Survival series Man Vs. Wild is no picnic

24th August, 2009

Shooting Bear Grylls’ extreme survival series Man vs.Wild is no picnic and only the toughest cameras and crew need apply.

Bear Grylls’ Man vs. Wild could almost be a TV show designed to prove a camera’s ability to withstand extreme environments.

The Discovery/Channel 4 show from Diverse, now in production on its 4th series, has in its time featured Bear Grylls scaling cliffs, parachuting from helicopters and planes, paragliding, ice climbing, wading rapids and free climbing waterfalls in some of the world’s most inhospitable places.

Of course, anywhere Grylls goes, his five strong crew follows. Executive producer Steve Rankin confirms that both the crew and the camera kit they take with them have to be made of pretty stern stuff.

For the latest series, currently in production, director of photography Simon Reay switched from a tape-based Panasonic Varicam to its P2 tapeless successor, enabling him to keep the filmic look of the 720P HD format whilst benefiting from the durability and resilience of a card-based system.

"We liked the P2 because of its lack of moving parts. We have had tape-based cameras go down, particularly in very humid jungle environments where a drop of moisture inside the camera can bring filming to a halt," reveals Rankin.

Working with tapeless media demands a certain amount of discipline, he stresses. "You have to make protecting your data an absolute priority - that's the most precious things you've got. It's back up, back up, back up in case anything goes wrong."

In addition to the Varicam, Reay also takes along a couple of smaller, handheld HPX 171s for following Grylls to inaccessible spots where the shoulder-mounted Varicam can't go.

All the kit is supplied by hire company Axis Films, which simply sends a van to meet the crew at the airport. "Axis are great because we don’t notice them," says Rankin. "But their support is always there when we want it.”

When shooting in hazardous environments such as forest fires, jungles and swamps the last think you want is a camera going down so a hire company you can rely on is paramount, insists Rankin. “If Bear is swinging off a vine you either get it first time or not at all. There are no second chances. But the pressure is all part of the fun - it’s challenging and tough, but very rewarding.”