Working as a documentary filmmaker you never know where you next adventure will be. By chance, the last year seems to have be guided by the great Viking voyages as I sailed with National Geographic / Lindblad to work as a guest speaker on board their ship the Explorer to share stories of our filming exploits in the Arctic, but also to help lead a series of expedition video workshops, along with Cotton. Regular readers will know we sailed from Norway across the North Sea to Shetland, the Faroes, Iceland, up the coast of Greenland and to Svalbard. The invitation came after my years of working in the Arctic as a cameraman/producer and my interest in how climate change is impacting iconic species like the polar bear.
Although the last twelve months have included everything from shooting my first feature, a dark thriller starring Armand Assante and titled Blind Pass, to the Greenland voyage, perhaps the most fascinating shoot for me came in September when Powderhouse Productions of Boston asked me to spend ten days documenting a more contemporary but more authentic Viking adventure, or at least what promises to be the next chapter in epic Scandinavian seafaring journeys.
In June of 2012 the Dragon Harald Fairhair was launched, the largest Viking longship built in modern times. At approximately 100’ in length and with a beam of 28’, she is a magnificent site. The level of craftsmanship is astounding, from the raw strength of the vessel down to the fine details carved into her prow. Our mission was to document her sea trials around her homeport of Haugesund Norway in order to create a television pilot for a series that will document the ship’s adventures in 2013.
While we all know of the Vikings raids across Northern Europe or even their voyages to North America, did you know they also ventured into the Mediterranean, and as far as Istanbul. Whilst they were fierce warriors, they were also extremely skilled navigators, sailors and above all built the finest ships of their time. It would not be too much of an exaggeration to say they were the rocket ships of their day, capable of incredible speed and able to reach places that other ships could not attempt. On the other hand, from a cameraman’s perspective this is a large open boat with no protection from the weather, ocean spray and unstable conditions for getting a steady shot. In short, a work of art for a boat builder and a nightmare for a cameraman. So the question was how best to deal with the conditions and shoot the pilot.
After years spent in northern latitudes, my first rule is to prescribe the best bit of advise I ever received from my first Scandinavian mentor, “there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”. So first stop was to purchase a set of Helly Hansen off-shore waterproofs. Not the cheapest of sailing clothing, but possibly the best. And as it rained for almost the entire shoot, it turned out to be a good investment, as I stayed dry even in the worst of storms.
Of course I had the same challenge for the camera gear. With no cabins and a completely open deck that was the domain of our hoard of modern day Vikings that might step on a piece of gear between crashing waves and heavy rain, the best solution were Nanuk cases. They are the ideal combination of strong, waterproof and quality materials. But a case like this is no help in protecting the camera once shooting begins. That task was handled brilliantly by the storm coat extreme camera cover from Portabrace. We were using a full sized broadcast camera and this cover provided protection from the elements in even the most difficult of weather.
One of the amazing things about the design of a wooden longship is that it feels like a living creature, especially when the ocean starts to get rough. Sitting in the stern you can see the whole ship twist as she rides through the waves. This is an asset for ship designer but means that keeping a level horizon, or even just keeping hold of the camera as the wet deck moves beneath your feet is a real challenge. To the rescue comes another wonder of Scandinavian design, the Easyrig.
Whilst some people call it a poor man’s Steadicam, it really serves a different purpose. The harness allows you to support even a full sized camera for many more hours than usual and spreads the load so you don’t feel nearly as tired, but most importantly on the ship, the camera floats on a cord, making it easy to keep it level, even when moving dynamically around a subject. Worst case, you can even let go of the camera to grab a hand-hold on the gunnels if things get really bad. The camera will not drop to the ground in such an emergency, nor will the operator as they try to save themselves or the gear.
For now on standby waiting to see if we get invited back to document the ship’s next adventure. With luck we will all set sail again very soon. And if this has you interested in a Viking adventure of your own, they are looking for crew, so go to the Dragon Harald Fairhair website for more information. It could be an adventure of a lifetime!
For more information on David work go to http://www.planetearthpictures.com
To follow the exploits of the modern day Vikings, or even volunteer as crew go to http://den.vikingkings.com/