LIBRARY: Tutorials Reviews Interviews Editorials Features Business Authors RSS Feed

“Before I forget: don’t wear any underwear.”

COW Library : Field Production : Tim Wilson : “Before I forget: don’t wear any underwear.”
CreativeCOW presents “Before I forget: don’t wear any underwear.” -- Field Production Editorial


CreativeCOW.net
Palm Springs California USA
CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.


"Before I forget: don't wear any underwear."

That's what my contact was telling me to prep me for my first helicopter ride.

"What? Why?"

"If the helicopter crashes, your flight suit will keep things from catching on fire, but it can get hot enough to melt the rubber in your waistband. It'd burn right through you. Slice you in half."

Makes sense, I thought as I hung up.

Wait – keep THINGS from catching on fire? Which things? And remind me – why were we talking about my underwear?

I began to think that this was all a ploy to distract me from "if the helicopter crashes." It wasn't working, but alligators all of a sudden didn't sound so scary. They could tear enormous chunks out of my flesh, but it's not like they could slice me in half with burning rubber.

The trip was on behalf of a show I worked on in the 90s called Waterways, which was jointly funded by NOAA, the EPA, and the National Park Service via Everglades National Park. I handled all the shooting and post for the show, which aired weekly across Florida and Georgia on PBS affiliates and government channels.

The goal for this trip was simple enough: not die from alligators or melting rubber find alligator nests in parts of the Everglades that were being restored to a more natural state. One way to monitor the success of this restoration effort was to monitor the communities of critters living in these areas. In our case, alligators. More specifically, we were going to gather data from alligator nests, aka, alligator holes. (You can see why from the pictures here.) That's as much as they told me, and I thought it sounded amazing. Alligator nests!

I roll up to the ranger station, and there's the helicopter. It was tiny, barely big enough for the four us: the pilot, the scientist, the show's host-producer Kelly Everman of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary/NOAA, and me. It was actually kind of adorable. The thought of my underwear slicing me in half hadn't crossed my mind in maybe three or four minutes.

Actually, I hadn't stopped thinking about it until they handed me the flight suit and pointed me to the locker room. I was finally able to get being sliced in half by burning underwear out of my mind and turn my full attention to the part about the helicopter crashing and bursting into flames.

Feeling vulnerable in my freeballing state but comforted knowing that I wouldn't be sliced in half by burning underwear, I walked up to the helicopter and noticed that it had no doors. Pleased as punch, they told me, "We knew you'd want to get some aerial footage on the ride over, so we took the door off for you." I had actually not thought any such thing. Once I saw that there no doors, I hadn't planned on opening my eyes.

I should mention that I'm not at all afraid of flying. It's safer than lying in bed or whatever. I am, in fact, very afraid of falling out of helicopters with no doors, and, I am chagrined to discover, terrified of being sliced in half by burning underwear.




It turns out that finding alligator nests is really hard, even in a helicopter. The pictures below of alligator holes don't even begin to suggest the challenges, starting with the size of the park: over 700 square miles is a lot of ground to cover, even by helicopter. And part of the goal of alligators building nests where they do is to stay out of sight.

It also turns out that the best way to find alligator nests is to find alligators sitting in them. This still sounded pretty awesome. We're going to look for alligators!


Left, a mother alligator on her nest. Note surrounding water. Courtesy NPS. Right, alligator hole. Note the water, not just immediately around the nest, but throughout the grass, giving birth to the name for the Everglades, "The River of Grass." Courtesy South Florida Water Management District.


As you can see from the pictures above, that even though the area is covered with grass, the grass is growing out of water 3-5 feet deep in that part of the Everglades, which is where it comes by its name, "The River of Grass." The helicopter had pontoons, the pilot explained, so that he could set us in the water and we could wade onto the nests.

Wait a minute.

Nobody had said anything about wading. For me, that meant carrying 30 pounds of gear over my head so it wouldn't get wet: a BetaSP camera and zoom lens, microphones, and enough batteries and tapes that I was absolutely certain I wouldn't need to wade back to the helicopter. Then again, I'd had to carry that gear for a mile or more into the woods on other trips. A short wade wouldn't be that bad.

Right?

There was yet another challenge for our trip. We didn't need just any alligator nesting hole. We needed an active one, and the best way to tell if it was active was if an alligator was on it at the time we happened to be flying over.

It was taking long enough to find an active nest that I was now thinking about the helicopter running out of fuel and crashing. The good news: with no fuel left in the tank, we wouldn't burst into flames.

Now, I have to give all the credit in the world to the pilot and researcher, who managed to find a gator on a nest deep in a tiny, dense grove on a tiny island. I still don't know how they could see the gator or her nest through the trees. I should also mention that while none of the pictures in this article are from my actual trip, a number of them, including the one below, are quite representative indeed of what I saw.



(c)Treat Davidson/ www.flpa-images.co.uk



Except in this case, I personally didn't actually see the mother alligator on her nest. Because just as the helicopter set down on the water nearby, the pilot said she had just slithered into the water.

The water I was about to wade into.

With no underwear.

[Expletive.]

"Don't worry," I was told. "Move slowly and quietly, and you'll be fine. She's more interested in getting back to the nest, and you're not actually a threat until you and she are there at the same time." What? Are you kidding me? Isn't the whole point of this trip to get to the nest we couldn't find unless it had an alligator on it?

Fortunately, I wasn't going first. The scientist was. However, when the leader of our little expedition stepped off the helicopter into the water, he stumbled and very nearly went under: The water was better than five feet deep! Better for the alligator than for us, perhaps. For me, it meant that I'd be carrying my 30 pound burden overhead while I tried to keep my feet under me, while not thinking about the alligator that might be lurking anywhere from my armpits down.

It wasn't a long wade, and we got to the nest without incident. Once we did, our scientist brandished his metal clipboard. "I'm carrying the clipboard, you –" he said, pointing to me, "are carrying the camera, and you –" he said to Kelly, as he looked around on the ground, and picked up a three foot long stick to hand her, "are carrying the stick. If the mother shows back up, don't hit her with it, but press it against the front of her snout and gennnntly move her aside."

The long snout with all the teeth in it? The one that can snap its jaws with 300 pounds of pressure? That snout? Kelly didn't look any more pleased about this than I felt, which was actually a relief. As far as I could tell, I had been the only one thinking that this was insane. Sure, researchers have been making these trips for years with not a single incident or accident, but the odds couldn't stay in our favor forever, could they?

Courtesy American Federation of Scientists
Getting to work was the sweetest relief of all. As I slipped into my role as location producer/cameraman, I now felt some kind of control over what was happening around me, and unlike Kelly, I wasn't holding a stick just outside the frame while I was trying to do my job. I also wasn't waiting to nudge an alligator with that stick.

Once our guide began to speak, the trip's details began to emerge. "For decades, we've been diverting the natural flow of water through the Everglades to make room for development in South Florida and for flood control," he said. "As we're starting to restore that historic flow, we have to make sure that it's actually working to benefit the ecosystem. One of the ways that we can do that is to monitor the cycles of alligator eggs. Our expectation is that, as their habitat returns to its historic state, the alligator population should also return to its historic levels.

"This aspect of the monitoring is fairly simple. We count the eggs now, and come back later to count the empty shells. We'll be able to tell how many hatched, and how many were lost to predators. We have some ideas about natural levels of predation as well, so as part of this same natural cycle we're trying to restore, it's important to track that too.

"The tricky part is that I have to take the eggs out of the nest, and put them back in precisely the same order that they are in the nest right now. That's because the gender of the alligators is determined by the temperature of the eggs. The cutoff is around 90 degrees. Cooler than that, and the eggs hatch as females. Higher than that, they hatch as males, and we don't want to interfere with that process.

"It also means that we'll have to work quickly. It's close to 100 degrees today, so we don't want to expose the cooler eggs to these high temperatures any longer than we have to."

And indeed, he got to work quickly. He carefully set aside the rotting vegetation that the mother had placed to protect the eggs, and delicately set each of the eggs aside as he made notes about their locations.


Chuck Cook, New Orleans Times-Picayune
Chuck Cook, New Orleans Times-Picayune


"The shells aren't hard, like you see in birds," he said. "They're leathery. You can actually feel the babies breathing inside the egg."

Remarkably enough, I was even able to capture that on camera: you could clearly see the egg in his hand gently contracting and expanding as the alligator breathed.

Then Kelly noticed that they guy was sweating bullets. I'm not kidding. Beads of sweat were shooting off him into the air, like some kind of cartoon character. "Sure is hard work putting them back in the nest the right way, isn't it?" she asked.

There was a long pause before he quietly cleared his throat. "It's not that," he said, nervously glancing over his shoulder. "I'm not the alligator guy. The alligator guy is out sick today, and I have to be honest, I'm terrified that the alligator might come back any second."

What?!?

"Yeah, I'm the bird guy. They sent me because they figured I wouldn't break the eggs. I don't actually have too much experience with this."

I couldn't take it. I piped up,"You don't have MUCH experience with this, or ANY experience with this?"

He cleared his throat. "No, not really." He cleared his throat again. "No. I've never done this before. No."

He was staring straight as his work while he said this, maybe as much out of embarrassment as concentration, so it was easy enough for me to edit in natural sound from another part of the trip when I got back to the studio. I certainly didn't want to embarrass the guy any more than he already was, which is also why I'm not mentioning his name here. He was a total pro, but I suspect that his memory of the morning isn't quite as amused as mine.

By this point, I was trying not to laugh. Not at him. At all of it. Scientists do this kind of thing every day, surely without the freakish amounts of adrenaline screaming through me that were making it hard for me to hold the camera steady. But I was already writing this story in my head while this happening, even if it took me 15 years to actually write it down.




Eggs carefully returned to the nest, we waded back into the water. Up to our armpits again, we hear the pilot yell from the helicopter, "She's coming back! She's coming back! And she's headed straight for you!"

Yeah, we sped up a little, but there was only so fast we could wade. And hey, she was behind us, not between us and our ride out of here. Climbing in, I realized that just by getting this far, our odds of crashing in a ball of fire had already been cut in half. Maybe we'd get back home after all. Even more important to me, I knew that we'd nailed the shoot, and that we'd totally stick the landing on the story, and we did.

Things I've done since then:
  • Remembered that you can work well outside your comfort zone by focusing on the task at hand, and applying the experience you do have.
Things I haven't done since then:
  • Waded up to my armpits in alligators.
  • Worn underwear. You can't be too careful about being sliced in half by burning rubber.


Courtesy US Geological Survey
Courtesy US Geological Survey


For some meager evidence that I'm not making this up, see the US Geological Survey page, American Alligator Ecology and Monitoring for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, as well as the National Park Service page, American Alligator: In Depth.

And to answer a question I've gotten a number of times as I've told this story over the years, the primary difference between an alligator and a crocodile is that nobody gets in the water with crocodiles.







Comments

Re: “Before I forget: don’t wear any underwear.”
by Scott Witthaus
Funny!

I was just talking to an old production buddy of mine the other day, marvelling at the crazy stuff we did a freelance shooters and producers. Sometimes the jobs didn't pay well, but when you look at some of the things we got to do, it's pretty crazy. Like alligators. In some ways, I consider myself incredibly lucky to have had those experiences.

Scott Witthaus
Senior Editor/Post Production Supervisor
1708 Inc./Editorial
Professor, VCU Brandcenter
Re: “Before I forget: don’t wear any underwear.”
by David Roth Weiss
I was enjoying the article until I got to the part where you mentioned you no longer wear underwear - that's a bit too much information.

David Roth Weiss
Director/Editor/Colorist & Workflow Consultant
David Weiss Productions
Los Angeles


David is a Creative COW contributing editor and a forum host of the Apple Final Cut Pro forum.
+1
Re: “Before I forget: don’t wear any underwear.”
by Tim Wilson
Thanks so much for the kind words, Simon! Your comment inspired me to re-read the story. LOL We resurrected this story for the 100th Anniversary of the Parks Service, so I hadn't looked at it in a couple of years.

The amazing thing: not a scintilla of embellishment. This is HIGHLY unlike me, but the story was crazy enough that there was just no need. That's exactly how it happened.
Re: “Before I forget: don’t wear any underwear.”
by Simon Ubsdell
Absolutely brilliant piece of writing and a great story, but this line was my favourite"

"Yeah, I'm the bird guy."

My pulse hasn't yet slowed down to normal after reading this ...

Simon Ubsdell
tokyo productions
hawaiki
Re: “Before I forget: don’t wear any underwear.”
by Todd Terry
".., the primary difference between an alligator and a crocodile is that nobody gets in the water with crocodiles."

Well just to be on the safe side, I'll choose neither.

Fun story.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com

Re: Article: “Before I forget: don’t wear any underwear.”
by Kylee Peña
I'm going to share this article with our interns tomorrow. Maybe it'll help them decide if they want to focus on field production or post in college!

blog: kyleesportfolio.com/blog
twitter: @kyl33t
demo: kyleewall.com
@Kylee Wall
by Tim Wilson
Kylee Wall:Maybe it'll help them decide if they want to focus on field production or post in college!

The answer might depend on how they feel about wearing underwear.
@Tim Wilson
by Kylee Peña
Follow up on the interns' reading assignment:

They were greatly amused and a bit scared about what kind of reptiles life will be throwing at them as they enter the industry.

They are now concerned about the following things:
1. Underwear.
2. I have nothing else to put on this list.

Thanks for sharing! Going to keep this handy for educating the next generation.

blog: kyleesportfolio.com/blog
twitter: @kyl33t
demo: kyleewall.com
Re: “Before I forget: don’t wear any underwear.”
by Mark Suszko
Tim, the real reason to not wear the underwear was to avoid soiling it under those conditions:-) In the 80's and 90's I used to enjoy hanging out of choppers with the door off and my feet on the skid, Gaffer tape around the quick-release belt buckle and no safety harness (what were those?) a betacam on my knee, looking all badass... I did some more of it last summer, over the Chicago lakefront, skimming around offshore of Buckingham fountain, at around 30 or so feet above the water. It was a great time and I got great shots, but really, I find I'm kind of "over" it at my age, and with a family to take care of, I tend to leave those shoots to the younger guys now.

I did one shoot, back in the day, where we were low and slow over a stand of pines by a lakeside. The helo entered "vortex ring state", and started sinking vertically like the air had turned to quicksand. My Producer is in the bench seat next to me, his head buried in a monitor, telling me to "stop zooming, we can't use that!"

"I'm not zooming; we're falling!"

The pilot, an experienced Huey pilot and vet from 'Nam, dove us out of the vortex ring with my camera still shooting out the doorway, looking at a tilted horizon at about 200 feet. At about 50 feet, the shot levels off and a few seconds later, the top of a pine tree goes right by the door, just past the outer side of the landing skid and thankfully, on the side opposite the tail rotor. A buddy had the same kind of thing happen while running the "canyons" in a Jet Ranger skimming down the Chicago river from downtown out to the lake. We don' do dat over by dere no more.

The shakes didn't hit me until that night in the motel room when the Dramamine and adrenaline wore off.
I hate heights, but not when I'm in an aircraft. But turbulence and too-tight turns will sometimes get me nauseous, about 1 out of 3 times. Go figure.






They PAY me to do this!




Bottom photo: Crew Chief/door gunner position in a Blackhawk, recon of Mississippi River Flooding, Western IL, 90's


Related Articles / Tutorials:
Field Production
A Tale of Two Field Monitors:Panasonic & Flanders Scientific

A Tale of Two Field Monitors:Panasonic & Flanders Scientific

The world is full of production monitors these days, but two new models stand out thanks to their big screens that can run for hours on battery power. That alone means cameramen and producers can finally take a big monitor into the field, without giving up much mobility.

Review
Helmut Kobler
Field Production
TV Pro Gear Builds 3D Flypack for WealthTV

TV Pro Gear Builds 3D Flypack for WealthTV

When cable/satellite network WealthTV decided to offer a 3D channel, they turned to TV Gear Pro, experts in creating flypacks, to make the first-ever 3D flypack. TV Pro Gear president Andrew Maisner, who was also the project's design engineer, tells Creative COW what's in the flypack and how it's being used so far.

Feature
Debra Kaufman
Field Production
NAB 2012: K-Tek

NAB 2012: K-Tek

K-Tek introduced several products at NAB 2012, including the rugged Shark Wireless Antenna Mount, and a range of tools designed to respond to the ergonomic needs of small form factors such as the GoPro camera and the iPhone. Also debuted was the K-Tek Tripod Mount Case for the iPhone4/4S, which turns the smartphone into a professional camera.

Feature
Debra Kaufman
Field Production
NAB 2012: Sachtler

NAB 2012: Sachtler

Sachtler debuted the Ace tripod system for the first time in the U.S. With a payload of up to 8.8 pounds (4 kilograms), the Ace tripod is ideal for smaller HDV camcorders and video-enabled DSLR cameras.

Feature
Debra Kaufman
Field Production
NAB 2012: Petrol Bags

NAB 2012: Petrol Bags

Petrol Bags introduced four new products for audio in addition to the Liteporter for a Litepanels 1x1 LED light fixture, Rolling DigiSuite DSLR Camera Case and two new LCD monitor bags.

Feature
Debra Kaufman
Field Production
Atomos Integrates with FCPX and AVID

Atomos Integrates with FCPX and AVID

Atomos, the Melbourne, Australia-based company that creates solutions in continuous power technology and affordable digital recording to HDDs or SSDs, continues to extend its workflow-related products to more media productions and projects.

Feature
Debra Kaufman
Field Production
Panasonic BT-LH910 9 inch Broadcast Monitor

Panasonic BT-LH910 9 inch Broadcast Monitor

The world is full of broadcast monitors these days, but Panasonic’s new BT-LH910 9" monitor is a standout. It's got a stunning picture, an extreme viewing angle, and a form factor that’s small enough to still work in the field, but big enough to still work in a studio. It’s also got some very unique features that 3D shooters will find helpful.

Review
Helmut Kobler
Field Production
Anton/Bauer Tandem 150 Modular Power System

Anton/Bauer Tandem 150 Modular Power System

Want to charge an Anton/Bauer battery in just about any situation, whether wall power is available or not? Anton/Bauer's small, lightweight Tandem 150 is what you need.

Review
Helmut Kobler
Field Production
Backing Up Solid-State Cards In The Field

Backing Up Solid-State Cards In The Field

If you shoot video to solid-state cards, two products from Nexto and Panasonic make it easy to back those cards up in the field. At over $2,000, these gadgets aren't exactly cheap, but they can save a lot of time and effort. The Panasonic in particular can make a solid-state workflow feasible for just about any project.

Review
Helmut Kobler
Field Production
Shooting True First-Person Interviews

Shooting True First-Person Interviews

Tom Miller, a 20 year cinematographer, shares some of his interview secrets with Creative COW members. Inspired by the Academy Award®-winning documentary film "Fog of War", where Robert McNamara looks directly into the lens as he talks about the trials and tribulations of the Vietnam War, Tom moves to recreate this unnerving and powerful effect in his own work. Draw from Tom's vast expertise to communicate with your audience in a memorable experience.

Feature, People / Interview
Thomas Miller
MORE
© 2016 CreativeCOW.net All Rights Reserved
[TOP]