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Hot Air Balloons

Published : 6th August 2003


I've got a film coming up which will involve shooting from a hot air balloon travelling over the Swiss Alps. As yet I don't know precisely what I'll be required to film!

Could be views from the balloon, could be views of the balloon in flight. It'll be shot on S16mm and I'm possibly looking to combine use of an A-Minima (smaller, lighter - natch) and either an SR3 or XTR Prod.

If anyone on the list has any experience of this sort of malarky I'd love some advice RE: Gripping & general what to do/not to do.

It's not going to be ultra high altitude stuff so I won't be grappling with freezing temperatures, thin air or a sealed cabin - probably it'll be the classic wicker style basket.

My first thought would be to have an aluminium tube frame running right around the lip of the basket to clamp a moy plate to.

Any advice welcome....

Tom Townend,
Cinematographer/London.


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>My first thought would be to have an aluminium tube frame running right >around the lip of the basket to clamp a moy plate to.

I've done about 30 or 40 flights with my SRII, although, never in the mountains.

Jim Dollarhide
Director/Cinematographer



Tom –

Rule #1- If you are filming hot air balloons - if you shoot them from a helicopter, the balloons will appear to travel backwards because of the difference in speed so air to air is best done from another balloon for as long as its possible to keep them together.

Balloons that take off together and remain at exactly the same height all the time, will stay together for a considerable length of time and it is also possible to tether balloons together with a slack line for air to air shooting.

Some of the best shots I have done on the piloting and navigation dialogue between the crew was shot from outside the basket where the camera was not part of the crew. The technique for this I adopted, which is not for the faint hearted, but as a skydiver from way back, it worked for me. I have a harness which allowed me to stand on the lip of the basket and lean back fully supported by the harness, putting the wide angle lens well out of the confines of the basket. The harness was attached onto the same attachment points linking the basket and the burner rig, so everything was safe, if a little spectacular to look at.

It is particularly good on takeoff because you are rising gently and turning in the middle of the balloon pack and camera is often at the flame level of the burner - spectacular shot! It also allows you to look down on the crew a little and include the ground in the shot as well as shooting level.

The other thing I discovered in a multiple balloon competition scenario, was if I put a radio mic on the nearest balloon just before take off, I could record the dialogue of the nearest balloon air to air as well as the hero balloon , on a second audio track.

The event I was filming was the Trans Australia Balloon Race in 1988 where 76 hot air balloons traversed a continent for the first time and we were flying twice a day for three weeks across Australia.

Despite being older and wiser, I would do it again this way if necessary.

Balloons don’t like landing in anything more than about ten knots across the ground - this is why flights are mostly at dawn and sunset when wind is minimum and I would be looking at having some way to protect the camera if things go wrong and you are coming in for a hard landing. Some sort of inflatable padding around the body might be a good way to go that still allows you to shoot, but pads the side of the camera body.

Balloon baskets often have large propane gas cylinders strapped inside them and these are not exactly soft crash companions. One of the most experienced balloon pilots in the world is the legendary Col. Joe Kittinger & it was his balloon I was strapped on the outside of as he crossed Australia.

Good luck and safe flying!

Kindest Regards

Laurie K. Gilbert s.o.c.
Motion Picture Director of Photography

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