Magazine article American Cinematographer

Topside Photography of "Deadly Fathoms"

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Topside Photography of "Deadly Fathoms"

Article excerpt

"How would you like to go to the South Pacific to shoot a documentary film?"

That was the question put to me one day over the phone by Mike Harris, Producer and Director of "DEADLY FATHOMS".

It didn't take me long to make up my mind. I anwwered with a question. "When do we leave?"

In less than six weeks, I was loading up the essential equipment to cover all topside requirements, including an Auricon Cine-voice 16mm camera with F&B Ceco conversion to double-system sound, a Bolex REX 5 with a 10mm lens, and a 12-120 Angenieux lens.

I decided to shoot ECO 7252 for all daytime sequences and EF 7242 at night. Both film stocks worked 100% of the time, and luckily, I went through the entire expedition without one film jam in the cameras.

My assignment began in Honolulu, where we shot initial boarding and preparation sequences. I decided to shoot as much film as necessary to capture the flavor of each sequence, and to give the editor ample footage for cutting.

We had made arrangements with Technicolor for processing and workprinting before our departure. A courier would fly back with each week's shooting, wait for the original to be processed, and return with the color workprint. Avery old, silent 16mm projector was taken along for us to screen the workprint.

I cataloged every roll of film shot, sequence by sequence, a precaution that proved to be invaluable when the film went into editing. I exposed more than 11,400 feet of film over a six-week period at many Marshall Island locations.

Fletcher (Scoopy) Smith was my sound man. He also served as a grip for the divers- a job that everybody handled at one time or another in the course of filming.

Our biggest problem with sync shooting was the umbilical cord which attaches the camera to the Nagra tape recorder. There is only a limited amount of space on a ship, which made moving around very difficult. The microphone had to be wrapped with a 2" thick styrofoam pad to cut the wind noise. However, this did not seem to affect any of our recordings. We also used an inline bass filter to help reduce wind noise.

All the photography on board the ship was hand-held. I carried the Auricon loaded with a 400' magazine with the aid of a body-brace on one shoulder and the Frezzolini 10OD power-pack on the other shoulder for balance. I estimated the combined weight of the equipment being carried at around 42 pounds.

Most of the photography was done during very high light conditions, which meant shooting mostly between F/11 and F/8. The high light condition posed the problem of dark eye sockets. But, we had to live with it, since it was impossible to light each subject during shooting. Only a few of the sequences had to be re-staged. Other than those obvious spots in the film, the complete production was shot as it all happened, when it happened.

I concentrated primarily on the divers preparing for each dive and their eventual return to the surface. Sound man Fletcher Smith and I had to be ready at all times to capture the action on the spot. Since there was no real indication what they would find below the sea, or what unexpected situation might develop, this cinema verité style of shooting really kept us on our toes.

When stopped down to F/8 or F/11, the Angenieux lens is very hard to focus while shooting. To counter this difficulty, I mounted date rings on my lens for both F-stop and focus control. These helped immensely when filming handheld sequences. Seeing the first work-printed rushes, I was very pleased to see how well this technique worked. …

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