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Frozen Planet: Filming with the experts

Updated Thursday, 15th April 2010

A skidoo trip takes Mark to his date with the camera team

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The reason for coming to Svalbard is to go filming with the BBC Frozen Planet Team. Frozen Planet is a top-drawer, full-on Planet Earth-style series with seven hour-long episodes about the Arctic and the Antarctic – the frozen parts of our planet.

This includes the regions I have been researching and writing about for almost two decades. To see the way such an excellent film crew present the regions I work in is both awesome, and a bit humbling.

If you follow the first link above and look at some of the clips on their site you will see what I mean.

We were filming at the calving front a small glacier about 65 km from Longyearbyen, the capital of Svalbard.

But how to get there? There are no roads out of town so there are only two serious options: Skidoo, and helicopter. In the course of the day we used both of them.

(Actually, there is a third option – husky dogs towing sledges. We bumped into some of those while we were out. Sadly, it would have been too slow for us with the film equipment the BBC had to take).

Skiddo driving [Image: Mark Brandon] Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Mark Brandon
Skiddo driving

Skiddos and paw prints

A skidoo is a bit like a motorbike, and in these temperatures we are wrapped up so well that there is no exposed skin showing. If we did there would be frostbite pretty quickly.

Skiddos are noisy but the noise doesn’t detract from the experience. The two hour journey to the glacier through frozen valleys and across the frozen sea was breathtaking.

Led by a Norwegian coal miner guiding us on his day off we soon came across some polar bear prints - but sadly didn’t see the bear that made them.

Bear print [Image: Mark Brandon]
Bear print [Image: Mark Brandon]

Shooting at the calving glacier

The location in front of the beautiful calving glacier was incredible and in the bright sun with no wind it was pretty special – and warm after the skidoo journey.

Filming at the glacier [Image: Mark Brandon] Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Mark Brandon
Filming at the glacier

Watching experts demonstrate their skill is always a good thing. The speed and professionalism of the BBC team as they captured the footage and science was amazing.

Later in the day I did a piece in front of a camera about how glaciers “work” which I hope to use for a course I am working on in the University.

My cameraman was brilliant and incredibly patient, but if you are ever in the position I have just been in I would recommend you go before the experts. At least then - in your own head - you wont feel such a complete amateur after following what I had just seen!

Mark at his skiddoo
Mark at his skiddoo

We got back late driving across frozen valleys in cold soft light as the sun was setting, and I didn’t get to bed until after one in the morning. It showed me the amount of work that putting together these nature programmes takes: a team of thirteen, plus helicopter pilots, working 12 hours in temperatures well below zero to make it happen.

But even though I was there all the time they filmed, I can’t wait to see the few minutes footage they captured on the screen.

Find out more

Making nature programmes whatever it takes: Mike Gunton reports from behind the scenes on Life

How did polar bears reveal a surprising secret about the function of fat?





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