant we weren't due to shoot until Saturday afternoon so we decided to go out for a *few* drinks in the small village (town?) of Portree. Fast-forward to 3am and a full sampling of the finest Whiskey around coupled with bumping into a group of beautiful women who took us on a tour of the local nightlife, and you'll have a rough idea of the chaos.
We managed a decent sleep and prepared ourselves for what lay ahead - a full-on nightshoot to capture stars over the Shulista cabins at the very tip of Skye. The weather had held out so far on the shoot and although there was a few clouds dotted around, I was nervous and eager to grab some astro timelapses without rain.
The brief for the shoot was basically to composite slow motion action with timelapse footage so for the cabins, we were to rig in exactly the same positions on two different cabins. Having done this, the main unit went back to the hotel for a warm dinner and local beverages no doubt whilst me, Rob and Tom set up for the final shot which would take us until 5am to complete - only a 6hr shot for 10 seconds of footage ;-)
As you can see from the rig it was pretty mental. The Dynamic Perception Stage 1 Plus was holding out well considering it had a heavy duty lens on, lens heater and a huge cable to power it all running back to 20 V-Lok batteries. At around midnight, the clouds started to part, the temperature dropped rapidly and Rob and Tom took it turns to grab some sleep in the van and try and keep warm whilst I basked in my natural element, the cold.
I looked towards the distance and noticed a wisp of white cloud moving strangely - it wasn't very windy and my aurora-radar kicked in as I've seen it a number of times now. Holy shit were amongst the words I were shouting - 'I can see the northern lights'! I checked the shot on the camera and there they were - creeping over the horizon. Rob was asleep but he soon woke up. They grew stronger and stronger with bright green and red. To place the cherry on an already delightful and sexual cake, the milky way dropped into frame as it started - mission accomplished. We travelled back to the hotel in Portree and whilst the guys went to bed, I decided I'd take on another step in pleasing the client.
I was exhausted but switched on the laptop and rendered out a clip. For those not in the know, this means copying files from the camera, importing them into Lightroom (a program for adjusting pictures) then rendering them, compiling the pictures into a video so I had a playable timelapse sequence, ready to show the client as a breakfast treat.
Come 8am, dazed and confused and still without sleep, I whipped out the laptop and showed the crew the shot - not the most epic aurora display I've shot but very happy considering we only had one attempt at it and the weather, for once worked in our favour. An actual round of applause later (first time for this to happen to me!) and smiles all round, we departed Skye and headed to our next destination: Arisaig.
The Additional 4 days
On Sunday we left Skye, travelled back to Mallaig then onwards to Arisaig to shoot some Kayaks. From there we wrapped and I spotted what looked like a promising sunset. The crew told us to go back to the hotel to catch up on sleep but my experience and heart told me to carry on shooting as with always in timelapse, it's very rare to get a second opportunity and I like to deliver.
We drove around for about 10 minutes, against the clock but eventually found a location and the sky was gorgeous reflecting in the sea and rock pools. We only shot for another hour but it was worth it as it ended up in the final edits - another client pleaser!
On Monday it was a trip to Loch Lomond, Tuesday at Caerlaverock Castle and Wednesday at The Kelpies and the Falkirk Wheel. We finished our last shot at the Kelpies and for those that had a small amount of energy left including myself and Rob, we decided to go out for a *few more* drinks back in Glasgow. Cut to 4am and a further four days of filming and our hardest was yet to come!
Due to there being 3 separate camera units on the shoot (Us with timelapse, DOP Extraordinaire Ben Moulden and his motley crew and a additional content camera unit), along with 30 plus crew at it's peak, the schedule was a challenge for even the most god-like assistant director. Some of the crew had to be together all of the time and some of us or all of us had to be separated for different locations. This meant that with the main crew wrapped the timelapse unit had to shoot for an additional four days. No biggie, just a hike up to 700m elevation over 5 miles with ALL of our kit as a starter, followed by a trip to a different island and a nightshoot. No complaints - just a show of severity ;-)
With a hangover in tow we made our way back to Skye to shoot The Old Man of Storr, waving goodbye to the crew and weeping continuously for five hours. Though technically a travel day, Thursday was one of those journeys that delivered and my addiction to my love meant that I wanted to stop every five minutes as I'd seen a great location or cloud formation. Luckily Rob's common sense kicked in and he kept me to a minimum of three shots, which one made the edit!
We arrived back on Skye late evening and still in party mode for some unknown reason, we decided to meet up with the girls we'd met previously. Working hard and playing hard is painful sometimes but sometimes you just have to let go to compensate for the lack of sleep and besides, who wouldn't want to chill out with a group of beautiful ladies ;-)
70mph Winds and quite literally, blown off my feet
Another day, another hangover but we'd managed a decent sleep. It was Friday and we met up with some sherpa-types to help us carry the kit to the top of the mountain. It's no Everest but the challenge was the weather. Our guide told us we were nuts for going up there to rig, sleep the night and catch the sunrise (if it happened at all) but you have to be slightly wired incorrectly to get the results otherwise everybody would be doing it. The forecast wasn't great but we'd come this far so we'd give it a shot.
We travelled up with half the kit slowly as it was blowing a gale. There's a path that will take you half way but the rest of it was trudging through bogs and over rocks and a bit of climbing. I got blown over three times on the way up - that's 90Kg of me plus around 25Kg of kit - well played mother nature. Whilst Rob and I started rigging, building tents and starting to die of exposure, the other guys headed back down to grab the rest of the kit.
Once the kit arrived, we were left with our guide who didn't have a clue about the kit so he set up his camp in a sheltered area which we couldn't do as we wanted to be near the kit. Whilst we continued rigging the 25m of track, it started to rain and then someone picked up the whole of the Atlantic Ocean and dropped it on us.
We abandoned rigging and made it to our tents only to discover there were small rivers running through them. I tried to sleep that night but with the battering wind and rain and wondering if we'd still be at the top of the mountain the next morning, I couldn't get any rest!
Saturday morning was still cloudy, but we had to continue rigging just in case the sun decided to make an appearance and as luck would have it, it did! I scrambled to the very top of the mountain to grab a static shot then set the tracking shot going. We had about 1.5hrs of shooting time and even though it hailed and I was soaked through, I smiled all the way back to the van.
No rest for the wicked
And no more drinking either. On Saturday afternoon we jumped on a ferry from Skye to the Isle of Lewis to go and shoot the Callanish Standing Stones. We checked into our hotel, ate dinner then I delivered the last piece of bad news to Rob. The planned 'sunrise' shoot looked like a washout. We'd come a long way again so I decided (as now acting DOP - don't tell Ben M) we should try and capture the stars at night if possible. Rob's face was an ambivalent mix of violent disgust and admiration and having grabbed an hour of sleep in the hotel, we travelled another hour to location.
The weather was temperamental at best - nothing like I've ever seen. Thick, rain-laden clouds widely dispersed gave us an opportunity to maybe grab some shots in 45 minute intervals. We would set up a shot, start it and five minutes later there'd be a downpour then back to clear skies. We continued this until sunrise and at this point I was so tired that I had no idea what the shots would look like, let alone them being used in the final edits!
On Sunday afternoon, Rob dropped me at the airport to fly home as I needed to start editing the shots asap for a fast turnaround. Unfortunately for Rob, this meant he had to drive the van back to mine alone but he was granted many a fine hotel to stay in on the way and all the food he could muster.
How to please your clients
If you've made it this far, you'll see why the clients were happy. It's not just about showing up on time and being polite. You need to excel in every turn, adjust and apply your skills to every changing situation and then some.
Colleagues in my old tv career would argue that they're not being paid overtime or they've done their 10hrs and it's time to wrap but unfortunately you can't do that with timelapse, you have to take the bull by the horns, teach it how to not sleep and make it your bitch.
On that note, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Rob Myler, whose demand for pot noodles, beef jerky and M&M's almost blew the budget, for his most excellent work and company when all hell broke loose. Also Tom who didn't quite make the additional four days but entertained us with his aggressive Glaswegian accent and mad skills for ten days.
I also want to thank the rest of the crew for being nothing short of epic throughout the whole shoot, in particular Ciara and Ben - you guys crack me up ;-)
Right - with my acceptance speech out the way, here's a couple of the edits that will be going out worldwide!
As always, thank you for taking the time to read and if you have gained any knowledge from this or feel that you've just wasted part of your life somehow, follow me at one of the SM sites below and air your views or leave your comments and questions below: