By Aldo Ferrucci
Being part of a docu-movie production about life in the oceans of all over the World is for sure the dream and the crowning achievement of each professional diver.

I almost lost this exclusive opportunity... But now I can say: I was there!

The story begins in 2007 with a phone call by René Heuzey, an underwater video maker with whom I had already worked for several French television shows, asking me if I could go with him to work on the film set of a new underwater movie. Sure, is my answer, but where do we go, when are we leaving and for how much time?

The answer leaves me speechless: we are supposed to leave for Australia the week after for a period of 2 or 4 months. Usually, underwater shootings I made till that time took not more than 3 weeks, so my first answer is an absolute “no”. Leaving so suddenly, for so much time would mean suspending most part of my work. But, at the end, René's insistence dispelled all my doubts and so starts my adventure with Galatée equipe, the studio that produced Oceans directed by Jacques Perrin e Jacques Cluzaud.
Before leaving, there is the bureaucracy: too many documents to prepare, permits and working visa, a complete medical certificate and a 30 pages contract to sign – a very different procedure than the one required for others underwater shooting sessions.

The production instructions are clear enough: we would be in an area where wouldn't be possible to find any kind of equipment, so we are supposed to be 100% self-sufficient. As a rebreather instructor and responsible for hyperbaric operations, it's my duty to prepare all the necessary equipment for the team, including spare parts – everything should be ready in two days, since the crates containing the equipment would be sent with a special courier and not as in-flight luggage.

In few hours I prepare 3 complete rebreathers with enough spare parts to build up a new one if necessary, a compressor, an oxygen booster and a complete toolbox, more than 200 kg of CO2 sorb material, beside standard equipment. In all, nine crates weighting 400kg.
I think I really overdid this time, but afterwards I know that the total weight of the whole equipment needed for the expedition is 3000 kg.

The day before the departure, a general briefing in the studio's HQ takes place and there I realize that we will leave form Paris, while a dozen people are waiting for us in Australia.

I start thinking I'm involved in a very extraordinary project, never before that time I worked with a so large team of professionals. Cinema, it's true, is a very different thing than what we can imagine, but moreover if compared with my previous experiences.

At last, we leave, and despite 3 tons of equipment already sent, once at the airport we have to negotiate because of the excess weight.

Once in Australia, we have no time to look around – we start working immediately to prepare each one his own equipment stored, according to the different use (production, camcorders, underwater, viewing), in rooms prepared accordingly.

Our target is to shoot giant cuttlefishes during their breeding, few meters far from the shore, in Whyalla bay, 300 km from Adelaide. Before entering the water we ask ourselves if the information that Australian researchers gave us are correct. They talked about thousands of Giant Australian Cuttlefish - Sepia apama specimens: would be true? And then, how big that cuttlefishes could be?

We only need to put the head in the water to realize that the biologists didn't exaggerate at all – cuttlefishes everywhere and very big (from 70 cm to 1 mt). We think it would be easy to shoot beautiful images, but we fail the prediction once again. Cuttlefishes are making their mating dances not deeper than 2 mt and due to the backwash that becomes significant at that depth even with little waves, we have to face big problems of visibility and camcorders stability.

Given the situation, we opt for 10 liters tanks: lighter and more practical than rebreathers. For the same reasons, despite the water temperature is not higher than 16°C and we have to stay in water from 7 to 10 hours a day, we have to give the dry suits up and use the wet suits.
In the meantime the researchers explain us what is going on in the water: we have to know the difference between males, bigger and more colorful, and females, that appear less big and with a pinkish coat. Two males start a sort of fight, even if they never touch each other, in front of the female who lies in wait. The winner of this “war dance” gains the right to copulate. But it's not always this way: in fact, often a third male approaches during the fight and, thanks to the cuttlefish ability to camouflage, reduces his dimensions and changes color, assuming the form of an harmless female. So that, while the other two males are busy in determining who will be the lucky one, the camouflaged cuttlefish approaches undisturbed the female and couples with her, living the others empty-handed. We can say that the onlooker gets the best of the fight!
The sun sets before we can realize it, it's already twilight and the day has gone away. According to the specific instructions of the studio, all the shootings have to be done with ambient light, without any artificial source of light, so our work in the water is finished. We go back to the hotel where we have to wash, dry and prepare the equipment for the day after and this has absolute priority. Once finished, with all my curiosity I go in the camcorder room for a preview of our shootings.

All are in reverent silence in front of the screen and, while I see images that look wonderful to me, I'm surprised of the definitely negative comments expressed by the specialists.

With a lot of prudence (I'm still the last arrived in the team) I ask why and they tell me that cinema evaluation parameters are completely different from the television ones. Since the images used for TV shootings have to be shown and seen on little screens, little imperfections and short cuttings of shootings made in different moments are accepted.

When working for cinema, instead, since the high definition videos are aimed to very big screens, images have to be perfect and the sequence shot only one. So, scenes cuttings are not allowed and even the most little imperfection is not accepted.

We try to shoot the sequence, but remaining stable with the camcorder is almost impossible while each single wave decreases the visibility due to the sediment it moves. We try in all the possible ways: weight belt on the camcorder, rubber bends fixed to the bottom and every kind of oddity we can arrange, but without results. The hours in water pass but René is not satisfied of his job at all. Just few breaks to change the tanks, eat and drink something and then again in the water. All this stretches over for five weeks, during which we enjoyed only one day of rest every six: welcome in the cinema world! An evening, coming back to the harbor, we meet some very sociable dolphin and in fact they stay and play with us. They follows us till the harbor where they go on in turning around the pier letting us approach without any fear. Some fisherman give us few fishes and the fun starts: we succeed in spoon feeding the dolphins taking the fish with our teeth while them, with millimeter accuracy, jump out of the water catching the fish without even skimming us.

The night arrives and we have to leave, but after so intense moments, we go back really reluctantly. In the following days, we will meet the dolphins more other times and they'll always have the same desire of playing with us. The days pass intensely and in the evening we meet around the table: we became a real equipe, with time, but these are the only two hours we can spend all together. It is clear that, after so intense days, in addition to the fact that we are in a remote place that offers no entertainment, the evening we run to sleep at full speed. In the very few free days, we are so tired that none of us has the fancy of proposing a trip. To cut a long story short, in the entire staying I saw only one koala and two kangaroos in a natural park!

At the end of our staying, we have collected many hours of shootings, but no sequence has been accepted as good by the responsible. The director of photography, Francois Paturel, explains us that sequences are divided in three kinds: black, meaning not usable images; red, meaning good but not perfect images; and green, meaning perfect images. Till now we have many red images, ma no green one. We disassemble our equipments to pack them again for the day after transfer to Edithburgh, where we will arrange a real underwater shooting studio. René is rather demoralized and the evening before leaving asks me to give up our free half day and use the transfer day for the last dive among cuttlefishes. The morning after, while all the others leave with the equipment, René and I go dive again, but it really worth! The conditions are perfect, even if we remain in the water only for three hours and then we have to leave to reach the others. Once in Edithburgh, where we will stay for five weeks, we have the opportunity of viewing the just shot images and finally, a good surprise for all: during our three hours we got a good five green sequences!

But we have no time to enjoy this little success, because it's already time to meet the new australian equipe, jut arrived with two trucks full of equipment and made up of a dozen of people both technicians and engineers (apart from the cook and the logistic responsible) that will manage the underwater lighting.

The base camp has already been set up on the quay and from the technical room (equipped with 100 Kw power units) come out hundreds of cables that will power up the surface and underwater lights.

It has to do with making the dry run of the night shootings that will be shot the year after in New Caledonia and to film the so called “striped pyjama squid” that is the Sepioloidea Lineolata, a very rare little cuttlefish with the typical striped coat.

During the weeks, Edithburgh has many surprises in reserve for all of us: our adventure on Oceans' sets has just begun...