In this sequence : the boat we film from, the set-up of lights for surface and underwater filming, the installation of a sub-aquatic studio and dolly tracks for filming underwater sequences with crabs…
By Ludovic Savariello
Interview with René Heuzey, one of the underwater directors of photography on the film « Océans » directed by Jacques Perrin (producer of « Microcosmos, Le peuple de l’Herbe » and director of « Peuple migrateur ») and Jacques Cluzaud.
René Heuzey: Jacques Perrin is passionate about the sea and extremely aware of the menace caused to the Oceans by fishing and pollution. As a result, he wanted to do a nature film emphasising the conservation and protection of the underwater environment. The film « Océans » had the objective of both showing how beautiful, but also how fragile, this endangered environment is.
RH: The film took 4 years to make with 2 years of preparation. We shot in roughly 20 different Oceans and seas. There were 4 underwater and 2 exterior film units. In total the film employed nearly 150 people.
RH: Jacques Perrin, with his background in Cinema, wanted to film everything in 35mm. The biggest problem filming underwater in 35mm is the length of the reels of film. In order to be at the right place at the right time, we had to stay underwater for long hours. Unlike Jacques Perrin’s two previous films, each sequence was shot on site in real conditions and we had to adapt to the animals we were filming constantly. The 35mm camera is not adapted to stock sufficient film. We therefore used High Definition cameras but with colour correction to obtain the effect of a cinema film rather than a documentary film, as is normally the case in animal nature films. Jacques Perrin also wanted to create a new and different dynamic using filming techniques that had never been seen before. For instance, we attached cameras to torpedoes. Also, to be able to film dolphins from in front and from the sides, as if we were swimming with them, we used a towing system with an integrated camera.
RH: Given that the land sequences were shot in 35mm, we had to obtain the same visual sensitivity underwater as we had on land, so that it felt like Cinema quality and not TV. In order to do this, we had to not only overcome technical difficulties linked to underwater filming in HD, but also to filming with little light. We managed it by spending a week of preparation in Marseille, with the leading European HD camera expert. This meant being able to have cameras which could film up to 50 minutes and with the power to film for 3 hours. So, with recycling during the dives, we could have sequences lasting up to 4 hours. As a result, we were on site long enough to be able to capture exceptional underwater sequences.
RH: On this shoot in particular, the director of underwater photography was in charge of the film directors for the underwater sequences. Each director couldn’t be present on all 4 different sites, which were thousands of kilometres apart. So, we rented a satellite hub to send images to Paris every evening and have the immediate feedback from all the directors. As a result, we were able to suggest shooting new sequences and make the most of all the opportunities encountered on the different film shoots.
RH: The film was shot with a team of twenty or so scientific advisors such as François Sarano (who was previously the scientific advisor on the Cousteau team). The specialists gave us the dates and locations where the animals we wanted to shoot would be.
RH: Yes, two clear examples come immediately to mind. First the Mediterranean red tuna is in serious danger. A few years ago, fishermen only caught red tuna in the month of May when it arrived in the Mediterranean by the Straights of Gibraltar. Today with increasingly sophisticated techniques (more stockage-space on-board boats, aerial spotting), the quantities fished annually have increased enormously. The demand is constant in Japan and the supply has adapted accordingly. The tuna is caught as soon as it arrives and is stocked alive in fish farms, for instance in Malta. As a result, the tuna is sent on Japanese boats to Japan, every two or three months throughout the year. The practice of cutting the fins off sharks is threatening the survival of sharks in the same way.
RH: Two magical memories of the film come to mind. First, an experience with a small pseudorque, or fake Orca, in New Zealand . We played together for over ten minutes. He imitated me for the full length of the encounter. When I went up so did he, when I nodded my head, he made the exact same movement and nodded back; when I let out some bubbles, he did as well! It was really a magical moment for me. It was the first time I’d met a pseudorque, and, given how remote the location site we’d chosen to film in was, I’m sure that he’d never met a diver before either. My second strong emotion came when we were filming the annual migration of crabs, next to Melbourne in Australia. You need to imagine an erea the size of a football pitch, covered in crabs, one metre deep! It really was exceptional. During the editing, the scientists who were viewing the sequence said that they’d never seen a concentration of crabs like this!
*pseudorque: Only one species of Pseudorca exists, Pseudorca crassidens or fake Orca. Like the Orca, it is a phenomenal predator. Its favourite preys are bonitos and tuna, but it doesn’t hesitate to attack dolphins or even sharks and young whales.