A six-person team traveled to the Sani Lodge, located in an untouched section of the Amazonian rainforest in the northeast corner of Ecuador. Our mission was to scout locations, conduct interviews and collect footage in preparation of a larger film about biodiversity, birding, indigenous cultures and impact of climate change on wildlife.
The rainforest here is the most biologically diverse locality in the world. 2,274 species of trees and bushes have been identified, over 550 birds species are on the Sani Bird List, making it one of the highest lists in the world. 80 species of bats, the second highest number ever registered. 105 species of amphibians, 83 of reptiles, 64 species of social sting-less bees, also a world record in this group. 100,000 species of insects per hectare, again the greatest number of species of any place ever studied.
Each member of the team had specialties and everyone brought various production tools. Here’s a rundown of mine:
Sony A7sII Camera (with chips/ND Filters/batteries/chargers/lens tissues/etc.)
16-36 Sony Lens
24-70 Sony Lens
Tascam D60 Digital Audio Recorder
Sennheiser Wireless Lavalier Microphone
Rode Shotgun Microphone
8X32 Wingspan Binoculars
Macbook Air Laptop
Multiple Batteries for camera and lighting gear
Medications/Antibiotics/Deet/Sunscreen/Diarrhea Med/First Aid Kit
LaCie External hardrive
Fuji X100f Camera (Batteries/Charger)
External Battery Pack
Passports/Yellow Fever Documentation
Field Notes Book and Pencil
White Balance Slate
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones
Extra SD Chips in waterproof case
Manfrotto Tripod and Head
Kessler Traveler 8′ Jib
Lighting Kit: Dracast 1K, 500W, 160W, 160W instruments
Six foot Reflector/Scrim
Our team was led by George Paul – the Producer and Director for this film. With him, and serving as Photographer was his wife Bonnie. Lang Elliot was our audio specialist and primarily focused on capturing binaural recordings. Carl Gerhardt, renowned wildlife photographer and biologist, specialized in capturing shots of birds and other wildlife. Kris Corbett piloted drones to shoot stunning aerial views of Quito, the Napo river, the lodge and the surrounding jungle. My role was to shoot all the interviews, b-roll, and supporting footage.
We traveled to Quito, the capital of Ecuador, to get acclimated and meet up with the other team members. We shot an interview with a well known biologist, Santiago Ron at the University of Quito and explored the city, and then enjoyed drinks on the patio of the Mosaic Cafe, with fantastic sunset views of the city below us. I found the city to be sprawling and congested, but once inside the perimeter of Old Town it was loaded with character and vibrant bustling city life.
GETTING TO SANI LODGE
The following day started at 4:30am with a six hour van ride to the oil town of Coca. We crossed the Andes with views of Cotopaxi and Pinchincha volcanos and got a good look at rural life in this country – mostly small farms tucked into the massive dense mountains.
After lunch of some local dishes at a roadside cafe, we arrived in Coca and met up with the guides from Sani Lodge who would be leading us down the Napo River. They loaded our numerous cases of gear aboard a long boat and we cruised down the Napo river for the next three hours. Along the way we stopped to shoot some drone footage and capture shots of the barges moving oil trucks and equipment up and down the river. We then hiked on a boardwalk through a small section of jungle (while the Sani staff loaded all of our gear into trolleys and transported it for us). From there we floated under the dense canopy of the jungle through the black water lagoon to the lodge. The sounds and vegetation of the jungle enveloped us as monkeys played in the branches overhead. The guides were all excellent, especially our main contact guy, Javier Hualinga. They would be our hosts, naturalists, and guides for the next week of what would be a dreamworld of wildlife, adventure and discovery!
Finally we arrived at the Sani Lodge and it is fantastic! Situated in the lush jungle in the most wild and pristine section of the Amazonian jungle. One of the unique features of this lodge is the black water lagoon that surrounds it , creating an ideal environment for many species of animals and plants. The wildlife here is astounding! We focused capturing as many interviews as possible with Javier, and the other Guides (including one the leading Bird Guides in Ecuador), the Sani Lodge General Manager and three of the local Shamans. These interviews would provide the background we needed to develop the storylines of the films.
We spent the entire week, shooting footage and recording audio, from pre-dawn to the middle of the night documenting birds, frogs, insects, mammals and plants. Kris captured some incredible drone shots of the Napo River, the Ecuadorian Jungle and our Lodge. Many mornings were spent birdwatching atop the 100 foot canopy tower. We toured the lagoon by canoe and embraced the jungle! We hiked at night many evenings because that’s when the most creatures are out and about. We visited the local village to see the school, and learn about traditional cooking methods, and dined on a “Jungle Lunch” of barbecued larvae, fish stuffed with hearts of palm and wrapped in banana leaves, roasted cocoa beans and Chicha beer!
It was an exciting, informative adventure and I can’t wait to return!
Here’s a fun music video of the Production Crew in action:
And here’s a link to some of Lang’s astounding Soundscapes of the jungle: