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Shooting DV in Extreme Situations

By John Virata
The advent of the digital video camera, with its light weight and very good capture capabilities, has enabled a whole generation of documentary filmmakers to ply their trades in the most remote of places. From the Arctic to the middle of the Pacific Ocean, DV is fast becoming a force in the capture of extreme situations.

In this five minute interview, we talked with Darryl Czuchra, director of Anyplace Wild, a four-year-old cable TV series co-produced with Backpacker Magazine that takes you every place, from the slopes of the Scottish steppes, to the jungles of Belize, all with the help from the latest DV gear from Sony and Canon. Now in its fourth season on PBS, the nationally syndicated Anyplace Wild is shot and post-produced by Post Office Editorial (POE), a small firm in Maines Midcoast region. The brainchild of cameraman Scott Simper, a veteran of National Geo Explorer, MTV Sports and ABC News, Anyplace Wild takes you to the Extreme Edge of DV acquisition.

DP: What brand and model DV cameras and equipment is used to shoot Anyplace Wild?

DC: We use primarily Sony and Canon DV/DVCAM cameras. We started out years ago using the DCR VX-1000, and in the last few years began using a PC-7, PD-100 and a PC-10. This year we also used a DSR-V10 (fed by lipstick camera XC-999) - the DVCAM "clamshell" - and also used a DCR VX-2000 on one climbing show.

DC: We have also used Canon XL-1 for the past three years quite extensively, more for two camera coverage of scenes and beauty/nature B-roll than in high action situations.
The Anyplace Wild DVCAM camera goes "down under", floating half-submerged to capture the water level view of slot canyoning in western Australia for the "Lost in the Outback" episode. Photo by Steve Howe

DP: Why were they chosen over other models?
DC: The Sony's are chosen by our DP for their reliability, small size, and availability of accessories/underwater housings. The Canon was chosen for its better lensing capabilities (we like to use still photo lenses at times) and heftier weight - for better tripod, long lens, scenics and nature shooting.

DP: The DV cameras are being taken everywhere to get the shot. In freezing conditions, under water, etc. How does the crew prepare the equipment for this. What types of housing units are used to protect the DV cameras from the elements? Any issues with DV in shooting in freezing weather? dusty conditions? etc.

DC: We take great care and pride in designing and utilizing many unique systems to allow us to use the DV gear in these tough situations. Transporting the gear up mountains, up cliffs, down whitewater rivers, on skis, etc... is the first step. We use many outdoor equipment manufacturers padded soft cases and subvert their use for our equipment. For instance, Outdoor Research (OR) makes water bottle coolies, and padded foam cells, available at many outdoor stores (i.e. LL Bean, REI) and we use cases like this, along with modified Pelican cases, to carry the gear into the wilderness.

Clipped into the side of a sandstone cliff, fifteen-hundred feet above solid ground in Zion National Park, Utah, cameraman Scott Simper hangs out to shoot miniDV for the "Life on a Big Wall" episode of Anyplace Wild. Photo by Jeff Scher

We are also a big user of Lowepro camera bags - again, we often take still photo gear bags and use them for the DV cams. Next, when actually shooting, we normally use 2/3 mil plastic bags to cover gear from rain, cutting holes and taping for viewfinder, lens. For underwater we've been partial to Gates underwater housings. We like manual controls and its important that the housing be able to take a wide angle adaptor on front of camera. Another important step in shooting under these conditions is to be really really anal about putting the camera away in between shots - again, we use modified outdoor eqpt bags or padded cells, attach slings and carabiners, and use these as weatherproof "holsters" for the cameras so they can be deployed at moments notice. Freezing weather - haven't been shutdown yet. We keep cameras, batts warm with chemical heat packs inside insulated padded cells (see above) and take all precautions not to allow condensations to occur (i.e. don't bring cold cameras into warm, moist, steamy tents or cabins immediately). Again, small size of Sony's means less surface area, less camera body to keep sheltered from elements. Big fan of umbrellas. Also use lithium batteries when needed to minimize effect of cold.

DP: How many DV cameras have been lost/destroyed in shooting?
DC: We've lost just one. We were shooting a climbing episode during an electrical storm high in the Bugaboo Mountains in Canada when static electricity build-up zapped the viewfinder on our Sony PC-7. Basically, this build-up is a pre-cursor to being struck by lightning. Fortunately, we were in full retreat mode and managed to rappel and downclimb before anyone was injured.

DP: When the footage is complete, is it taken back to Post Office Editorial for editing? is the footage transferred via FedEx or some other means, or is the footage uploaded to the Internet from the more remote locations?
DC: All footage is taken back to Post Office Editorial for logging, editing. We've never had an edit deadline tight enough to warrant Fed-xing tapes, although we do it all the time on other projects. Never uploaded over internet.

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Related Keywords:digital video, documentary filmmaking

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