Extreme Shooting at 30,000 Feet

Extreme Shooting at 30,000 Feet

from: Dyana Carmella, P3update.com

Shooting in extreme conditions can always pose challenges for cinematographers. These “extreme shooters” are continually tested to exude patience and endurance while capturing jaw-dropping shots. Veteran Director/Cinematographer Lonnie Peraltahas dealt with issues ranging from the constant camera dirt at the Baja 1000; blistering heat in the Nevada desert during the Mint 400 off-road race; and subfreezing temperatures at the U.S. Open of Snowboarding in Vermont, but he has found his niche in shooting extreme action and motorsports.

“I’m constantly challenged to overcome obstacles and I still get the shot,” says Peralta (pictured below left). “That’s what keeps it interesting and keeps me going. Being able to think on my feet and deal with the conditions at hand, while possessing a good ‘can do’ attitude, make my skills valuable to clients.”

Peralta believes that the most exciting shoot experiences are always unplanned. “When you capture something at the spur of the moment because you were in the right place at the right time, that’s the magic when it comes to action/extreme shooting,” he explains. “I’ve witnessed many horrible wrecks and car rollovers in my career, and it can be completely terrifying. As you’re locked on a shot and capturing the havoc, your heart sinks for the driver and you feel stunned without words. But as the driver emerges from the mangled wreckage of his racecar and appears unscathed, you emote a sigh of relief and think ‘Wow! I got it!’”

lp shooter 43 Last October, the world held its collective breath as “Space Diver” Felix Baumgartner broke the free-falling world record as he fell from an altitude of 119,846 feet. He also became the first person to break the sound barrier with his body at a speed of 834 miles per hour as the jump grabbed the attention of over eight-million consecutive viewers. Heavily involved with the jump in its planning stages, Peralta began shooting briefings, tests and scientific meetings at the start of the Red Bull Stratos space diving project back in 2009, documenting the entire process for both BBC London and Red Bull Media House. The project has taken him all over the U.S., where it wrapped in Roswell, New Mexico for the final jump. “I was consistently gathering interviews, updates, capsule testing and multiple skydives,” Peralta recalls. “It was truly interesting to be on the ground floor with so many brilliant minds and to witness the whole process take shape from initial meetings and plan structure to the final jump. I’ve met and worked with so many great people, and it is sure to be a long-lasting memory.”

Peralta had the opportunity to do some extreme shooting in a hot air balloon high over the earths surface for the Austrian show “Wissenswert Spezial” with TV Host Andreas Jäger. When it came time to pick the camera, Peralta knew exactly what was needed. “Some initial footage was gathered using RED ONE cameras, but I think the workflow was a bit too data rich at the time, so they were looking for another solution,” says the DP. “Once I came onto the project, I brought in the Sony F900 cameras to document the progression. It was a stable tape-based format and was the standard tried and true ‘doc’ camera at the time. [It] gave us great results but, as time elapsed, newer cameras presented themselves and the benefits of a tapeless workflow made sense for the project. After going through several digital camera types, we finally settled on the Panasonic VariCam 3700 for its quality, frame rates and P2 tapeless workflow. The camera was easy to travel with and to set up and shoot ‘fly on the wall’ stuff for days on end.” (Pictured top right: Lonnie Peralta and TV Host Andreas Jäger)

One of the shoot days consisted of doing some standups in a hot air balloon over the New Mexico desert. Having been in a hot air balloon before the project, Peralta noticed that the balloon was surprisingly large as it began to inflate on the shoot day. “The magnitude and scope of the day quickly became realized,” says Peralta. “Upon meeting the pilot, he asked me if I had any heavier or warmer clothing and continued to ask if I had ever been trained to breathe on an oxygen mask before. He then explained [that] we were planning on ballooning up to around 30,000 feet where it’s brutally cold and there’s very little breathable oxygen, so [the mask] is a necessity.”

lp shooter 14-1 Due to the lack of space in the balloon basket,  there was zero room for a soundman, so Peralta  had to rethink his plan to get the shot he needed.  “At the time, I was shooting with a fully  outfitted Sony F800, complete with a matte box,  [Anton Bauer] HyTRON 140 batteries, wireless  [Lectrosonic] boxes, a Lockit box, etc.,” he  remembers. “After looking at the size of basket  that the three of us would be traveling in, I quickly  decided the camera was way too big and too much  of a risk to us upon a hard landing.” This situation  required Peralta to think on his feet. Luckily, he  was equipped with a Canon 7D. “Adam the  soundman went into action and rigged a zoom box, and we quickly came up with a way to record sound through the oxygen masks and still make it all sync with the 7D.” Peralta then dangled in the air in a 3-by-5-foot wicker basket filled with three men and six kegs of highly flammable helium. “One of the most surreal feelings was swinging in a small basket thousands of feet above land where you can actually see the curvature of the earth,” says Peralta. “It was both beautiful and terrifying all at the same time. I tried to keep my composure by concentrating on the job at hand, shooting scenery, standups, retakes, details, B-roll, etc.”

After gathering the needed shots and topping out at about 28,000 feet, it was time for the descent. When approaching the ground the pilot instructed Peralta and the others on how to brace for basket touchdown. “We hit the ground at about 18 knots and continued to be dragged through the shrub brush, sage bushes and the uneven ground,” says Peralta. “Bouncing and bobbing for about 30 seconds, we were yanked though the dirt before finally coming to a stop, being dragged approximately 600 yards in total. Wow, what a ride! Looking back, I’m glad I was able to think on my feet and quickly find a better solution to shoot that piece. Had I decided to bring the large F800, we would have definitely been injured by the 30-pound camera on impact, and it would have been destroyed after a hard hit like that. Sometimes you can be prepared but things can change quickly and improvising [can] save the shoot day, but [it can also] possibly save your life.”

Given his experience, Peralta has words of wisdom for filmmakers interested in shooting in extreme conditions. “My best advice for anyone going to shoot extreme action or in extreme conditions is to be prepared,” he stresses. “Do your homework. Look up the location and find out [about the] weather, landscape, conditions and where the sun will be at certain times. Learn the sport or discipline you’re shooting and understand the dynamics of it, and position yourself in a place to get the best action but also place yourself out of harm’s way, in case an accident occurs or something unforeseeable happens. As a cinematographer, you want to get the best images and put yourself [in places] where others haven’t [been] and still come home alive at the end of the day.”

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