The Bear Blog with Chris Morgan
The AP: Keeping the Show on the Road

This is the third post in the new Bear Blog with Chris Morgan, where you can follow the journey of Chris and his crew during the production of NATURE’s Bears of the Last Frontier, coming in 2011. To learn more about this project, check out the Bear Blog introduction video.

Dean Cannon

My name is Dean Cannon. I am assistant producer and 2nd camera on Bears of The Last Frontier. When Joe asked me if I wanted to be his AP on the project, I immediately took up the offer. Projects with Joe always turn out to be an adventure. Whether it’s on location looking for elusive wildlife in China or the last pearl diver on Con Dao as I have been, Joe’s films are as inspirational to work on as they are to watch. Joe also knows of my desire to “get out of the office” so to speak. And I hoped there might be a chance of seeing Alaska and its amazing wildlife myself!

Early Days

Planning a large documentary film shoot involves heaps of preparation. Months of research, equipment selection, and planning must occur before the camera is even switched on. We also deal with lots of people with very different roles on film shoots. It’s a little like conducting a 100-person ballet on a moving floor while the stage is being built. The producer must be intimately familiar with the macro as well as the micro. Many big decisions are made in the moment that impact results downstream. Weather, broken equipment, or a change in someone’s availability can affect the outcome of a shoot, but not always for the worse. A clerical error may mean an extra day camping while searching for an elusive animal. Often it is on that extra day the animal is spotted. There is a fluidity to filmmaking where sometimes inertia can end up being the guiding force on a shoot. Gut feelings compete with reason. It is the producer’s job to know which one is right. My job is to man the phones and keep the lines of communication flowing. The cameraman’s office is the world. An AP’s office is virtual.

By now (early May 2009), almost three months of pre-production have gone into Bears of the Last Frontier. The ‘A’ film crew will be flying to Anchorage next month on one-way tickets. The other day though, Joe called me up to tell me there had been a change to the plan… I’d be going with them!

Have We Got Everything?

Our van

We arrived in Anchorage with 22 pieces of luggage. Some checked bags weigh as little as one pound (like our Cine Saddle), while a camera jib-arm might weigh in at over a hundred pounds with all its odds and sods. Film crews roaming airports with trolleys full of gear must look like the most indecisive people in the world. No exception here in Anchorage! Outside the airport, our cavernous rental van sags over its rear axle as we load all 600 pounds of film gear into the back. For the fifth time since leaving the baggage carousel, Joe and I count all our cases. In this game a missing bag is a costly business — not only for the item lost, but for the delay it will inevitably create. Coffee and wi-fi at the hotel for the rest of today. My computer takes my cubicle on the road…

Change of Plan

The schedule has changed. We agreed it was best not to drive to Homer on Day 2 as planned. Most of us had forgotten little essentials, and our day of shopping stretched late into the afternoon. There was an enormous amount of food to be purchased for the crew. The crew would have a support vessel in Hallo Bay, but bad weather, low tides, or a combination of the two could easily make a four-day camping trip into a ten-day event. Joe and Chris would be carrying everything they needed on their backs into the wild. As Chris loaded a five-pound bag of candies onto the trolley, I wondered whose luggage it would be going in. It’s 6pm. None of us feels like tackling the five-hour drive to Homer; especially with big Moose with bad eyesight crossing the road during twilight! Homer tomorrow.

When making hotel reservations for a film crew I go with the most pleasant people I can find. Constant change is the only true constant on a film shoot, so flexibility is a must. A good deal on a hotel package booked months earlier can become costly if you must change the reservation or deal with unyielding types. I’m a sucker for a friendly greeting on the phone. I also have a thing for owner/operators. Three months ago when peppering Homer’s hotels with phone calls, the owner of this hotel cheerfully answered his phone on the second ring. I booked three rooms for three nights. Luckily, the guy was cool with us changing the reservation.

All of us end up purchasing some last-minute toys after getting the essentials. Chris bought a hard case for his new laptop, Joe a new camping knife. I bought a mono-pod for my shoot. Spending money away from home is like over-eating on holiday—the dollars don’t count.

Find out what happens on the next leg of the crew’s journey next week on the Bear Blog with Chris Morgan.

Dean Cannon has been traveling and working around the world since leaving his home in Arizona at age 19. Originally from England, Dean has worked from Akureyri, Iceland to Perth, Australia doing numerous jobs as a traveler. In 2002, Dean found his way into filmmaking while living in Japan. Two months after arriving there he found work as a soundman on a documentary shoot in Africa. After working on many film and television projects, Dean joins the crew of Bears of the Last Frontier as assistant producer and 2nd camera.

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  • Lee

    I’ve been to the southern Alaska coast before. Its spectacular. The bears are huge…Looking forward to this one!

  • Greta

    I worked as an interpreter with a film crew in Africa while working for an NGO out there. Was one of the funnest times of my life! I don’t know if I could be that close to a grizzly bear though…think I’ll stick to watching them on tv!

  • Nancy Lynch

    So it was YOU that took that video of Chris & Joe running across that log on the 2nd show. I said – “Jeez you forget that Joe has to tote around a camera all the time”. To which my husband pointed out – “Someone else is carrying heavy, expensive equipment too!” This is truly one of my favorite things I’ve seen on TV; you’re all doing a tremendous job. Thanks for giving us something ENJOYABLE to watch for a change!

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