Bird of Paradise

Filming Birds of Paradise, in the crown of the jungle canopy, Papua New Guinea –

Now here is a room with a view! Perched in the top of the canopy at first light listening to the jungle wake up. A very wonderful place to be indeed, complete with a Pelican case seat. Look closely and you’ll see the vine lashings, the entire shooting platform was tied together with vines, not a nail in sight. The birds display for mates in the crown of the jungle canopy, to film it you need to be right on top. At this level the branches are quite slim. The scaffold was constructed with a lattice of thin poles spanning almost twenty feet to spread the weight. Did I mention we are over 100 feet up? When the wind picked up one was required to ride it out employing a combination of pucker power and happy thoughts. Oh yeah- it gets better.

The birds roost and sleep in the display trees so if you arrive at dawn you blow them out. You need to get there hours before dawn to have the time to haul yourself and all the gear into the canopy via ropes, silently set up and rest the area before the sun comes up and the display starts. The shoot required a 2:30am wake up followed by a good hike through the jungle with headlamps carrying camera gear in every morning. In the dark you watch your step as the possibility of treading on a Taipan or Papuan death adder keeps you alert. The first person in line was on ‘web patrol’ because they would constantly walk into the many huge spiderwebs woven in the night across the trails. Trying to clear your head of a web made by a giant four inch venomous spider that may be quite agitated and still in the sticky silk mask you are now wearing on your face while half asleep at 3am in a dark jungle carrying an 80 pound pack halfway across the globe isn’t everyone’s cup a’ tea. But without question the adventure is of the highest order and the memories unforgettable, I would not trade the experience for anything. Conquering the challenge to capture such events on film becomes highly addictive. The thrill of being there smelling the lush forest, seeing and hearing its rare creatures awake is a delightful privilege. It is without a doubt the best job on the planet. I shot this with Neil Rettig, a true pioneer of jungle filming, a great fellow who has earned worldwide respect for his exceptional rope skills and his filming of Harpy Eagles among others. Neil did the heavy lifting but I can lay claim to the close ups as I had just acquired a 500mm Nikon and Neil kindly let me shoot with it on his camera. The crane up at the opening may play for 30 seconds but it 8 days to rig! Good fun! Varirata, N.P. Papua New Guinea, 1995.

 

from the BBC Battle of the Sexes series
Exec Producer John Sparks
Producer Director:Phil Savoie
Camera: Neil Rettig
Additional Photography: Phil Savoie
Editor: Tim Bevan
Super 16: Kodak 7245 7246 7298
Location: PNG

A few snaps of our ace platform building crew!

 

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