Madagascar – ‘Well off the Beaten Track’

Madagascar makes a profound impression on those lucky enough to be able to visit. The people, culture and landscapes will remain with you long after leaving. We were straying a little further than most visitors would normally go, as we had set out to create a feature length documentary called ‘Life on the Edge’ for The Zoological Society of London and The Royal Geographic Society. We delved deep into the landscape, trailing a group of scientists as they surveyed some of Madagascar’s beautiful forests. The forest today only covers 20% of its original span, which is why appreciating what remains has become not only a pleasure, but a matter of urgency.

The forest today only covers 20% of its original span, which is why appreciating what remains has become not only a pleasure, but a matter of urgency.

Our short film “The Honey Hunter”  was created to demonstrate how incredibly passionate the Malagasy people are about their forest. The film showcases one particular local tradition which is carried out within the forest by a man named Jean-Renne. He was taught the ancient ritual of ‘honey hunting’ by his father. This involves using smoke to calm the bees in a hive before salvaging the honey for his family. Upon first impression, Jean-Renne appears destructive whilst foraging for the honey. However, he shows us how he always leaves a small part of the hive within the tree, so that the bees can rebuild again. In the film, Jean-Renne is incredibly expressive about the forest, living the entirety of his life within its bounds and its influence.

We continuously ask ourselves, why is deforestation still happening?

We continuously ask ourselves, why is deforestation still happening?

We release our feature-length documentary ‘Madagascar: Life on the Edge’ on 6th March 2017. Production was all about thinking on our feet. We used lightweight rigs, as this made it easier for us to trek on foot to the field site. As space was limited, we used the Sony A7S and GH4 on professional mounting systems, with a matte box which allowed proportionate control over light. For the lenses we used a combination of primes and zooms, as this allowed us to capture the full extent of this incredible landscape and its inhabitants. With the space we had, camera movement was tricky. We had to work around the shapes of the forest, using what was available. In the end, the vertical shots towards the forest canopy were made from a long piece of pole, a cable dolly system, which allowed movement over stretches of the forest, and a  handmade turntable, which was used for the with versatile Syrup Genie. This allowed maximum movement in a macro set to give depth to the shots. Even though working with a lightweight kit had limitations, it worked out to be beneficial.

With regards to light, we used the Black Magic Video assist to record and monitor exposure in bright sunlight. This is a great little monitor and well worth its weight in gold: its ability to record directly into ProRes is a massive benefit. Jon Howard – Colourist managed to make the best of the footage, even when compression artefacts were apparent. Having the right equipment was vital and made the overall production experience easier. The forest certainly had its limitations but our ‘Jungle Camp’ served us well as we made up a science area, kitchen, tents and open fire. Most of our cameras were charged with a large 60w panel which was powered by solar light. This generous light allowed us to create a natural looking macro which was set in a small area as we used a reflector to deflect the rays coming through the canopy above us.

 

Our lasting impression of the Malagasy people was their incredible passion, they live to protect the remainder of the forest.

Our lasting impression of the Malagasy people was their incredible passion. They live to protect the remainder of the forest. The forest to them is a sacred space which has surrounded them and their ancestors for thousands of years. We need to take a step back and ask ourselves, why does deforestation in Madagascar matter? We need to be as passionate as the forests’ very own people.

It was a pleasure to work on location with all the scientists and local researchers.

Our feature length documentary Madagascar: Life on the Edge is set for release on the 6th March 2017.

Check out the Trailer here