Children Love Manatees
This production was shot on 16mm film for the Columbus Zoo. It was written and directed by yours truly, and won a national Telly Award. Some of the underwater scenes were shot on 35mm film by Jordan Klein, who shot the TV series "Flipper" and "Sea Hunt" when I was a kid, and was a seasoned feature shooter when I worked with him. It was fun to sit on the boat as we looked for manatees and talk about his experiences shooting shark scenes for Jaws or mermaid scenes for Splash. He had just turned down James Cameron to do the underwater filming for Titanic ... mainly because the schedule had changed and he couldn't meet the new dates.
Most of the underwater shots were done by me on an Aaton Prod with an inflatable housing, because the best way to shoot manatees is as a snorkeler, not a scuba diver as Jordan likes to work. Floating just below the surface, I was able to have the chance of a lifetime to film manatees up close and very personal in Homosassa Springs, Crystal River, and the murkier waters where the southern Everglades mix with the Gulf at the southern tip of FLorida. I'm really proud of the shots I was able to get.
The goal for this exhibit centerpiece was to have both an educational and emotional message. Rather than interview "experts" or write a script, I proposed to the Zoo that we let children, who "get" manatees the best, talk about these amazing creatures in their own words. We interviewed two classrooms of children: one in West Liberty, Ohio, and the other in Homosassa, Florida. This is what brings life to the film, in my opinion.
Both classes had studied manatees in depth, so I didn't have to do a lot of directing to get the facts about manatees that I needed to hear verbalized. The kids were awesome ... so spontaneous and fresh. One comical cut the client forced us to make was to delete the line, "the mother feeds the calf milk, from her flipper." The biologists balked at the kid not saying, "mammary glands under her flipper". Oh, well.
Though the classrooms were noisy we used a good shotgun mike really close, to improve S/N ratio, and made a makeshift soundbooth with duvatene. The result was audio with great presence, I think. We rolled 16mm film on the best comments and kept our DAT recorder running for all the comments... a synch nightmare I would do differently now! As it turned out, the client preferred not to see the kids anyway ... a few of them appear in the story about Nicky and her calf. Maybe someday I'll do a "director's cut" with more kids alongside the manatees. They're so comical!