“Our director of photography, Sean Hickey, even reached out to Sony, who makes the cameras we use. After meeting with their engineers and talking to another camera operator who regularly works in arctic conditions, we were able to figure out how to keep the cameras in working shape,” Elliott said.
The team eventually determined that keeping camera batteries heated—and putting each camera in its own custom-sized down “jacket” would keep it warm enough to use in the punishing conditions of a Svalbard winter. Videographers also kept one dedicated camera inside a lab at the nearby Ny-Ålesund research center to ensure that that it remained at room temperature and wouldn’t fog up or be damaged by condensation when returning indoors to film interviews.
Smooth Sailing At Last
After landing at the research center’s small airstrip, however, it became clear that fate was on PBS team’s side: their small mountain of film gear had arrived without a hitch, and the weather conditions improved throughout their trip—rising from a low of -17°C (1°F) to a relatively balmy 0°C (32°F).
Elliott was also pleasantly surprised by the research center’s facilities: despite its remote location, the year-round campus contained all the amenities needed to keep international scientists (and filmmakers) comfortable for weeks on end.
“It’s pretty impressive. In addition to having fully-equipped labs, the food is incredible, there’s an on-site gym, a hot tub, and a sauna. For being so far north, the infrastructure is amazing,” notes Kharis Schrage.
As the 10-day expedition progressed, adds Meyer-Kaiser, the researchers and film crew became an integrated team, with Elliott and her camera operators rolling constantly to record the scientists’ fieldwork without getting in the scientists’ way.
“At first, we were a little concerned they would slow us down or ask us to act things out like a reality show. But towards the end we hardly even realized they were there,” Meyer-Kaiser said. “I would love for all my colleagues to know what a positive experience it was. We need more people telling these sorts of scientific and environmental stories—so I hope from our experience that other researchers are motivated to accommodate a film team like this one.”