Dive in with David Reichert

By Deborah GiamMovies - 07 July 2010 11:30 AM

Dive in with David Reichert

There’s a whole wide world out there in the ocean that most of us don’t know about – sure we’ve seen the fishes and some of the more exotic creatures. But David Reichert has seen it all, up close and personal.

Some of us, unfortunately, have jobs that mean we’re stuck behind a desk for hours on end. Others have jobs that are repetitive and mundane. David Reichert, Director of Photography on Oceans, doesn’t have either of those problems. In fact, he travels across the globe, diving in exotic locations and experiencing the underwater world in all its glory.

Just what is it like having a job like that? David tells us… and try not to get too jealous.


This obviously isn’t a typical sort of day job, so how did you come to work on these sort of films?

I’ll go way back to the beginning, but I’ll make it quick – you know when you’re a kid, and you’re watching Jacques Cousteau or National Geographic and you think to yourself, “That’s what I want to be” and then you grow up a little bit and then you’re like, “Oh, that was a dumb idea, such a silly dream.”

Then I graduated from college and was actually enrolled into graduate school when I was offered the job as an assistant. So in other words, what I was good at was carrying heavy things. And I started doing that and then realised, “Wow I could probably do this, if I really tried.” So I forgot about graduate school, concentrated all my efforts and all my money on this, and decided “This is what I’m going to do” And so I worked my way up from an assistant carrying heavy things, to a camera assistant managing the camera, to a second camera, to a camera man to a Director of Photography.   


Looking at all the films you’ve worked on, you’ve done both oceanic and filming on mountains – what are some of the unique challenges in each environment?

In some ways they’re similar. As humans we’re not good at being in either one of those environments, because they’re a little extreme. In the oceans we can’t breathe and moving around on the mountains is just so hard because of the fatigue, and dangers like avalanches, falling off the mountain.

We just have to be patient and it’s always more a mental challenge trying to figure out how and where to get things done, it’s a constant decision making process – okay, let’s try this, let’s go there. For me, it’s nice to do both. After a lot of work in the water, it’s nice to take a break and work in the mountains. But, my heart really lies with the ocean and if someone made me make a decision I would choose the ocean.


Have you always been interested in marine life?

Yes, even though I’m from the mountains, I started diving at a very young age. I think I was 12, when I first went scuba diving. My uncle handed me a scuba bottle, and this was in a lake, by the way. So I started diving and occasionally we’d make it down to Mexico and I think that’s where it all started. Then I got the opportunity to work in the water and that’s when it really came to me. It’s so fantastic, I get to go places and see things and learn about the ocean through the job. It’s a really lucky job for me, because I get to go to places that no one would normally go to because they’re so remote and difficult and even expensive. But to film these animals, we really learn a lot of about them – we have to know what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and how they’re going to be doing it. So I get an education every time we go out, and tat’s where my love for the ocean has blossomed. 


Tell us more about Oceans, what was the inspiration behind it and what makes it stand out?

I think Jacques Perrin is inspirational, and he’s a dreamer. I’m a little too old to say this, but he’s the type of guy that I want to grow up to be like. Just to have a dream, and to say that’s my dream, I’m going to do it. This is a once in a lifetime experience and there’s not another guy crazy enough like Jacques to go and do it. He wants to show the world with this film, how fantastic the ocean is and all these amazing creatures that live in it. It’s not about “oh you have to go save the ocean” or “look at this or this or this”. It’s just to say “wow, here it is”. And the ocean can speak for itself after that and that’s the idea that he’s brought to the screen.


What have been some of your most memorable filming experiences so far?

The scene with the walrus in Oceans is really memorable. It was one of those moments where I thought “Is this walrus going to kill me or am I going to get a picture?” But something totally different happened and what I saw was not a panicked moment from a walrus but something really loving. She had a baby with her and she just looked at me, took her flipper, put it around her baby and guided it and just swam around me. And for me at that moment, I saw a different, very caring side.

The blue whale was another big accomplishment. We work so hard and so long and we finally managed to capture that! I’ve worked on a number of other series and there have even been some other projects like two full length films on blue whales, and we’ve all tried to get the blue whale and failed. It’s a bit of a Holy Grail in the natural history filmmaking industry, so when we finally succeeded, it was a great achievement.


Unlike Hollywood films, which can be completed in less than a year, is it difficult having to work on one film for such a long period of time?

No, I don’t think so. You can only work on one project at a time but you get so involved in each project so the hardest part is when it ends. It’s been your whole life, not for the last couple months but the last couple of years. And when it ends, you really feel like “What do I do now?” and then you have some work and get into the next project. Oceans took seven years, while Blue Planet took four and Planet Earth, three. So this one takes the cake as far as long term projects go, although I only worked on it for five years.


For Oceans, how big was the crew working on it?

Oh it’s big. I was one of four principle underwater teams and many times there was a principle top-side team. There’d be other teams, like five or more out there spread out across the globe. For my own team, I’d have my camera technician, a diving assistant and several scientists. We work with scientists, as they’d help us get closer to the animals and understand them. Often we also have to get their helps with obtaining permits. And then we’d have a unit manager and that’s about it. Sometimes we have boat captains and local support with lots of equipment.  But we try to keep it a bit smaller. The most important is the time there. We could have 100 cameras, but if there’s nothing to film there that doesn’t help. And really if there’s only one thing out there you’ll end up with 100 cameras just filming each other. So it’s better to have one camera and more time.


There must have been a lot of footage that you shot – how much did you film in the end and how much made it into the film?

I shot about 500 hours of total shots, and I think 1 hour and 40 minutes went into the film. But I think there’s going to be a four-part TV series that will use the rest of the footage that didn’t make it into the film.


Since you scuba dive and climb mountains as part of your job, what do you do in your free time?

I like to white water kayak and flat country ski. Yeah, I’m always around water, whether it’s frozen or I’m in it or otherwise!


You love the ocean so much so If you were a marine animal, what would you be?

I’d be an orca because being in the water with them, you realise they are such a powerful animal, a lot of teeth and very powerful. You’re about the right size to be a big seal, and they can eat you. But what I’ve found is that they’d be more interested in studying us. I could see clearly their eyes studying me. There was some kind of curiosity and intelligent. It was obvious there. And they’re such a fantastic big predator.


On the flipside, which animal wouldn’t you want to be?

Anything that would taste good to people! Not tuna or anything on our menus.