NOVA: What's the island itself like? Is it challenging to shoot there?
Howard Hall: There are two kinds of weather on Cocos. Either it's raining or
it's getting ready to rain. The island gets over 24 feet of rain a year. I
think it's listed as the second wettest place on the planet. On our last trip
of 22 days, we had four days when it was partly sunny and 18 days of rain. You
haven't seen rain fall hard until you've been to Cocos Island.
Hall, Bob Cranston (beige hat), and Billy Holdson on location above Chatham
The rain makes it very, very difficult to work on the island. It's wet, it's
muddy, it's steep and slippery. Imagine hiking up to the top of a very steep
mountain carrying hundreds of pounds of IMAX equipment and film in the pouring
rain, and then waiting for the rain to stop long enough to set it all up and
shoot a scene. We've done that numerous times. Many times we have hiked up
there, waited, and have never even taken the camera out of the bag because it
was just pouring. The rain also affects underwater shooting by making it very
dark. Even using very high-speed films and looking straight up at the sky at
noon, we sometimes don't have enough light to capture an image.
Michele Hall gets
friendly with a green turtle.
NOVA: What else besides the filming is involved in making an IMAX film?
Howard Hall: When people see videotape or still images of us working
underwater, they often say, 'God, that looks like a lot of fun.' And that's
exactly right. It's an adventure, and if people didn't pay me to do it, I'd
probably pay somebody so I could go. The work involved in making an IMAX film
is 100 percent once you're out of the water, though. There's all the
pre-production that goes into securing contracts, planning the film, writing
the script, budgeting the whole thing. Once the filming is done, there's six
months of post-production work that's equally intense. We're involved in all of
it. And when the film is released at the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey,
we'll be there to see that they turn the projector on.
The husband-and-wife team high on Isla Manuelita off Cocos.
NOVA: How does one become a famous underwater filmmaker?
Howard Hall: I've been a professional diver nearly all my adult life. I got
certified in high school, and I put myself through San Diego State University
by teaching scuba diving. I graduated with a degree in zoology, and my plan was
to get a doctorate in marine biology. But I began to learn what they do, and it
seemed very tedious. So I started looking for other ways to make a living using
my diving and perhaps my zoology skills. Underwater photography presented
itself. So I started taking still photographs and writing articles, and
eventually I was given an opportunity to shoot 16 mm film underwater. That
finally led to me producing my own underwater wildlife documentaries.
Michele Hall: Before joining Howard full-time in his business, I was a
pediatric nurse for 19 years! But I've been diving since 1975, and I started
taking still photos shortly after that. Through Howard, I was exposed to the
world of filmmaking and knew that it was something that I wanted to get into. I
feel extremely fortunate now to have a chance to explore that on a full-time
Cocos Island and Isla Manuelita.
NOVA: What are your future plans?
Howard Hall: There's been talk of another IMAX film, a 3-D film. We've also
been offered an opportunity to produce a series for television in the
high-definition format, which I think would be very exciting. And I'd like to
write a book that would require a lot of underwater photography. There are a
variety of opportunities, not the least of which is to do absolutely nothing
for a year and a half or so. That appeals to me, actually.