30 June 2014

First year Oxford Brookes student is camera assistant on first ever straight line journey from Land’s End to John O’Groats

First year film student Rowland Daniel has recently completed a work placement as camera assistant on the Beeline Britain project, an attempt to travel from Land's End to John O'Groats in a straight line. Rowland gives his account of the project below.

Beeline Britain started 3 years ago as an idea by Ian O'Grady, to include a challenge as part of his fitness schedule. After drawing a straight line on a road atlas from Land’s End to John O'Groats, he decided that this was the right challenge for him; this was prior to being deployed to Afghanistan. Many experts deemed the route to be impossible as it had never been done before and then Adam Harmer, a professional kayaker, agreed to join Ian. The next eighteen months involved planning, recruiting more team members in the form of Nick Beighton and Tori James and gaining sponsorship. The decision to choose BLESMA, (Limbless war veterans’ charity to support limbless soldiers and their dependents), as the charity and to raise £20,000, was based on time spent at an army base seeing a soldier with a prosthetic leg learning to dance to surprise his wife at their wedding. As well as supporting other limbless soldiers, BLESMA had helped Nick Beighton, who is now an Ambassador for them, to re-adjust to life without legs. For a year before May 2014, once a month at weekends, the team completed training in kayaking, walking and mountain and road biking to prepare them for the expedition. Nine months before, Ian Burton, a film-maker of 20 years, was brought in to film the expedition and he planned the shoot with the team deciding such factors as logistics. The film will be shown at the Kendal Mountain Film Festival in the 3rd week of November 2014.

Rowland Daniel

How I became involved in the project

I had enquired about doing some form of work experience over the summer back in March, as my degree includes a work placement module in the second and third years. I believed that a placement would benefit my learning experience beyond the theory of film with practical hands-on experience and give me an opportunity to increase my skillset, which will help when I graduate. I had a discussion with the Module Leader, Alison Kahn about the sort of placements that I could do and I sent out CVs and emails to suitable potential contacts. Following a rejection from an application for another unrelated job, during our next meeting Alison and I discussed an offer from professional film-maker Ian Burton who was looking for a film student to become his Camera Assistant. This position was due to start in two weeks’ time and was an opportunity to be a camera assistant on a feature documentary about the first ever straight line journey from Land’s End to John O'Groats. This was also an experiment for Ian Burton, who had never used a camera assistant before and wanted to take a student out of the classroom to teach them how he worked and give that person a unique experience. A truly blessed offer this was that I, without hesitation, graciously accepted.

Two weeks later I found myself working with a high speed camera that could shoot at 5,000 fps and thus produce a slow motion effect, one of only two Lunax Starlight Cameras in Europe, used to film night scenes at a higher rate of image intensity at 30fps, and a Canon ESOS 5D MARK II. I was involved in a wide range of duties from changing and cleaning lenses, helping shoot from the cameras, shooting B-roll footage and other footage. I was also involved in recording interviews with a Zoom Recorder, charging GOPROs and other camera batteries and carrying equipment. I also received training from Ian on editing and filming, with an assignment to film and edit interviews with the team using IMovie. At times I was tasked with other duties such as cooking food for the team, helping unload their kit, washing dishes, charity collections and supporting the PR and media team and occasionally making coffee and tea; thus acting as a runner would do on a film set.

There were many highlights which ranged from breaking two records to climbing the second highest mountain in the UK. To give you a taste of this amazing experience I helped film a record breaking 34 hour sea kayak journey followed by the second longest kayak journey which was 24 hours from Pembroke to Isle of Anglesey in Wales, making a 12 hour trek over the Caingorms in Scotland to climbing the Summit of Ben Macdui, the second highest mountain in the UK whilst carrying 30 kilograms worth of kit on my back. I was the last member of the team to join and had had minimal preparation time: there were also various other unknowns such as the UK weather and, of course, my own expectations. The pinnacle of being a Camera Assistant was seeing what I was capable of handling and the whole experience was a great personal achievement, as was the case for the rest of the team.

This unique experience was rounded off by a phone call from Prince Harry to congratulate the team, which happened at John O'Groats at the end of 28 days and 1,300km.

As there is over three terabytes of footage I am hopeful that some of the film that I shot will be part of the final cut of the feature documentary, titled As The Crow Flies, directed and edited by Ian Burton for the Kendal Mountain Film Festival in November.

Looking back on the experience over two weeks after completion, I would say it benefitted my learning on cameras that I had never worked with before. The technology was beyond what I had used before when I have made student films. Also I learnt a fair bit first-hand about the industry from Ian Burton, drawing on his experiences in documentaries and features for the BBC and other clients. I also gained insight into industry thoughts about film vs digital and how the industry ticks; I gained an understanding of the importance of film festivals and selling to international broadcasters as well as local ones. I learnt about shooting on a small or no budget, hiring equipment and insurance: all of this learning has enhanced my skillset.

I would say the whole job has been an adventurous work experience, where I learnt various skills including being very fit, proactive and quick on my feet. I also learnt to be prepared to capture anything on camera in one shot, (this was the nature of the expedition and schedule). I would say some stuff was unlike anything I'd learnt before in film and it showed me how crucial various elements are: for example, sound is as important as footage. I got to experience a different side and market of the film world (outdoor adventure film-making), which I never knew existed. I saw out of the ordinary ways to shoot such as filming from a Rib at sea, filming through two open van doors side by side strapped to the van with seatbelts whilst holding expensive cameras. In another instance I was holding onto Ian, via rope and harness, which was attached to the tip of a boat, with Ian and camera hanging a few centimetres above water ready to shoot whilst I pressed record on the camera.

It was a complete honour to learn, assist and follow a professional such as Ian Burton. Although it did take me time to adjust to the role, as time went on I improved and overcame all the stress and challenges I faced as a camera assistant. I now have industry contacts and have made an excellent connection that may be rekindled one day on another shoot.

This experience made me realise it was a career I definitely wanted to pursue and made me eager to continue my studies in film making. The advice I would give to others, who are thinking about doing a degree in Film Studies at University, is that you need to take your learning beyond the classroom, by being proactive in looking for placement opportunities, which will give you an idea about the industry and the different areas that you can move into after graduation. This practical experience is invaluable for your career and will give you a good grounding for becoming an amazing film maker.

I would like to end this by saying it was an honour to represent not just my friends, family, fellow students and School but also Oxford Brookes, on a charity expedition that had never been done before. It was a way of giving thanks back to the University for an amazing and unforgettable work experience and a fantastic first year as a Brookes student.

Some facts about the project

  • 1300KM
  • 28 Days between May 17th (a day earlier than planned) - June 13th 2014
  • Sponsors include the Endeavour fund, Royal Foundation, RAF and others
  • Sea Kayak, Road bike, Mountain bike, and Walking
  • Followers of the expedition could watch on Facebook, Twitter via a GPS tracking system device that was attached to the one of the team’s kayaks, bikes, or bags) which allowed people to watch us on a map in real-time doing the route and to see if we could stay within maximum 15 km of the straight line
  • Land’s End to Pembroke, Wales 34 hours and over 200km by Sea Kayak longest Sea Kayak journey in the UK record
  • Pembroke, Wales to Isle of Anglesey-24 hours by Sea Kayak second longest sea Kayak journey in the UK record
  • Phone call from Prince Harry at John O’Groats to congratulate
  • Nick Beighton (in theory) first double Amputee to summit Ben Macdui
  • Ben Macdui - second highest mountain in the UK at 1,309KM high
  • Fastest bike speed of 50km
  • Filmed for feature documentary to premiere at the Kendall Mountain Film Festival in 3rd week of November
  • Over 3 terabytes of footage filmed. 3 terabytes = 3,000 GB
  • Sections at night filmed on only 1 of 2 ever Lunax Starlight cameras in Europe
  • Some segments were filmed on Go-pro cameras attached to the bikes, Kayaks and bags of the team when the film crew couldn't be around all the time and to capture more personal perspectives
  • Nick Beighton (double amputee) did a million reps over the journey due to heavy use of arms on Kayaking, customised road and mountain bikes and use of crutches over the Caingorms
  • 4 Athletic Team Members
  • 3 Outdoor Education and 2 Journalism students from Liverpool John Moores as part of support team with 1 entrepreneur in charge
  • 3 cameramen (including Rowland)
  • 1 Massage therapist
  • 1 spouse and 4-5 month year old son (Nick Beighton's partner and son)
  • 3 years of planning including 1 year of training weekends once a month prior to the start
  • For the first 34 hour leg there was a channel 4 film-make working alongside us to capture footage of Nick Beighton kayaking for a separate unrelated film about his days as an amputee to put towards the Sheffield documentary film festival

You can donate to the project by text message. Simply text LINE59 followed by £1, £2, £3, £4, £5 or £10 to 70070. You can also donate via credit card on the Beeline Britain JustGiving page.