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Specialty Shooters: All Aboard!

Florida Film & Tape survives and thrives in the air and on the water.

By Cory Sekine-Pettite

Florida Film & Tape survives and thrives in the air and on the water. [Top left] Brad Fuller for Seaplane Pilots Association, Seattle. [Top Right] FF&T’s Cleve Cooney shooting pilot’s perspective, Seaplane Pilots Association Safety Video, Seattle. [Bottom Left] Photoboat with low wings [Bottom Right] FF&T’s George Burkitt shooting Cobalt Boats, Destin, Fla.

We all know the dangers inherent in stunt work for movies, television and even commercials. And it’s certainly great when you see all the money on the screen, as the saying goes. But how often do we think about the cameramen tasked with filming these great action sequences, or the guys getting those specialty shots that writers and directors dream up? Well, the average moviegoer may not know who these people are, but industry insiders certainly are aware – especially if your specialty shooting company has been in business for more than 30 years, providing Hollywood and America’s leading corporations with marine and aerial cinematography.

The risks of physical harm from shooting on boats or in the air are just part of the job. Specialty shooters are well aware of the dangers, but no one is more qualified to get the shots. Just ask Brad Fuller, co-owner of Florida Film & Tape (FF&T) in Orlando, Fla., which specializes in marine and aerial cinematography, and still photography. “Shooting on the water is tough enough if you know what you’re doing,” he said. “If you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s dangerous. And getting great shots is not automatic, so basically if you put us out on the water with the right tools we’re going to get a lot of really good stuff done in a short period of time.”

George Burkitt uses porthole for dramatic, high-speed shot for Yamaha Outboards, Lake Kissimmee, Fla.
George Burkitt uses porthole for dramatic, high-speed shot for Yamaha Outboards, Lake Kissimmee, Fla.

On the water, collisions are a major risk, Brad says. “We always worry about colliding, because we’re working fast and close, and we do some stunt shots sometimes, converging boats at 50 mph. There often literally is only inches separating the photo boat from the subject boat being filmed.” It’s Brad and his team who do the driving. Florida Film & Tape employees three outside drivers when needed. For obvious reasons, they’re only going to work with people they can trust. He and his brother drive for each other a lot.

Brad and his brother, Mike, founded Florida Film & Tape (www.ffandt.com) in 1980. It is one of Orlando’s oldest and most respected production companies. Through FF&T and its post-production services offshoot, Blue Island Design, the company says it can take any project smoothly, from pre-production planning to the final edit. Its client base includes Ford, Dodge, NASCAR, National Geographic, Outdoor Life Network, PBS, The Disney Channel, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!, Kawasaki, Honda, Suzuki, Universal Studios, Goodyear, and Budweiser, to name just a few. The company also has a still photography division, which is managed by Mike. “Mike is one of the best known and most prolific marine photographers in the country, if not the world,” Brad said.

Brad Fuller filming for Suzuki.
Brad Fuller filming for Suzuki.

The brothers worked together for a number of years in studios and production companies in Florida, cutting their teeth in photography and cinematography before starting FF&T. They even worked together at the Cypress Gardens theme park in the photo department. “Because of our background at Cypress Gardens, doing a lot of boat and water ski stuff, it was just kind of a natural extension,” Brad said about starting his company. And since that is all action shooting, the other aspects of his company’s work just grew from there.

“We became known for our action work, particularly our marine work and our aviation work,” Brad continued. “My brother, Mike, is a pilot, so we tried to figure out how to pay for our airplanes by shooting pictures with them.”

Brad Fuller shooting for Suzuki in Miami.
Brad Fuller shooting for Suzuki in Miami.

Once the business took off, Brad began filming and photographing projects for auto racing clients, including NASCAR, Ford and Goodyear. Every one of these projects has opened other doors, he said. Today, FF&T shoots a great deal of water and aerial footage for motion pictures, commercials and other video projects.

The difficulties in shooting water work is part of what draws clients to FF&T. Brad says FF&T’s equipment is a significant asset. “We have a collection of support equipment, boats particularly, that are specially rigged.” Most projects are shot with two cameras. One man is in the photo tower, getting the wide angle, and the other person is shooting the close-ups.

Brad Fuller setting up a shot in a Kenmore Air Turbine Otter, Seattle.
Brad Fuller setting up a shot in a Kenmore Air Turbine Otter, Seattle.

It’s hard to choose a favorite project when your career has spanned more than 30 years, but Brad did talk about a few standout projects, including work for a GE project and a Ford Trucks commercial. Working with a production company out of New York, FF&T shot aerial footage for GE for a new aircraft engine campaign. “My brother and I went up as a team. He flew one of our chase aircraft, which is a Piper Lance, with the door off. I shot from the back of that with gyro stabilization. We did air-to-air and mounted camera, things like that, chasing the [subject] airplane. We got some pretty exciting footage.”

  George Burkitt shooting Yamaha Outboards, Lake Kissimmee, Fla.
George Burkitt shooting Yamaha Outboards,
Lake Kissimmee, Fla.

The Ford commercial was shot a few years ago with country music star Alan Jackson. “It was a little bit of a stretch for us because we’re used to working with smaller, tighter crews. This was a big crew; 54 people or something like that. There were many more elements to that particular commercial than we normally deal with. We were glad to have them because it made our job that much easier, but that certainly was a memorable shoot.”

The commercial was shot in Tennessee at Center Hill Lake. In the spot, “Crazy ‘bout a Ford truck,” Jackson is seen driving a truck off road to a lake where he goes water skiing before camping out lakeside and singing by a fire.

Brad also says his company’s NASCAR work has been outstanding. FF&T worked with them for about three years before NASCAR – as it does regularly – changed advertising agencies. A new agency usually means new crews. It’s just the nature of the business, he said.

While filming aerials for the racing world might not be steady work, FF&T has found steady employment in television. Brad and Mike have put his aerial cinematography skills to work for the last two seasons of Axe Men on the History Channel. The show follows a crew that works the rivers of North Florida, he said. “They’re basically pulling up sunken logs; there’s a lot of money in that [for the loggers].”

Also, while working recently on a video project for the Seaplane  Pilots Association in the Pacific Northwest, FF&T took the opportunity to shoot footage for a TV pilot centered on seaplane flying in North America, called Flying America’s Waterways. They don’t yet have a network partner, but Brad is hopeful. “We’re in conversations with several networks. And we’ve been turned down by a couple, but in that turn down, there’s always an open door for changing the format a little and coming back to them.”

Cleve Cooney shooting Cobalt Boats, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
Cleve Cooney shooting Cobalt Boats, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

Brad Fuller shooting for Seaplane Pilots Association, Seattle.
Brad Fuller shooting for Seaplane Pilots
Association, Seattle.

What it could mean for his business should the show make it on the air is huge, he said. “The hang-up with running a business like Florida Film & Tape is that we don’t know what the hell we’re going to be doing next. We don’t have any [long-term] contracts with anybody. We’re doing a little bit more than sitting around waiting for the phone to ring, but basically if the phone doesn’t ring we don’t work. So what [Flying America’s Waterways] would do for us is give us a known production schedule and a known cash flow, and we can build on that.”

Whether or not this program makes it on the air, FF&T assuredly will survive and thrive. Florida Film & Tape’s reputation is likely a major reason it has been in business for more than 30 years. “I think that goes a long way,” Brad said, adding: “If you can just hang on long enough, your original client base spreads out. People that we worked with in Orlando 25 years ago might be in LA today or Vancouver … and because we’ve done good, solid work over the years a lot of work just finds us.”


David Nowell Spends a lot of Time in the Air
David B. Nowell
David Nowell

Aerial cinematographer David B. Nowell, ASC, has been spending a lot of time in the air recently, shooting for major motion pictures. And, whether it’s been over New Orleans or New Zealand, California or Canada, New Mexico or New York, Ohio or Iceland, he counts on Pictorvision’s Eclipse to capture outstanding gyro-stabilized images.

“One of my most recent assignments was over the sand, lava fields, mountains and glaciers of Iceland,” he said. “We needed to get plate shots for a special helicopter/jet aircraft that is flying through the country’s very narrow canyons. The director liked the look of cutting the frame rate to twelve fps, so the look of the aircraft would be twice as fast as normal.

“With the canyon as narrow and tight as it was, it became impossible to increase the speed of the camera ship,” he continued. “Now that we were dropping the frame rate, the stability of the Eclipse became vital. Any instability in the camera platform would show up two-fold. We had to shoot two different types of plates. One would be the horizon level during the entire flight through the canyon and the other banking the platform’s horizon as we flew around corners, simulating the look of a banking aircraft. The Eclipse worked perfectly.”

Nowell’s task included capturing plates similar to the canyon shots but up above the clouds, simulating the look of a jet aircraft at 600 mph flying through and around them. “This meant dropping the frame rate even less, to four frames per second or eight times normal flight speed,” he explained.

“The other advantage of the Eclipse is its ability to use a rain deflector,” Nowell added. “Because the weather was so unpredictable in Iceland, we ended up using the spinner half the time, which allowed us to continue shooting. Other systems would have had to stop when raindrops hit the lens.”
Learn more at www.pictorvision.com.


Tom Day Shoots The Push
David Nowell
  Tom Day
Photo Courtesy of Keoki Flagg

After traveling the world for years, starring in some of the ski genre’s most acclaimed films, Tom Day made the successful switch to the other side of the lens, as a cinematographer. Since then he’s shot action sports, commercials and documentaries for top names including Warren Miller Entertainment. His most recent project, The Push, follows adaptive athletes across the frozen Antarctic landscape and shows the capacity of the human spirit to overcome life-altering injuries and live up to their potential. When finished, the project team will submit it to various film festivals and hopes it also will air on television.

Day, who served as the films director of photography and on-location director explains, “It follows two adaptive athletes pushing the limits and themselves in the most inhospitable place on the planet – the South Pole.” “We learned quickly that we were up against tremendous odds,” Day says. “At temperatures from zero to minus fifteen degrees, our equipment would seize up in the cold so I couldn’t do a simple pan. When I came back, I knew I needed new support. So, it was back to my trust in Sachtler. The specs on the FSB 8 went to minus forty degrees – exactly what I needed for this journey.”

Learn more at www.sachtler.com/us.

November 14, 2012