Monday, April 07, 2008

Esmeralda and Hol Chan Cut

The production team, consisting primarily of Jeff and I, arrived in Ambergris Caye (pronounced "Keye") on March 27th. Due to financial restraints, we opted not to pay for a participant to come down and dive with us. Instead, I agreed to fill the role of "talent" for the scuba diving sequence. I was reluctant to do so, but figured it would be the easiest (and cheapest) way to make the production happen. Ambergris Caye is a small island located to the east of Belize in the Caribbean Sea. There are hundreds of dive sites surrounding Ambergris and many of the other Cayes. We decided to defer to our underwater videographer's personal preferance for diving locations.

Marty O'Farrell, a local underwater videographer, was referred to us by Amigos Del Mar, a local diving company. Jeff made the initial and subsequent contact with Marty. I had seen some of Marty's work online and was extremely impressed with his videography. Originally, Jeff thought that he could film the underwater sequences using SNUBA (a scuba like apparatus in which the tanks float on the surface and a tube runs down to the diver) since his scuba certification was outdated. After several discussions, he decided that it would be best to use someone who had experience shooting underwater. Jeff contacted Marty and filled him in on the production. Marty agreed to offer his services at no cost, which was extremely generous. Marty also put us in touch with Ambergris Divers who we eventually contracted as our diving outfit.

Jeff and I met with Marty on March 29th, the day before the shoot. We had already charted a boat, driver and dive master for the morning of our shoot. All that remained was working out a few logistics with Marty. I typically storyboard every sequence prior to a shoot, but this time, I decided to let Marty do his thing. Having seen his amazing photography, I was confident in his ability to get some great shots. We chatted about a few key shots and then made arrangements to have a boat pick him up in the morning.

In the meantime, I had gone on three seperate dives to prepare for the shoot. The night before production, Jeff and I transferred footage and discussed above-water-shots. Jeff brought an underwater housing for our camera, and planned to shoot me entering and exiting the ocean. Jeff would also shoot peperation shots on the boat (putting on mask, hand fins, etc.)
We didn't get to bed until 12:30 am.


Jeff and I drove our golf cart over to Ambergris Divers at 8:30 and met our boat captain and dive master. The dive company sent a small boat to pick Marty up and bring him back to "Baby Catherine", our boat for the shoot. Around 9:30, we departed the island and headed out beyond the reef to our first dive site: Esmeralda.

Marty chose both of our sites for their visual aesthetic and animal life. For this shoot, our dive master brought along some chum for the sole purpose of attracting some nursing sharks for the sequence. The chum was placed in a long PVC pipe with holes throughout. The pipe had a rope attached which our dive master held.

When we arrived at the site, the boat anchored to a bouye and all onboard prepared to enter the water. The boat driver and dive master lifted me to the side of the boat and then helped me secure my BCD and 16 lb. weight belt. Marty was already in the water, with his underwater camera rig ready. After a quick signal back in forth, Marty rolled camera and I dove into the warm water.

I let the air out of my BCD and began to descend into the water below. Visibility was perfect and so was the weather above water. So many of our productions thus far have been cancelled due to rain or snow. This wasn't the case today. I sank towards the ocean floor and began swimming alongside the dive master. Before too long, there were six or seven nursing sharks sticking their noses into the tube of chum. The dive master and I drifted gently to the sandy ocean floor where he proceded to pet the sharks. Marty continued to film as the dive master grabbed one of the sharks and handed it to me. It was a surprise to say the least, but an incredible experience. The animal was fairly heavy and I began to sink under its weight. I decided to let go and swim ahead to a small canyon. Marty followed, filming from all angles.

As I floated into a narrow canyon, Marty and I coordinated several shots from different angles. Underwater direction and communication is a tricky thing, but we were both on the same page at all times. I felt like my buoyancy was perfect, to the point that I could move up or down with every breath in and out. The deepest I dove on this dive was 65 feet.

When my oxygen reached 700 PSI, I re-connected with the dive master and we ascended to 20 feet for a 3 minute safety stop. After that, we surfaced and returned to "Baby Catherine". It was an amazing dive.


After picking up some additional equipment, we sped off to Hol Chan, a popular dive and snorkel site. Hol Chan is a shallow dive with a maximum depth of 30 feet. After a brief explanation of Hol Chan's underwater currents and layout, Jeff and Marty jumped in the water and prepared for a second shoot. Again, I sat on the edge of the boat and dove into the water. This time, it didn't take long to reach the ocean floor. As I swam away from the boat, Jeff shot from above and Marty shot from the side. As the floor gradually dropped away, we swam to a depth of about 30 feet.

There was a substantially greater amount of underwater life on this shoot. No sharks, but several Eagle Rays and a Barracuda, which caught me off guard.

As we circled around and headed back to the boat, it became increasingly difficult to cover distance due to the strong current. I swam as hard as I could, but never seemed to get anywhere. It was extremely difficult. The harder I swam the more air I consumed. Marty kept rolling, but I soon forgot all about the shoot. Totally preoccupied with how I was ever going to get back to the boat. Marty caught my attention and signaled for me to grab the dead corral and use it to propel my body through the head current. At first I was reluctant, as I didn't want to disrupt the integrity of the reef. But finally, I used the corral to crawl along the floor. It felt like rock climbing, the dead corral my hand holds.

When we approached to boat, I noticed that I was becoming increasingly buoyant. At one point I drifted to the surface. The dive master did the same and suggested that I dump the air out of my BCD. Apparently some air had made its way in, causing me to float to the surface. After emptying the BCD, I returned to the bottom and captured additional shots, both from Jeff and Marty.

The dive lasted 48 minutes and then it was time to head back aboard the ship. Marty was extremely pleased with the footage. I was also happy with the way things went.

We returned to shore and dropped Marty off. Then Jeff and I headed back to the dive center and thanked our driver and dive master.

Later that afternoon, Jeff and I drove over to Marty's office to review the footage. It was amazing! I couldn't believe how great everything turned out. Mission Accomplished!

Looking back, the entire experience was unbelievable. Ambergris Divers were wonderful and very accommodating.

And a very big thanks to Marty. Marty was amazing to work with and very giving of his time and expertise. I thank both of them for helping bring this production to life.

Everything seemed to go smoothly. I really hope Marty is happy with the finished product, once we cut the footage together with our other sports. As for the diving itself, I've never experienced a more beautiful environment. Scuba diving is an ideal activity for individuals with paralysis because it allows you to go anywhere. On land, I and others like myself who use a wheelchair, are forced to find accessible routes. Underwater, the ability to fly over a canyon or glide through a tunnel are so simple to accomplish. There is so much freedom beneath the water.


The Maag Family said...

Wow! What an incredible experience that must have been. I am so happy for you--what memories! Can't wait to see it all come together!

Gustogirl said...

Look at you, scuba diving. Snorkeling is about all I can handle and it even freaks me out a little. I think scuba diving would be terrifying and fascinating all at once. Looks like you had a great shoot!!!