I’ve been involved for the last year and a half in a fantastic new landmark series for the BBC called 'Planet Earth 2". It follows on from the original Planet Earth series which first aired around 10 years ago. It’s taken me to Madagascar several times, India, Costa Rica and Komodo.
It’s the second time I’ve filmed the Dragons of Komodo Island and it’s a place that’s very special to me. As a child I like many others used to love reading about dinosaurs, I remember the first trip my parents took me on to the Natural History Museum in London and walking into the main hall to see the enormous diplodocus on display there and still think about it today and how it fired my imagination. I remember Reading Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World and dreaming about one day experiencing such an adventure myself and for me Komodo is such a place.
In order to prepare myself for the trip, I thought a little background reading about the potential hazards a Komodo dragon poses to a human might be useful and get the excitement levels up. I read various articles on the web, which made my eyes wider as I did more research. Just a few of the recent victims of Komodo dragon attacks included: an 8-year old boy; a group of stranded divers; a celebrity's husband.
With this in mind, myself ( DOP ), Emma Brennand ( Researcher) and Louis Labrom ( Camera Assistant and Tech Wizard) set off for our trip at the end of July: our Mission - to film the Komodo Dragons fighting. It was coming to the end of the mating season the reports were good that the behaviour was still happening but we knew to film the spectacular fight we hoped for, we would need all the luck we could get. It took us 4 days, 4 flights, cars and a boat that was to be our home for the next 3 weeks just to get us to the island. But the journey is so worth it the moment you catch your first sight.
When you approach the island on Boat it delivers all of those images I'd imagined, the prehistoric looking huge rocky mountains, strong ocean currents, whirl pools and you just know you are going to see something amazing.
Our challenge would be to find two male dragons that were going to battle over a female. We had expected it to difficult as filming most animal behaviour is, but not as hard a challenge as it proved to be. The problem with Komodo in the breeding season is that the dragons disperse all over the island in pursuit of females and are much harder to find. But we had an amazing team with us of local Rangers and Achmad Ariefiandy a scientist who had been studying the dragon on Komodo and Rinca Island, without whom none of it would have been possible.
At first sight the Komodo dragon is an intimidating animal, it is the largest living species of lizard, growing to a maximum length of 3 meters (10 ft) and weighing up to approximately 90 kilograms. The skin is like armour, teeth like a shark and pure muscle.
It didn’t take long to get our first glance of a dragon walking along the beach and reminded me of the moment in the Jurassic park film when the glass of water ripples when the Tyrannosaurus rex approaches. You feel every foot step, the power of the dragon runs right through you, especially when you film them and have such close spine tingling experiences. It makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up when one stops close and sizes you up. It’s putting adrenaline through me now as I think about them and write this. All of us took a sobering breath, smiled in excitement, and started to plan our strategy for the next few weeks filming.
Like many top predators there is a lot of down time, dragons, like lions and many others sleep a large part of the day, but when they decide to do something it looks great. I filmed as much of this sequence as possible on the Freefly MoVI M15, It is a stabilizing gimbal that I own several of and have been using for several years, that to my mind has no equal. I have teamed it with a Teradek Bolt Pro 2000 HD wireless system that is amazing, it gives astounding range and great picture quality coupled with the Small HD High Bright Monitor and i use it alongside the RT Motion Follow focus, the Follow focus has been fantastic and works brilliantly with the MoVI as the receiver is so small it adds no weight to the system and the whole Follow Focus is made beautifully and gives my focus puller the best chance to do his job.
The ability to get the range of shots it enables me to get has revolutionised wildlife filming recently, and from a style point of view suddenly allows the animal to take us on a journey, following its movements and life in an immersive and less strictly long lens observational way. It's added so much to wildlife filming styles and suddenly brings much more of a drama feel to wildlife. For the long lens work I used the relatively new canon 50-1000, its a monster of a lens and a beast to carry but the image it produces is stunning and there really is no equal at that focal length for this sort of work.
It was an amazing place, wonderful team and incredible subject to work with and did not disappoint, and to see how it turned out look out watch BBC Planet Earth 2. and for a behind the scenes video: