217 DAYS OF FILMING & LOGISTICS
It took Yann Arthus-Bertrand (and his team) nearly three years to make a movie that is the culmination of over thirty years of tireless dedication and total commitment to the planet.
THE BIG IDEA
When he had the idea for this film in 2006, Yann Arthus-Bertrand contacted producer Denis Carot (Elzévir Films), who immediately believed in the project despite the apparent folly of the director's idea that the film should be shown to the public for free! It was crucial, therefore, to break free of the classical mode of commercialization and find a sponsor capable of funding such a film. Similarly, it required an international distributor capable of allowing the film to be released globally.
"When a person in the business heard of the project,” recalls Denis Carot, "every distributor called us up, including representatives of US distribution companies, which is pretty rare for an independent production company like ours. But they couldn't get their heads around the idea of bringing the film out for free. In the end, it was Luc Besson and EuropaCorp who truly believed in the project and pitched it to PPR as potential backers."
At that point, the shooting schedule could be worked out. It eventually added up to 54 countries, 217 days' shooting and 488 hours of footage! Taking advantage of his knowledge gained from multiple location-scouting journeys for his books (especially The Earth From The Air, a worldwide bestseller that has sold over three million copies) and TV programs (“Seen From The Air”), Yann Arthus-Bertrand set out to shoot in over 50 countries.
He brought in his regular technical and artistic consultants, including Isabelle Delannoy with whom he co-wrote the voice tracks and Dorothée Martin, a journalist on “Seen From The Air,” who became first assistant director and hired a production manager (Jean de Trégomain) and location manager (Claude Canaple) to lay out the amazing schedule that saw three film crews working simultaneously for 21 months in all four corners of the Earth.
As Dorothée Martin says, "It may seem simple to fly round the world in a chopper, but in reality each assignment, each shoot, involved a colossal amount of work."
THE FILM CREWS
With considerable experience of aerial photography, on “Winged Migration” in particular, Jean de Trégomain envisioned each assignment "as a film in its own right - featuring a treasure hunt to find the right contact in each place, the right helicopter and the right pilot."
Besides the location-scouting trips, most of the organization in Paris was devoted to providing the crews out in the field with precise schedules and itineraries. In the helicopter, the crew was limited to the director or one of his assistants, a Cineflex cameraman and a vision engineer. Shooting aerial footage imposes numerous technical constraints, beginning with the use of a very specific type of camera, the Gyro-Stabilized Cineflex HD, which, as its name suggests, overcomes stability and vibration issues to give an effect similar to that of a crane movement. Initially developed for military target-finding purposes, the camera is able to zoom large distances and tapes can be changed aboard the helicopter.
Even so, it required 120 kilos of equipment to be installed in a confined space.
One of the cameramen hired to work on “Home,” Tanguy Thuaud could boast twelve years' experience of aerial filming and several flights with Yann Arthus-Bertrand for “Seen From The Air.” He emphasizes the flexibility necessary while shooting: "We couldn't always choose our helicopter or pilot and in aerial photography 60% of the result depends on the chopper's power and the pilot's ability to control it." Not to mention equipment, weather and communication problems. "As Yann took photos while we were filming, on the first assignments, he sometimes had to show us the result on his camera before we understood what he wanted."
On every assignment, the cameraman worked in tandem with a vision engineer. One of them, Stéphane Azouze underlines the magnificent results obtained by the Cineflex camera that he was responsible for transporting, checking and installing in the helicopter before assisting the cameraman. The footage on the tape was shot "raw" to give the maximum latitude when the film was color graded. Stéphane Azouze says, "It means the shot is quite grey, flat and not very attractive, which can be frustrating, but you soon train your eye to it as a transitional stage."
"There's limited fuel, the engine burns it up, every minute is expensive and the possibilities reduced. The greatest problem posed by shooting in a helicopter is the limited flight time. Dorothée Martin explains: On average, a helicopter can stay in the air for 2-2.5 hours at the most and we were often shooting far from refueling areas, so we had maybe thirty minutes to get the shots we wanted. Obviously, we had to be as focused and efficient as possible."