July 21, 2000
Jonathan Bird, Director of Photography
Today we headed back to the Tateyama Maru, a wreck we explored on open-circuit scuba a few days ago to get ideas about what we could film once we got the rebreathers. Now, many of you out there reading this are probably thinking that all this rebreather stuff is just high-tech gadgetry for the sake of using high-tech gadgetry, and there certainly is a little of that. After all, I love gadgets. But I also don't like to trust my life to a high-tech gadget that I don't feel comfortable with. I have used rebreathers on other projects, and I am comfortable with their safety and their reliability.
The best thing that a rebreather does for me as a filmmaker is produce less bubbles so that I don't frighten the fish. But in this application, we're shooting wrecks which are not going anywhere, so what's the point? When scuba bubbles hit the ceiling of a wreck, they produce a rain of rust particles which reduces the visibility in the wreck. At the least it's annoying, at the most it's dangerous. Fortunately, these wrecks are mostly freighters and the majority of the "goodies" to be found are in the holds, which means very little penetration into cramped quarters and risk of getting lost. But the holds tend to be deep, which is where the next part of the rebreathers come in. Using 50 cubic foot bottles on the rebreathers, we can carry about 2-3 hours of gas, which is a very reassuring thought. On top of that, we have 28 cubic foot "pony" bottles, in case we needed to get back to the surface with a complete rebreather failure. We're keeping our fingers crossed that we don't need the pony bottles.
The Tateyama Maru rests on her side, which makes everything inside the wreck look funny. The floors and ceilings are the walls, and the walls are the floors and ceilings. Stairs climb horizontally. We swim down to swim across what were level rooms when the ship was afloat, and we swim horizonatally to go from level to level on the ship. It's really strange and takes a bit of getting used to. For this reason, we never penetrate beyond the sight of the opening.
As on other ships we have been shooting, we divided into two teams. Mark, who knows the interior of the wrecks well, led me on a journey through the silty inside of the ship, pointing out old shoes, tools, machinery and human remains. Meanwhile Tom and Gator filmed the outside of the wreck, examining guns, propellers and marine life.
One thing we found is that even at 120 feet, the outside of the wrecks are so bright with sunlight, that even our massively bright video lights can't make a dent in the blue-cast light which bathes the wrecks. So the reds and oranges of the sponges and corals on the wreck are not visible to the eye or the camera. For this reason, we are starting to shift some of our work to late afternoon when the light on the wreck is dimmer and our video lights can make more of an impact.
We initially made fun of Cliff for some of the goodies he brought on the expedition. As a sales rep for several of the companies whose gear we are using, Cliff brought lots of things for us to try out. Some of the things, like the comfy O-Neill wetsuits, we requested. But the Nite Rider lights mounted on helmets weren't something we planned on using. Cliff brought them and when he started showing them off, we laughed and made references to the old Jacques Cousteau films with the helmets with antennae on them. Nonetheless, once you hit your head on the ceiling a couple times, the helmets make sense, and the lights on the helmets are pretty handy too. Hands free. Now if I could just get everyone to stop looking at the camera with the helmet lights on!