Producer's Blog: Capturing Waco Mammoths in HD

KWBU-TV in Waco, Texas, is co-producing a 15-minute HD video about the Waco Mammoth Site for the Mayborn Museum at Baylor University. Located on 110 acres at the confluence of the Brazos and Bosque rivers, the Waco Mammoth site has unearthed the remains of 23 Columbian mammoths, making it one of the largest digs of its kind in the world.

The HD production is being co-produced by 16X9 Productions in Los Angeles and is intended for museum visitors and to help raise funds to preserve the site. The blogger is exec producer Joani Livingston of KWBU-TV:

"DAY THREE -- Oh, What a Beautiful Morning.

"Oh, what a beautiful day! The rain held off, the sun is shining and one day after spring officially arrived, the wind makes a bone-chilling 27 degrees feel colder still. The generator truck leads a caravan to the mammoth site to enter first and secure a location followed by the lighting truck. With limited parking, the crew parks farther away and walks to the site. Our top priority: Get the area under the tent lit before our talent arrives an hour later.

"Makeup artist Rebekah Bass tends to our talent, Jeff Schmidt, as we finalize blocking. Maneuvering cables and crew gently through the dig site is quite a feat, but it looks effortless on the monitor. Jeff strikes a brilliant balance of hilarity and wide-eyed curiosity on each take. The museum staff, fresh from an earlier press conference, nod(s) approvingly and are very pleased with the results.

"Miraculously, we're not only sticking to our formidable shooting schedule, but actually ahead. Before we can break for lunch, we need to shoot Jeff's interview with geologist John Bongino. John's work at the site is disproving the long-held theory of the mammoth herd's demise, so it's integral to our story.

"He gets miced up and the test sounds pristine. Once he and Jeff are positioned for the scene, we get this very loud audio hum. In fact, it's a full on buzz. We lose an hour or so trying several cables and mics, to no avail. As John touches the transmitter pack to change it out yet again, gaffer Mike Kleis hollers, 'It's gone!' There is much rejoicing. But as quickly as it left, it returns -- this time with a vengeance. John touches the pack again, and the interference stops. What the...?

"Our geology lesson of the day: It turns out the buried mammoths have helped create an iron-rich soil -- causing horrific buzzing in the audio when standing next to the stratigraphic column. The issue is resolved when John puts the pack between his unmentionables and his, ahem, backside to ground the transmitter (a whole new definition of 'fanny pack,' but I digress). Also, he can't touch the rock face while being interviewed.

"After a quick lunch, DP Allan Westbrook captures B-roll of the concentration of the herd's bones, as well as those of a camel and saber tooth cat. As Allan finishes up, the next interviewees arrive. Paul and Eddie are two Texas good ol' boys who stumbled upon the site while 'huntin' for snakes' back in 1978. Long forgotten as the original discoverers, they are excited to tell their story.

"We had decided to do a walking interview with them through the surrounding brush for our audience to get a feel for what it was like on that discovery day. The boom mic for this interview never materialized (long story), so our ingenious DP and resourceful grip 'MacGyvered' a shotgun mic to the end of a light tripod, and we were good to go. We directed the scene along the pathway, grabbing the back of Allan's shirt to steer the group around poison ivy, nettles and other brambly things.

"As the day wears on, rush hour traffic on a nearby thoroughfare ramps up and our audio gets worse and worse. Since this is our only day to shoot all exteriors on the mammoth site, we press on with Jeff's opening stand-ups during 'Golden Hour.' In the end, it's a bust. Everyone's exhausted and cold, so I call a wrap. We'll re-shoot Jeff's scenes on our pickup day in May.

"On the whole, I'm grateful for all the minor miracles accomplished today. The cumulonimbus hovering over the shoot has dissipated on all fronts. I have a wonderful feeling. Everything's going my way! For now."