Anyway after spending hours designing stabilizing systems that could keep the camera
level we watched some of our test shots from an un-stabilized Frankenstein camera or
Drainpipe Cam as one of our directors Justin McMillan called it because the test housings
I built mostly out of Fiberglass and PVC storm water pipe. We found that if I framed the
shot so most of the subject was not moving around wildly then sick bags were not
Water splashes were fine but drops on the lens were a problem and a 3D killer. Again
after alot of trial and error, we found that spinning front elements on the big cameras and
I invented a custom airjet system that kept the lenses clear on the smaller cameras
worked extremely well.
There were many prototypes, Some worked,
I built at least 10 prototypes and we used I think 4-5 of them on the shoot, mainly
because the 3D Gopro came along and I was able to mount it in so many new places that
no other camera could go, it performed much better than anyone expected.
So we now had all our Highly modified cameras albeit a little garage engineered.
We had a fridge sized Sony EX3 rig, A Beamsplitter with SI2K cameras, The Pano 3DA1 in
a surf housing, 4 Sony TD10s 2 of them I had in underwater housings, 15 3D GoPros but
we lost 6 of them. They were on boards, handles, Jetskis, bodys. We had more cameras
than letters of the alphabet!
Here is Dry DOP : Dave Maguire (he never stayed very dry) and Stereographer Rob
Morton and 1st AC Rich Kickbush.
BTW – much of this engineering was done on the above water cameras by our 1st AC, rig
tech guru Rich Kickbush. I looked after building the water cameras, 3D GoPros, JetSki’s,
air-knifes etc myself usually late into the night and many times all night to have them
ready for a surf mission. My partner Sally was starting to wonder what I was up to in my
workshop every night.
WHY so many cameras? Because each camera fit a specific role mainly because of the
interactual of that camera (the distance between the lenses). The Pano worked on the
back of the Jetski but not in the water, the lenses were too far apart that’s where I would
have to swap to the TD10 and a smaller IA. The fixed interactual of these ‘Side by Side’
cameras limits the acceptable 3D you can shoot on that particular camera and the size
and weight of the camera could limit your life if you get caught in the impact zone.
Choose your Jetski Driver well, he has your life in his hands.
Here I found out the hard way that when your driver is half your weight there is an
imbalance on the Jetski, and as we came down this wave, the ski Dived like a submarine
and here you can see it shoots back to the surface with Itchy still onboard but leaving me
behind to get bounced along the reef. In the foreground there is one of the directors, he
drove for me from that day on.
Here was OUR closest call.
75km off the coast of WA, Im busy setting the camera up for the next shot, Juz is busy
telling me how he plans to get closer and see that little 12 foot wave blocking our view of
the 30foot monster we can’t see coming…… well a few moments after this shot was taken
we saw it and took off full throttle from a wall of white water as far as the eye could see
coming at us like a freight train.
So we found that rather than let the ‘Limitations’ we were told about 3D limit us in how
we wanted to shoot this movie it became a shooting style. Depth and perspective became
our new favorite toys and the more we played around with the rules of 3D the more shots
we found looked EPIC in 3D while in 2D you may not have given them a second look.
There is always beauty in the wildest conditions. Even running from that monster wave
on the Jetski I kept rolling on the white water trying to overtake us and when I had to
dive under a wave at Depot bommie I filmed the jagged rocky bottom, both shots made
So with all our cameras deployed this is how we covered the action, or the surf missions.
The Gigantic fridge sized Sony EX3 3D rig operated by the other DOP – Dave Maguire,
Stereographer Rob Morton and Rich Kickbush, would be mounted on the back of a boat
with a usually very competent mostly crazy skipper. They would run down the channel at
the end of the wave just out of harms way, most of the time. Here’s where it almost went
No.. Wait it did go quite wrong here!
Myself and Director Justin would be on the jetski with the Panasonic 3DA1 in a surf
housing and we would be closer right on the edge of the breaking wave, and follow the
surfer sometimes or wait for them to come to us following through to the pickup or
If we stopped because of a wipeout or waiting for the next set Itchy or I would jump in
the water with a smaller camera and film close ups of the surfer.
The rest of the time Cameras mounted high on the Jetski or low on the rescue sled
captured all the action between Ross and Tom.
Now Once on a wave a camera mounted right on the nose of the board captured a perfect
view of the surfer attacking the wave, add to this the handle that gave us 3 amazing
angles, from behind the surfer deep in the barrel, this was the shot I had dreamed of,
another shot looking back at the surfer and the churning wave and one we didn’t expect
was a shot just as they popped to the surface and their first reaction after that
amazing ride. There is a very good reason my camera handles have a crooked shape, ask
Also there was sometimes a camera in a chopper overhead, nothing fires people up more
than a low flying helo like something out of Apocalypse Now.
To shoot a Documentary, especially one like Storm Surfers you have to be passionate
about the subject and love film making and it helps to be both. In all the driving rain, long
days and nights, cold weather, very cold water and waves so big they take your breath
away, The first time I saw the wave at Ship Sterns Bluff I thought OH Sh#! That wave
has TEETH. In all these tough conditions I cannot remember anyone saying, I really don’t
want to do this today.
Except when you get SeaSick, it is inevitable with the boat rolling and pitching, the
stresses of getting camera gear ready and the wild nature of the surf missions that even
those with concrete constitutions can be wiped out by seasickness. I remember our final
mission to the secret reef 75km off the West Australian coast, I was paired with a young
19yo camera assistant named Kyle. He was so excited to be part of Storm Surfers and
on the Water unit. I asked him, “Do you surf”? Not really… “Been out on boats much”… Not really… he had no idea what he was getting himself into! Until we were a few miles
out to sea and you could see the realization wash over Kyle’s face as the lights of
Geraldton faded in the distance, and the pitching rolling boat took hold of him.
Kyle and I got all the cameras setup on the Jetski’s and boards and the main camera
loaded in its housing with Kyle needing only a few trips to the rail to unload breakfast.
But as the mission continued and Kyle had the fiddly job of recharging Air tanks, changing
SD cards and batteries on cameras he went down hill fast. Justin and I got back on the
boat to find Kyle curled up the deck, head hanging over the side surely wishing he was
anywhere but here. Justin put a hand on his shoulder and said “Man, We realy need you”!
That raised him from the dead, the fisherman deckhand explained in maybe a little too
much detail how to take motion sickness medication ‘Not by mouth’ and after 15min of
private time I had my Camera assistant back. Kyle did his job, no matter what in the
toughest conditions. He knew he was a critical part of the team and never let us down I
was so impressed by this.
You don’t have to be as crazy as Ross and Tom to work on Storm Surfers but it sure
helps, if you’re in the camera team!
Dean Cropp : Water DOP : Ocean Wrangler