First Person Perspective from DP, Mark MacEwen

My name is Mark MacEwen, I’m a DP and at the beginning of this year, I took on the task of filming a program on Chimpanzees in Senegal for the BBC. It will be part of a 5 part series of 1 hr mini features on single species. Filming chimpanzees is no small undertaking, the last time I did was for a BBC series called ‘Africa’. I found myself in the middle of the Congo Jungle for 5 weeks, trekking the equivalent of a half marathon to full marathon every day for fleeting glimpses of chimpanzees. I was losing 2 stone of weight in the process, filming long lens and using a Steadicam in one of the more extreme environments I’ve tried to.

So I thought about it with some trepidation, but they are such amazing animals, there really is nothing like spending time with chimps. There are moments when you film them that you really see and feel how closely related we are together and this was a chance to spend the next year and a half filming the drama unfolding of their lives, so I could really only make one decision and that was to accept.

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The chimps here unlike the one I filmed before in the Congo live in a far more extreme environment. Unlike the Jungle of the Congo, the environment here is far more Savana and patchy woodland, appearing far drier and less forgiving. This atmosphere makes the chimps have lots of very interesting behaviours, from Spear hunting Bush babies to digging wells for water.

This is the end of my third trip to Senegal this year for the project and each shoot has been very different and the story has developed every time. This shoot was all about trying to use the Freefly MoVI M15 with Red Dragon camera and try to follow them.  I didn’t even know if it would be possible to be honest as the distances covered and some of the terrain makes doing it and adding cinematic movement to the film incredibly difficult. Also, having learnt from my Congo experience, a Steadicam was not an option. Powering the Camera and follow focus is a major consideration and I was fortunate to use the HyperCore Slims. I’ve been really impressed with them. The D-tap out on them is great for providing power for my Follow focus and accessories and the fact that they are light and  82wh in such a small form factor, made them the perfect choice for this sort of Gimbal work as they gave me longer working times.

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It’s probably one of the hardest subjects I’ve ever tried to use the MoVI with. They go from fast asleep to marching you 10 miles in the blink of an eye. They can also be incredibly explosive, giving very little warning that something is about to happen and at this time of year the temperatures are brutal and from about 11:00 on most days are about 46 degrees Celsius.  We have had our work cut out for the last 3 weeks, but we have also filmed some extraordinary shots for the program. It wasn’t easy and they made us work hard and sweat a lot for every shot, but when it all came together at the same time it really delivered, my worry now is that we will want to do it again.

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I’ve lost about half a stone on this trip, it should have been more but the food is very good where we are staying and they have looked after me very well. I’m looking forward to seeing how the chimps lives and how this film changes and develops over the next year. I can’t wait for the next shoot back here and will keep using the Hypercores on my M15, but in the meantime next stop is Peru for a series on Mountains.

The Chimpanzee film is due for release at the end of 2017 so we still have many months of filming time left, but I’ve spent much of the last few years filming for a series by the BBC called “Planet Earth 2” the follow on to the original “Planet Earth” that came out over 10 years ago, its due for release at the end of this year (2016), it’s taken me all over the world, Madagascar several times, Komodo where I filmed Komodo Dragons fighting, Costa Rica and several others.

Mark MacEwen
Wildlife / Documentary Cameraman
www.markmacewen.co.uk
Twitter: @MacEwenMark