Alfa Whiskey and
Headwinds, Haze Busters and Helitankers
Mandarins, Virgins and Condoms
In the high-octane world of a supersonic pilot, the expression "6G" symbolises a familiar degree of personal discomfort at the top of an aerobatic loop. In the world of a professional aerial cinematographer, it represents almost impossible working conditions and extreme photographic challenges. "6G" is six times the force of gravity - that is the sort of force that drives an Arriflex camera onto the floor of the cockpit and takes the blood that was meant to go to your head, directly to your feet. Pilots will nonchalantly tell you they do it every day.
150 years before the Mongolfier brothers demonstrated their revolutionary hot air balloon in Paris, an intrepid Turkish scholar called Ahmet Ceresi strapped on a set of "wings" made from eagle feathers and launched himself off the Galata Tower in Istanbul. To the amazement of his fellow Turks, he landed safely in Dogancilar Square, Uskudar, after a flight of almost 1200 metres across the Golden Horn River.
Since the success of that historic day, the Turkish people are justifiably proud of their contribution to the conquest of flight and none more so than the Turk Yildizlari - The Turkish Air Force - who celebrate their 90th anniversary in 2001. They have taken the famous quotation of Kemal Attaturk, the founding father of modern Turkey and adopted it as their motto - "The Future Is In The Skies".
In any Air Force, the pilots of its acrobatic team represent the very best of the best - they are chosen from the "Top Gun" pilots that are the pride of the nation. Their role is both public relations and recruitment and they proudly represent their country internationally in the skies above air shows and similar international events.
Only seven aerobatic teams in the world perform this activity with supersonic jets and only one of these teams -"The Turkish Stars"- perform with seven aircraft, rather than the usual six. They are the youngest supersonic aerobatic team in the world, and along with teams such as the "Blue Angels" and the "Thunderbirds", undoubtedly one of the best.
In anticipation of their
90th anniversary celebrations, the public relations department of the Turkish
Air Force commissioned a series of films to be made on their aerial superstars.
The series included three documentaries for international television release
and a Turkish drama aimed at school children. The Istanbul-based film company
of Ahmet Kayacik, renown Turkish photographer and aerobatic pilot himself,
won the tender.
Ahmets' brief was simple - shoot the most dynamic series of in-cockpit television films possible to demonstrate the extraordinary flying skills of Turkeys' finest supersonic pilots, and give the world the best of Hollywood, from Turkey! From his own flying experience he fully appreciated the extreme environment that the cinematographer was going to have to operate in and went searching the World Wide Web for an international aerial expert to work with.
From the home page of Aerial Cinematography Dot Com in Hollywood, Ahmet was able to locate Singapore-based aerial D.O.P. and Guild member, Laurie Gilbert. After their first extraordinary phone conversation, the project was discussed in considerable detail for several months before the D.O.P. flew from his previous project in Hawai'i to Turkey, for what was ultimately to be a 45-day shoot.
The budget of the project wasn’t exactly "Top Gun", but within reason, there were no impositions placed on the production team as far as film/tape format and equipment were concerned. The budget did suggest however, that the most cost-effective solutions to any problem should originate from inside Turkey, where possible.
Apart from language and cultural differences, there were three key challenges that the D.O.P. recognised he would have to overcome to produce the extremely high standard of air to air material requested:
? He would need almost unlimited
access to the F5a and F5b military aircraft operated by the "Turkish Stars",
especially during the initial problem-solving period.
? The small physical size of the cockpit space created its own challenges and this would limit the choice of both equipment and camera positions available.
? Undoubtedly the biggest challenge would be the extreme gravity forces on both the equipment and the aerial cinematographer during tight aerobatic manoeuvres. An increase of six times the force of gravity on a film camera definitely has the potential to interfere with film transportation and registration. In a professional video camera, there was a similar potential for problems with the system that transports the tape across the recording heads. High-speed turns, loops, rolls and dives also create severe vibrations within the airframe of the aircraft and these vibrations would also adversely affect camera mechanics and image stability.
The space limitations in the cockpit and long duration of each flight suggested videotape as a recording medium, rather than film. There was a great temptation for the production company to use lipstick cameras and mini recorders, but the D.O.P. was convinced that these cameras would never produce the quality images that a larger, three CCD chip camera could achieve.
After considerable research into the equipment available for hire and sale in Turkey, it was decided that the aerial content of the films would be shot on the two different Canon PAL Mini DV cameras - the XL1 and XM1 (a.k.a. GM1). Two of each of these models were ultimately purchased for the film. The reason that Canon was chosen in preference to any other make was primarily because of the reputation of its wide-angle optics and the proven effectiveness of the patented anti-vibration device built into each lens. With a tape length of 60 minutes, a resolution of 500 lines and their small, lightweight body size, the cameras seemed to be an ideal solution to a difficult problem in an impossible shooting environment - but only IF they could survive the extreme G forces! The added bonus was that the XL1 would also accept the superior optics of any of Ahmet Kayaciks' EOS prime lenses - and in this Mini DV configuration, the Canon 300mm 2.8 for example, is an awesome piece of glass.
The real worry of the D.O.P. was not whether the CAMERAS could survive these forces in the cockpit, but whether HE could survive them! The Turkish pilots all seemed to be on the right side of forty and the downside of his "experience" meant that the D.O.P. was definitely on the wrong side. Within a couple of days the Turkish Air force was to call his bluff and subject him to the ultimate survival test.
The Turkish Air Force rightly believed that anyone flying in the cockpit of an aerobatic supersonic jet has to be able to handle the environment and be fully trained to cope with any emergency. The D.O.P. had to pass an extensive medical examination in a Turkish military hospital before he was even eligible to receive gravity training and something they ominously called cockpit ejection training. "Do I get any of that blood BACK?" he was heard to mutter at one particular stage of the hospital proceedings.
After receiving a positive grading in all his medical tests, he found himself being strapped into the centrifuge capsule that would eventually teach him the reality of what 8.6 G actually feels like - "Bloody horrible - I want to go home NOW!" This access to the centrifuge also allowed an evaluation of the production cameras and a brand new Canon XM1 was taken out of its box and mounted inside the capsule to film the extreme, face distorting pressures the D.O.P. was having to endure.
The D.O.P. may have had a few problems but the camera passed with flying colours - probably because its mechanics and tape size is so physically small, the effects of the G forces are proportionally less. Significantly, the anti-vibration facility built into the lens of the four production cameras handled everything they encountered in both the centrifuge capsule and subsequently in the cockpits.
Once the D.O.P. was fully trained to survive and operate professionally in-cockpit, the real job of making the film began. Four aeronautical engineers from Ankara were assigned to work with the camera team at the air base in Konya - the Antolya home of both the "Turkish Stars" and also the legendary Whirling Dervishes. The engineers took one look at the cameras and said they were too heavy - the film team said the cameras stay, get different engineers! The engineers scuttled back to their drawing boards and workshop in panic for a rethink!
Eventually the problems were solved with imagination, creativity and Turkish engineering excellence - "Problem Yok" they said - no problem - and the solutions gave the D.O.P. access to seven different camera positions in Whiskey Alpha - his twin-cockpit F5b camera ship, as well as the "handholding option" in the back seat. Polarising the lenses immediately revealed all the manufacturing stresses in the Plexiglas, but unwanted reflections from the back cockpit dials were controlled instead with small black drapes and black gaffer tape and ultimately the D.O.P. had an extremely sexy black cockpit to operate in!
Each day, a formation of up to seven F5a aircraft would take off into the cloudless blue skies escorted by Whiskey Alpha and Ahmet, the director/photographers' in a second F5b camera ship. A small portable monitor was mounted inside the aircraft to allow the pilot to view the image from the side-facing, aerial "tracking shot" camera and within days, the superstar pilots were flying the locked-off cameras with the creativity of true Hollywood camera professionals. The images that the "Turkish Star" pilots conceived and created themselves, were absolutely astonishing!
Half way through the location shoot in Konya, a Phoenix dolly/crane crew arrived with their rig from Istanbul. For the next three days the little Canon cameras tracked and "flew" around the 20ft bronze statues of a symbolic hero aviator at the main gate and then followed a team of real hero pilots as they nonchalantly did the macho "Tom Cruise walk" to their aircraft at sunset. The camera team also asked that one of the F5a aircraft be towed to an immaculately clean, new hanger and then used the tracking jib arm to shoot a whole series of "flying" packshot studies of the photogenic red and white supersonic machine.
The Canon 300mm F2.8 lens was particularly useful on the Canon XL1 camera to shoot dynamic long lens, sunset material of the planes taxiing, taking off and landing with the assistance of their drogue chutes. On the XL1, this particular lens becomes the 35mm equivalent of a 2100mm focal length lens - a very serious "Top Gun" lens indeed.
The original storyboard required a high-angle shot looking down on the seven aircraft formation as the "Turkish Stars" flew over Istanbul, the Bosphorous River and other nationally significant backdrops throughout Turkey. The D.O.P. and his pilot originally tried to provide this shot by flying upside down and filming the formation below them through the clear top of the canopy - not exactly an exercise for the faint hearted - but the significant amount of loose cockpit debris suddenly appearing from nowhere meant an alternative solution had to be devised.
At subsonic speeds, the shot might have been possible with a Wescam mounted either in a helicopter or on the tailgate of a C130, but both these aircraft flew too slowly to keep up with the supersonic F5 jets. The solution suggested by the Turkish Air Force was a KC135 - a Boeing 707 modified for use as a mid-air refuelling tanker. This aircraft is fitted with a probe which projects from the underside rear of the aircraft and during the mid-air refuelling process, this probe is controlled by an operator who looks through a specially modified, downward facing window. The camera team had a critical look at one of these aircraft and although the window itself was very small, they believed that they could overcome the limitations and gratefully accepted the offer of this rather large camera ship.
The final solution was for the KC135 to fly low (300 - 400 metres) over the countryside and actually be the lead performer in what became an eight-aircraft formation. From his position in the belly of the KC135, the D.O.P. was able to film as the seven F5a jets followed his camera ship like cygnets following a very large swan. The system worked so well that the camera team was able to produce high angle, tight shots of the formation at supersonic speed, with an ever-changing background. In fact some of the most dramatic material in the final film was shot from this otherwise totally empty Boeing 707 as the expanded formation followed the Mediterranean coastline of Turkey at sunset.
Forty-five cloudless shooting days later, the team had 50 rolls of some of the most dynamic, supersonic air to air material that it was possible to shoot.
One final, memorable incident symbolised the bond that had been created between the Turkish superstar pilots and the filmmakers. On their last day in Konya, the camera crew said their goodbyes early in the morning and climbed into the coach for the ten-hour drive back to Istanbul. Just before one p.m. they pulled into a well-known roadside restaurant for lunch. The D.O.P noticed the Kayacik Babes (very photogenic, photographic camera assistants) talking excitedly on portable phones and then within seconds, the unmistakable shape of three supersonic jets approaching the restaurant, flying no higher than 100 metres above the surrounding wheat fields. They made three very low passes over the astonished diners (one American tourist was heard to exclaim afterwards that he almost wet himself!) before igniting the afterburners and disappearing into the blue skies of Anatoyla. The "Turkish Stars" were saying "Goodbye and Thank You" to the camera crew in their own very special way.
When he left Turkey after seven weeks of extreme challenges and even more extreme solutions, D.O.P. Laurie Gilbert had received 100% co-operation from the Turkish Air Force High Command in both Ankara and Konya. He had also had the privilege of working with Ahmet Kayacik and the very talented staff of Kayacik Film and had enjoyed some of the warmest and most generous hospitality of his professional career. He now wears the name that the superstar pilots of the Turkish Air Force gave him - "Nure Gilbert - Turkish Pilot" - with considerable pride.
"Turkish Stars - Supersonic Heroes" - What a country, what an Air Force, what a supersonic aerobatic team and what a film!
Back to Top
For almost all of the summer of 1997 South East Asia was blanketed by a curtain of thick and dangerous haze, which resulted from the devastating combination of seasonal forest fires and the El Nino phenomena. The deadly haze attacked entire populations in the countries of Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore and throughout the region people were both suffering and sometimes dying, from its lethal side effects. Children especially were most vulnerable - soon after the arrival of the dense smoke, they were suffering severe skin rashes, lung and eye infections and dangerous respiratory problems. In both Malaysia and Indonesia conditions so bad that children were kept away from schools. Road traffic was reduced to a crawl, industry and commerce showed a marked down turn and the effect on the airlines and tourist trade was disastrous. The problem was so severe that the authorities seemed powerless to control it and only the late seasonal rains gave the region a welcome but short-lived respite.
With the summer of 1998 promising to be as hot as 1997, it was very obvious to everyone that a radical solution was required throughout the region. Jeremy Cama, a professional Asia- based lawyer, gave the problem considerable thought and he decided to motivate the private sector to fund a range of solutions to fight the fires that were actually causing most of the human and financial problems. He founded an organization called Haze Busters and within weeks of its conception, volunteers from all aspects of industry and commerce were pledging their professional and financial support to his rapidly expanding operation.
In late April 1998 L'Image Cinematography was contacted by Nic Taylor of Nic Taylor Photography, (www.nictaylor.com) one of the first companies to offer its professional services for free to the Haze Busters. Nic introduced us to the concept behind the Haze Busters and invited us to match his involvement with that organization. We agreed almost without hesitation. Nic was aware that as a photographer and corporate video cameraman, the additional equipment, experience and contacts that L'Image Cinematography could provide would be totally complementary to his own contribution. The third organization he involved for the same reason was Broadcasters Productions - a Singapore post production house. And we didn't have to wait very long before he called our bluff because within a week, we were packing our cameras and heading out of Changai International Airport for the Royal Sultanate of Brunei. Another company who had been involved at the sharp end of the fire fighting operation for several weeks at this time, was the Erikson Air-Crane Company.
(www.erickson-aircrane.com/firefighting.htm) Operating from Oregon in the U.S.A. they have a global reputation for the cost efficient and accurate techniques for water bombing forest fires. Their operation is based on the versatility of the Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane. This unique aircraft is a very large, industrial helicopter that is specifically designed to carry heavy loads. In its water-bomber mode the conventional cabin area has been replaced with a large water tank that is capable of pressure spraying 2400 gallons of water laced with a fire retardant. Unlike a conventional fixed wing air-tanker, the helicopter can actually hover over the blaze and the operator can drop 25%, 50% or 100% of his load accurately into the heart of the fire with absolute control.
Once the tank is empty, the helicopter simply flies to the nearest large source of water (a river or reservoir normally) and hovering at a height of probably five feet above the surface, refills its tanks again in only 40 seconds through a pressure snorkel. Working in conjunction with firemen on the ground, the system provides one of the most effective and adaptable fire fighting systems in the world.
The company had delivered two of these Sikorsky S64 Skycranes to Brunei at the invitation of the Government of Brunei, and these had proven to be so effective that they then organized to fly a second two aircraft from the U.S.A. to Asia. The fastest and safest method to deliver these helicopters overseas is to ship them almost intact in one of the largest freight aircraft in the world, the Antonov 124 -100. When Nic and I climbed onto Royal Brunei Airlines flight we had timed it so that hopefully we would be able to shoot the dramatic arrival and unloading of this second shipment of helicopters and also show evidence of how successful the original teams had been combating the jungle fires. At 2am the next morning, the Antonov appeared suddenly in the night sky and moments later had touched down with a squeal and a cloud of smoking rubber. It was only as it taxied around to park beside us that we totally appreciated the awesome size of it. Within a few minutes the nose wheel disappeared and the aircraft had sat down on little retractable feet. Then both the nose and the tail slowly opened to reveal its cavernous interior containing two complete Sikorsky S64 Skycrane helicopters. As we shot both tape and film material, these two machines were unloaded into a nearby hanger and the engineer crew began preparing them for flight operation. 10am and Nic and I had grabbed a few hours rest and were preparing a Bell 206 Jet ranger for the second part of the assignment. L'Image Cinematography is one of the few companies in Asia that are experienced owner/operators of the Schwem Gyroscopic Lens, and as helicopter mounts are few and far between in the jungles of Brunei, this is definitely the way to go on a job like this. This device is complemented by a safety harness that has been made for me by a specialist company in Perth.
By 11am we were skimming 50 ft above the jungle on our way to rendezvous with the operating Skycranes. They weren't really difficult to spot. All we had to look for was the area with the thickest smoke because that is where the Erikson Team would be working. As we flew over the trees, Nic was astonished at the difference between the density of the smoke two weeks previously and now, and it bore accurate testimony to the effectiveness of the water bombing operation. The land revealed large, brown scars where the flames had been extinguished and the sky had huge, blue holes where the haze had also been defeated.
For many hours we pursued the big orange manta-like flying machines as they sucked and bombed in a relentless pattern - the fires really didn't stand a chance.
The nearby river provided me with one of the most astonishing images of my professional career as each helicopter dropped in and hovered maybe only a few feet above the surface of the muddy tropical water. From my shooting position on the skids of the hovering 206, my gyro lens allowed me to shoot stable, close up images of the cockpit crew leaning out over the river monitoring the refilling progress. 40 seconds later with its water tanks full again, the aircraft climbed out of the canyon of trees on yet another bombing run.
By late afternoon we were back at the base awaiting the triumphant return of these remarkable fire-fighting aviators. Moments before the last light of the day disappeared, we shot both aircraft flying across the setting sun almost in a symbolic gesture, before they banked and headed down for the runway.
Immediately they had landed, a team of support crews rushed out to wash, refuel and prepared the aircraft for the following days flights. As the big
Pratt and Whitney engines were suddenly silent, two very tired and dusty pilots emerged from each machine. I had the distinct feeling watching them that even though Brunei is a "dry" country, there were welcome cold beers hidden away somewhere for these guys, and the first can probably wouldn't touch the sides on the way down.
Post script: - Nic should know by now that Murphys' Law clearly states that if you are operating in the open door of a helicopter and the portable phone rings, hold on to it tightly.
He didn't. - and his phone seems to have disappeared into the jungle. If you ring him on this portable in future and it is answered with a loud grunt, could you please tell the well equipped yuppie orang-utan on the other end that Singapore Telecom wants a word with him about his IDD bill. Laurie Gilbert is an Asian based Director of Photography email@example.com Nic Taylor is currently applying to become a member of the Guild and has also applied to his wife for permission to buy a new portable phone.
Virgins and Condoms
-The Vietnam Chronicle-
May 30, 1997
Dale Hartleben, thought he was getting a bargain. I wasnt so sure, but I watched in quiet amusement as the deal progressed. "Eight dollars is my final offer" he said adamantly, and turned to walk away. It was easy for me to see that he had the classically dressed Hanoi streetseller exactly where she wanted him! With apparent reluctance she accept his price and sold him the book - the Vietnamese classic "The Sorrow of War". Dale walked away, clutching his purchase and smiling broadly. It was the cellophane wrapping that was the clue. Its not until you unwrap it that you realise how little glue you get in the binding of an eight dollar photocopied book in this ingenious, but charming country. It was Dales first filming trip to Vietnam, it was my twelth But life is a balance and as any lighting cameraman knows who gets a call from Dale Hartleben, the American director and owner of Carlyle Corporate Communications (London), it is enevitably he who is in for a really challenging time. And Dale always ends up ahead! Sometimes he will have you shooting in 20ft seas and 30 knot winds off the coast of Australia, next time, strapped to the outside of an oil and gas exploration helicopter in the jungles of Kalimantan - in the tropical rain! In this trip he had us leaping from the air-conditioned boardrooms of Singapore to the decidely un air-conditioned facilities of an oxygen factory in the city of Shenyang, in northern China. Contrast that then with the luxurious splendor of the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Bangkok before facing the reality of a night in a "village guest house" in northern Vietnam. Yes this trip was going to be another Dale Hartleben special. As I say, I have worked with Dale many times before, and experience has taught me to charge him more than the Hanoi street seller would ever dream of. But hopefully my product will last a little longer than the book she just sold him! We were shooting an episode called "Partners" (as in joint venture partners) for a television series called "In Good Company", which Carlyle Corporate Communications produce in conjunction with the British Department of Trade. Carlyle provided the foundations for the job, the script and the budget and Asian-based L'Image Cinematography, the crews and the experience to make it work in the region. On this trip, four of the five production team were visiting Vietnam for the first time. Apart from Dale, the "Vietnam Virgins" as I called them, included Lisa Corcoran the series producer from London, and audio operator Allen Mortimer and camera assistant Andrew Mok from Singapore. I had lost my Vietnamese virginity some eleven projects previously and was more used to the charms and considerable challenges the country would present us with on this occasion.
"In Good Company" is designed to illustrate British industrial and financial expertise internationally and the series has a potential audience of 750 million viewers. In this episode we were looking at the international achievments of such companies as Shroeders, Commercial Union Assurance, British Oxygen and Tate & Lyle Sugar Company. It was with Tate & Lyle that we travelled to Hanoi and from there by road to a tiny village in Nghe An provence, that was destined to become the site of the biggest sugar refining plant in Vietnam. As Bruce McKay, the Australian director of the project explained it to us "As soon as Asian people have a little disposable income for the first time, two of the "luxuries " they investigate are western style soft drinks and ice cream. Both contain sugar."
A well run sugar plantation in a poor developing agricultural region such as Nghe An will provides an incredible boost to the regions economy and also provide the country as a whole with another vauable export. Infrastructure in the valley is still at the constructional stage and local facilities could realistically be described as "simple". Malaria is a serious problem throughout this region and all the crew took every precaution. Dinner, on the first night we were there, involved an entertaining combination of plastic tables clothes and warm beer with ice, (beware the ice!) followed by a simple country banquet of whatever was available locally that day. "Sorry sir, no dog today, but we do have fresh chicken available" "Ok, that will have to do then!" I'm not suggesting that I had too much to drink that night, but Lisa swears that at one stage I was seen offering a passing bullock cart driver big money for the prettiest of his bovine beasts. But then I had been in Northern Vietnam before and I knew the beer would prove a welcome anesthetic for the rough simple wooden beds of the "guest house" we were destined to spent the night in. As expected, Lisa, "did you see the SIZE of that bloody spider," Corcoran seemed to have more personal comfort worries than I did that night! The Omni Hotel, Saigon was an unbelievable luxury after the hardship of life on the road up north. Four days operating from air conditioned comfort in Saigon and we had all of the Commercial Union Assurance story "in the can" and most of the Vietnam colour material that we needed for the series as a whole. The two main cities of Saigon and Hanoi are very different from each other. Hanoi is the political capital, and it still resembles now, what Paris must have looked like in the 1920's - but without the cars. The building are all built in a historic French style and are painted with the warm yellow walls and bright green shutters of a bygone era. Although the Vietnamese eventually expelled their colonial French master, everywhere you travel in Vietnam there are subtle reminders of the love affair both cultures have shared for generations. The French were considerate enough to leave behind the recipe for making baguettes, croissant and excellent pate. The Vietnamese also retained a long established appreciation of French wine, European classical music and fine art. And it is not unusual to see a beautifully restored Citroen Light Fifteen, a classic car from the 1940's, gliding around the streets. Its truely a remarkable country to visit and photograph..
Saigon is the financial center of the economy and is much more of an international business city. Motorbikes and scooters are rapidly replacing the bicycle, and taxicabs the cycalo The skyline is evolving at an amazing speed and in place of most of the hand painted propaganda posters of only five years ago is the latest in high tech photo-advertising. When Dale and the "Vietnam Virgins", arrived on the first day they were very concious of the burden that the country carries from its recent painful history. It is truely extraordinary to me how reality differs considerably from what they, and every new visitor expects. The country and its people had them capitavating in just a few days and very soon all their preconceptions had vanished . One evening Dale stood , as an American, on a Hanoi street corner, watching the cavalcade of laughing, smiling families ride past him on their way to restaurants and rendevous. "How could the world ever be so stupid as to imagine these extraordinary people were a threat"? he asked me. I didnt have an answer.
When the team finally departed,
they had a thousand, unique images in their memories and more than eight
hours worth of material on videotape. And Dale "Uncle Ho" Hartleben has
promised to wear the Vietcong hat the crew presented to him, at the rushes
presentation back home in London. And the book - well I hear its still
holding together. Dale wins again!
Shoot Two - "Here's The Scoop!"
When you're hot, you're hot! Ten days later, after a short break at home in Singapore, I'm back to Saigon to meet yet another four "Vietnam Virgins" - this time from the ITN/Yorkshire Television Kids programme "The Scoop". As I arrive, I sense a tension in the city which I have not been aware of in any of my previous trips. It turns out that earlier that morning a village bulldozer had accidently detonated an old American bomb, and the shock wave was enough to shake buildings in Saigon more than 60 miles away! I can only imagine the devastation it caused around the actual site of the explosion just hours before we all arrived and it was a powerful reminder of the historical challenges the country faces every day. On this second shoot, I'm working for the first time with the Yorkshire Television team of John Stephens, Colin Knobb and programme presenter Lisa Coleman - nurse Jude of "Casualty" fame they tell me. To support me and prevent me being outnumbered by the English, I have invited audio expert Mark Roberts from Hong Kong. Once again over a period of several months, L'Image Cinematography has provided much of the local information that assisted "The Scoop" to plan its Vietnam assault in the comfort of Lovely Leeds Different production companies do things in different ways and Y.T.V. must be congratulated on providing the most readable and comprehensive call sheet Mark and I have ever seen, bar none My priorities as a lighting cameraman operating overseas include such important practical considerations as local voltages and details of the local lucre. But out of necessity, Y.T.V. must have more health and safety orientated priorities. Alphabetically ordered on the call sheet they produced for us, before both "Electricity" and "Currency" we have critically important information entitled "Condoms" Condoms?? On a call sheet?? I quote........... "reliable imported brands to look for are OK and TRUST". Good onya Y.T.V! Mark and I will work for you anytime! I don't ever remember Lisa " I dont share my bedoom with anything THAT big" Corcoran ever advising us on the subtle differences between local condoms on location. And the intensive research that the company did back home, paid off for them in many other ways as well. Y.T.V. had discovered that the beginning of the monsoon season in May in Vietnam is incredible hot and humid - not a lot of fun for those of us who work there regularly, but very difficult indeed for the Lovely Lads from Leeds. The production office obviously realised that if a director slowed down in the hottest part of the day, the tight shooting schedule would suffer - so they gave Mark and I two of them! Yes we actually had two, count them TWO directors.......... ....................and as one faded after a hard morning shooting, a fresh one took over in the afternoon! Hang the expense! Very clever buggers, them Yorkshire Television researchers. So in two shoots, over three weeks, the climate of Vietnam and the hard work of the camera crew got to wear out three, count them THREE directors. Is this a world record? Ultimately, as Dale was reviving himself in his club back in London and telling his "did I tell you about when I was in Nam " stories for the fiftth time, John and Colin were heading off on an overnight train, 15 tapes of classic material under their arms, to the sleepy fishing village of Nah Trang to lie on a beach for a week and recover! "We need a rest" they claimed in chorus. Their shooting priorities during their week in Saigon were very different from Dales' business films however, because they were making short entertainment films on aspects of Vietnamese culture, to the more junior audience of The Scoop programme. Did you know that the oldest instrument in the world is Vietnamese and is still played there. No? Neither did I. The ........is like a Xylaphone but the metal keys we are used to hearing in western music have been replaced by rocks more than a thousand years old! and its sound is not unlike a range of harmonious bells. Now take a team of three, six year old musicians,playing syncronously on the same instrument, combine it with drums and a huge bamboo pan flute played with hammers and you appeciate why Colin, John and Lisa bcame all this way. - not to many Orchestras like that in Lovely Leeds! The next day was puppets - not the wimpish Sooty variety of my childhood memories, but more of a big butch Vietnamese variety. In those simple, carefree days before television invaded Asia, it was the role of village puppets to communicate the stories and legends that are so important to the heritage of a country like Vietnam. Because much of the countryside is flooded to accomodate the rice crop, there are actually two different varieties of puppets who entertain the villagers. A makeshift bamboo theatre conceals the actual puppeteers, who then control the performance of the puppets on the waters' surface, with ingenious mechanical controls which are actually operating under the water. The captivated audience watch spell bound as the the legends of their history are re-enacted by a frolicking Phoenix, swimming buffalos, fire breathing dragons and football playing fish! Match that Sooty! The second variety of puppets are more conventional and perform on a stage in the theatres of villages and towns. . In one sequence for our film we watched in awe as a master craftsman carved us an original puppet out of a block of wood with an ax! They are huge, brightly decorated, hand carved, hand operated characters who are capable of incredibly sophisticated movement and subtle on-stage performance An artist who makes helicopters out of Pepsi cans, a 14 year old champion jocky and a spunky rock singers all received the attention of the unstoppable camera crew and the baton changing relay of exhausted directors, in a full and frantic week that had as many jokes and laughs as there are conical hats on the streets. The highlights? Well John attempting to get exploded bubble gum out of Lisas' hair, as bemused and confused street sellers increased the retail pressure on him, was certainly one. And the "don't touch anything you cant afford" look on Lisas Colmans' face as Mark repeatedly went looking for his lost radio mic inside her dress, is right up there. The water puppet dragon that appeared out of nowhere with the ability to shoot a jet of water at a hapless presenter is definitely on the list . But the most memorable memory of a most memorable shoot was the actions of a Mandarin gentlemen puppet on stage, who happened to have Lisas' hand up his bum controlling all his bodily movements at the time. At the end of his legitimate performance he suddenly began to do "things" on stage that certainly were not in a script for kids tv. The local audience were astonished. The camera crew were beside themselves with laughter and the director was horrified. His sudden shout of "Oi! Stop that Lisa.It will go blind" said it all for me. Watch for the Vietnamese outakes of "The Scoop", ladies and gentleman!