Filming Human Planet: It’s the world calling!

April 23, 2009 Off By admin

This blog originally appeared on the BBC Human Planet Blog


I am the technical assistant on Human Planet , which means that I am responsible for getting tons of filming kit out of the door and safely on location. Since I joined the series, it’s become normal for the Ethiopia team to telephone when I’m jumping on the train on a Friday night, Greenland to text me on a Saturday afternoon, or Mongolia to ring five times before 7am on a Sunday morning.  In fact, on weekends my mobile phone becomes a hot spot of international activity!  So it was no surprise when yet another international number popped up on my mobile screen at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon while I was on a trip to the Welsh countryside.

The phone line wasn’t very good – it had that one-second delay that makes you feel like you are being constantly interrupted by someone with the same voice as you – it was the Jungles team in the Central African Republic.  Their main camera had given in to the humidity of the jungle by developing an electrical fault and needed replacing.   I could see that my relaxing weekend in Wales was coming to an abrupt halt. Boy! Was I was right!

Two hours later I was back in our Bristol office.  Jo Manley, the production coordinator – talking away on two phone lines to two different continents as I entered the room – was already on the case.  Unfortunately, weekends are not the best time to arrange anything, let alone the complicated transport of expensive filming equipment from Bristol to the Bayaka tribe in the heart of Africa, but Jo had done an amazing job and had a replacement camera all ready to go.  ‘Jasper’, Jo said to me across the desk as I sat down, ‘How would you like to go to Cameroon tonight?’  With little time to consider, I said ‘Sure, no problem’and within six hours I was heading down the M4 to Heathrow Terminal 2.

Heathrow Airport. 4am
Heathrow Airport 4am

Once in Cameroon’s capital, Douala, I was to be met at the door of the plane by two of our local fixers, who would collect the camera from me and continue the two-day drive overland with the camera to our crew in the Central African jungle.  Having been relieved of the equipment, I would return on the next plane back to the UK.  Stepping out of the plane and into the thick humid air of the Cameroon capital, I looked around.   There was no sign of our fixers.

Before I knew it I was being ushered through Immigration and Customs. I was without a visa, had £30,000 worth of equipment, claimed to be meeting two men who were notably absent and with a return flight to the UK that departed in just three hours time, so I didn’t blame them for being a little cautious.  I was taken into the office of the Chief of Police and tried to explain myself in the most persuasive French I could muster.

After 30 slow minutes of interrogation, both our fixers arrived and took over the negotiations.  I was banished into the waiting room and as I sat nervously outside the office of the Chief of Police, looking at the shirtless men hanging out of cages just two metres away and the female official with an immigration records book of formidable proportions, I thought back to what I had originally planned for that Sunday afternoon: a jog around the park and a film with a friend.

The office door in front of me opened and the smile on our fixers’ faces told me I was free! Got back on my plane and next thing you know I’m back in the office – it’s Monday morning (I think)  – the start of another normal week on Human Planet.

Doula Airport. Cameroon
Douala Airport