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|| News Item: Posted 2007-01-30

Boot Camp in Fiji
By Chris Large

Photo by

Chris Large on the beach.....Day 1 & still smiling.
I'm sitting in my home office, editing a recent shoot when the phone rings. It's a producer friend of mine.

"I've got a feature - October, five weeks in Fiji ... you interested?"

It took me all of about three seconds (not wanting to appear over eager) to respond in the positive. Note to self - next time ask what the show is about, what the conditions are, where the shooting will be. But what the heck - five weeks in Fiji ... gotta be cool!

And so begins the most difficult, the most challenging, the most exotic show I've ever done.

Packing my gear and luggage took a long time. I had to travel relatively light but needed to have enough gear and supplies to last me the whole time as Fiji isn't noted for having high end camera stores. My transport of choice is Think Tank Photos' Airport Addicted Security roller. All my basic gear - three bodies, two zooms, four primes, flash, meter, blimp (sound proof case that allows me to shoot while the scene is being shot without camera noise being recorded), spare batteries and chargers fit in the bag and by taking it as carryon I know I can shoot right away. Forget what you hear about no problems with this bag. Size is not an issue but weight is. I was challenged on three out of four flights about weight and had to do some serious pleading to get on board with it. On the return flights I didn't bother with it but rather used a Pelican 1610 case as checked baggage.

The first day of shooting was maybe the worst day of shooting in my life. The location, Club Masa (a very well known surfing area) on the Coral Coast had been receiving rain for the week prior to the shooting crew's arrival and was a foot deep in mud. Gear was hauled from the main staging area (a series of containers and tents) through the jungle to a quiet spot in a small bay. We shot there in the rain, and then headed back through dense rain forest. The rain stopped and the bugs started. We hacked our way through the jungle onto a series of sand dunes leading to the actual beach. The rain had stopped but the wind picked up - 60 mph blowing the sand so hard that it hurt the skin and etched eyeglasses and lenses. We stopped for lunch and then did the reverse route. So much for day one.

The rest of the movie except for two days was all at the same location, a camp for troubled teens - sort of a boot camp, which had been built just off the beach. We had tropical storms, sand storms, mosquitoes, coconut beetles (poisonous) and the number one cause of accidental death in Fiji - falling coconuts. We had a local who would either climb the trees or use a long pole every day to knock down any loose coconuts.

Photo by Chris Large

Photo by Chris Large

The jeep blows up in a scene.
On the plus side, the images were great - rain, lightning, burning tents, 15' oceans, car explosions and mud all made for great shots. The local workers, the people in the villages, our hotel staff were all the very best, the most gracious, most generous and the happiest people you could imagine and made all the hardships worthwhile.

The cast was all-unbelievable in so many ways. Mila Kunis (the 70's Show) and Greg Smith (Everwood) put up with everything and kept on smiling. They were wet, cold, sunburned, windblown and generally beat up but never ever complained.

The gear:
I shoot Canon and use 20D's and a 5D. I don't need the higher frame rate and all my bodies use the same remote control and fit into my blimp. I also brought one of the new Panasonic DMC FZ50. I liked the idea of having a camera that was totally silent, small, and I could use in really awful (read sandstorms & surf) conditions and keep it in a Ziploc under my jacket. It turned out to be a great choice. Good images, easy to use even with just the lens sticking out of the baggie and not nearly as hard to replace as a 5D. The only drawback was the slooooow write time on RAW files so I used it only in the Jpeg mode. Lenses were the 70-200 2.8 L, the 24-105 L, 28, 35, 50, 90 primes. Most of the time I had the long zoom on the 20D, short zoom on the 5D. This gave me an effective lens of 24 to 300 because of the difference in sensor size. I made it a practice to never change lenses on the beach.... just not worth the risk.

After day one, I gave up on the Airport Addicted. Just not enough protection for my gear. I ordered a Pelican 1610 from Panavision in New Zealand and had it there by day four. The best purchase I've made in years. I bought a heavy-duty two-wheel dolly and I was set for the sand, the mud, and the rain. I highly recommend the Pelican.

The workflow:
I have enough CF cards that I don't have to download during the day, even shooting 500 plus RAW images per day so I didn't have to worry about things till back in the hotel. Occasionally the weather would cooperate, and I'd be close enough to our base container that I'd download cards at lunch but normally I'd wait till later.

Photo by Chris Large

Photo by Chris Large

Steadicam on the beach.
Once I got back to our resort.... a wonderful place call Tambua Sands I'd hit the restaurant with my PowerBook and download as I had a late supper. I ingest with Photo Mechanic onto my laptop as well as onto a portable 80G fire wire hard drive. This gave me a back up of everything before I did my first edit. After the ingest I would do a very fast edit in PM, culling the shots I knew should never see the light of day. I would the rename & renumber the images then copy them to another external HD plus make two DVD's. One DVD would go to our office and be FEDEXED to Los Angles while the other would stay in my room. This gave me five backups - my laptop, one HD with the original shots, one HD with my edit and two DVD's. Perhaps overkill but I sleep better knowing that I'm covered.

I shoot in RAW and Jpeg whenever I can. Some action sequences dictate a large buffer and higher frame rate so I do occasionally shoot Jpeg only. And when using the Panasonic I shot Jpeg. Compromises have to be made sometimes.

We shot for five weeks in Fiji, and then back home to Canada for a week of scenes, that in the movie would set the stage for the camp in Fiji. Mainly interiors but a few exteriors and our run of luck with the weather was true to form. Night exteriors, the streets of Calgary (doubling for Denver) and a temperature of -15C with a wind chill equaling -40.... the coldest I've ever shot in. Not sure which was worse.... snow and wind or sand and wind.

The movie is all done now & in the editing stages in Montreal. The working title was "Straight Edge" but I'm hearing it will be changed to "Boot Camp" before released. It'll be out in a year or so and by that time I'll have forgotten all the problems and think only the good thoughts.... the sunrises and sunsets, the awesome locals we met, the incredible cast & crew, the weekends off going snorkeling, the great local beer (Fiji Bitter).

My cameras are back from Canon service (cleaning and the replacement of one front lens element). I've done another movie since then but I find myself looking at the pictures and thinking.... hhhmmmm the producers have another show there in 2007...I think I'd like to do it.

(Chris Large is a freelance photographer who shoots movie and television stills. Chris is based in Western Canada. You can see more of his images on his member page:

Related Links:
Large's member page

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