Extreme Production: Taking It to the Limit and THEN Some

Published on in Director's Cut

Image courtesy of Andrew Muse. 

Creative professionals are by nature risk takers. Whether it’s some sweeping camera move or scene, we all want to get “that shot”. You know what I'm talking about. The one shot that steals your breath and makes for that wow and I might just die moment. Let’s take a look at some of the people and projects that make us stand up and take notice.

The Big Hitters

When one thinks of the best of the best in extreme shooting, the first show that comes to mind is Deadliest Catch. The show is what extreme production is all about. Go out to the Bering Sea for X amount of days and hope that you survive. Shot in one of the most hostile environments, each vessel is equipped with a bevy of small POV cameras along with handheld camera people that I can only describe as crazy. A harrowing experience no doubt.

Deadliest Catch is as real and extreme as it gets and lives up to its name. There are no do-overs either. Did you notice that all the productions in this genre like Ice Road Trucker, Alaska State Trooper both have one thing in common? They are all cold weather shows! We know that cold weather is hard enough on humans, let alone equipment. Camera batteries can get completely drained in just minutes.

 

But cold isn’t the only enemy when producing challenging programs. There is also the heat, humidity and those dreaded mosquitoes. Jeremy Wade and his crew have faced down malaria, crocodiles and even a plane crash to tell the story of giant river monsters and dark foreboding waters.

With his successful River Monsters program behind him and his new series Jeremy Wade's Dark Waters, Jeremy and the crew have endured 13 to 15 hour shooting days and the scorching sun. Each episode might take up to three to five months to complete after the research process. Each episode is also incredibly well shot, pulling the viewer into an almost immersive experience. I cannot wait to see more of the new series, airing on Animal Planet.

Brave New Guns on the Move 

Those shows I mentioned before are great but I wanted to get the low down on some others who have their own stories to tell.


Andrew Muse: 24 Hours of Pitch Black

Andrew Muse is an amazing outdoorsman, boarder dog lover and quite the adventurer. Currently, Andrew is building his next "wandering" vehicle. Here is his take on extreme production.

 

PH: How did you get started shooting?

AM: I started shooting on a film camera back in high school, which was over 10 years ago now! It was a pretty cool experience developing and printing my own images, but unfortunately once I moved to Utah my camera was stolen and I only owned cheap point and shoots after that for quite a while before eventually getting a GoPro.

PH: Did you have any role models or examples like Warren Miller?

AM: I really like the badass adventure filmmakers like Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk. Having the skills to both operate in those settings and environments and also be able to tell a captivating story beautifully is pretty incredible and something I aspire to do as well. 

PH: What has been the evolution of your shooting/editing?

AM: It all started with a GoPro and an old friend gifting me his old Mac he was getting rid of. This was the kind of Mac that had the big transparent bubble back. Anyways, the Mac had iMovie and I made some really terrible snowboarding edits for me and my friends.

Eventually, I got better at editing and upgraded to a small 13" MacBook Pro which sufficed for a while until my girlfriend at the time spilled water on it while I was living in a garage in a tent getting ready to ramp up for Season 1 of the Tiny Home Adventure. At that point, I had a few sponsors for snowboarding and kiteboarding and was about to take off for a pilot series of Tiny Home Adventure.

PH: Style/Equipment?

AM: My kit right now mainly consists of a GH5s for video, Canon 5D Mark IV for photo, 2 GoPro Hero 7  blacks, and a Mavic Pro II. I have a 15mm 2.8 Canon I use mainly for Astro, 24-70 2.8, 70-200 2.8, 2X and a Metabones Adapter for the Canon lenses on the GH5s.

PH: What was the scariest shoot you ever did…like I might just die scary?

AM: Honestly the first episode and segment of Season 1. My good friend Josh Heiner and I climbed "Spaceshot", a big wall in Zion. It was an 800' foot climb which equated to 16+ hours of overhanging sandstone feeling like I was going to die the whole time. It got to the point at about 400' where knowing if we fell I would definitely not survive became comforting... We ended up summiting right at sunset and not getting back to camp until well after dark.

PH: Where is the most remote shoot you ever did?

AM: This winter I got invited to go to Svalbard to guide/film as well as push a friend outside his comfort zone to try and raise awareness for an awesome cause. Svalbard is the closet you can fly to the North Pole. While we were there it was complete darkness 24 hours a day. By law, you may not leave town limits without a firearm because of Polar Bears. Of course, we ventured from town and had a pretty epic experience. I would love to get back there someday and take it even further.

PH: What are you up to right now? Anything cool?

AM: Right now I am totally consumed by the build of my new rig for Season Three of the Tiny Home Adventure. We are building from the ground up an Earth Roamer style vehicle to hopefully drive to the southern point of South America.


Bruce Taylor: How Not to Become Shark Bait

Many years back, I was asked to supply some crews to shoot a monster shark tournament for SPIKE TV's Shark Week. There were dozens of boats of varying sizes leaving the dock in the 3:00 a.m. darkness out of Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard. We had cameras on about 12 boats. I was on a custom built 45’ beauty. As we headed out, we began to notice that many others were turning around and heading back to port citing very rough seas ahead. Our captain was unfazed facing the 15-20 ft swells in his new vessel. 

When we finally got to our spot more than 60 miles offshore, the seas were still at 14-16 feet. Undaunted, the captain and his crew went to work chumming the waters around us with very stinky and rotten bait fish. It wasn’t too long before we hooked into our first shark of the weekend.  

By this time my sound guy, Jay Mangini, was already in the fetal position on the deck of the boat suffering from a severe case of seasickness...and this was the only hour 3 of a 12-hour tour! As I was shooting the battle of wills between man and beast with a 28 pound Sony F900 camera bouncing off my shoulder, it soon became clear that this fish was huge!  

The boat began to sputter and shake. I had to keep shooting because if I lost key pivotal moments, major story elements would be left unchronicled. At that point, the shark was pulling so hard that I could see we were having a tough time controlling it with the engines.

A few moments went by before the captain told us that we lost one of the two engines. With the battle raging top side, below deck, the captain was busy swallowing a mouthful of diesel trying to clear a fuel line. Here we are getting dragged by an angry shark, rocked by an even angrier ocean, frightened by the sight of our captain hurling over the side and terrified knowing we were now in the hands of the 18-year-old first mate.  

Between pukes overboard, the captain pointed out were the inflatable lifeboat was and how to launch it followed by the words, “I’m not kidding”. That’s when the shit got real. Looking at Jay trying to rally with one eye, and in my viewfinder with the other, I thought, "Holy crap! This is how it all ends. How sad."

Needless to say, we did not all die. But that night my guys and I got together to discuss whether or not we felt safe enough to do it all again the next morning. It truly was harrowing and everyone had similar stories.

Ultimately we decided to finish out the plan of shooting both days of the tournament. Seas were expected to only be about 8-10 feet so we all went for it. In the end, the shark that nearly dragged us under garnered second place at about 950 pounds. I've been in some pretty sketchy scenarios around the world over the years but none quite so crazy as that one. You had to be there.


Curtis Pair: Becoming the News

 

I've had my share of crazy shoots. I once shot on a Tarmac for ABC News in Phoenix in August and my shoes literally melted! I have to duct tape the bottom of one of my shoes because it was THAT hot. I've shot some NASCAR races where you get pelted with hot rubber pieces on turn two. It's fun to take the newbies out there and let them shoot right on the fence. 

The craziest shoot I've ever worked on was for a network affiliate in Phoenix. I was flying in flying in a helicopter above I-17 rush hour with the CEO and CFO of a large corporation. The pilot looked at me and said, "Curt, we just lost the turbine." My eyes nearly jumped out of my head!  

We only had about 60 to 90 seconds before crash landing onto rush hour traffic so we did the only thing we could think of: batten down the hatches and find a semi-truck to land on top of. We somehow managed to land safely on top of the truck, until we realized we were still moving and an overpass was right in front of us! 

I started waving frantically to drivers to get the attention of the truck driver. In the end, we stopped about 50 feet from the overpass. Ironically, we went from covering the news to becoming the news in a matter of minutes. Quite a day!


Between 24 hours of pitch black, duking it out with a shark and nearly crashing into rush hour traffic, who could top these three people? 

I want to hear from you — what's your best extreme production story? Leave it in the comments!

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About the Author

Mark Foley
Mark Foley
Mark J. Foley, MBA BA is an award-winning producer and director and the Technology Editor for ProductionHUB.com. He is on a mission to provide the best in new equipment reviews, along with exclusive analysis and interviews with the best, the brightest and most creative minds in the entertainment and production business. Have a suggestion for a review? Email Mark at mfoley@productionhub.com.

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