RACE CAR PIT STOP… FOR SHARKS!
by Dara Klatt
A hundred sixty miles off the coast of Baja California, science and sport fishing join forces for an unprecedented research effort. A team of world-class anglers will land one of the most challenging fish imaginable: the great white shark.
Unlike any other catch ever attempted, they’ll lift an SUV-sized shark out of the water onto a platform, mount a long-lasting tracking tag by hand, take measurements and DNA samples while pumping water into the shark’s mouth to keep it alive and release it unharmed … all within minutes, like a NASCAR race pit stop. It’s all captured in high definition for the National Geographic Channel special Expedition Great White.
Marine biologist Dr. Michael Domeier uses advanced tracking devices to help uncover how this predator lives, how it mates and where it roams, with the ultimate goal of conserving and protecting this endangered species. “Ecosystems are changing fast today with the amount of overharvesting. We don’t want to see them wiped off the face of the earth,” Domeier states in the film. But he can’t do it alone. He’ll rely on the fishing expertise of expedition leader Chris Fischer and crew members, including actor Paul Walker (Fast and Furious), who jumped in as a deckhand and quickly earned the crew’s respect. With more than 1,000 hours of high-definition footage culled into 10 upcoming episodes, NGC will broadcast a sneak peek of the 2010 series on their EXPEDITION WEEK.
Director of production Jeff Lubsen and senior creative director Rick Lloyd of Fischer Productions faced many challenges filming the largest predatory fish on earth underwater with the Panasonic HPX-2000 Camera. “Keeping the shark in the shot, the boat out of the frame, and following the action sounds a lot easier than it really is,” says Lubsen. “Oh, there’s also that slight chance that at any moment the shark could potentially attack the camera or operator.” Luckily, the camera and the operators were spared — however, one great white opened up on the camera and bit one of the inflatable boats.
Equipment failure in the wet and unpredictable conditions was also a constant problem. They stuck to slightly underexposing in daylight situations, using polarizer/matte box and filtration to help with light contrasts and shooting dark water against white boats. Following these standard techniques, details such as the surface of the sharks’ skin, their serrated arrowhead-like teeth and the incredibly rich blacks of a great white’s eye became amazingly clear. The wider 16×9 aspect ratio allowed for more of the 15- to 20-foot shark in the frame and helped capture the magnitude of the magnificent creatures. And when combined with Dolby E 5.1 surround sound, the viewer may just feel the need to run for cover.
Lloyd also points out the obvious: “Always make sure to pull perfect focus! Anything less is highly noticeable in HD and could potentially ruin an otherwise perfect take. And when shooting documentary style, there are no retakes. Our entire team is under the pressure of a do-or-die situation where everything has to happen right the first time. There will be no asking the shark for a second bite!”