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Published : 28th August 2003
Can anybody help me with detailed information regarding underwater
I will thank you in advance for your thoughts...
Australian CML Moderator
Can you be a little more specific. There are a lot of facets
to filming underwater: what format - film or tape? How deep?
Natural History or dramatic? Each one requires different equipment
Primary is safety. Don't attempt anything beyond a pool unless
you are an experienced diver. I am an experienced diver and
shoot a lot of underwater, but I still have one guy down there
with me whose sole job is to keep me out of trouble.
David Walpole wrote:
>Can anybody help me with detailed
information regarding underwater >filming?
One of the best people in the world to talk to mate lives
in the next state to you.
Malcolm Ludgate A.C.S.
Its was Malcolm who took the Imax under Antarctica and he
has a lifetime of experience beating off sharks and a host of other useful skills.
Top guy, despite being half fish and he comes highly recommended
Laurie K. Gilbert s.o.c.
Motion Picture Director of Photography
HD Electronic Cinematographer
Global Web Site www.limage.tv
Another DOP with extensive experience in this specialist area
is Mike May in Hawaii
Laurie K. Gilbert s.o.c.
Motion Picture Director of Photography
Marty Mullin wrote
>Natural History or dramatic?
Each one requires different equipment and >disciplines.
Actually it is the Natural History area that is of interest..."Water
World" was not on my schedule.
Australian CML Moderator
Before meetings or shooting I generally send to producers
a tongue and cheek fact sheet on underwater filming .
Most if not all of them have found it informative and funny
(amazing, producers with a sense of humour, a bit like sharks
with a babysitting nature). I have been working on an Underwater
filming book for the past two years, since the information
on the various manuals is very sparse and limited.
What people tend to forget is that working underwater is very
unforgiving, it's a multitasked activity combined to an already
multitasking profession like film making.
So, bearing in mind who is directed to, here it is:
Underwater filming : Facts and Fiction
A survival guide for Producers seen from the other side, few
1/- Are your thoughts as deep as
This old divers saying applies to film production: think deeply
before doing anything. When it comes to underwater, you are
not supposed to be there in the first place. So the first
rule compared to a dry shoot is ³multiply everything
by three: money, people and time².
2/- Underwater Camera Operators are like mermaids,
they do not exist.
There are only Underwater Cameramen. It’s lonely down
there and you have to take light readings and judge the light
on your own. Not just operate. Without considering the years
of operating that you do not want to be reminded of.
3/- Don’t be reckless:
Cutting corners will always result in a serious accident,
bailing out in diving is indeed an option but often with serious
consequences. If the Underwater Cameraman ask you for a Paramedic
on standby, an Underwater Focus Puller and a Housing assistant...
get them! He’ll be grateful and he¹ll stay longer
in the water, as well as having somebody to blame when things
4/- I rather not pull focus as I operate,
have you ever looked through the porthole of the viewfinder?
Apart that housing and camera weigh nearly 50kg/110lb, you
are breathing gas, fining, keeping neutral and watching out
for the skipper throwing the anchor at you.
Yes, one cannot avoid having a Housing assistant, unless you
want me to get out of the water, dripping everywhere and shortcutting
the camera electronics as I open the housing to change batteries,
reload, change lenses, clean etc. Unless you want me to go
and get dry before I do that. I won¹t be long... have
we agreed overtime? Would you expect a DoP on a normal shoot
to reload the camera or pull focus?
5/- Water and electricity mix really well,
how often do you blow dry your hair while having a bath? An
underwater electrician and gaffer must be HSE or properly
qualified, (like the rest of the Underwater unit in the UK
and other parts of the world) meaning they must have a training
ticket equal to a commercial diver. Is shocking how many people
do not realise how dangerous it can be when lights are used
in or around water, electrifying really.
6/- Equipment for underwater usually weighs
three times its dry equivalent.
Do not cut down the number of people needed, you will regret
it heavily. Mind the slippery surface as you chat on your
7/- There’s only one reliable camera
for Underwater filming, the ARRI III.
Doesn’t have much electronics, it’s well built
and takes moisture well...ok, even a splash. Just do tell
the rental company.
Make sure you are insured: most producers indemnity policy
do not cover underwater filming (read the small print).
8/- The best Underwater housing at the moment
is still the Hydroflex, built like a tank, designed by the
best UW cameraman, Pete Romano. (I doubt anyone can disagree
on this) It’s very safe to shoot with and never lets
you down. Just do not use it as a crash housing.
A Hydroflex housing costs around £90,000.00. A crash
housing about £2,300.00. Pace also make some excellent
9/- Just because you might have had few diving
lessons in the Red Sea doesn¹t mean that you are a diver,
it just says that you got wet few times. So do babies. Ask
before doing something that you might regret deeply. We are
not watching the coral and looking for stingrays, we are working.
10/- Sharks are not dangerous, bees are.
The most dangerous animal I have ever encountered Underwater
was another diver who said he’s done it before.
11/- You don’t breath Oxygen underwater,
just air. Then there’s Nitrox, Trimix, Heli-air and
so on. You do not want me to get technical do you? Well, I
dive a re-breather, closed circuit. No bubbles, no mistakes
12/- Deeper doesn¹t necessarily mean
better, nevertheless remember that you can perforate your
eardrum or injure yourself even in a swimming pool.
13/- Safety divers are not riggers, or camera
assistants. They are safety divers and they are in the water
to look after us working. If they do something else they get
distracted or tired, not what you want when there’s
an emergency (an unconscious gaffer weighs a ton).
14/- Make sure that you have an hydrophone
in the water, so the director can let me know what he/she
wants, and especially when the camera should be rolling.
15/- Divers need to pee, among other calls
of nature. Allow a bit more time for a loo break, wetsuits
get sticky, dry-suits are a nightmare. Water, even warm, its
one of the best cooling agents (they use it to cool down nuclear
reactors don’t they?) so give us a break and a coffee
every now and again.
Have you ever noticed how your fingers turn funny if you stay
too long in the bath? And you are just relaxing. Imagine working.
16/- Make sure there are plenty of towels
for the divers and dry wipes for the camera.
17/- Breathing on SCUBA dehydrates you quite
a lot, increasing the risk of blood clotting and other unpleasant
effects. I know we are in the water, but make sure there is
plenty of water to drink available.
18/- Do not call cylinders ³bottles².
There’s a lot to Underwater when it comes to props and
set and performing in the drink. Ask the underwater cameraman
well before the shoot, I have seen sets coming apart after
few minutes underwater because they have used the wrong glue.
Or ask Spielberg what he thinks of animatronics sharks. There¹s
also the ³Waterworld² budget for you to have a look.
19/- Allow plenty of time for taking the
camera out of the housing, reloading or changing lens or speed,
sealing the housing it’s not a quick job, if not done
properly can be a very expensive mistake.
20/- Allow for tests, you do not want to
discover problems once few feet down and about to turn over.
21/- Do not smoke. High pressure oxygen is
highly combustible (it’s used for welding you know....).
22/- The Diving Supervisor supervises and
can shut down the entire operation. He is responsible for
the divers lives and he’s your best ally. If he tells
you it cannot be done you should listen to him.
23/- Make sure that you check and ask about
locations, studios or pools. Ask the underwater cameraman, not the skipper and the local diving
instructor. You are probably asking the wrong questions anyway.
Unless we are talking money obviously.
24/- Shooting on 16mm will cost you as shooting
on 35mm. Nobody believes it till the bills come.
25/- Video works nicely, shame that will
cost you as much as 16mm. Unless you are after a ³wedding
26/- There is only few good studios around
for filming underwater: Action.. The others are not for filming.
27/- All underwater cameramen are good, some
are better than others. But they all do it because they love
it (they would be crazy otherwise). ³Dry² cameramen
who say they can do it or tech divers who say they have shot
with cameras before are the equivalent of a mine at sea: once in
the water they are dangerous. You wouldn¹t believe how
many times I was called to re-shoot someone¹s else flop.
28/- Filming underwater is bloody hard work.
Next time you are swimming in a pool take few things in with
you and see how difficult it is to move them around or keep
them in place. That¹s why NASA trains astronauts in a
pool. The problem is that when you become good you make it
I love the water but like Groucho Marx said to a couple who
had eleven children ³ I like my cigar too, but I take
it out of my mouth once and a while." In other words, give people in the water plenty of breaks.
29/- Underwater filming is great and you
should relax and enjoy it.
30/- Most fact sheets like this are a complete
waste of time: you still know nothing but now you think you
do. Sorry. And one last piece of wisdom from Navy days: stilt
Disclaimer: I do not work for Hydroflex, Pace or other companies
Franz Pagot GBCT MBKS BAFTA
Director of Photography/Underwater Cameraman
Laurie K. Gilbert wrote
> One of the best people in the
world to talk to mate lives in the next State
I second that. Malcolm's a top bloke and a real pro. Well
familiar with the Aussie safety rules and regs for underwater
shoots. Also knows where to spend the money and where to save
Driving Force Films,
I do mainly cold water, N.E. States diving. There are divers
with cameras, and there are cinematographers who dive. They
are NOT the same thing.
Your dive skills MUST BE IMMACULATE and completely second
nature. It is very easy to find yourself drifting steadily
down in the water column because you are concentrating on
what you are seeing through the view finder.
I only have one comment that I didn't see posted here before
- make very good friends with a local guide or expert and
scout, scout, scout - then scout and test some more. There
is nothing more exasperating than wanting footage of a certain
critter - then blowing your diving budget because you can't
find the XYZ fish. I have a friend who is an expert and well
known U/W Cinematographer. When he comes to our neck of the
woods to dive freshwater quarries - he take me along because
I know the location better than he does. (and it doesn't hurt
that I know his gear too!)
We recently shot tests for a short feature whose producer
wanted that "murky bay" look. Told them that murky
means you can't see your subjects. Because we shot tests,
they ended up in Florida because just like we told them, but
they had to see it for themselves.
Would have cost them a fortune to show up with a full crew
and learn that. They even wanted to put an actress in 65-70
degree water for hours without an exposure suit. Try that
yourself. After 5 hours, I was damn glad I was diving dry
and no one was laughing at me anymore for being overdressed.
There are some great comments here and you are very well advised
to listen to them. Shooting underwater is no picnic - but
it can be awesome fun.
Lancaster, PA 17602
Mark Myers wrote :
> Shooting underwater is no picnic
- but it can be awesome fun.
I would like to thank everyone for the information & advice
that has been offered.
This information will most definitely been heeded, and if
there is anything else that you or anybody can add I would
be only to happy to take that on board...excuse the pun please.
Australian CML Moderator