Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lights, Camera, Action

Fiction to Make NonFiction

A swashbuckling pirate leaps onto a ship, and the high tech images of rocks make you think the people involved are designing a tale of fiction. Dare we ask how those skills can be used in reality? The team that put together the documentary, The Cove, found that the usual skills of film making required knowledge about pirating and stunt camouflage simply to make the movie.

The Cove takes viewers into the hidden area of Taiji, Wakajama, Japan, where the fishing industry regularly kills and captures dolphins. The 2009 Sundance award winning documentary showed how migrating dolphins were trapped in the secret cove by nets and were then slaughtered with knives and spears. Yet the trappers usually gloated when they could send live dolphins to the sea world entertainment industry as they pocketed tens of thousands of dollars from the buyers of live dolphins who perform before cheering people.

To make the movie, the movie crew led by producer Fisher Stevens and director Louie Psihoyos had to find clever ways to find the culprits so they resorted to the world of subterfuge that we usually see in fiction. Set design traditionally aids the movie director to thrill the viewer because the special effects take people into the world of the story. But camouflaged rocks were not used for the benefit of the viewer. Experts from KernerFX, once part of Industrial Light & Magic had to use special effects to hide cameras. The fishermen would not simply allow the documentary people to film them, so the dolphin killing had to be photographed by cameras without the documentary staff being around the area. The cameras were high definition and looked so much like rocks of the terrain that the film people had a hard time relocating the cameras.

How could the consulting use of pirate tactics help in making a movie? Stevens and Psihoyos had to place the cameras and evade the fishing fleet. What better skills could be found than those of pirates such as when they slip around a vine-tangled bay to hide their ships when the Royal Navy threatens to appear. The movie makers had to plot the speed of their ships and distance the way the pirates navigated. Swimmers used underwater microphones to pick up some of the sounds from the fishermen. Their swimming would have made Long John Silver envious.

The usual strengths of knowing how to shoot the camera and how to stage the ships for a presentation were not enough to make The Cove a success. Stealth and special effects came to the fore with The Cove’s planning. Dare we ask if fiction’s great pirates came to mind as the crew with Stevens and Psihoyos mounted a modern day crow’s nest?

The Cove image courtesy of

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