Filming the science of seabed recovery

To promote some of York’s great research, I travelled to the Isle of Arran to film a mini documentary about a ten-year research project that has seen a dramatic revival in marine life.

Pre production planning

Led by Bryce Stewart from the Department of Environment and Geography and in partnership with the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST), York marine scientists are studying how the introduction of a ‘No-Take Zone’ has improved fish populations in an area which suffered from years of overfishing.

Our desired approach for this film was to use emotive voice overs on top of cinematic cutaway footage of the person talking in an effort to create a more genuine and heartfelt story that avoided talking heads. We still recorded the voice overs in a talking head interview format in case this didn’t work in the editing process. Bryce highlighted some key figures who could help tell the story.

Arriving on Arran and having a Recce

Ferry crossing arriving on Arran

The ferry crossing provided a good opportunity to film some scenic shots of fishing vessels and the coastline. The first stop was a few miles down the coast to Lamlash Bay where the ‘No Take Zone’ is located. This gave us a chance to recce the location and get a feeling for the sorts of shots that would be possible.

Shoot day 1: Finding my sea legs

We met the research team and headed out on the boat to the first dive location. The small boat made it difficult to film the action and create interesting compositions but I managed to capture cutaway ‘action’ shots of the dive surveys and the remotely operated vehicle (ROV), which was used to gather detailed underwater footage of the seabed.

Getting to grips with filming in such a tight space

Shoot day 2: Two boats are better than one

Day two opened up more opportunities for interesting angles. Howard Wood from COAST joined us on his boat and I got some wider shots of the research boat from a distance. My friend James shot alternative angles from the air using a drone, giving a sense of scale to the area.

Filming from Howards boat

Calm weather allowed us to film most of the interviews to camera whilst out on the boats in between the dive surveys.

I was also able to use a piece of equipment I had purchased specifically for an under/over shot of the ROV in the water being controlled by the crew on the research boat. We got the shot by using the large dome housing and a GoPro camera mounted on a monopod.

Under/over shot of ROV

Shoot day 3: Sun, sun go away!

By the final day most of the footage we needed was in the bag. The last piece of the puzzle was to film local fisherman Ian Cosick talking about legislation change and how it had affected the fishing industry. I’d hoped the weather would be dark and moody to reflect the gloomy subject of the interview, but typically it was beautifully sunny. We had a small window of 10 minutes to film Ian when he returned back on land from his morning catch, and while it would have been great to have had longer he still gave us some really passionate soundbites.

The sunny weather meant we were able to gather some beautiful aerial shots of the surrounding area and an overview of the ‘No Take Zone’ which I illustrated in the film with an animated graphic. Howard provided us some of his underwater footage so we could show the students conducting the dive surveys on the seabed.

Shot of the crew from day one of filming

That’s a wrap!

So, we now had what we needed to make a film about the research project on Arran and all that was left to do was to edit it together. 

The shoot hadn’t gone exactly like I had envisaged, mainly due to the weather being dull when I hoped it would be sunny and being sunny when I hoped it would be dull! Having filmed a few projects in Scotland now, I’ve come to learn that you can’t rely on the weather to play ball and this is the trade off you make for having such beautiful surroundings. 

Due to the dive surveys, we weren’t able to create a detailed shooting schedule in advance of the filming. We knew what we needed, but had to figure out how to get it on the spot. We had some control over the interviews, so it was really important to get these nailed when the opportunities arose. Fortunately Sheila, our Research and Reputation Manager was on hand to conduct the interviews which meant I could focus on the camerawork.

Initially I had hoped to tell this story in a cinematic style without the use of talking head interviews, but because the answers were based on facts and statistics rather than emotive storytelling, I decided to use a traditional documentary style.

Despite this, the finished film has a polished, slick look – showing an inspiring research story and relaying the facts in a visually interesting way.

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