Sunday, January 30, 2011

Filmmaker's Journal: when things go wrong, take it in stride

Saturday was to be an interesting day: diving on a newly found 100-foot wreck off of San Clemente, CA and then filming a brief introduction to a video I was preparing for a film festival/science conference. A busy day but a very satisfying one. At least that was the plan.

Wildlife filmmaking is infused with a high degree of serendipity - unusual animal encounters, shots of once-in-a-lifetime behaviors - along with an often equal measure of frustration when things don't quite go your way. You control only that which you can control, and the rest you just take as it comes.

My dive buddy, photographer Budd Riker, and I had heard about a newly discovered wreck several miles offshore from Southern California's San Clemente beach and we were looking forward to this first of what could be many dives. Ocean wrecks have always fascinated me. As a man-made structure, they seem eerily out of place underwater and yet they also can prove to be an attraction for a wide range of sealife, from schooling fish to algae, corals, and numerous small critters that take up residence in the iron and wood oasis.

But first you have to find it. The boat operators had marked the location with a buoy (which makes for an easy method to descend straight to the wreck, but today the buoy marker was no where to be seen. Lost in rough water or cut free by a grumpy lobster fisherman who felt his unspoken lobster trap territory was being encroached upon; whatever the cause, the crew's easy reference point was now gone and hopes for relocating it on the sandy bottom via sonar proved to be ineffective. Rock outcroppings provided tantalizing but ultimately disappointing sonar wild goose chases.

With time running out, the boat captain had to eventually abort all hopes of locating the wreck. He moved the boat to another site with kelp beds and rocky reefs to offer some sort of consolation prize for having missed out on diving the wreck. However, that turned out to be a disappointment too, as visibility could easily be seen from the surface as having the consistency of green-tinted cafe mocha. With that, all diving was scrubbed and the boat and its disappointed and embarrassed crew headed back to the harbor.

Well, at least I didn't have to spend part of my afternoon cleaning camera and dive gear.

On to plan B in the day's schedule: to shoot the video introduction. Budd and I scouted for a suitable location at Dana Point Harbor and found an interesting spot with rocks, trees, and ocean breakwater in the background. Well, at least I will be able to salvage something from my day, I thought. Oh, but I will have to wait a moment as this one recreational powerboat motors by; its throaty engine rumblings being picked up by the microphone.

Good. All clear. Oops, hold on; here's another one. Now a helicopter cruises over head. And another boat. Now I'm having people who are strolling along the harbor's edge, enjoying the day's great weather, stop and call out, "Hey, you guys making a movie?" Well, not at the moment, that's for sure.

Working in uncontrolled environments can often be very challenging when you have specific goals or objectives to meet. The yin-yang attitude of mother nature is not always conducive to specific agendas. But it's those occasional monkey wrenches that can and do make it interesting.

Fortunately, Budd and I are scheduled to return to the offshore wreck in two weeks, after the dive operator promised to have it once again marked by buoys and accurate GPS coordinates. And we got the introduction filmed the next morning in a different and, thankfully, quieter location - just minutes before rain, forecasted for the evening, decided to come early.

Hah. you missed me, mother nature. At least for the time being.

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