When I got the text from one of my lighting gaffers, Neil Blackman, that there was an underwater shoot with a very famous band in about a week, I thought it was the kind of wind up that some members of our profession are prone to do from time to time.
I went about my daily business pushing approximately four jobs forwards as normal and actually thought no more of it, as jobs can tend to come into view and then sometimes slip out of sight just as quickly.
I got the scent that it was real and the nod that the band was Take That when a few days later somebody else told me to expect a call from their agent who would provide a brief. I waited dutifully by my computer at roughly the time to expect the call . . . . . then proceeded to lunch. Once ensconced in Pret a Manger and eating a complicated sandwich, the call of course came in and, as a mélange of mayonnaise and mustard dribbled down my fingers, I grabbed at a pen and paper to frantically scribble the notes – all the time of course giving the air of consummate professionalism.
My job was to shoot stills alongside an underwater camera operator, which would be used to illustrate the up coming Wonderland tour. The end result can and often does get changed from the initial usage and brief, and with an open mind on whether or how the images might get used, it proved to be an exciting day.
Take That Shoot
While the lighting crew expertly went to work creating a ‘lit area’ for the boys in which to perform, the brief to Gary, Howard and Mark was to create interesting shapes in front of camera. After years in the business I have a few preconceived ideas that I thought they may want to try for best creative effect. It is of course a team effort and history relates you have to tread carefully with these things in case the brief goes too far ‘off piste’, however I was told to shoot nice and wide with no tight cropping.
Underwater lights were set, movie camera platform was built and safety divers hung around in watery corners waiting for the call to action.
On surfacing and out of the corner of my eye I saw Gary, Howard and Mark walk in wearing brilliant white costumes. They paused on the gantry next to the underwater film tank talking with their crew and managers, giving friendly smiles and waves to all of us in the water.
There is always a mix of excitement and trepidation with anyone, however famous, just before performing underwater in front of cameras. Every precaution is taken, especially safety, and this is indeed why the small community in this demanding area usually keep working with the same people as trust is built.
As it should be, once everything is set and cameras are rolling the action started at a fast pace. The first one in was Gary who tried about ten different water entries to effect differing compositions. You can change the way light dances about the explosion of bubbles on entry to the water depending on how you dive in, and Gary explored most of the suggestions I gave him. One of the most interesting compositions was a simple religious type cross symbol with a water explosion tail following him down.
The clock is ticking very loudly in my head during these shoots, while my focus is on getting great images. All the while, adjusting angles and technique as the minutes unfold. There is never any time to waste.
Soon Howard was in the water, twisting and turning in front of our cameras, which turned over until the housing felt warm to the touch. Wonderful stuff. Finally Mark took his turn, giving us lovely wide left to right dives, spinning onto his back and giving the impression of falling though air.
To all of our expectations and delight they were all really good performers underwater. The brief given was the best brief an artist with a camera can have – to follow your instincts and just get great shots. They all had different techniques and ideas to bring to the shoot, which gave both me and the movie camera operator a good problem to have in terms of loads of great footage.
Now the really good bit. Mrs Mac and myself were given front row tickets to see the show itself and as we trouped in with 80,000 others we found ourselves in front row and touching distance from the stage.
I grappled the Tour book from my wife’s hands and to my delight there were 3 double page spreads of my images plus a good handful of images on a fourth double page spread depicting behind the scenes action, some of which featured our underwater shoot.
When Take That began their set, an explosive blast of music, sights and sensory emotion hit the audience like a brick wall and it was all I could do to keep up with the amazing stage, costume and light show that was ever changing. The show was based on different themes, to a Wonderland in your imagination. Famous and new songs were played as water rained down on the stage in the shapes of band members and trapeze artists filled the spaces above our heads riding fantasy horses, while the stage itself rose and fell up and down to the rhythm of the music.
The greatest thrill for me was when the aquatic theme emerged and 30 metre high footage of the boys was projected onto long silks that rose up and down like a heartbeat to the rising and falling stage and colourful light accompanying their brilliant song ‘Cry’.
I had to remind myself as it exploded onto the stage that we had only shot this a few weeks back.
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Zac Macaulay – Stills
Alice Penefather – Film
The Underwater Studio – Underwater Studio
Lighting DOP – Neil Blackman