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Shooting Documentary Footage from a Helicopter in the Mountains

They say that South America is the land of ‘mañana,’ but after an action packed first day in Santiago, Chile, I’m almost nervous to find out what’s in store for tomorrow!

After a slight delay on our flight, we were picked up at the airport by Arturo, our Chilean field producer. Arturo has been in the documentary film production business a long time, speaks amazing English, and has given us some keen insights into life in Chile.

We drove straight from the airport to the location of the hanger and landing pad for the helicopter, which would get us into the Andes for some much needed aerial footage. Ron, our helicopter cinematographer, immediately cracked open his 6 Pelican cases and started assembling his camera rig on the chopper.

The camera and gyro system that Ron uses are called the ‘CineFlex’. The system basically consists of an HD camera mounted in a carbon-fiber housing that is located just under the front part of the helicopter. The key to the housing is that there are several gyroscopes that neutralize the often-violent movements of the helicopter to provide smooth video in just about any shooting conditions. The optical cable from the lens feeds back into the cabin of the helicopter, where it is attached to a tape deck. Ron controls the entire thing (zoom in / zoom out, pan, tilts, etc.) through what looked to me like the most complicated TV remote control I’ve ever seen.

Ron described the filming process as a sort of dance between the movements in the helicopter, the adjustments that the camera can make, and the dramatic changes in the surroundings landscapes. I got to see a little bit of the video during playback – the footage was stunning, almost mesmerizing in the way it showed off the majesty of the Andes.

While the helicopter was in flight, Brian (our Director of Photography) and I drove up to a hill in the center of Santiago to shoot some documentary footage and landscape shots of the city. Unfortunately the smog covered part of the view, but nonetheless, the city looked very dramatic with the Andes towering in the background.

Perhaps standing a little bit too close, Brian and I almost got free haircuts as we watched the chopper land. We picked up Andy and Ron, had some pizza and Chilean wine, and proceeded to sleep for the next 11 hours or so.


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