Behind the Scenes: Cathedral in the Sea
by Mark Conlin, cinematographer
We have been working on Secrets of the Ocean Realm for many years now. So, when I sat down to watch Cathedrals in the Sea it had been over a year since we had filmed the Garibaldi sequence. When you see a short scene on television, you tend to forget just how long it took to really get it all on film. The Garibaldi scene lasts about two minutes and 45 seconds. In real life, this sequence took more than three days to film.
The male Garibaldi, like the rest of the damselfish family, is highly territorial. He builds and jealously protects a small, round nest of algae. If a passing female likes what she sees, she lays her eggs and then splits, leaving the male to do all the work. He tends the nest, fends off egg predators and watches out for the little ones until they hatch two to three weeks later. We went to Catalina Island in June, the peak of the Garibaldi nesting season. There were plenty of nests, with very active males. How hard could this possibly be?
Our crew, Howard Hall, Bob Cranston, Mark Thurlow and myself scouted out the prime location. We chose the best-looking nest with the most promising Garibaldi contender. We set up shop with camera, lights, tripod and divers. In other words, four huge, cumbersome, noisy and bright creatures had descended from the heavens, right into the Garibaldi's front yard. I felt sorry for the little guy. We had really put a crimp in his style. I could hear him thinking "How am I ever going to get lucky with my front yard under construction? I just spent a month getting the nest perfect, and now this!" The first day he just swam around, cluttered and confused. When we left at the end of the day, without a frame of film shot, I could see the relief in his eyes.
Howard's theory is if you spend enough time with your subjects sooner or later they are bound to just ignore you and go about their daily routines. So, that night on the boat, during dinner. Howard said, "Well, I think the little guy is getting used to us." We all broke into hysterics.
The Garibaldi had just recovered from yesterday when we arrived early the next morning. Yesterday's confused Romeo had been replaced with today's prize fighter. I decided pound for pound, Mike Tyson has nothing on this fish. He wasn't just attacking things twice his size, he was fearless of creatures 100 times his size. He was mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. He zoomed and boomed, nipped and bit at anything that moved. But what upset him the most was the other Garibaldi we had brought with us. He saw it in the camera lens. It was just his reflection, but he spent the better part of the day doing battle with the new intruder. We shot a bit of film that day but not much.
Day three. The champ had done his 15 rounds, and he was beat. I don't know if he was tired or bored, but that day he just gave up. Ignoring us, he cleaned his nest, courted females, chased off predators and mated successfully. All this with us just a few feet away. We shot most of the sequence that afternoon. Patience, patience, patience.
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