Behind the Scenes: Survival in the Sea
by Mark Conlin, cinematographer
We drove more than 1,000 miles from San Diego to El Golfo, Mexico, to film grunion
mating. Now that's a heck of a long way to go considering that the grunion mate or "run" right here in our own backyard of San Diego. The only problem is that, here, they run at night. Trying to quickly drag a large generator and a bank of movie lights up and down the beach in the pitch black is not my idea of a good time. Fortunately for me, Howard felt the same way.
Once we got to El Golfo, the grunion ran well. We got the whole sequence in less than a week. The one, last shot Howard wanted was a "time-lapse" scene of the tide coming in to cover up the grunion eggs. In a time-lapse shot, the camera records an event that takes place over many hours. The camera squeezes the event down, so the four or five hours of action happen in less than a minute. When you watch it at regular speed, things seem to happen real fast.
Setting up the shot, we realized the camera would have to be fastened down within an inch of its life to avoid being toppled over when the surf came in. So, being the resourceful guys we are, we found an old rusted car wheel and fastened it down with the aid of many lead dive weights. It was quite a contraption, but it looked sturdy. We were quite proud of ourselves. I stood out in the surf line for many hours holding up the camera and housing until the largest waves past by. That afternoon bought me a sunburn my dermatologist is still talking about. The hard work over, we retired to watch another great Mexico sunset. We broke out a cold beer and patted ourselves on the back for a job well done.
After a few hours, Howard checked his watch and let me know the load of film in the camera was done, and I could go retrieve the camera anytime. I walked halfway down the beach, looked at the water, and stopped dead. I turned and looked back at Howard and we thought exactly the same thing at exactly the same time. Where is the camera? We had not marked its location in any way. And, the rising tide had completely changed the beach. We were looking at a different ocean than the one the camera went into. If it were not such a disaster at the time, it probably would have been really funny. We spent many hours wandering around, feeling the bottom, one inch at a time. We were like a bunch of frustrated fishermen, bent over in waist-deep water, trying to catch fish with our bare hands. We searched in different areas. Each of us had an idea where the camera was, and knew the other guys had to be looking in the wrong place. As you might guess, none of us found the camera. It is funny now, because when the tide receded, there it was, unharmed, sitting peacefully in an area none of us was looking. And, we even managed to get the shot.
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