Operation Panama

The time is almost here, and the intense prep work before we head in to the great unknown begins. 

img_3922Whenever we travel to any location there are a few things we need to do before we leave. People often ask what I do as a documentary film director to get myself and the crew ready for the adventure… here is the answer to that burning question.

The first step happens pretty early on. We choose the location.

Since we started making these movies, we have been flooded with suggestions for places to go. Seems like everyone wants the crew to come out and muck around in their favorite fishing hole. From going to “Egypt for Nile perch” to hitting the “pond behind my cottage”, we get a lot of great ideas from a lot of great anglers… so first we need to narrow it down.

A great fishing seg has to have a few things to make it really sing. 

  1. Great Personalities: What would fishing in Virginia have been without Kevin Whitley? How would Texas have gone off without Birdsnest Herman? The people we fish with are a huge part of the pie, without them we would be just a bunch of guys floggin’ the water. (Panama has all the folks at Pesca Panama and we are bringing in veteran angler/writer/photographer Paul Lebowitz to join the crew.. tada.. personality)
  2. Adventure: The standard rule is “Is there a way we can (almost) kill Jim while we are there? This seems a bit extreme, but that IS the kind of flick we are making. We want people to say “Holy Crap! Those guys are nuts!!” The trip needs some sort of adventure. (Panama is rife with adventure. We are offshore, and the possibility of hooking a 600 pound black marlin is very real… on top of that… we are gonna be right near one of the coolest nature reserves in the world)
  3. Fish: Most people think that this is the most important element. It is and it isn’t. There needs to be fish, thats a given. However, it can’t just be one kind of fish. The biggest mistake/lesson learned last season was that going to a place and only fishing for one thing most often leads to catching nothing at all. So a great location needs TONS of different fish, and we need to be smack dab in the middle of the best season for the most fish possible. (Panama literally means “many fish’ in the native tongue, and we are going there in the best season… there are over 30 species to catch, and weather permiting.. we gonna try to catch em all on film)

img_5115If a location has all those things, then it is booked and we set a date. Often there is a ton of prep work that goes on for the next few months before we leave. From setting up plane rides to film from, to getting kayaks shipped to the location (that can take months depending on how far out the spot is)

A week before is when my job as the director really ramps up. I need to know as much as I can about where we are going and who we are shooting with before I go. So I settle down for a few days and start mining the internet for every bit of info I can find. I collect everything I find in to one big document and it becomes my almanac during my trip. 

To make a good movie, you need to know what story you want to tell. The story could be as simple as “Jim catches big fish with tiny boat”, but as I said before.. that doesn’t always happen… and does the world really want to sit around for an hour watching him do that over and over? The people and places are just as important to the story. So knowing who and where you are gonna shoot will lead you to the best shots, and coolest stories.

So that is where I am at today. Research. Here are some fun facts about Who, What , and Where we are going.

Blackfin tuna (Thunnus atlanticus) is the smallest tuna species in the Thunnus genus, generally growing to a maximum of 100cm (39 inches) in length and weighing 21kg (46 lbs). Blackfin have football shaped bodies, black backs with a slight yellow on the finlets, and have yellow on the sides of their body. Blackfin are only found in the western Atlantic from Cape Cod to Brazil.
This tuna does not consume as much fish in its diet than other tunas and will actually eat the tiny larvae of stomatopods (king shrimp or mantis shrimp), true shrimp, and crabs, as well as fish larvae. It does, of course, also eat juvenile and adult fish and squid. They are a short-lived, fast-growing species; a 5 year old fish would be considered old. They reach sexual maturity at two years old and spawn in the open sea during the summer. Blackfin tuna are a warmer-water fish, preferring water temperatures over 68°F (20°C). What they lack in size, they make up for in numbers and willingness to bite.
[edit] 
  • Blackfin tuna (Thunnus atlanticus) is the smallest tuna species in the Thunnus genus, generally growing to a maximum of 100cm (39 inches) in length and weighing 21kg (46 lbs). Blackfin have football shaped bodies, black backs with a slight yellow on the finlets, and have yellow on the sides of their body. Blackfin are only found in the western Atlantic from Cape Cod to Brazil. This tuna does not consume as much fish in its diet than other tunas and will actually eat the tiny larvae of stomatopods (king shrimp or mantis shrimp), true shrimp, and crabs, as well as fish larvae. It does, of course, also eat juvenile and adult fish and squid. They are a short-lived, fast-growing species; a 5 year old fish would be considered old. They reach sexual maturity at two years old and spawn in the open sea during the summer. Blackfin tuna are a warmer-water fish, preferring water temperatures over 68°F (20°C). What they lack in size, they make up for in numbers and willingness to bite.
  • Coiba National Park, off the southwest coast of Panama, protects Coiba Island, 38 smaller islands and the surrounding marine areas within the Gulf of Chiriqui. Protected from the cold winds and effects of El Niño, Coiba’s Pacific tropical moist forest maintains exceptionally high levels of endemism of mammals, birds and plants due to the ongoing evolution of new species. It is also the last refuge for a number of threatened animals such as the crested eagle. The property is an outstanding natural laboratory for scientific research and provides a key ecological link to the Tropical Eastern Pacific for the transit and survival of pelagic fish and marine mammals.
  • Paul Lebowitz first started fishing: ” On a camping trip of course. I was maybe six years old when the family visited Big Sur. The river was too chilly to swim for too long, so we whiled away the time catching crawdads on bacon rinds and delicate little trout on gobs of honest to goodness cheddar cheese”
  • Paul loves kayak fishing because: “Kayaks are cheap! I can abuse them, leave them encrusted in mud and they don’t complain. A kayak is always up for a quickie – isn’t that any guy’s definition of perfect? But most of all, when I’m fishing from a kayak I fade into the natural world.”

 

Contents of the Drybag

Contents of the Drybag

Finally… a few days before we leave I have to lay out all my video gear and make sure it works. And give myself enough time to get stuff fixed. This is probubly the most important step. There is nothing worse than being 100 miles offshore in a faraway place and finding out you forgot your batteries.

What we have

 

  • 3 Cameras (Still, Waterproof HD, Big HD)
  • Tapes
  • Drybag
  • Otterbox to keep tapes in 
  • Tripod
  • Microphones (2 wireless lav mics)
  • Standard horizon waterproof radio
  • headphones
  • Rechargers
  • Spare batteries
  • Research and release forms

 

Thats just what I carry on the plane in my drybag. (That way if my luggage doesn’t show up, at least I can still make a movie!)

Till next time!

Will

Photos provided by Lisa Utronki

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3 comments

  1. “Finally… a few days before we leave I have to lay out all my video gear and make sure it works. ” ….

    Heh, I hope you still have functional microphones after Texas.

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