Meet Ben Barnett.
One of the hardest working Producer/Directors around, Ben has been at Media Zoo for over 5 years; and with a love for sports and the outdoors, he is our go-to-guy for the difficult stuff.
From -16C in Iceland to 40+C in the Namibian Desert, Ben has shot in some of the toughest and most spectacular shooting locations around the world for Media Zoo; gaining those once-in-a-lifetime filmmaking experiences many can only dream of.
On his latest assignment, we sent him to Chile and Argentina for a trailblazing road trip down through South America; capturing a crew of bikers as they adventure into the heart of the continent.
On the back of yet another incredible achievement, and in between his now hectic editing schedule, we’ve asked Ben to share some of his experiences, insights and hacks for managing such a challenging production.
Q: So, Ben: How do you start planning for such an epic trip?
I bought a toupee, as I was pretty sure that most of my hair was going to fall out in the run up. Since I knew that it was only me going to shoot the trip, that informed everything about the shoot itself. The weight of the kit I was going to take, customs complications, the amount of bags I can feasibly lug around, the functionality, how we want it to look / sound, etc etc. Data wrangling was a big one for this trip as we wanted it to be shot in 4K, so Dan (the editor, but also so much more) and I sat down together and tried to work out how to get footage back to the UK whilst I was still shooting. The other thing I really needed to consider was what could I realistically hope to achieve – everything was going to be on the fly so I had to be super mobile and reactive. It wasn't easy to plan out, but I am lucky enough to have a great production team helping me out, so it's not like I had to shoulder it all myself.
Q: What was the most used piece of kit that you took with you?
Probably a lens cloth – it was quite dusty. Otherwise, the Panasonic GH5 was in my hand whenever I wasn't on a bike or flying a drone.
Q: Was the weather a challenge?
The biggest challenge was the wind. Patagonia is easily the windiest place I have ever been to. It could knock you off your feet. Wind gags and deadcats were mostly useless, however, there's always subtitles, and that can actually add to the drama! I'm a big believer in getting the content, regardless of how it looks. By that I mean if it's bucketing with rain, I'd rather just shoot what I can on a GoPro (fully waterproof) than try and make it work on a fancier camera, only for the gear to break or me to miss the action because I was putting a rain cover on.
Q: Is it true you had only just passed your motorbike test few weeks/months before the trip?
Yup! It's been a while since I learned a new skill, especially in such a short period of time. It was certainly a challenge, but it was a reminder that if you put your mind to something then it's surprising what you are capable of. I figured that the best way for me to keep up with the group would be on a bike, it got me closer to the action and the story. Plus, it helped me understand the whole biking vibe. Since I had the filming to focus on, I was always concentrating on riding sensibly and safely, otherwise I ran the risk of crashing, and missing that killer drone shot!
Q: What was your favourite part of being on this production?
Over the past couple of years I've been given some amazing opportunities, and I'm very lucky to be able to say that I enjoy my job, so it's all enjoyable, really. However, as far as the filmmaking goes, I do like being in the edit. The stress of the shoot is over, and you can really focus on making the most out of what you have. Plus, I'm not working on my own, which helps, and on top of that I feel as though I'm always learning in there – how could I shoot better, how could I direct better, how do we make those GFX really sing, how can we make that cut together, etc etc.
Q: Which piece of kit made the most difference to some of the shots you captured?
Having plenty of magic arms was a big help for getting dynamic motorbike shots, as those shots could have been very repetitive. We have been very surprised with how good the new Canon XF405 looks. Physically, it looks like a handicam, but the image quality and colours captured are really impressive. It has a great zoom range as well, which helped a lot in some of the vast landscapes we came across.
Q: What valuable piece of advice would you offer anyone embarking on a non-stop production like this?
Make sure you get enough rest. Seriously, fatigue will cause you all sorts of problems. If you wear yourself out, then it's not just the production that's at risk. That, and don't upset the contributors!
Q: How many hours of footage did you capture from the trip?
Too many! We think we actually have about 150 hours of footage.
Q: Where do you start when you have so many hours of rushes?
I would have loved to have logged it all and done a rough paper edit, but editor Dan is so quick, that he had everything transcoded by the time I got back from South America and was keen to start clip pulling. So we just started whizzing through the rushes. That helps us familiarise us with the story, and we build a structure from there.
Q: What was your favourite memory of the South America trip?
A favourite moment is very hard to single out. It may sound a little odd, but my enjoyment of it all was directly linked to how good of a job I felt I was doing. If I knew I was getting good stuff then I was happy, if I felt like I was missing things or not nailing shots then I felt frustrated with myself. This being an obs doc, there were no retakes. But if you really twisted my arm to give an answer, then I'd have to say all of it, it was a once in a lifetime trip, there was never a dull moment, and I was lucky enough to be there to capture it :-)
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