28/08/2019 - 13:52

Film innovators launch whale tale

28/08/2019 - 13:52


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Prospero Productions will premiere its new immersive documentary Whale Super Highway, which tracks a mother and a baby whale down the coast of Western Australia, in a 35-seat dome at CinefestOz at the end of August.

Ed Punchard and Julia Redwood used a submarine to film their new documentary, which will premiere in a dome theatre. Photos: Gabriel Oliveira

Prospero Productions will premiere its new immersive documentary Whale Super Highway, which tracks a mother and a baby whale down the coast of Western Australia, in a 35-seat dome at CinefestOz at the end of August.

It will be the second underwater dome film released by the company following the success of Ningaloo – Australia’s Other Reef, which had a five-week run that filled the WA Maritime Museum theatre to capacity, and screenings at international film festivals in Beijing, Germany and the Czech Republic.

Whale Super Highway was filmed off the WA coast using a submarine and features local whale expert Chris Burton, marine mammal scientist Bec Wellard and narration from Janet King star Marta Dusseldorp with funding from Screen Australia, the Western Australian Regional Film Fund, Screenwest and Lotterywest.

The submarine can travel to a depth of 200 metres.


Prospero Productions co-managing director and Whale Super Highway producer Ed Punchard said making documentaries for the eight-metre by five-metre, 180-degree mobile dome with six projectors, was a dream.

“How could you not like an image so massive that it wraps around you?” Mr Punchard told Business News.

“It’s just so breathtakingly intense and you think about the satisfaction you get from watching a compelling program on the television screen, but then to have a compelling film that just completely is around you, it’s just a delight.”

It was genuinely pioneering and one of the first times digital technology had been applied in these sorts of environments, Mr Punchard said.

“We are fortunate in a sense with the advancements of digital technology, we can now access this type of environment and represent it in this format,” he said.

The inspiration for the format came from the experience of being inside the dome-shaped submarine used to capture the underwater world.

“In a sense what we do with these films is take our audience on a journey with us underwater with the submarine to be able to witness these extraordinary creatures and behaviours,” Mr Punchard said.

However, these enormous creatures were challenging to film, especially as they were migrating, Prospero Productions co-managing director and Whale Super Highway director, Julia Redwood, told Business News.

“It is about the positioning of the cameraman in the right spot and lining it up to a whale that is on the move, and it means getting ahead,” Ms Redwood said.

“That means knowing where the whale is for starters, getting ahead of it, dropping the cameraman in and just hoping you have got the track right for it to swim past.

“We have some unique, very rare underwater footage of blue whales, which is near impossible to do because they go so fast, they are elusive, they are very shy and they can dive to depths of 500 metres, so it is very difficult to catch them on the surface.”

The submarine also provided a unique space for dialogue, which wouldn’t have been possible if the cameraperson was scuba diving.

“The thing that I think works very well with the submarine is the fact that you have immediate dialogue in the film, because you have two people who are talking in reaction to what they see and you are filming that in real time,” Mr Punchard said.

He described a scene where the submarine visited a shipwrecked whaling vessel on the sea floor that had attracted an abundance of marine life.

“The reaction from the marine biologists to this device, which was designed to kill the thing that they love, you can see the bit where the harpoon was, the actual nasty end of the ship, so you get dialogue which is very genuine and very tense,” Mr Punchard said. 

“You could never get that if you are just diving, you’d have to have masks; so there is an intimacy that comes as a consequence of having the submarine, that’s where the real advantage lies.”

Although the film was made for families with children aged eight and older, Mr Punchard said all ages could enjoy the visual aspects of the film.

“It is very rare to hear a quiet toddler, but when toddlers have gone inside with their mums and dads, they just sit there,” he said.

“It’s like they are in a dream, I think.”

The pair said they hoped the film would be shown in domes around the world and selected for film festivals, as its predecessor Ningaloo was.

Ms Redwood, then a backpacker from England, and Mr Punchard, a former deepsea diver, founded Prospero Production after coming up with an idea for a documentary in a Fremantle cafe in 1991, despite neither of them having made a film.

Thirty years and 300 hours of film later, the pair said the secret to surviving in the WA film and TV industry was creating long-term, returnable series.

Prospero Productions has created several series popular with Australian and overseas audiences, including Outback Opal Hunters, Outback Pilots, Railway Australia and Outback Truckers

“Hugely successful here, Outback Truckers is the top-rating show on the multi channels, so it plays on Mate and it tops the ratings every time it’s on there,” Ms Redwood said.

“It has now reached its seventh season and we hope to go into an eighth season; that’s phenomenal.

“You don’t get many Australian, factual returning series to that number.”

According to Ms Redwood, the show has attracted approximately $10 million in export dollars, provided more than 300 jobs and been shown in countries as diverse as Spain, Austria, the US, Brunei and Kuwait.

“WA stories and people and characters are being seen by millions and millions of people around the globe and [many people] probably don’t know it,” Ms Redwood.

“It is quite phenomenal that in Poland someone is watching [truck driver] Steve Grahame in Polish, because it is dubbed, and that’s a delight for everybody, hopefully for the WA public to understand or to know that their stories reach out and that people really like them.”

She said it was vital these WA stories were shared.

“It is critical that you have your own voice, otherwise you are flooded with not only Sydney and Melbourne voices but New York, LA, London voices, you don’t have your stories,” Ms Redwood said.

“No-one is going to tell WA stories like Western Australians; they have a reason to do it and they have a desire to do it and that’s what’s important.”


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