So… for those of you who haven’t read part 1, here’s a recap: I’m abroad for the first time, meeting amazing people, getting batted round the face by low hanging palm trees and fooled by locals that Coca Cola is a good substitute for Sunscreen… I’m burnt, as are the rest of the crew, and the production schedule looks like it’ll be thrown out the window… so let’s continue!…
It was clear from our pathetic state that we weren’t going to be able to begin filming as planned. Three days past and not a single cell of film was exposed. The sunburn seemed to get progressively worse, it was virtually impossible to go outside of my hut because every time I moved my clothes would rub against my tender skin. My feet had swollen up and my legs seemed full of water, all I could do was lie down and keep my feet up on a couple of camera boxes, the moment I tried to stand up the pressure and pain in my legs became intolerable. Real concern set in as we all started to contemplate the possibility that the shoot may have to be cancelled and the production team back in the UK would have to get an air ambulance to fly us back home. Not a good impression to make on your first job abroad!
But flying back to the UK was out of the question anyway, as none of us could even imagine travelling the few miles along the rough, bumpy, potholed track that led to the air stip.
After a few days (and sleepless nights) the pain slowly started to subside a little. I was able to put clothes on and although I couldn’t walk very well I did managed to get outside of my hut and sit in the shade. The thought of filming like this was still out of the question and the production schedule was well and truly out the window! The big dilemma was that to protect myself from the sun I had to be fully clothed, even light weight clothing still felt like sand paper rubbing on my skin… but at least I was moving around. Other members of the crew however were not so lucky and they remained immobilized, trapped in their huts.
One of the locals told me they had a cure for sunburn and would be willing to try it out on one of the crew if they wanted to ‘volunteer’… I decided that I’d received enough ‘local Knowledge’ and, as the solution would probably involve Coca Cola, I immediately declined! The cameraman however offered to give it a go. A few hours later I was sitting beneath the shade of a palm tree and was startled by the sound of torturous screaming coming from the vicinity of the cameraman’s hut. The screaming subsided to a pathetic whimper as two locals emerged, one holding two large bottles of brown liquid and the other with a bowl full of wet rags.
When I asked if everything was OK they grinned and said in broken English, ‘We bath him in vinegar …’e screeeam a little, but OK now’. I think I made the right decision.
The clock was ticking and we were days behind schedule. Part of the assignment involved filming aerial shots of Aztec ruins which were concealed in dense jungle about 50 km inland. It was decided that since I was the only one on my feet I should go ahead and shoot the aerial sequences. I’d been dying to get behind the camera properly and now was my chance; I’d never imagined it would be under these circumstances though!
A few days later I found myself sitting in a two seater light aircraft, clutching the camera. As we trundled down the air strip a off a blast of cool air filled the cockpit through the open windows which eased my pain. Soon we were airborne and flying over dense tropical jungle which stretched as far as the eye could see.
Suddenly my shirt became soaked. At first I thought was sweat, but I soon realized it was worse than that… much worse! *Those with a sensitive disposition should stop reading now*
My blisters had finally burst. As I rolled up my sleeves a layer of skin peeled off my arms exposing bright pink, raw flesh. My chest and legs were in the same condition. The pilot looked rather concerned, more worried about the seats of his aircraft than my departing epidermis! I can’t blame him.
Suddenly the Aztec ruins came into view and we started circling overheard while I shot the aerial sequence. It was incredible to see the ruins; relics of a past civilization, an empire now hidden beneath tropical vegetation. Today was a great day. Two of my passions: filming and flying.
As the days rolled on, things began to get progressively better and as the condition of the rest of the crew started to improve, they all got involved again. We returned to the ruins but this time on foot.
It was literally like something out of an Indiana Jones film; machetes hacking through thick wilderness, odd sounds echoing throughout the canopy and finally pushing through that last bit of foliage to reveal the ruins themselves. Although totally awed by the wonder of these enormous structures, I wasn’t sad to be leaving them; it was a little on the eerie side, I must say. Something very unnerving about the whole place.
I almost considered grabbing a piece of stone to take home as a souvenir. I’m very glad I didn’t. Now I can’t help but imagine a Jumanji esq. moment, where I wake in the middle of the night to hear sacrificial drums coming from the attic! Ergh *shivers*.
It reminds me of the time I ventured downstairs to find a spoon Uri Gellar had bent and given me whilst I was filming with him. It was resting in a glass on the shelf (as I had left it), however it was shaking and quivering frantically, rattling the glass with a disturbing sound (not as I had left it). I boxed it up there and then and tend not to get it out very often these days!
Anyway, back in Mexico, we filmed during every last moment of daylight to get things back on track. Looking back it’s amazing to think that we actually pulled back the filming schedule without an overrun.
Apart from the sunburn of course, I have many good memories about that trip. One was sitting on a secluded beach, enjoying a tropical sun set over the ocean; watching the blue sky turn crimson as the sun slipped below the horizon. Another was watching these gutsy little crabs on the beach that would come out of there sand holes and threaten me by waving their huge claws, as if to say ‘get off my patch!’. Finally, perhaps my fondest memory was of a stranded turtle I saved. I dragged him down the beach and returned him to the sea.
Turtle is a local delicacy; and rather horrifically he had been left upturned on his shell by the natives to die an agonizing death, baking in the tropical sun. This was something I could not tolerate and spent over an hour pulling and pushing the poor exhausted creature down the beach. Eventually we reached the water’s edge, the lapping waves somehow revived him and he lumbered into the sea and disappeared beneath the clear blue waves. I often wonder if he is still swimming around in that beautiful clear water, I hope so.
So that was my first adventure abroad and there were many more to follow. I guess the morals to this story are:
- Always jump in at the deep end: I’d never been abroad, I got myself into a lot of mess, BUT I learnt a hell of a lot from it and got the opportunity to take on a role that I’d been waiting for!
- When filming in the tropics; watch the sun…it’s ferocious!
- And most of all: If you see an animal or person in distress, don’t walk by and ignore them, follow your conscience and do the right thing by helping them in any way you can.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my story, I hope to document many more in the coming months as well as more tips and tricks for you guys. Let me know if you have any questions, I’d be happy to help! Oh and don’t for any reason use Coca Cola as Sun tan lotion.
Here to play you out, Baz Luhrmann’s “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)”…
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Stay creative people and see you next time!
Free Spirit Film & TV
Film, TV & Online Video Production.