Director’s diary 8-14-09: Today we finished shooting at the St. Augustine Gator Farm. It was one of those days when you realize how crazy close we come to death in our jobs! In this episode we explore what we can discover about T. Rex’s senses, so we came here to film alligators because crocodilians and birds bracket dinosaurs. In other words, if a gator and a bird have the same feature or physical attribute, the likelihood is that dinosaurs shared it too. But to examine or learn anything about an alligator’s sense of sight, sound and smell, meant we had to capture one – and a baby sized one doesn’t count. No, we had to capture the big guy – Hercules was his name. Luckily, not only were the staff extremely talented and familiar with the best ways of doing this but we also had alligator expert, Greg Erickson to assist Phil. The first step was to get Hercules out of the water and apparently Kevin, one of the handlers, said he prefers to come out in one particular part of the enclosure. But in order for us to get there, we had to cross a small bridge over a stream within the enclosure. No worries I thought until Kevin very pointedly warned us that there’s one alligator who likes to lurk underneath the bridge and he can sometimes jump out and snap. Great – now how happy am I to cross that bridge? So with a handler holding a large stick on each side of the bridge, Phil, Dave our DP, Adrian and I were meant to cross. None of us wanted to go first but being the director, I figured I had to show some bravery so off I went and wouldn’t you know it – that big so and so lurched right out and scared the pants off me! Lucky for me, the handlers gave him a good push back but I’ve got to say, I didn’t envy Phil who not only had to cross the bridge but also had to help wrangle this beast, tie it down and then take some measurements. The bridge crossings went smoothly after my fright but when it came time for Kevin to get Hercules out of the water – we almost had an incident. Hercules was camera shy and Kevin was trying his best to coax him closer to camera and just in an instant, Hercules lunged. Kevin reacted fast enough to avoid serious injury but Hercules had managed to graze his hand. Kevin was fine but it’s moments like these that remind me just how dangerous our jobs can be.
Director’s diary 11-21-09: Like the old saying goes, if life gives you lemons, then it must be time to make lemonade. The plan for today was to go to one of, if not the most important dinosaur trackways in all of South America located in Villa El Chocon in Patagonia. The location photographs we had seen showed massive theropod footprints in the mud at the edge of a lake. So with our LiDAR kit in hand, our two vehicles headed off down to the lake along with Martin Monteverde, a biologist and expert in modern animal trackways and Dr. Bill Sellers, our computational zoologist. Phil was excited to show us these trackways, knowing how impressive they are from his visits to the site on prior occasions. But all that changed when we got out of the car. A protective walkway constructed over the trackways wasn’t the only thing Phil hadn’t seen here before. The level of the lake had been raised and the trackways were now at least 6 feet underwater. We were all devastated. We’d come all this way only to discover the local authorities had very recently opened the dam and flooded the area, raising the lake level. Now what? LiDAR technology can’t see thru water and the trackways were too deep to even see. We needed to shoot something but Phil, Bill and Martin looking at the water wasn’t going to cut it. But only a few hundred yards away we found a possible solution. More underwater trackways but at least these were only in a few feet of water and visible. So without hesitation, I asked Phil to whip off his shoes, roll up his trousers and go wading with dinosaurs. It ended up being quite good fun because as much as technology makes data collection easier for Phil and other scientists, it’s not always great tellie. Seeing three grown men up to their knees in chilly water trying to tape measure underwater dinosaur footprints is good tellie. So there you have it – we came away with an unexpected scene that was certainly more active than taking a LiDAR reading of a trackway and had some good fun.
Director’s diary 5-06-09: Today was a great success! We’ve finished the filming in Solnhofen, Bavaria in southern Germany. We came to this quiet, old world region to film at the quarry where the famous Archaeopteryx fossils were discovered in 1861. It’s been an amazing week, mostly because of the people we’ve met here. At first we thought we would face various problems because most, if not all the limestone quarries in this area have been closed down thanks to the economy. Many people are out of work. We contacted the mayor of this tiny town and he couldn’t have been more helpful. He arranged to have some workers at the quarry and a guide to help facilitate anything we needed. I’d never been in a limestone quarry before and seeing how you could separate the thin sheets of limestone to reveal fossils was quite addictive – I can appreciate now how Phil can spend hour after hour in places like this. The whole crew got into the action picking up big slabs of limestone and breaking open the sheets to see what treasures were inside. We found some prehistoric fish, some insects and molluscs. But the highlight of the day was working with a husband and wife from Estonia. They could barely speak German and certainly not any English. We filmed a scene of the husband going about his work, cutting slabs of limestone with perfect skill. After we were finished he reached into a box and showed us some of the fossils that he’d found – magnificent pieces that would fetch a good price on the open market and he gave us one. We tried so hard not to accept it since we knew it was how he earned a living but he insisted.
Tonight is our last night here before we drive to Berlin. We invited the mayor and his wife to join us. He had done so much for us this past week and we wanted to thank him. We asked the owner of the hotel to make a special going away meal and like everyone else we’d met in this area, he went all out to make us the best meal imaginable. There we all were, about twelve of us around this long table, flagons of beer and the, out come these steaks the size of dinosaur steaks – we’d never seen such huge cuts. It really was like the Flintstones cartoon where the plate tips over. Then after managing to eat a quarter of the food, the chef came out with a special bottle of schnapps, an accordion and broke out into Bavarian folk songs and dance. It was a brilliant night.
Director’s diary 11-8-09: Today was our second shooting day at the New Bolton Equine Center in Pennsylvania. Yesterday, we filmed a race horse on a treadmill, yes, a treadmill! Built into the ground of the barn is a flat trackway but underground it’s rigged with hydraulics so the incline can be adjusted. They walk the horse in, rig up heart monitors and a respiratory analysis machine and then gradually have the horse go from a slow walk to trot, canter and up to a full gallop. Standing next to a horse galloping at 35mph is both terrifying and exhilarating. Sweat rains off the horse, steam rises off the horse’s body and you almost feel like you can smell the hooves heating up. And the noise, we could barely hear Phil and the vet talking! Of course, what’s most terrifying to imagine is if the horse falters in its step - what would happen? We asked the team of vets and technicians but they said, in all the years, it’s not been a problem. After seeing that, we all thought not much could top that at this location but what we witnessed today was awe inspiring. Today, Phil and our team met with Dr. Dean Richardson. He was the surgeon that worked on the famous Kentucky Derby winner, Barbaro. Today, Dean allowed us to bring cameras into the operating theatre. One of the most impressive sights was witnessing how to anesthetize a one ton animal. It begins by bringing the animal into a special stall rigged with pulleys and harnesses. After the horse is injected, they fit the harness around the horse so as it goes to sleep the harness takes the weight of the horse. Once it’s totally out, the harness rises and airlifts the horse out of the stall and into the operating theatre. The tricky part is lowering the animal onto the operating table allowing its leg to be in just the right place for Dean to operate. A team of vets all lend a hand to help manoeuvre the horse onto its side. Once the horse is in place, it’s like Dean says, carpentry but with a lot of blood. As a skilled surgeon, he’s saved many a horse’s life by fixing broken bones and damaged joints. Once the operation is complete, the horse needs to wake up but imagine a 1,000lb animal waking up with a leg that’s just been operated on – it would panic. To deal with the stress and sudden movements, they actually hoist the animal back up into the air while it’s still unconscious and airlift it into a specially designed rubber raft inside a large swimming pool. The legs extend into pockets in the raft so when it begins to wake and kick about, it’s in a water environment where it won’t hurt itself or others. Once the horse is fully awake and calm, then it’s safe to bring it out of the raft and into a recovery stall. Much to our amazement the horse was already putting all of its weight onto the operated leg immediately after being placed in the recovery stall – a huge success and incredible spectacle.
Director’s Blog March 7th 2010
San Antonio, Texas, U.S.A
After nearly a year of filming across 4 continents, today I finally managed to get the cool, calm and collected Phil Manning to swear on camera. As it turns out if you take Phil Manning put him in front of a giant crushing machine and crush a PVC pipe until it explodes you get a very entertaining result.
We were shooting the scene to try and visualise the force that a giant dinosaur leg has to endure when it’s walking. Phil’s colleague and friend Bill Sellers had joined our crew and brought along a high speed camera which would prove to come in very handy. The order of the day was basically to see how many things we could smash before we went home.
The guys at the Intertek testing facility were out to have as much fun as we were – but of course we were all keenly aware of the safety precautions that were necessary to make sure we could all continue filming tomorrow! With safety goggles, hard hats and a mesh wire screen we were all feeling very secure....but there’s nothing like a loud bang to make the human fight or flight response kick in. Every single person on the crew hit the deck the moment that pipe went bang. It was absolutely fantastic.
We also crushed a T.V and a solid 10 meter log of wood. The T.V exploded quite nicely but the projection of the glass was nothing like what we experienced when the PVC pipe went bang. The wooden log was the least impressive of the three things we crushed because it didn’t explode... but every time Victor and the Intertek team put a new thing in the jaws of the aptly named HULK the whole room took on this glow of childish curiosity. I was never one to pull off the wings of butterflies...but breaking things... that’s always a good time.
We were actually shooting for two separate episodes at Intertek and worked well into the night – Victor and his team were great sports and really pulled out the stops to make this all happen. Until we came here I had never heard of Intertek. I was surprised to learn that these guys have testing faculties all over the world...and they don’t just crush things...they burn... twist...stretch ...you name it, they do it, all in an effort to make the products we build and buy safer.
At close to midnight, as we wrapped the last of our gear, heavy rain set in. The T.V Gods must have been with us. If it had started raining an hour earlier we wouldn’t have been able to finish the shoot. The noise of hard rain on a corrugated iron roof is probably a sound-mans worst nightmare. As the rain pelted down (apparently San Antonio hadn’t seen rain like it for months) we drove in convoy trying to find a place to eat dinner at 1am. We had high hopes for Mexican food but found the only place open was an all night diner. Oh well... it’s nearly breakfast time anyway.
Signing off. 2am.
Director’s diary 2-6-09: Will the smell ever go away? That’s how I’m feeling tonight after we filmed the dreaded and forever named, chicken experiment. The idea was to visually reveal how the process of decomposition can be slowed down. It all began a few weeks ago when we were still in pre-production in New Zealand. Our amazing fixer, Gabi, was in charge of lining up all the people, locations and props necessary for our shoot in Germany. But when we called her about this request, there was a long pause – two dead chickens? What we set up was to take one dead chicken, put some sand in a bucket, followed by the chicken, then more sand and some water. Cover it and put it outside in the sun. In a second bucket, no sand, no water – just one dead chicken and a mesh cover left out in the sun. Two weeks later, we’ll show up with Phil and the Dino Frey, yes that’s his name, and we will film the results. Well, as you can imagine, Germany in the summer sun, ooooh it was bad. Plus, who the heck is Gabi going to find willing to do such a thing? The location was in Bavaria, Gabi lives in Berlin. So without pause, she jumped in her car and headed south to find a willing farmer. Eventually and for a fair fee, she found a farmer and together they set it all up. Two weeks later – we showed up. Phil and Dino almost threw up on camera. But the two of them were real pros. They donned their rubber gloves, pushed aside the swarming maggots and prodded, poked and examined both chickens. The best part though was Phil’s reaction to the buried chicken. Even though he really did almost lose his guts, he was genuinely surprised by the results. The chicken had blackened and swelled. The other had collapsed in on itself and was barely recognizable as a chicken. It really gave an excellent idea of how this burial process can be the start of how a fossil is created over millions of years. After we finished with the chickens, it was getting late and tonight is was Phil’s birthday. We’d planned a birthday dinner in his honour but I have to say, tonight was our cheapest meal ever!