100 years Younger in 21 days.

Eight well known, but well-worn British celebrities challenge the aging process. They head to a luxurious retreat in Sardinia where they take part in a strict regime and scientific testing.

Craig sets up a Go Pro shot

Keeping busy

We provided the kit and crew for ITV’s prime time series. I was there as Camera Assistant with Richie Simkins went as DIT. The days were long, the job near impossible and the location very taxing. But what an experience!

I was the only camera assistant across 5 shooting teams. Although I would spend the majority of my time directly assisting one of the two main camera units, I would still need to ensure all 5 shooting teams were fully stocked, happy and able to carry on shooting. We simply could not slow down!

Maddogs provided 2 Sony F55’s, 3 Sony FS7’s, 4 Canon CN7 lenses, minicams, tripods, gimbals, night vision cameras. Pretty much everything bar the kitchen sink, although I’m pretty sure I took that with us too! I certainly learned very quickly the advantage’s of having a large team of very committed hard-working runners. By delegating tasks, giving crash courses in all things camera related and calling on back up whenever needed I was able to make a near impossible task possible.

With shooting days averaging 12/13 hours, my days would normally be 15 or 16, which when you have spent all day running up and down hills in blazing sunshine, is quite a haul! Both myself and Richie worked incredibly hard to ensure the crews were ready to go at the crack of dawn each day. Days off were often partially spent cleaning and servicing sandy tripods. We of course faced equipment issues. I remember very well searching a beach for a tripod brake pad that had gone walkabouts, finding it eventually nestled between a rock and a rabbit. Only in Sardinia! Monitors were repaired what seemed like every other day. And only one item of kit was lost in 5 weeks, a single saddle bag that is now probably a couch to a family of mountain goats half way up what felt like Mount Doom.

Craig on location with a camera behind

"I remember searching for a tripod brake pad that had gone walkabouts, finding it nestled between a rock and a rabbit!"

The liquid crystal in our viewfinders was freezing.

I never at any stage felt overwhelmed or daunted by the challenge ahead, I always had the backing and support of everyone back at Maddogs HQ. Nothing was ever an issue, as we averted all little problems before they became a much bigger one, without anyone ever realising. Whether it was speeding down the side of a mountain in a crew van completely out of its depths, or hanging over the side of a speedboat with a DJI Osmo, we had to keep the show on the road!

I recall on one of the final days of filming, we had all 5 main camera units shooting in different areas of the location simultaneously. The contributors split and walked between each individual unit, where a different challenge would await them. Being the only camera assistant, I had to ensure that all units had everything needed, and when problems arose, solve them quickly and efficiently with the right solution. Oh, and I also needed to walk between each location myself capturing GV’s on the DJI Ronin… so yeah… it was a tough day.

Fortunately for myself, and as mentioned above, we had a very committed team of runners who understood and embraced the size of the challenge ahead of us. By basing myself near the kit room to oversee quick kit turnarounds when problems arose, and shipping the needed equipment out as quickly as possible with the help of our runners, we turned a potentially disastrous day into a smooth affair. I lost 2.5 stone in 5 weeks. I think that says it all.

Plastic can become very brittle and shatter in these temperatures

Now you can get arctic covers for these cameras and I did pack two in my kit however they made operating very difficult and were more of a hinderance for run and gun shooting. The fact is the cameras bore up very well once we protected the viewfinders. You just need to be aware of any plastic parts as plastic can become very brittle and shatter in these temperatures. Be wary of camera straps with plastic buckles as they are likely to break and you don’t want your camera dropping as a result.

The other issue we faced was a common one but with a slight twist being as we were in sub zero temperatures. I am sure most people have encountered condensation on the lens, stepping out from an air conditioned car or building to humid air of New Delhi had held me up on my previous shoot or closer to home coming in from the cold to shoot a sequence inside.

Well, in the Arctic circle we experienced this however when we came in from the cold (-16°C) and stepped into the ice hotel itself at -5°C the lens would instantly steam up then form into a solid sheet of ice.

If you get frustrated trying to de-mist a lens then imagine what it is like to de-ice one. The best method is not was to use your credit card to scrape the front element clear but I found my using a hand warmer wrapped in a lens cloth had very rapid results.

Unfortunately, budget dictated that I had no sound recordist on this shoot so I has one man band on the audio. Going into this shoot I had thought that my biggest issues were going to be battery life and stiffening of microphone cables.

One reoccurring issue I had however was condensation forming in the lavalier microphone capsules. The symptoms sounded like RF interference, it occurred most frequently when I went from outside to inside. I first had it in Kakslauttanen artic resort when I followed a contributor into one of their famous glass igloos. After a minute or so inside I started to experience RF, I put that down to being inside a small structure with the metal skeleton as it was a struggle to find a clean channel.

Once we had stepped back outside the issue faded away. The Issue reappeared again once I was at the ice hotel in Sweden. I had been following a contributor without issue when he led us into deluxe room. Like all the other bedrooms it was made entirely of ice however it has its en-suite bathroom which was a warm space.

Following our contributor through the double airlock doors to stop heat exchange we continued our interview in the bathroom. After a minute of filming the audio started to crackle building to a roar of unusable sound. As the warm air entered the microphone capsule it condensed. The resulting short circuit sounded like RF interference, I learnt to carry a spare capsule on my body to keep it warm. I those situations you just need to halt the sequence and switch the microphone and that always cleared the fault.

The day was relentless

If you are planning a trip to film at sub-zero temperatures then from my experience I would suggest:

  • Carry spares of essential cables, XLR audio leads, radio mics capsules, headphones. The freezing temperatures can make these very brittle.
  • Be wary of plastic components like microphone clips and be aware of tripods with plastic spreaders which will be in direct contact with the snow and ice. I had several plastic components shatter even internal components… the battery tray inside my DSLR shutter release snapped where it was spring loaded the plastic gave way.
  • Take hand warmers, lots of hand warmers they are very useful for clearing lenses and strapping to your lens grips.
  • Wear layers and get yourself some merino wool base layers and a buff.
  • Pack a head torch if going to the arctic in winter
  • Protect your viewfinder LCD from the cold. Balaclavas work perfectly.
  • If you can afford to have an inside camera and outside camera then that will help with acclimatization issues from condensation.

We wrapped at 7pm after the sun had set, we had managed to record all of our audio sequences and had salvaged the shoot and saved face with our hosts.

I am so glad we could do the shoot justice as the Qasr Al Sarab was a breath-taking location to film in.

We finished the day with a beer overlooking the infinite view of the desert and emptying the sand from our shoes. The next day we scheduled in a 3-hour timelapse at the poolside. We flew back with our cameras, a sense of achievement and an excellent episode in the can.

As for Abu Dhabi Customs…

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