How to Film a Documentary in Remote South America with Xpeditions TV

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By JOBY Inc on

Meet Jerry and Kathy Willis, the photography/videography masterminds behind Xpeditions TV. They’ve spent years traveling throughout South America, documenting their exploration of amazing, infrequently-visited sites. They share their adventures on their site Xpeditions TV in the form of short documentary films. Because their work takes them to the most remote places, lightweight and adaptable gear is essential. On their last expedition they ditched their full-height tripod in favor of our GorillaPod Focus with Ballhead X. Here’s more about their travels, their work and their new favorite tripod! 

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First, can you tell us a little bit about how you got into photography/videography?

We started our tour company in 1992 specializing in trips to Peru. The trips were always between the Amazon jungle to the Andes mountains. At every stop we were surrounded by a vast wild landscape. It was during the first trip I realized how important a camera would be if I was going to share these adventures with others. By the time our second trip was scheduled I had bought a Canon A1 film camera for still photos, and a consumer level Canon 8mm video camera to capture the action. Our early documentaries were a record of the people we escorted through Peru, and events from the journey.

Since then we have expended our interests beyond tours. My wife Kathy and I now trek into remote areas looking for places few have traveled to. There are lost cities forgotten to time, people and their customs whose lives remain much the same as they were a hundred years ago, and fantastically beautiful places few will ever see.

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Can you tell us about the project these photos/videos are from?

The photos were taken during our most recent shoot in Peru and Bolivia. We called this “The Tocache Expedition”, though we actually shot in two countries and multiple locations in each country. As usual, we were determined to document several ancient sites relating to research Kathy was conducting. For more about this best to check in at Xpeditions TV.

How has the GorillaPod changed the way you shoot?

The GorillaPod Focus and Ballhead X have changed everything, and I really mean EVERYTHING. I’ll explain; For years we have carried a tripod with us. You have to if you want a steady shot for a stand-up narration, or if you film at night or while recording a time-lapse clip. We have several tripods to choose from, but even the best one we have is bulky. Most are heavy enough that you wish you didn’t have to have one along. Believe me, moving through the dense foliage of the Amazon or climbing past 14,000′ elevation on the steep slopes of an Andes mountain is challenging enough. Add a tripod and it becomes exhausting. We’ve done it, but were always looking for something more portable and more easily managed.

When we saw the GorillaPod and Ballhead X Kathy and I became very excited. We already knew JOBY made an exceptional product line. We had purchased a JOBY flashlight several years ago that attached to a small magnetic tripod. We still have it, and it was used during this last trip. It will be along with us wherever we go because it is so dependable. That thing saved our life one night while stranded on the Amazon river… but that’s another story. Needless to say, we have complete confidence in JOBY products. Because it is a JOBY we already knew the GorillaPod and Ballhead X is a well made, dependable high quality product. We quickly ordered one and it arrived two days ahead of leaving for our expedition. Without even considering, we left our expensive carbon fiber tripod at home. Good choice!

During the trip it was obvious this is the best tripod and camera mount we had ever used. Maybe the best addition to shooting that has EVER be invented! Sure, it doesn’t have extendable legs to get the height, but no problem. We were able to mount the GorillaPod and Ballhead X in trees, on fence posts, rocks.. anything we chose! We ended up with extraordinary shots that we would never have gotten otherwise! Adding the GorillaPod and Ballhead X to our kit improved our filmmaking by increasing the level of creativity always available, but never approached because of the limitations a normal tripod allows. We will use our old tripods in the future for studio work. But once we head out into the wild places we will not be without our GorillaPod and Ballhead X.

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What is your best tip for using the GorillaPod?

Avoid trees covered by ants! Haha… During one shot at “The Doomsday Stone” I decided to mount the GorillaPod in a tree for a stand-up shot where Kathy and I were discussing the archeological site. We were on location deep into the Andes mountain up the Rio Tocache. This region of the Amazon is where the jungle meets (and flows upon to) the Andes mountains. Because I was hurrying I hadn’t noticed there was a line of leaf cutter ants working this particular tree. They were busy cutting leaves and transporting them to their nest somewhere else in the nearby jungle. I quickly mounted the GorillaPod and camera in a high place, and set the shot. Once finished, I went to remove the camera. I was alarmed to see the GorillaPod and camera was covered with curious ants wondering what this thing was!

Aside from this, I suggest you take some time to become familiar with the GorillaPod and Ballhead X. Play with it, mount it, dis-mount it… Try it out in as many settings as you can. The GorillaPod and Ballhead X are easy items to understand and use. Experimentation is the key to using it. Don’t wait until you need to capture a shot to get familiar with it.

One last thing; You might want more than one size. We have the larger one, but there are smaller ones more specific to less bulky cameras. If your camera is big like ours, the GorillaPod Focus and Ballhead X is perfect. But if you have a smaller camera you might find consider one of the other GorillaPod models more specific for your camera size. You can be sure of one thing about any of these… Anything JOBY makes is the highest quality and will last for decades.

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 Can you share a story of a time that your GorillaPod really came in handy from your past trip?

That’s a tough question! It came in handy for almost every shot we took! But there is one shot I could not have gotten without it.

I already mentioned the tree shot in the Amazon with leaf cutter ants. That was one shot that would not have ever happened if not for the GorillaPod. There is another instance I felt we were able to be very creative.

While hiking back through the jungle to camp Kathy decided it would be interesting if we could get an overhead shot as we passed by. As we were leaving the Doomsday Stone area she found an ideal place to shoot from high in a tree along the path. We always had talked about to do this but never had because there was really no way to secure the camera. I climbed a tree (no ants in this one!) and mounted the GorillaPod and camera about twenty feet above the path. The results are incredible… Had it not been for the GorillaPod and Ballhead X I would never have felt comfortable mounting our expensive camera like this. The GorillaPod gripped the branch like a vice and held it securely in place. It would probably still be there had it been left in place. It was really locked onto that limb! We shot it, and it looks fantastic. That shot was only possible because of the JOBY GorillaPod and Ballhead X.

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What is your best advice for aspiring photographers/videographers?

Anyone can shoot footage. The greatest issue many have is when you think you are not “qualified”, or good enough to produce something others will enjoy. Our advice is, don’t compare yourself to others. You are not them, and never will be, haha… You might think your idea or footage isn’t as good as. Don’t think this way. Instead, be yourself. Shoot what is interesting to, and inspires you. Compose a story, imagine how you can make it look like what you see in your minds-eye. Don’t worry about it – try it out. Sure, you’ll have disappointments. We all do! Use your mistakes to make the next shot better. If you’re unsure or stuck not knowing how to do something, ask for help. I know for sure someone has encountered your issue already and most are happy to pass on helpful information.

Finally, if you ask for an opinion and receive constructive (or otherwise) criticism, learn from it. Don’t be bummed out just because one person has something to say that disheartens you. We have had a lot of that! You might also face this. If you do, think about what was said and go forward. If you really believe you are right their opinion doesn’t matter. If you see their rational, improve from the experience. Don’t be afraid to ask, and expect judgement. Place judgement where it belongs…. in your intellect, not your heart.

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Where can we find more of your stuff!

All our short documentaries are available at no cost at http://Xpeditions.TV.  We have been shooting for eight years. We have tried various cameras, editing techniques, and shooting styles. If you watch each episode you can easily see how our abilities have improved over the years.  We invite you to drop by, spend a few hours, and learn from what we have done. Have questions: how did we shoot  that, etc…?  Feel free to ask. We are always happy to share our knowledge and techniques. Maybe we can help you solve a shooting or editing issue : )

Thanks Jerry and Kathy for sharing your great tips and experience with us! 

 

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