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and Michele Hall high on Cocos. Howard and Michele Hall high on Cocos.
Howard & Michele's Excellent Adventure
Part 3 (back to Part 2)

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
Bay. Howard Hall, Bob Cranston (beige hat), and Billy Holdson on location above Chatham Bay.

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. 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 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 basis.

Sunset over
Cocos Island and Isla Manuelita. Sunset over 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.

Photos: (1,10-12,15) ©Mark Conlin/Howard Hall Productions; (2,16) ©Howard Hall; (3,5-9,13,14) ©Michele Hall; (4) Michele Hall ©1998 NOVA/WGBH Boston/HHP.

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