Venture #02 - The Spirit Bear

Posted by on

This opportunity arose super last minute, so I stayed up all night packing. I was headed on another trip first, and had to dig out my personal rain gear and camera covers etc. However, this type of work is my forte. I specialize in remote-location shoots, and being around wildlife doesn't bother me. I’m a conservationist and hunter so operating in the wild is what I’m used to. It didn’t seem far fetched to me at all. This is what I love about my job. You pack up all this gear, batteries, lenses and head up there to produce this epic story and get all this great footage. But then it unfolds however it does and you are constantly adapting. It both stresses me out and gives me a thrill. You have all the tools to make it happen but the exact “how-it-will-look” is all based on spur of the moment decisions. Generally speaking, I like being in video production because my team and I are in and out of a variety of businesses, meeting characters on a day to day basis..every week it’s something new.

Research is very important prior to any trip. First off you need to know what you’re advertising when you arrive and why. Secondly, for a shoot like this which covers some pretty sacred stuff, you can’t just show up asking “so..why are these bears special?” That would have ruined our group dynamic by having our guide be disrespected. Since this shoot was on such short notice (and on such a special topic) we had a fixer on the shoot to help get us up there and provoke some interview questions.

The trickiest part when filming wildlife is the fact that the bear doesn’t really care about your dates or deadlines! It was comforting to know my producer saw this coming, and told me we could purchase footage if we didn’t see the bear, no stress. However, we got the epic salmon shot, as well as most of the sunny footage within the first 2-hours on the shoot. This meant I could focus on telling the story of Marven Robinson’s day-to-day operations, which is really important. Bears eating salmon is great but showing Marv walk through the forest, guide a group and present the bears is the key. It makes sure everyone realizes this a safe and humane way to get up close and personal with the bears. Without him, the bears would not be as well off as they are now.

As the principal cinematographer and editor my biggest decision was who to bring from my team. Who can operate in this environment? My regular second camera and chief drone pilot was on another shoot, so I had to make a few calls. Actually, there was only one person for me to bring and that was Axel Peterson. Axel is super functional in remote locations and a great guy to travel with.

I had a lot of rain gear, rain covers, gimbals, etc. but all of that was in my duffel bag that never made it to Canada. I did this shoot in gas station clothes and some knock off rain boots I picked up at the only store open before 7:00am in Vancouver. Since we were on such a tight timeline we just had to move forward! My cameras and body really paid for this to a degree Delta Airlines will never understand.

This is a great take away from the shoot though, for remote locations and generally speaking it is not about what gear is the latest and greatest. It is about how you use what you got. Cameras and lenses are great these days — don’t think someone is good because they have all the fancy equipment. Second take away, and words to live by, ALWAYS carry on enough gear to make something happen! If I didn’t have my sound equipment and majority of lenses in my carry on we would not be here today. There is a Pelican case that is FAA approved to fit any carry on, anywhere, best $120 bucks I’ve spent in while!

The three most important parts of telling this story are the same thing we learned when writing a paragraph in elementary school. You need a bitchin’ topic sentence to lure the viewer and it needs to be relevant. The middle of the story needs to explain the subject and subject matter — for me this meant explaining this was not an albino or polar bear right away, this is the viewer's first question! Then you get into the details and bring it home.

Not all shoots are everything they are projected to be! Sometimes the best shoots, ex. filming models or famous athletes, are not the best shoots. Often times the ones you think will be the easiest will be the most difficult...Often times the edits you think will be the best turn out the worst. The bottom line is you just never know but you always have to go! Filming the Spirit Bear in the remote rain forest of Canada happened to be a shoot that turned into a great edit. This is an example of when it all comes together for the better! However that doesn't account for some lost baggage and limited gear. I have written this blog post to future cinematographers looking for some insight into a world ever changing variables!

The Spirit Bear Venture Blog

← Older Post Newer Post →


  • Hey guys, loved the post and the video. I’m a travel/nature filmmaker myself. I have to ask, did you shoot that on the GH4?

    Ryan Mariotti on
  • Really joy watching this. Nice job.
    Pat. Austen Butler’s Aunt

    Pat Backman on

Leave a comment