Documenting social and environmental change
Simon Reeve’s inspiring new adventure takes us through some of the most captivating countries in South America. From sprawling cities to isolated communities, Simon journeys through a continent during transformation and meets the people who call it home. Along the way, he uncovers the environmental challenges affecting the region, including a visit to the world’s largest salt flat, Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. Spanning 4,000 square miles, this harsh and unforgiving landscape is a testament to the resilience of nature in the face of adversity.
DP Jonathan Young embarked on the ten-part adventure with Simon, traversing the stunning landscapes of South America. Armed with his Sony FX9 camera and aktiv 14T flowtech system, he captured every exhilarating moment.
The pair don’t create ordinary travelogues. The aim is to leave audiences with something more profound than just a collection of breathtaking footage. Of course they convey the sheer scale and grandeur of South America, an awe-inspiring continent that leaves a lasting impression on everyone who visits. But the series also sheds light on the critical environmental issues faced by South America, particularly in the Amazon and the Pantanal. Jonathan explains, “These regions play a vital role in the health of our planet as the largest jungle forest and wetland on Earth, respectively. Unfortunately, these precious ecosystems are under constant threat and require urgent attention”.
Country to country, a logistical challenge
The series started filming in 2020 but was plagued by stop-starts during the pandemic. Jonathan explains, “South America is much harder logistically than Alaska, Canada, and Central America just because of the sheer scale and the fact that it is a less developed part of the world.”
He adds, “The physical logistics of moving yourself and several hundred kilograms of kit between each location. You get out of the UK, then at your first location you’re paring it down, so you feel you have an accessible level of kit. You’re leaving boxes in hotels and taking vehicles filming on the road and once you’ve done filming on foot, it’s a constant process of logistics moving from one stop to the next and then the next.”
In documentary television production, second’s matter
Jonathan was among the first to get hands-on with the higher payload yet lightweight aktiv 14T on the trip. He says “aktiv 14T perfectly combines size and weight for filming this series, it has that has a payload ability to take quite large cameras. I put my fully rigged Sony FX9 on it and I’ve also used it with a with the Sony FS7. It is the perfect tripod for me.”
Fast-paced TV documentaries require operators to get the shot in an instant when stories are unravelling in front of them. Cue the aktiv SpeedLevel. With the new design, operators can release, level, and lock their head tightly into the perfect position without missing a second of action.
Jonathan explains “The SpeedLevel does what he says on the tin. It’s quicker, it’s faster. It’s so intuitive, rather than having to prostrate your hands underneath with twist and turns. You have greater control over the level mechanism because you can hold the top of the camera and it’s so much more convenient and easier.
“It's faster and in documentary television production, seconds matter. I will have lost shots previously because I'm still levelling or, something's moving and having to rebuild the tripod. It's seconds faster. Sometimes those seconds will mean the difference between getting the shot or not getting a shot.”
Shooting at night presented a distinct challenge. Sometimes, though, it’s the minor details that make the difference. Jonathan explains, “With the redesign of the lighting bubble so you can see it and adjust it from any angle, it’s fantastic. Whoever designed the illuminated prism bubble, they deserve an award because it’s just one of those small things that really makes a big difference.”
Reliable gear in extreme locations.
Filming in South America presents quickly changing environments. Always on the move, Jonathan must trust every piece of gear he takes with him on the shoot. He adds, “Reliability is the most important thing for me. I know that I have put my Sachtler tripods through the mill and back again. I know that no matter how much abuse I give them, they will stand up to the punishment that I give them.”
Tested in the most punishing environments, flowtech excels in sludge, sand, and extreme temperatures so filmmakers can push the limits to get the shot. Jonathan explains, “They have been transported around the world and have been in every imaginable scenario – sea, snow, salt, sand, wind, rain, extremes of temperature, and exposed to all weathers and climates. Baggage handlers have bashed them around cargo holds, yet they keep going. Obviously, with all things, you need new care and maintenance, but they are built so well and are reliable.”
A non-negotiable in extreme locations is reliable power. Jonathan relies on his Anton/Bauer Dionic XT batteries to make sure he is covered for a long shoot. “As a production team, we are constantly on the move and require a significant amount of power to keep our equipment running. With an abundance of batteries and equipment to carry, our primary goal is to bring epic stories, scenes, and characters to life. As a result, we’re always considering how far in advance we need to plan for uninterrupted power, enabling us to focus on capturing the perfect shot without worrying about power.”
The fight for equality and environmental protection.
The production explores the challenges faced by indigenous communities in their pursuit of equality in various countries, as well as the hard living conditions they encounter in densely populated urban areas.
Jonathan summarises “The one thing I can really take away from having worked on Simon Reeve’s programs for all these years is the how privileged I have been to see how the rest of the world lives. And I don’t take that lightly. It’s given me a much wider, broader nuanced perspective of the world to see how the rest of the world must survive on outside of our first world bubble.”
He adds, “It gives you a very privileged position. These people allow you into their lives to share their stories.”