Pre-production, Pigpens and Sunsets

Today was another eye-opening reminder of what it takes to make an IMAX® film. From the moment we woke up at 5:30 in the morning, our crew was focused on planning out the shots, scenes, locations, cameras, art direction and everything else that would come into play once we start filming. This was one of our last days of scouting, and every moment was spent mapping out exactly how we were going to get the shots we need.

 As we trekked back over the island of Sawinggrai, each detail of every shot was meticulously worked out by the crew. Director Greg MacGillivray, director of photography Brad Ohlund, field producer Neal Allen and writer Steve Judson went over every angle, every possible scenario, until they agreed on the perfect shot. Neal has been working non-stop on the schedule, deciding each second of each film frame even before the camera comes into play. With equipment as massive, expensive and sensitive as these IMAX cameras, we need to make sure everything is as pre-planned as possible.


Plus, when you’re filming with IMAX cameras, each second costs money, literally.  Each roll of 15/70mm film costs around $1,500 and only last three minutes. And since we’re shooting with IMAX 3D cameras, we’re exposing twice as much film (one roll for the left eye, one for the right) so the costs are double—approximately $1,000 per minute.  Because of the costs, each shot truly matters – you can’t waste anything. I remember when I was on film shoots as a child, I never understood why we were always waiting around all the time, even when it seemed like no one was doing anything. I now know we were simply waiting for the perfect weather conditions in order to avoid wasting film.


We walked all over the island, starting at the pier, and then worked our way to the location where one of our shots would take place – a sea turtle nesting ground. One of our characters, Ferdiel Ballamu, works to protect sea turtles, and we want to recreate a scene of him as a boy when he first realizes how threatened sea turtles are.


Ferdiel is well known in Raja Ampat for convincing some of the villagers to substitute pigs for turtles in their feasting. This has helped reduce the number of turtles killed every year for food.  We want to include this story in the film to show how villagers are participating in the conservation of important sea turtle species.  This means that art director Libby Woolems and I will have to recreate a pigpen out of whatever means we can find. In these remote locations you have to be resourceful, and much of my job here will be foraging for items to build our sets, wherever I can find them. 


One highlight of the day was watching local villagers practice their canoe-paddling techniques while dressed in traditional Asmat costumes.  The Asmat are an ethnic group in Indonesia famous for their woodcarvings.   The paddlers practiced in typical Asmat style, standing up in their canoe in full dress. White markings on their sun-darkened skin rippled as they paddled toward shore. They seemed to emerge with their stark white headdresses and orange loincloths, out of another time. It will make an amazing visual for the film.


Because we start shooting tomorrow, a local Christian priest from Sawinggrai held a ceremony with several other villagers at the dive lodge tonight to bless the production.  In the middle of the dive lodge lobby, he went through prayers blessing our production and sang hymns, with all the Papuans joining in.  My dad, the director of the film, was offered a giant plate of saffron rice, and then everyone enjoyed a huge feast outside.  The food was delicious with fresh fish caught locally.  We couldn’t understand any part of the ceremony but words weren’t needed; they were wishing us luck in our filming and the sentiments were greatly appreciated.

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