© 2019 by Cameron James Mackay

Expedition Filmmaking 1: Small Scale/Big Impact Projects

Updated: Sep 9, 2018

In this series of four articles, I hope to share what I've learned from making documentary films through expeditions. It is really achievable to use simple pieces of kit to create media alongside overseas travel and research that can have a big impact with audiences.


Cameron Film in Greenland

When organising highly adventurous or scientific expeditions, it can often be difficult to imagine the practicalities of adding a media element. Yet it can take as little as a DSLR, mic and no more than twenty minutes in a day to get valuable footage. Also when on expeditions, it may seem hard to know exactly what to film. However, any footage obtained on an expedition can create numerous opportunities for sharing on return.


When I began doing expeditions, the only wildlife films I could imagine were the high budget BBC programs showing stunning aerial shots and close ups of rare animals. There was no way I was getting any footage like that! Nevertheless, I was keen to produce some footage from my first trip and soon realised that I was actually in a rather good position to do so. While high budget productions have the high resolution footage and numerous remote filming locations, what can sometimes be lost to the viewer is the sense of being relatable. This is exactly what can be achieved by adding a video camera to your kit list and it could be the factor that allows large audiences to take on board your message and take inspiration to attempt their own documentary film projects.


So many expeditions depart from the UK each year, each one gaining valuable information on pressing world issues and a fascinating insight to distant landscapes and cultures. No matter what the quality, a short film of clips of footage strung together under a simple narrative could open up the story to a much wider audience that may have otherwise never had the opportunity engage.


What expeditions with integrated research objectives offer is an opportunity for films to follow the personal stories of team members as they take on the challenge of the whole process of the expedition themselves, from early planning to the trip's return. This gives the viewer the opportunity to learn about the research findings as the team members do. These stories will also convey to the viewer how important the research was to the people involved and how hard they worked to make it happen, making it a much more meaningful communication point for the viewer.


The Greenland360: Youth Expedition film is an example of a short documentary I made following an expedition to Greenland. I did not know how to use my equipment, let alone how to make films. Therefore, this acts as a good example of how you can point, shoot and hope for the best and work to bring the story together in the edit. This definitely could have been improved but has been shown widely throughout Scotland, including the IMAX theatre, at film festivals and to school audiences so it shows the impact very amateur footage can have if handled correctly. It was shot on a Nikon DSLR with a Røde VideoMic Pro mic (no wind-stopper as you can probably tell!). If I can do this, you can only do better!