In February of 2014, the SkyMotion Video drone team was moved from severely dry deserts in Africa, to lush tropical islands in the southern Philippines and Palau. The island area of Tawi-Tawi in the Philippines (near the border of Malaysia) where the aerial drone filming was to be done, presented some additional logistical challenges which had to be overcome by the production company Clearwater Media. The main concern is that this region of the Philippines is known as a real hotspot for kidnapping - especially of Caucasian visitors. There have been many people taken away at gunpoint in order to be sold off for ransom at the best of times. In order to eliminate the risks involved in filming in such a danger zone, the production company alongside local officials worked it out to have both a team of Marines, and Navy Seals protecting us from danger around the clock. No crew member could walk or be driven anywhere without armed escorts. The military personnel assigned to us were absolute pros, and cleared the way for us so that we could work safely, capturing the beautiful images to tell the story we were there to document.
The primary reason for coming into this danger zone to film was to work with the Bajau community. The Bajau people are particularly special as they are one of the last surviving traditional free diving communities on the planet. Originally living on the open sea, most have moved to land to build their houses. However, as they owned no land, they built their villages on stilts above the water in shallower areas. Filming with the RED Epic to capture incredible aerial views of the village was a real treat as the bird's eye view quickly revealed the intricacy and shear beauty of their construction. These people are clearly at one with the sea, and they truly were the ideal subjects for exemplifying how humans may have lived and evolved along coastal environments.
As large sequences of the shoot were also done underwater to show off the extraordinary talents of these free divers, it allowed for us to have a bit more free time than usual to explore the village we were visiting. The people living there were healthy, kind, and showed no signs of worry. People would let us pass through their homes freely if it made for a good shortcut. Sometimes this was done out of necessity as the walkways are nothing more than random worn out boards loosely nailed to wobbly posts.
With two full days to film in the village, the shooting was a huge success. SkyMotion Video took care of capturing both the aerial video with the octocopter drone, as well as shooting on the ground with the MOVI brushless camera gimbal. Meanwhile, accomplished underwater cinematographer Adam Ravetch, filmed with another RED Epic to capture the Bajau at home in their underwater environment - often holding their breath at great depths for five minutes. The MOVI proved to be a very useful tool for capturing elegant dolly moves close to the water's surface. By hand-holding the camera gimbal from a small boat, while someone wading through the water simply pushed it, beautiful shots could be achieved while passing underneath the stilted houses. Even though the little boat would wobble back and forth, the MOVI M10 held the horizon solid.
Of course, one of the obvious benefits of being in a warm tropical environment out at sea is that you are constantly surrounded by beautiful clear blue waters sitting at 26°C or more. So when time permitted in the busy schedule, we were just minutes away from a quick scuba dive amongst the beautiful coral reefs.
One of the last locations we filmed at in Tawi-Tawi, was a very unique market. This market is one of the last of its kind in which absolutely no money is exchanged. Everything is done through the trading of physical goods. The Bajau bring in their boats of seafood they have hunted, while people living inland bring in the fruits of their crops. This way, the farmers can trade for food from the sea, while the Bajau can trade for food from the land, and the two communities can diversify their diets. Here, once again the MOVI M10 and RED Epic were used on the ground to get intimate dolly moves throughout the market, as well as taken airborne on the remote-controlled drone to get the high-angle aerial views of the trading in progress. The Marines were exceptionally helpful with clearing the way for take-off and landing zones, as the locals were naturally very curious in the flying machine they had never seen before.
After the Philippines, the team flew to Palau - a small island country in the South Pacific Ocean. The goal here was to document a team which is still able to sail boats using traditional methods and without the use of instrumentation. In other words by relying on stars, current, saltiness of water, etc. Unfortunately, after such a successful shooting experience in the Philippines, the production was heavily disappointed with the Palau shoot. Despite over a year of preparation and planning, there was no way to anticipate the disaster which awaited them. Untold to anyone was the fact that the sailboat was not ready. Upon arrival the first day, the central mast was sitting on the ground near the dock and not even on the boat. That evening, the boat crew worked hard to get the mast up. The following day, the boat was taken out to sea so that we could film. We managed one flight with the aerial video drone to follow along as the sail was raised, but had to promptly land as the real problem revealed itself. The mast simply could not support the sail, and immediately bent into a dangerous 'C' shape. The short story is, "No mast = No Sailing". Time was limited to three days of shooting, and with one lost to weather, and another lost to a malfunctioning mast, the shoot was more or less a bust. We continued to film what we could, but already show producer/director, Niobe Thompson, has come up with an alternative filming plan in another part of the world to tell this important part of the story. As this was the last location in a long line of travels, Chuck Taylor and Gabrielle Nadeau of SkyMotion Video, took a few extra days for themselves in Palau to scuba dive in one of the most beautiful underwater environments on the plant.
By far our favorite dive was in Palau's "Jellyfish Lake". If you are ever in that corner of the world, do yourself a favour and go and see this remarkable and rare lake filled with millions of jellyfish which have lost their stinging ability. You will not be disappointed!