Disappointment day

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Things can’t go right all the time.

I headed north from Greymouth because bad weather was coming. On the way I took a lot of care to examine any vantage points I might need later on, and I got some simple filming done.

Simple, but not quick or easy.

In order to link the documentary together I need quite a few pieces of the van travelling down a road. Easy huh?… except I’m on my own.

In order to shoot a piece of the van passing you just set the camera up on the side of the road, and then drive past it. Except, if you’re on your own… then there’s this to consider.

Who is going to stand by the camera to stop someone pinching it… after all, I’ve left it on the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere, in plain sight of everyone passing.

What I have to do is this… set up the camera and start recording, get in the van and drive back down the road, turn around somewhere, drive past the camera, turn around somewhere, and come back, park and walk back to the camera, and turn it off.

I have to be able to drive past the camera but also be able to turn around very close to where I disappear from view, so that I don’t leave the camera out of my sight for long. It’s not easy finding places where I can do this.

It’s a lot of mucking around to get these shots, but I have to do them when I get the opportunity.

I also filmed an important sequence about when Tasman first approached the coast. This took me an age. It was really tricky to get the camera angle right… a higher tripod would have helped, but, I have what I have. I had to be in the bottom left corner of the frame in close up, and I needed to indicate two particular landmarks. Getting my head, my arm movements and the landmarks all in shot and in focus took a lot of testing, but I got it in the end.

As ever I’d underestimated how long it would take me to get to Westport, and it was dark well before I finally pulled onto the campsite.

The next day I reviewed all my footage.

It’s not possible to review the stuff properly as I shoot it. The camera only has a 3” x 5” screen, and you can’t see that much in the small screen in bright light, so I only get to look at it properly once I’m back at the van and have it all uploaded to my computer.

The bits and pieces of van driving past were fine, but the footage of the dialogue was all wrong; the exposure was too dark.

This is extremely difficult to manage in the field. If I let the camera set the aperture itself then it’s constantly jumping around, and the picture is constantly flipping between bright and dark.

So I fix the aperture in one position.

To fix the aperture properly I need to stand in front the camera and let it sense my brightness, but if I do that then I can’t reach the ‘set’ button to press it. I have to shoot a bit, look, adjust, shoot again until it looks right… and fix it there.

It’s tricky… and this time I’d got it wrong. The sequence wasn’t usable, it was too dull, and I have to re-shoot it.

Now being a bit grumpy I switched to doing something else for a break. As I worked on the illustrations describing Tasman’s movements when he first sighted land I noticed something odd… something was not in the right position.

I checked with some older notes, and then I re-calculated his noon Dec 13th position afresh from scratch.

Bugger!

I had calculated that critical position, where he was when he first sighted land, a long time ago and I’d got it wrong. I’d made one of the simplest errors possible… I’d transposed some of the numbers.

For his longitude that day I’d calculated 170.05°, but I’d recorded 170.50°… and I had used that number ever since… and it is wrong… wrong enough to make a big difference.

The geographic analysis I’d done that showed me the first land Abel Tasman saw… was now incorrect. It was the wrong land. The beach that I’d done my filming on was the wrong beach. The hills that I’d pointing at were the wrong hills, and the mountains that I’d named were the wrong mountains.

It is a pivotal point in the story, and it has to be correct, so I have no choice but to go back and re-do it all in the correct place.

I re-calculated everything again, and checked and re-checked it. I found the right point on the right beach, and then Googled my way around the area until I found a vantage point that allowed me to see the hills that Tasman first saw, and I found one, a really good one.

The oddest thing in this entire day was to find out that I’ve already been to the very place that I will now use to re-shoot these vital scenes, a place where I can see two tiers of hills in the background to the south-east.

After leaving Fox Glacier I had gone to a DOC campsite, but found it under water, remember? … Lake Mahinapua.

Lake Mahinapua

Lake Mahinapua

It looked like this when I was there. That’s where I have to go back to. Who’d have known that across that lake to the south-east there are big hills and beyond them, mountains.

The weather is going to be appalling tomorrow with gale force winds and up to 300mm (1 foot!) of rain. But when that blows through, then I’m turning around and going back south.

The wind is already picking up, the van is rocking around, and the TV satellite signal is fading in and out… so heavy rain is close. Tomorrow I’ll batten down the hatches and sit it out. I may well move my ‘office’ into the campsite lounge… it looks like a cosy place for a foul day.

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