We make decisions every day about how we choose to see the world & what parts we see in detail. How does that affect what one films?
As mentioned in my previous production post, filming and recording for Eye of the Corvus began in an experimental way as I learnt how to use my new cameras, what their limitations were, and how I might use them to replicate the movement and behaviour of ravens and crows. As my confidence grew and my field recording process developed, I went further afield to use them – moving from my back paddock, to excursions on the river, roadside stock routes south-west of Dubbo, and eventually a few hours north-west of Dubbo.
I was keen to find somewhere to let the Mavic Pro drone really fly without the worry of obstacles or breaching regulations. After considering several locations, I decided to return to my childhood territory north of Coonamble – a difficult but better fit, conceptually.
I was an outdoor kid, growing up on a large mixed farming property 50-60km north-west of Coonamble, several kilometres west of the Pilliga Forest (West) also know as the Pilliga Scrub. I spent hours on horseback, wandering through paddocks, jumping logs on the stock routes, exploring creek beds, bore drains, ‘green roads’, and the sandy, shady Hollywood Lane that ran through the centre of our property. It was my playground – complete with animal tracks to follow, chunks of pine sap to pocket, leaves and feathers to collect, and birds to observe. Spotting brumbies on the long, straight stretch of the Pilliga Road from the school bus was a highlight of my early school years. It fed the imagination of a kid who had read every Silver Brumby book by Elyne Mitchell. When I wasn’t free roaming, I found a way to use my horses to help out on the farm – mustering stock, checking water, running messages.
Not having been back to the farm or the area around it for some years, it made sense to return at this time – in the middle of what many consider the worst drought in living memory. I thought I knew what I’d be shooting. It turned out to be an emotional visit, making me question the sentimental lens through which I was remembering this familiar landscape. The reality punches.
Using four cameras, with the kit now including the Garmin Virb 360, and two sound recorders, I worked across 9 locations between Armatree and the Pilliga Road on the western edge of the forest. I also shot along the Castlereagh River, and in Coonamble itself. I stood in the middle of a sandy Castlereagh River bed only a couple of weeks after the river had flooded for the first time in years, tracked the rail line at Armatree with the Warrumbungles peaking over the distant horizon, put my 5m extension pole with my VR camera mounted to the top into the top of dead trees to scope the view from the nests of ravens, captured flocks of pigeons swooping over the empty main street of Coonamble at Easter, hovered over the rotting carcase of a dead brumby lying amongst heavily hoof-printed sand, swooped over the swirls of freshly cultivated, finely-tilthed soil ready to blow on the next big wind, perched on barbed wire fences scanning piles of trees bulldozed to make way for fence and road upgrades, and from on high, caught the patterns of a droughted-plain at sunset. Amongst it, I saw beauty…but that’s a human lens, and one that comes from the familiar.
I summed up the trip in a social media post on my return: Galah attacks on my drone, catheads, bulldust, dead horses, potholes that swallow a car, botanical finds, beautiful sunrises and sunsets, lots of dead batteries, full SD cards, and several hundred kilometres to Coonamble, the Pilliga, Hollywood (childhood territories) and back, and my last big field trip for Eye of the Corvus is almost done. Home today to see what’s really in the can.
As I’d hoped, I further refined my shooting technique on this trip. I’d recently spent some hours on the Macquarie River south of Dubbo attempting to use multiple cameras at once, as well as recording sound. On returning home to dump the data and review my files, I found everything I’d shot on one camera, the GH4 with a fisheye lens, was out of focus. Now, unless it’s critical to the location, I focus on one camera and one accompanying sound recorder at a time. I’ve been pairing the Virb 360 with 4-channel recordings with the Zoom H2n, and using a new set of RØDE lav mics in a bird-sized binaural set-up on the Zoom H6 for footage shot on the drone, Lumix GH4 and Olympus tough.
Shooting the landscape from the perspective of a raven or crow has been an ambitious brief. It’s a new perspective and I’ve found seeing unfamiliar landscapes almost makes it easier. It’s a taxing process to shoot for hours in the heat, with black flies and dust swirling around you, often having to trek on foot to get to just the right location – shooting from multiple perspectives – ground level, eye level and on high.
The Coonamble field trip was the last one for the Australian leg of Eye of the Corvus. I finished the weekend with a shoot at my local shopping centre in Dubbo, using the Virb 360 on the extension pole taped to the carpark light posts, as well as from the ground within the carpark, taking in an almost empty urban space the local ravens call home.
Now it’s time to hide away in the studio as post-production starts in preparation for finalising the Australian content before the Iceland chapter begins in September.