Winged Migration
 
 

Our dream was not to fly like birds but with them, right in among them, fathoming the mystery of their migration by sharing their journey across oceans, mountains and deserts. A superhuman dream, yet one as old as humanity itself. To make it come true, we had to roam the globe for four years, mobilizing pools of energy and ingenuity,
coordinating the work of some 500 individuals, creating synergies between film technicians and ornithologists, marrying movie cameras with aerial contraptions: ultralights, hot air balloons, powered paragliders, remote-controlled robots, and so on. We dispatched crews on over 300 assignments to every continent on earth. We filmed in 42 different countries, shot 250 miles of film, went through 230 hours of dailies... and some magically uplifting moments.

Filming birds in a storm-tossed sea isn't easy. I needed a steady shooting platform for a 35mm camera, and with a little string-pulling, I got it. Imagine my film crew's astonishment, one chilly February morning, to find themselves staring up at the massive gray hull of a French warship. We were on Pier 5 in Brest, Brittany's largest port and one of France's foremost naval bases.

 

We, our birds, and our filming equipment had a temporary home in this steel behemoth, among the pristine uniforms and strict discipline of life on board. Making my relations with the French navy easier was the fact that I had played the "Drummer Crab," the mythical navy lieutenant in the film of the same name directed by Pierre Schoendoerffer, which became a cult movie for a whole generation of young navy officers. For them, a living legend was on board. Never mind that the deck was littered with straw and the helicopter hangar had turned into an aviary... Cast off! Set a course for the wild gray Atlantic!

As storm-tossed seas go, I got what I wanted and plenty of it! One time, when the North Atlantic was in full fury and the birds had been taken into shelter, I decided to get some shots of the raging ocean. We were on deck, and my entire crew was busy tinkering with the elaborate camera stabilizing system that the foul weather had put out of action. I shouldered my trusty old camera, a mobile Cameflex from the 1960s which Pierre Schoendoerffer had used in Vietnam to shoot The 317th Platoon, in which I also starred. A stupendous wave broke over the ship and deluged me. But sure enough, my faithful Cameflex stood the test and the wave was safely in the can.

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