FILMING MEERKAT MANOR
JOHN WATERS continues his story of filmmaking in the Kalahari.
The meerkats start to emerge around sunrise and may spend up to an hour around the burrow before setting off foraging. We spend usually about 3 hours with them in the morning, but this is extended if they are likely to come across a rival group, or if we want to film their siesta period when the group takes refuge from the searing heat under a bush or tree. In the afternoon we’ll pick them up again 2 or 3 hours before sunset and follow them back to the burrow.
But before that, after the morning session, we view and log all the material we’ve got from the 3 cameras (plus any time-lapses) from the previous evening and morning sessions. The log is on a Spreadsheet and is pretty detailed – there are over 50 behavioural/footage codes – and enables the two Series Editors and their respective film Editors, back in London, to pull out the material they need for the developing storylines. At the end of each shoot we write up a storyline document which basically highlights the main events in the meerkats’ lives and related happenings on the ‘Manor’ – and where the strongest footage lies.
Although much of our effort goes into following the meerkats around and filming what happens, a large amount of time is invested in shots that make the programmes look good. An ABC Light Crane plus the Varicam has got us some great material with the meerkats – craning down to reveal the whole group sunning in the morning is, storywise, a great way to start a new day. In fact any crane move with meerkats in view is gold-dust but they’re not easy to get. The meerkats have an annoying habit of going down one burrow in the evening and coming up an entirely different one next morning. So if you’ve figured out your shot and set up the crane on one burrow and they emerge from another, you are unlikely to have time to reset such a bulky piece of kit before the meerkats set off for the day. We’ve just started using a lightweight jib-arm with the smaller HD camcorder. Much more manouverable than the crane, it can be set up in just a couple of minutes, and is proving useful with the meerkats for mini reveals and moves.