Category: Project Overview

Capturing the story of Salmon and Public Lands

Throughout most of the summer in Southeast Alaska, most conversations start with questions like “Are they running up the river yet?” “How’s your catch so far? “When are you heading out to get salmon?”

After spending the past 10 summers in Southeast Alaska, we’ve come to appreciate the connection between these small coastal communities and salmon.  This past summer we had the incredible opportunity to team up with the Sitka Conservation Society and the Forest Service to explore those close ties, and understand what role public lands play in ensuring the continuity of this vital resource. We are proud to share the result of that effort, a 30-minute documentary film titled The Salmon Forest, which follows salmon on their great migration from the streams of the forest, to the ocean, and back.  Along the way, we meet many of the people whose lives are closely tied to salmon as well as the animals of the forest that depend on salmon.

For more details about the film check out: www.salmonforest.com

Following Salmon

As far as natural history is concerned, we knew we needed to capture salmon at each life stage.  This can be both extremely easy at times and exceedingly challenging.  To start, the salmon run was extremely delayed last summer due to a drought and low numbers made it challenging to find salmon until late August (that took a lot of patience).  When they did arrive we were able to capture them like never before with a full underwater housing (Sony A7sII) that allowed us to see salmon from a whole new perspective, and even capture their behavior as they paired up and spawn.

One of the key points of the film was showing the connection between the forest and the salmon streams. Capturing this relationship on film was a challenge, but critical to drive home the message of the film. Given the limitations for drone usage in public lands, we brought a a cable camera system (Dacytl cam) that we set up across a beautiful stretch of Indian River near Sitka, Alaska. The result – a dynamic shot that showed seamlessly how interconnected the forest is to the river, and with the glimmer of the sun also highlighted its beauty.

Timing was everything in trying to film sockeye leap up a waterfall in their journey to the lake, a sight to behold! (Though that also meant seeing many jump right into rocks).

From tiny eggs, to juveniles and finally full-grown salmon spawning – there are few sights more inspiring that rivers full of salmon!

 

Stewards of the Land

 

At the heart of the film, we explore the important link between healthy forests and healthy salmon populations. The Tongass National Forest is America’s largest National Forest and we had the incredible opportunity to spend time with the Forest Service teams charged with stewarding this salmon producing forest. Biologist Sheila Jacobson, hydrologists KK Prussian and their whole team sent us head first into the world of salmon as we monitored sights on Prince of Wales Island.  We will never look at a stream the same way again! It was impressive to see the team in action as they conducted top-stream surveys, and was a challenge to keep up with Sheila as she snorkeled her way up the streams.

 

 

Big Catch!

 

Fisheries are a huge part of the economy in SE Alaska, and a critical part of the story we set out to tell. We had the opportunity to spend time with both a trolling fisherman (who catches fish individually on a line) as well as a seiner (who uses a large net to bring in the big catch). Our time aboard the sein boat Cloud 9 was a lot of fun thanks to the great crew, but also resulted in lots of scales (and even some blood) on our lenses. Fishing is extremely challenging and in the end we felt lucky to capture one of the largest hauls that season!

 

Culture Camp

 

Salmon have played a critical role for the Native peoples of Southeast Alaska for generations. As part of the documentary we had the incredible opportunity to attended the annual culture camp in Kake to learn about the connection between salmon and traditions in Tlingit Culture.  Joel Jackson, a local community leader, taught the group how to make newspaper style smoked salmon, a technique he learned from his father, while other members of the community shared their unique salmon recipes. We are thankful to the people of Kake for being so welcoming and sharing a taste of their traditions with us.

 

Filming Bears

 

Bears are a critical part of the ecosystem in Southeast Alaska, and play a crucial role in dragging the carcass of salmon out into the forest. Salmon are also central to their diet. Ben and Chas flew out to Pack Creek to film bears as they began their summer feast. A mother bear struggled to catch fish for her two hungry cubs, and Ben and Chas were there to film her when she finally caught a fish – only to see one of the cubs greedily steal it away.  A 600mm lens is not exactly the most portable, but it certainly paid off to get up close and personal with these bears. When filming bears safety is always the top priority. Ben’s long history filming bears has helped him develop strong practices to ensure that even while focusing on getting the shots, everyone involved in the shoot – and the bears, are safe.

 

The Next Generation

Salmon are an important part of family life in Southeast Alaska, and we had so much fun filming the Kasaka family in what has to be the coolest backyard – National Forest land with a river full of salmon running through it! Tad takes clients who jet in from all over the world fly-fishing in SE Alaska, but it’s after work hours that he has the most important job – teaching his young sons how to fish.  Filming his young son say “thank you fish” as he put his catch back in the river was one of the sweetest moments of the summer.

31 Days in the Rainforest

Well is has been some time since our last post but better late than never!  This past year has been an incredible one for our company and we couldn’t be more proud of the work we have produced.  In August of 2015 we headed down to Panama for 31 days to shoot and produce a series of 4k shorts for the all new Smithsonian Earth TV Platform.  It is a nature only subscription service that focuses on providing premium content for nature lovers throughout the USA.  You can start your free trial here:  www.smithsonianearthtv.com 

The series was titled Secrets of the Rainforest and included a diversity of subjects from nature only shorts like the March of the Leafcutters to science based films like Capuchin Dinner Debate.  It was one of the most challenging shoots we have ever embarked on due to the intense heat and humidity, small crew, and long hours, but we could not be more proud of the final products.

Below are some pics from the trip to give you a glimpse into the rainforest.

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A young Capuchin monkey searches for ants on a leaf during the heat of the day.

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A mother long billed hermit thrush and her nest on the end of a palm leaf.

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A female Glass Frog hydrating her clutch on the edge of a stream in the middle of the night.

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An endangered horn frog at the El Valle Amphibian conservation center sits in a glass case…one of the last of its kind on earth.

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A young howler monkey grazes on stems and leaves between naps.

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DP / Producer Ben Hamilton filming from the Canopy Crane above Panama City.

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Ben and Katina filming from the Canopy Crane.  (Little breezy up there…)

South Africa Recap

We just returned from an unforgettable trip to Knysna, South Africa. It was our first time venturing to Africa and one thing is for sure – we can’t wait to go back! Our trip began in Cape Town where we were able to take in the beautiful ocean views and capture the beauty of the surrounding vineyards.

The highlight of the trip was our time spent at Head Over Hills Luxury Resort in Knysna, South Africa. Over the span of ten days, we are pretty confident we were able to capture on film every inch of the resort and the ever-changing view that took our breath away every day. We loved getting to know the friendly staff at Head Over Hills and our hosts, the Hanson family. We hope that our pictures and videos help share the beauty of this place with people around the world, but trust us, there’s nothing like seeing it in person!

The last part of our trip took us to a Game Reserve where we got the full safari experience. Lions, elephants and rhinos…oh my! The majestic beauty of these animals roaming freely was thrilling, albeit a bit scary when a rhino ventured only inches away from us.

 

Stay tuned for the finished videos in the next weeks!

 

HOH_PIONEER-5322Aerial view of Head Over Hills, situated on the jagged edge of the famous rocky cliffs of the Knysna Heads, with a view of the lagoon in the distance.

 

HOH_PIONEER_4508Breathtaking sunset as seen on a screen grab from a time-lapse, as you can imagine we were pretty glad we left the camera rolling that evening!

 

 

golfMartin showcasing the beautiful Pezula golf course in Knysna, and the swing that confirms why he was a pro!

 

 

HOH_PIONEER-4105It’s a pretty safe bet to say that this is the best seat in the house!

 

 

grapesBen capturing the grapes that produce the world-renowned wines of Cape Town’s Stellenbosch vineyards.

 

katinaKatina snapping some pictures of Head Over Hills from the lookout point, about as close to the cliff as you want to get!

 

 

HOH_PIONEER-8472Elephant posing for us while on Safari in South Africa, showcasing its majestic trunk.

 

ben and lionsOn our first evening at the Game Reserve, we were lucky to meet a lion and his two cubs, check out the footage captured on the viewfinder.

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A closer image of the lion, staring us down and making it clear who the boss is around there.

 

Fortress of the Bear

We just returned from our second shoot for the Tongass Wilderness Film and this one was all about bears!  We traveled by floatplane from Juneau to an area called Kootznoowoo (meaning Bear Fortress).  This island has one of the highest densities of brown bears on the planet!!!  Almost the entire island is preserved as federally designated Wilderness and here are some screen grabs showing it off!   Hope everyone enjoys these and more soon as we continue to three more remote locations in the Tonagss National Forest of SE Alaska.

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Looking down on Admiralty Island Monument (Kootznoowoo Wilderness)

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Two young bears greet for the first time in a few days.

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Play time!  Bears even kiss…

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We got a glimpse of a rare albino brown bear cub encountering a large male boar.

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Bald eagle enjoys the remains from a bear’s harvest.

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Cub cooling off.

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Lunge feeding in a large pool of pink salmon.

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Success!

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Cubs share in a fresh catch.

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The Tongass is part of the last and largest remaining temperate rainforest on the planet.  Some of these trees have been around for hundreds of years.

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Don MacDougall led us through the forest to this epic tree.

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Mother watching over her cubs.

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Young cub following in the sedges.

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While the other bears fished in the stream, this boar swam directly off shore into the ocean to get a fresh salmon.

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Juvenile bear swimming in a deep pool.

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Large boar munches on rotten salmon… lazy bum.

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One thing I love most about SE Alaska is the wild edibles and these salmon berries were ripe and ready for picking.

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Filming bears.

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Thats not a lens…this is a lens…

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The Crew! Ben, Justin, and Jane!

Learning to Spawn?

Today was a day filled with filming!  It started with the grand opening of the new salmon exhibit at the Sitka Sound Science Center which was awesome.

After the opening, kids were invited to partake in the “Salmon Olympics” which entailed:

1. Sprint and grab nets

2. Scoop up two of the same color water balloons (same salmon specie) but one has to have water (male) and the other one has to have water and beans (aka, eggs).

3. Pop the two water balloons into a sanitized bucket and mix (aka make babies)

4. Sprint to an incubator and pour the mixture in

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Teaching the game

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Running away from super intense kids!

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Judging by her face, this game was life and death…

Photos by Alex Crook

Gateway to the Tongass

Almost immediately after arriving in Sitka I had the amazing opportunity to go hike and film on Kruzof Island near Sitka.  Kruzof is home to a dormant volcano and is a world class destination for hiking and camping.

I am producing and shooting a film for the Sitka Conservation Society to promote Sitka as a gateway to the Tonagss National Forest and this place is one of the most incredible and accessible destinations around.   Below is a teaser screenshot from the film (COMING SOON!) and following are some fun production photos by the talented Alex Crook.

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Teaser Screenshot from the Commercial!

Leaving Sitka

Headed out from Sitka

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Captain Ryan Kauffman

Gearing up for the trip

Prepping gear on the Boat

Shirtless filming...it was hot

80 Degrees in Sitka?

80 Degrees in SITKA?

Pushing for Crater Ridge!

Getting some throws in

Alpine Throw Session! Not sure it gets better than this…

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Gleb dumping his head in mud for a portrait

Edgecumb in the Background

Edgecumb in the Background

Fun with the new Setup

Macro eye shots!

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The Team

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Let there be FIRE!

Textures!

Filming Textures of the Muskeg

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Heading Home

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Bear Country – Preview

I just spent 6 days crossing West Chichagof Island in southeast Alaska by foot and packraft.  This island boasts one of the most densely populated bear habitats on the planet, we saw over 40 on the trip.  I am going through all of the footage and photos now and will continue to post them this week.  Here is a small preview! Big Bear Country video to come.