Endless Editing

Making of "Whales of the Mediterreanean Sea" - Part 2. It has been three months since my last post! So, what has been happening with the Mediterranean films since then? Editing, editing and more editing - I have been glued to my mac with HDV, Final Cut Pro, Motion and ProRes issues.

A couple of days ago we posted the final episode in the five-part series "Whales of an Ancient Sea".

While planning the project in April 2007, we decided to produce a 50-minute documentary that would be delivered primarily online. We would split up the film into short programs for free distribution online as an experiment in what many feel is the future for broadcasting.When one begins any project, you hope there are going to be things or issues that you can capture on film through interviews or documenting in the wild. We hoped to find three to five themes in our journey into the Mediterranean Sea, which would be the foundation of the documentary. The goal was to create short programs that teacher's could use in classrooms, and target a new group of viewers on the web.

We totally underestimated the diversity of people and their stories encompassing science and conservation issues documented during filming. In many ways, we only scratched the surface. As we reviewed we 40-50 tapes, and countless hours of interviews, we realized in September that this was going to take a lot more time (and money) then we had the budgeted for (and had in the bank). We needed more time to properly tell a complex story and time to explain some of the scientific concepts in a way that people would take some time out of their day to watch, and hopefully care about it. Apart from the technical side of making a series of films like these, there is also the human side the requires time and a sensitive touch.

Creating films are a fragile collaborative effort. Making documentary films is challenging because it's passion that fuels you during the process as there is no real commercial reward at the end. Rather, it is an expedition to gain knowledge and understanding, while communicating stories you feel need to be heard. Making environmental films involves working with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures, whose strong passion is a common trait. Trying to share stories from the sea is the ultimate challenge, as many people who are watching your film do not have any connection to the ocean in their daily lives. It is your job to get them interested!

How does this relate to our project "Whales of an Ancient Sea"?

Our overall goal was to attempt to share stories of whales while exploring the whole marine ecosystem. Doing this required a lot of people to believe in what we were trying to achieve, and that it was worthy of their time. Before one frame of film (or 1 minute of HD tape) was shot, a common idea had to be accepted by a lot of people in a diverse region of cultures and conservation perspectives.What was unexpected in the entire process was the commitment by many scientists and local community members we filmed. A lot of people invested time and money into making this work in diverse ways.In the first part of our trip around the Mediterranean, we joined the Oceana Ranger in Sardinia, Italy for a few days. We met Xavier Pastor and the incredibly dedicated and professional crew of the Ranger. Bad weather kept us in port for a few days, but this allowed us to talk to Xavier in depth about the illegal driftnet fishery and its impact on the biodiversity of the Med. Oceana allowed us to use footage shot on the Ranger during their 2007 driftnetting campaign, including underwater footage shot in key habitats showing the effects of human activities.Without the help of a lot of people at Oceana including Xavier, Marta Madina and of course JJ Candan's wonderful underwater imagery, we could not have told an important part of the story.Of course, there is always a degree of luck involved, and this happened for us while attempting to film sperm whales. This was due in part to Alexandros Frantzis and Pelagos.

In August 2004, Gen and I spent time in Greece on the Voyage of the Odyssey studying sperm whales. Alexandros was a guest scientist, and since then, we kept in touch and have been eager to return to film these animals in a place where many people do not even know they are present.The entire Mediterranean project started with arranging to film with Alexandros for three weeks. We joined his research boat and eco-volunteers that were keen on encountering sperm whales. Traveling from Athens to Crete on the RV Nereis was an epic journey over waters Gen and I had traveled a few years earlier. However, this time, we encountered an incredible social group of sperm whales with a newborn calf only hours old.When we reached our final destination in Paleochora, it was time to travel north. We dragged 7 bags onto a bus for three hours, took an overnight ferry to Athens, jumped in a car and drove 6 hours to the small town of Vonitsa. Giovanni Beazi, Joan Gonzalvo and Silvia Bonizzoni of Tethys took us under their wing for a week. We learned about the complex issues surrounding the decline of the short beaked common dolphin around Kalamos and in the Mediterranean over recent years. Backed by irrefutable data, Giovanni trusted us to tell a story that had taken him years to piece together. Many people think that dolphin, or any marine mammal research for that matter is an easy job. On the contrary, it takes years of dedication and passion, long hours usually accompanied by a lack of funding, and meticulously attention to every detail to document a subject. In Giovanni's case, the hardest part is that he has had to watch those animals disappear in front of his eyes. Giovanni has worked in the eastern Med for years, and now Joan is leading the way in sharing the science and conservation posibilities with local communities and fishermen. If you want to get involved and help them, you can. They run a fantastic Earthwatch program, which is a great opportunity to see bottlenose dolphins in the wild - a population that continues to thrive, unlike most in the Med.

There are a lot of people to thank for the incredible journey throughout the Mediterranean. Ana Canadas and Ric Sagiminara of Alnitak graciously let us film on the Toftvaag with an Earthwatch program in progress. It is a fantastic boat to spend time on in one of the richest areas for cetaceans and sea turtles in the basin. We highly recommend anyone wanting to see a diverse range of whales and dolphins to sign up for this Earthwatch program. Among others we worked with were Cristina Fossi and the staff in her toxicolgy lab in the Univ. of Siena, Simone Panigada, Barbara Mussi, Antonio Di Natale, Albert Sturlese, Wendy Elliot, and Amanda Nickson of WWF.While producing these films, we received enormous amounts of help and advice from author Erich Hoyt. As soon as we arranged to film in Greece with Alexandros, we had long discussions with Erich about other issues and researchers we could also document. These exchanges ultimately led to an expansion of the scope of the project and its numerous collaborations.

What's Next for the films?

  1. Translate the short films on earthOCEAN.The plan is to translate these films into Spanish, French German, Greek, Italian and Arabic. To do this we are going to work with a number of NGOs in the region. We feel this is incredibly important for the success of the project online.One obstacle many people in marine conservation face is to get people to care about, at least for a moment, the topic you are sharing. Often news about the oceans is bad news, and people are faced with viewing bad news every day. It is so easy to turn off when talking about whales and the oceans because the problems can seem so enormous. We cannot even begin to claim this project was successful until we get it to people via the web (and DVDs) in their language. Over the next 6 weeks, earthOCEAN will implement a design change so videos are metatagged and indexed in a way that allows people to find what they are looking for in different languages. It will be a lot of work, but we cannot wait to see what the long-term effect will be.
  2. To try and reach another audience, I will create an hour long edit combining all five documentaries for submission to a number of film festivals. The 5 short films totaled 82 minutes in duration. I am hoping to get it down to 60 minutes without losing a lot of the key messages and interviews. The deadline for Wildscreen is in late March. You never know if your film will be accepted, or shown at one of these things- but it doesn't hurt to try. I will submit it to this and other environmental film festivals in the coming year.

Since we posted the first epsiode in the Whales of the Mediterranean Sea online, over 10,000 people from 110 countries have watched it. Over the next few months we will be producing more episodes in the Cetacean Investigation series and will be launching a new series. We will keep you updated over weeks to come. There are some exciting stories coming! Chris