Wildlife Cinematographer Jeff Hester

In episode twenty eight host Brett Stanley is talking with underwater wildlife cinematographer Jeff Hester. Jeff is responsible for some of the footage seen in shows like Blue Planet, Deadliest Catch, and those amazing Apple TV screensavers.

We chat about how he went from a marine biology degree to shooting Orcas for Netflix, sitting underwater for 7 hours at a time, and what it’s like not seeing the results of your work for years after it was shot.

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About Jeff Hester – Underwater Wildlife Cinematographer

Jeff Hester is an award-winning wildlife cameraman based in San Diego, CA, specializing in underwater and aerial cinematography. With beginnings as a biologist and NOAA marine scientist, he developed a passion for telling ocean stories and he’s now worked as a cameraman and/or producer on all 7 continents. A former Rolex scholar and Explorer’s Club Emerging Explorer, he currently freelances as a camera operator for a variety of companies including Netflix, BBC, Apple, Disney+, and National Geographic. Jeff hopes that through his work, people will experience and appreciate our blue planet and in turn, make sustainable choices for the future. 

Credits

  • Our Planet- Netflix; Underwater and aerial camera
  • Hostile Planet- National Geographic; Underwater and aerial camera
  • Swimming With Humpbacks (3D/360)- C.2K/Immotion; Underwater and aerial camera
  • Blue Planet VR (3D/360)- BBC; Underwater camera
  • Apple Underwater Screensavers- Apple; Underwater camera
  • Tiny World- Apple TV+; Aerial camera
  • Deadliest Catch- Discovery Channel; Field Producer/Shooter
  • Viking Velocity- Red Bull Media House; Field Producer/Shooter
  • Current Projects
  • The Mating Game- BBC/NHK; Underwater and aerial camera
  • Life On Our Planet- Netflix; Underwater and aerial camera
  • Sharks with Steve Backshall- Sky Nature; Underwater and aerial camera
  • Secret Planet- National Geographic; Underwater and aerial camera
  • North America- National Geographic; Underwater, aerial, shotover camera
  • National Parks- National Geographic; Underwater, aerial, shotover camera
  • Oceans- Netflix; Underwater and aerial camera
  • Planet Earth 3- BBC; Underwater and aerial camera
  • One Strange Rock 2- National Geographic; Underwater and aerial camera


Podcast Transcript

Ep 28 – Jeff Hester

Brett Stanley: [00:00:00] welcome back to the underwater podcast. and this week we’re strapping on the rebreather with wildlife cinematographer. Jeff Hester, Jeff is responsible for some of the footage seen in shows like blue planet, deadliest catch, and those amazing Apple TV screensavers.

We chat about how he went from a Marine biology degree to shooting orcas for Netflix, sitting under water for seven hours at a time. And what it’s like not seeing the results of your work for years after it was shot. All right.

Let’s dive in.

Jeff, welcome to the underwater podcast.

Jeff Hester: [00:00:29] Yeah, thanks for having me, Brett.

Brett Stanley: [00:00:31] Where are you? Are you somewhere cool at the moment? Are you like on a boat, out in the middle of the ocean somewhere?

Jeff Hester: [00:00:35] Uh, not at the moment. Uh, if you would have, uh, contacted me a couple of weeks ago then than I could have said yes, but I’m in San Diego right now at home.

Brett Stanley: [00:00:42] Oh, wait, well, that’s nice though.

Jeff Hester: [00:00:44] Yeah. Yeah, it’s been good. Summer’s been busy. So it’s been nice to catch up and have some family time at home.

Brett Stanley: [00:00:51] So you have been working, have you been out, um, out on location filming?

Jeff Hester: [00:00:55] Yeah. Yeah. So I’m fortunate in that San Diego is an amazing place for, for underwater work. We have a ton of ocean wildlife and, you know, once covert kind of hit it, wiped out everything that I had planned for this year. But, um, a lot of that work ended up getting filled in because a lot of the companies I worked for out of the UK and so they can’t get out here.

Um, so I. Ended up just taking on a lot of contract work as well.

Brett Stanley: [00:01:20] Oh, that’s great. So there’s, so, you know, a lot of this stuff hasn’t stopped happening, you know, like, I guess these, these productions are still going to get shooting and they still want to get footage of these animals. So you just got to get out there.

Jeff Hester: [00:01:31] Yeah. Yeah, definitely. And yeah, again, just really fortunate that I’m kind of positioned in a place that, um, you know, has a lot of opportunity for that. You know, there’s a couple other. People in the industry who are, who are getting to work a lot. But, um, you know, a lot of those people that are kind of in countries that are more locked down or, or that are more landlocked they’re I know they’re really struggling and, uh, you know, having a hard time getting work because, you know, they can’t get anywhere.

Brett Stanley: [00:01:55] Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So what is it about San Diego? What makes it such a rich place for Marine life?

Jeff Hester: [00:02:00] Yeah, we have a lot of different things. Uh, we have a kelp forest ecosystem. We have a lot of upwelling, um, which is when you bring a lot of like nutrient rich water from, from down deep and, uh, provides a lot of, uh, food for everything up the food chain, basically. Um, uh, you know, we have tons of whales, dolphins, just, you know, everything comes here to eat.

Brett Stanley: [00:02:20] wow. And is that where you grew up? Did you just happen to grow up in an awesome place for Marine life?

Jeff Hester: [00:02:25] No, not at all. I grew up, I wish. Uh, Uh, yeah, I grew up in Portland, Oregon, actually. Um, so we have a river there, but the oceans, a little bit of a drive.

Brett Stanley: [00:02:36] that’s true. Yeah. So, so tell me, tell me your story. So you, did you come up being interested in Marine life and underwater work? Uh, as a kid?

Jeff Hester: [00:02:45] Yeah. Yeah, definitely. So growing up a lot of our vacations during the summer were out to the Oregon coast, which is very different than the California. Well, the Southern California coast, it’s a lot of colder uh, uh, so I didn’t, wasn’t getting in the water too much, but, um, you know, just did a lot of tide pooling and, uh, yeah, I just really loved being out in nature.

And eventually, you know, pursued a Marine science degree in college and, and, uh, ran with it from there.

Brett Stanley: [00:03:10] All. Alright, so did, did the Marine science degree, did that get you underwater as well? Was it, I guess it did that include getting scuba certified and, and going out and doing research.

Jeff Hester: [00:03:20] Yeah. Yeah. So my, I think it was my sophomore year of college. Um, I had a summer internship with the Scripps Institute. I always mess this one up the Scripps institution of oceanography.

Brett Stanley: [00:03:31] Oh, right. Yeah. That’s a mouthful. Yeah, yeah,

Jeff Hester: [00:03:34] yeah. LA Jolla. And what I was doing was creating, um, three dimensional models of a coral that’s in the Caribbean so that we can properly measure the surface area without being too invasive.

The previous methods were pretty invasive where you’re the rip, the coral out, or, you know, you were covering with some things to make molds with. Um, And so we were all, we were doing it through, um, photos pretty much. And the grad student that I was working with, she was talking about possibly needing a research assistant later on to go with her, to the Caribbean, to, uh, you know, help her with some stuff.

But at the time I didn’t have my scuba certification. So that was kind of the impetus for that. You know, I’d always wanted to get it. I’d done a lot of like free diving and snorkeling, um, but never really. You know, dove in to use a pun there. Uh, you know, it’s a full underwater stuff.

Brett Stanley: [00:04:25] So that’s interesting. So you were kind of in the, in the beginning of, uh, I guess is it light field kind of mapping of Carl’s and stuff,

Jeff Hester: [00:04:33] A very rudimentary version of that. Yeah. So this was in 2000, what was it? 2010. Um, so it was basically, it was a software program called photo modeler. And you had to point by point go through and identify the same spot in all of these photos. And so, you know, you might, we ended up creating 50,000 points, but we did it by hand back then.

I mean, I’m sure there was a better way. I know there’s a better way now. Um, but it was a, yeah, that’s the summary. I got like 15 models done. Um, so they they’re definitely time consuming.

Brett Stanley: [00:05:08] that’s really interesting. And then, so, so how did you then get into underwater cinematography?

Jeff Hester: [00:05:13] Yeah. So it’s, uh, uh, know, it’s funny. I feel like when you talk with anyone that I’m sure you, you interview people all the time that are in this industry, that, you know, everyone’s path is different. You know, it’s such an odd. Way to get to where we are. Um, but for me, it was all from the Marine science background initially.

Um, so going through college, my direction was kind of to finish up my bachelor’s and go into a PhD and then, um, kind of take the academic route and, uh, be like an instructor researcher out of university, somewhere in Marine science. Um, But there were a few different things that kind of altered my path there.

Um, it’s uh, uh, one of them was getting scuba certified and getting a lot more dive experience. Uh, and then my senior year, I actually did my, my senior thesis with NOAA, the national oceanic and atmospheric administration. And I was looking at, um, how heavy metal contaminants affect the health of long beach, common dolphins and the Southern California bite.

And through that, uh, I actually. Uh, I ended up working for Noah right out of college, um, working on remember genetics. And so that kind of threw the first wrench in my career trajectory of going to PhD right after my bachelor’s route.

Brett Stanley: [00:06:23] right? Yeah. Derailed you a little bit.

Jeff Hester: [00:06:26] yeah, yeah, exactly. But for, uh, I mean, I’m so grateful for it, honestly.

Um, Um, not that there’s anything wrong with going the PhD route, but I’m, I’m pretty happy with what I do now. Um, Um,

Brett Stanley: [00:06:37] and that’s the thing. So, I mean, at the moment, you’re probably doing a lot more diving. You’re probably interacting with them with a lot of animals more because of the cinematography than the PhD side of things.

Jeff Hester: [00:06:47] Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. The shoot that I just finished up, uh, about two weeks ago, I think we, it was a 10 day shoot and we spent about 70 hours underwater. So we were doing about seven hours a day, uh, which was. Which is crazy. It’s just, yeah, I would do like seven hours stretches basically on rebreathers, waiting for this fish called sarcastic fringehead to do the behavior that we were trying to capture.

Uh, it was very weird.

Brett Stanley: [00:07:10] That’s incredible. So, I mean, aside from the fact that the fish is called a sarcastic fringehead, which makes me want to know what kind of behavior it actually exhibits, but you’re down there for seven hours. Is that like at a stretch, like in one go

Jeff Hester: [00:07:23] Yes. Sometimes it’s at one go sometimes we’ll break it up and do a, like a four hour stretch and a three hour stretch. Or, um, you’re doing a lot of like a underwater tripod and Dana Dolly kind of stuff. So you, sometimes two, you take two, three hours to set every thing up and then, uh, pop back onto the boat and maybe grab a bite to eat and then get back in for a four or five hour stretch to, to film.

Brett Stanley: [00:07:48] Right. I think for me, like, like I’m only just starting to learn how a lot of this footage has taken. Like, you know, I love the blue planet. I love the BBC series as, and all that sort of stuff. And I don’t. Well, I didn’t start to think about how this footage was captured.

I was just so in raptured by how amazing it was, but then thinking that it’s a wildlife shoot. So it’s pretty similar to probably shooting wildlife on land, where you got to sit in a hide for hours and wait for the thing to happen. Is that similar underwater in terms of having to stake out a certain area or stake out an animal?

Jeff Hester: [00:08:20] Yeah, it’s, it’s, I’d say it’s very similar. Um, we just, it’s only been recently that we’ve, uh, not had as much of the limitations of the scuba equipment. Um, you know, so prior to rebreathers becoming as well, some, some would say they’re still not that safe, but, um, there’s a lot of, uh, Uh, what’s the word, a lot of redundancy now.

Um, but they didn’t have before, so they’re a lot safer than they previously were. Um, but yeah, if I was on open circuit, scuba my. By dive times would probably just be, you know, 45 minutes to an hour at a time. And then I have to go up to the boats, which tanks come back down. Um, not only that you’re blowing a lot of bubbles with the rebreather, it’s all closed.

You’re very, um, noninvasive to the environment. So the animals can get really used to you quickly and we’ll, you know, just be comfortable into the, do the behaviors. Um, So for a lot of that benthic work, it is very similar to, to, you know, top side wildlife, where you sit in the hide and you’re waiting for the, for the thing to happen.

Um, but then we also do a lot of, uh, you know, pelagic work or open ocean work where you’re just on the ocean, searching for hours and hours and hours. And, um, um, like finish last year in Monterrey, um, filming killer whales going after. Uh, gray whale calves. And so that, for that, I mean, I think we spent, we spent 10 days on the water, probably about 10 hours, 10 to 12 hours a day searching before we even saw an Orca.

Um, and so that, that also can get like pretty draining and then you’re just constantly, constantly on the lookout. And, and the thing with the, with these wildlife shows too, is the. The interaction with the behavior can happen in an instant and you have to be ready. So you might, you might’ve had, you know, hours and hours and hours of searching and nothing, and you start to get tired, but really you need to just be on all the time, because if that thing happens and it’s only going to happen for five minutes and you miss it, then that’s just not going to work.

Brett Stanley: [00:10:08] yeah, exactly. And all that work would have been for nothing.

Jeff Hester: [00:10:11] Exactly.

Brett Stanley: [00:10:12] So when you’re say you’re searching, are you in the water physically in the water? You’re on the water in boats searching for the action and then you’re sort of rolling in and getting the footage or are you, are you underwater the whole time kind of

Jeff Hester: [00:10:23] No. Yeah. So I’m on boats for, for most of it when you’re, when you’re trying to look around. Um, if it’s something that if it’s a, you know, something we’re setting up on the, on the sea floor then yeah. We’re, we’re in the water the whole time.

Brett Stanley: [00:10:37] Yeah. So, I mean, you do Ariel, uh, footage as well. Are you when you’re out on the boats, are you sending up the drones to kind of try and find where to go.

Jeff Hester: [00:10:45] Yeah. Yeah. Sometimes we do that. Um, and I mean the drone technology, it’s crazy how far it’s come and just a short period of time and it’s become, I mean, it’s on every shoot, every wildlife she go on now. Um, and it’s almost a, you know, a must have, um, not only for the filming aspect, but exactly like what you just said to, to.

Do to do a search, you know, um, I can run a lot of times we’ll take the, uh, like a Phantom floor or a Maverick or something like that. And, you know, run a two mile stretches as we kind of put with the boat to, to look for the animals. And a lot of times it sees. Yeah, the drone sees the animals before we do so it’s become really helpful.

Or even a lot of times too, we’ll use it as a, as a marker. Um, so like, if we’re like, there was a shoot we did with a tiger sharks and, you know, it’s just, it’s so easy to get someone to throw up a drone and stick it right over the sharks. So you know exactly where it is in relation to where you are and if there’s multiple or yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:11:40] Yeah. I mean, that must have made the job so much easier, I guess, by being able to see from above what’s happening and know, Oh, they’re going in that direction or they’re about to split up or all that sort of stuff.

Jeff Hester: [00:11:51] Yeah. Yeah, yeah, definitely. Um, yeah, I mean, there was a shoot we did last year that. We could not find, we were looking for cownose rays and pause, and they’re like these big aggregations of them. And we were completely useless on the boat. I mean, there’s, there’s so much glare. And even if they’re just, you know, five feet under the surface, we had to be, you know, 10 feet away from them to find them.

So you’re finding a needle in a haystack basically, and then you throw the drone up and you’re like, Oh, they’re right there. They’re a hundred yards off, you know, are, are poor quarter or whatever.

Brett Stanley: [00:12:24] Oh, absolutely. I was in Lopez last year and we went and, you know, swimming with the whale sharks,

Jeff Hester: [00:12:30] Nice.

Brett Stanley: [00:12:31] they were in the Harbor there and the water was so murky that they were right next to us. Like, you know, like six inches under the water and I couldn’t even see them. was, it was just the fact that our spotter who’s standing up on the, you know, on the bow of the ship of the little boat who could like, he had enough angle to see, Oh, there it is.

You know, but for us sitting in the boat, it was like, there wasn’t, it was like, they

Jeff Hester: [00:12:52] What are you talking about? Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:12:54] it was, it was incredible. Um, Um, but in saying that you must have to work in some pretty horrible kind of clarity, like the environments you work in. Um, I guess you, you don’t really have a choice.

If the animals there, you’ve got to jump in and. And get the footage, right?

Jeff Hester: [00:13:09] Yeah, yeah, pretty much. Um, I think one of the benefits, so most of the work that I do now is like blue chip wildlife. We’ll they out like the, yeah. Anything with a planet in the title, basically, you know, blue planet, planet earth, our planet, those types of things. And.

Brett Stanley: [00:13:24] blue chip is that, cause I’ve heard that term before and I just really haven’t understood what that meant.

Jeff Hester: [00:13:28] Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So, yeah, that’s, that’s the, what they call it. Yeah. Blue chip wildlife, um, or blue chip natural history.

Brett Stanley: [00:13:35] big budget stuff.

Jeff Hester: [00:13:37] Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And so we often have the luggage, where were you? Where were we? Do you have the budget? Um, that if the visibility isn’t great, like we still get in and we’ll still try to shoot, but, um, we typically have a good amount of time to spend there so that, you know, if the visibility isn’t good this week, that hopefully next week, it’s going to clear up and we’re going to get the shots that will make the show.

Um, but yeah, definitely we do. We do dive in some pretty. Awful conditions. And you just hope that you’re going to get better conditions for what’s actually going to make it on TV.

Brett Stanley: [00:14:05] Yeah. And what about weather-wise? I mean, are you, you know, you’re at the mercy of the weather, how that must affect you quite a lot as well.

Jeff Hester: [00:14:12] Yeah. Yeah. It’s definitely a, I think one of my, one of my mentors, who’s a producer over in the UK, uh, was kind of saying that. Uh, I think he breaks it down into like thirds, like a third of the time when you’re on the ocean, you’re not going to be able to work, uh, because of weather, uh, like a third of the time, you will be able to work because the weather, but the animals won’t be there.

And then a third of the time you’ll have the weather and the animals, uh, scannable as a, as a rough estimate.

Brett Stanley: [00:14:37] Right. Yeah. It’s like that Venn diagram. You’ve got the three circles. Yeah. You’re gonna, you can have good weather and animals or, and no access or, yeah. So I guess you’re kind of fighting against that all the time, trying to get that perfect condition.

Jeff Hester: [00:14:51] Yeah. Yeah, yeah, exactly.

Brett Stanley: [00:14:53] So speaking of that sort of stuff, and, you know, we all love the horror stories. What is the, what are the worst conditions? Like? What are the worst kind of places you’ve had to go.

Jeff Hester: [00:15:02] Oh man. The worst places.

Brett Stanley: [00:15:05] you’ve probably like you probably deep down in the memory banks now you probably hidden them.

Jeff Hester: [00:15:10] Yeah, exactly. He repressed all of those memories shoved them way down. Uh, let’s see.

Brett Stanley: [00:15:15] Do you have jobs that, that, that you just, he couldn’t get the shot or, you know, you, the shot was so close, but then something happened to, to kind of stop that shot happening.

Jeff Hester: [00:15:24] Yeah. Um, a little bit, usually we are able to pivot. Um, so let’s see. That’s the other thing. You know, a lot of these programs is since we do have the time and if we get there and things, aren’t exactly like what we thought they were going to be. Um, we can pivot and tell a little bit of a different story or, uh, you know, we’ll capture other things so that if, if the thing that we’re trying to get doesn’t work out because of, you know, conditions or the animals not showing up or whatever, that, uh, we can still deliver something.

Um, Yeah. So I’ve been, have been fortunate that I haven’t had to many strikeouts. Um, I think we’ve always been able to deliver. Um, but yeah, we’ve definitely had some, definitely had some tough, tough shoots. Um, we had one last fall. It was a five week shoot and it was just, you know, that’s the other thing with.

With the ocean and the times right now is, is every year so different. You know, what you used to be able to count on from historical data. Um, you just really, can’t be more, uh, you know, year to year. It’s like the ocean might be 10 degrees warmer next year, and the animal’s not going to be there. Or, you know, uh, you know, the kelp is not going to be there because it died off because the ocean is warmer.

Um, Um,

Brett Stanley: [00:16:35] So like migratory patterns are changing and they’re not as reliable as they used to be. Or as you say, like the temperature of the water goes up a couple of degrees in that kelp forest disappears.

Jeff Hester: [00:16:44] Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Our California got hit pretty hard. We had a big El Nino in 2014. I think it was. Um, and it’s kinda, it was just getting back to being recovered. Um, but yeah, there was a good stretch in there where it was, it was tough to find a healthy kelp forest.

Brett Stanley: [00:16:58] Which is such a shame because the kelp forest is, is such an amazing place to be underwater. Uh, you know, I come from Australia and I, it’s not something that I’ve ever seen before and then diving out of Southern California here and having someone take me into this, uh, this underwater forest of kelp was incredible.

Jeff Hester: [00:17:15] Oh, yeah. It’s honestly, it’s like my favorite ecosystem to dive in. That’s. I mean, that’s another great benefit of San Diego is, is our, our kelp forests are, are. Pretty amazing like San Clemente Island. That’s about 60 ish miles off shore of San Diego. That’s you can get a hundred foot visibility in the kelp forest on the Southern end of the Island.

It’s just incredible.

Brett Stanley: [00:17:36] yeah, I mean, those kelp forests are just incredible and I think. One of the things that I love at the moment are the Apple screen savers, the Apple TV screen savers, and where they’ve got those really slow underwater, amazing, footage of, you know, the kelp forest.

And they’ve got like seals and, um, and dolphins and stuff. You worked on some of that, right?

Jeff Hester: [00:17:54] Yeah. Yeah. And it was, yeah, it was a really incredible project to work on. Um, it was really different to then, you know, my normal type of like sequence work, um, in that, you know, our, our deliverable, when we were on locations, you, you basically have to shoot like, You’re just trying to get one shot. Perfect.

Basically, um, you know, a lot of the sequence work, like I was saying before, you know, if you get there and it’s not like what you think it will be, you can pivot and, or, you know, you can get away with a couple, two second cutaways that might not be the best, but you can kind of hide them in the story. Um, but you know, everything on these, on these screensavers just had to be, yeah, it had to had to be perfect.

Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:18:32] well, cause the, I mean, the they’ve got such an aesthetic between the above aboveboard ones and the aerial ones and the space ones that is just one single shot that basically keeps pushing forward. Uh, very, very steadily. So I guess you’ve got to get this amount of footage and be state, you know, kind of have composed this perfectly that you can just push forward and just have the story keep being told.

Jeff Hester: [00:18:56] Yeah. Yeah, yeah, definitely. So that was, you know, going into it. I thought it would be something so, so simple, you know, you’re, you’re just trying to get one shot. It makes it sound so easy. Um, but yeah, in reality, you know, the shots are trying to run between. Two two minutes at a minimum. Uh, but really the closer we could get to 10 minutes the better.

Um, and so, yeah, you’re, you’re trying to, you know, you’re fighting surge or you’re fighting all, all types of things that you just basically ended up doing the same thing over and over and over and over again. Uh,

Brett Stanley: [00:19:27] you got the ability to move the camera at all, or do you have to basically keep the line, you were, you were on.

Jeff Hester: [00:19:31] Uh, mostly the line you’re on. Um, there were opportunities for small corrections, um, but the idea was to really not feel the hand of the camera.

Brett Stanley: [00:19:42] Yeah. So, so if you’re filming something to save, you’re chasing some, some dolphins or something and they decide to start, you know, jump out of frame and start doing some awesome stuff at T to the left of frame. You’re kind of dying inside, right?

Jeff Hester: [00:19:55] Yes. Yeah. Very much. So. Yeah. So shot becomes pretty much useless. And then, uh, we’ll try to reframe or try to get him back on track.

Brett Stanley: [00:20:05] Yeah. So do you know, um, um, which ones are those screensavers? You, you did. I know you did the dolphins.

Jeff Hester: [00:20:12] Yeah. So I worked on the LaPaz account. I was raised, um, the jellies in Alaska that are the, uh, uh, moon jellies. And then the, the, uh, the dolphins, they’re the common dolphins.

Brett Stanley: [00:20:25] Right. It’s just incredible. What were you shooting those on? They seem, it just seems so crystal clear and so, so much definition in those shots.

Jeff Hester: [00:20:33] Yeah. So it was a, those were pretty much all shot on either the red dragon or the helium.

Brett Stanley: [00:20:39] Oh, okay. Yeah. So it’s a good dynamic range. And, and, and what sort of frame rate were you on?

Jeff Hester: [00:20:44] Uh, Uh, so when we were on the helium that we use that a lot less because we were limited, but you know, you didn’t want to crop in too much, um, on the sensor cause you start to get an image degradation, all of that. Um, so the max we were going on on those was about 75 frames. Um, so we use the Epic dragon mostly, and that was anywhere between like 95 frame to 110 or so.

Brett Stanley: [00:21:06] Oh, right. That’s beautiful.

Jeff Hester: [00:21:07] Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:21:08] Um, and were you powered at all through those, some of those shots or was it, was it just, you. Uh, just fitting yourself through the shop,

Jeff Hester: [00:21:14] Yeah. So either be finning or, uh, like a pole cam, like, uh, attached to a boat.

Brett Stanley: [00:21:19] right? Yeah. Cause with the dolphins and stuff, I’m assuming you’re not really keeping up with those guys.

Jeff Hester: [00:21:23] No, I’ve tried. I’ve tried my best before. It’s embarrassing.

Brett Stanley: [00:21:27] yeah, that’s right. Yeah. They take pity on you. So, um, um, you’ve done, you’ve done stuff for really top notch, uh, productions, like the, you know, our planet, the blue planet, um, and the Apple screen savers, but you’ve done work on more narrative things like deadliest catch as well. Right.

Jeff Hester: [00:21:44] Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:21:45] So what was it like when you were working on a show like deadliest catch, where you’ve got less time to get things done.

Jeff Hester: [00:21:51] so it was interesting. So I was, I was a field producer and a shooter on it.  Um, so I was on the boat, the saga with Jake Anderson. Um, and I was the guy that runs around on the deck, um, filming all the, uh, the deck hands as they’re fishing. Um, And, you know, it’s interesting. Cause we were out there for, I think about 10 weeks total, you know, like coming, coming back into port to, to deliver, um, to deliver the crab and then going back out.

Um, but. I, I found that it was, I felt like we had a ton of time. I felt like they, they call it a, um, you know, when we first got there, they went through the whole, you know, style of how the show goes and how they want you to, to, to run it and how they want you to produce. Everything on the boat. And, um, they, they call it shooting the seagulls where you basically are like, I don’t know what to do, but I have time.

So I’m going to start filming seagulls and they’re like, don’t do that. We have enough Segal footage, you know, we don’t need a hundred hours of it.

Brett Stanley: [00:22:46] Exactly. I mean, that’s the thing with a show like that. I mean, it’s only in the editing, right? Cause it seems like a tactic. It seems like something’s happening all the time. But I guess if you’ve got 10 weeks of footage, it’s, there’s probably a lot of downtime.

Jeff Hester: [00:22:59] Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:23:00] seagulls.

Jeff Hester: [00:23:01] Yeah. Yeah. Well, and that’s the, that’s the interesting thing. And that’s what I really learned from working on that show was, um, you know, more of the story aspect of it because it, you know exactly what you said. It’s not scripted. You don’t necessarily have the time. When something happens, you have a ton of time outside of when something happens.

Um, but you know, a lot of it was kind of seeing, okay, where where’s the story beat and, you know, locking in on it so that you make sure that you cover, you know, a beginning, a middle and an end so that you can tell, you know, a little sequence within the show.

Brett Stanley: [00:23:35] I mean, that’s, that’s sort of thing that that’s really important for the stuff that you do, right. Especially because I guess once you’re out filming, especially the wildlife stuff, you’re underwater, you’re pretty much, you’ve got to make the calls, I guess. On on what you film and how it fits the story is the story.

Say something like the blue planet or something like that. Are you, are you given kind of a narrative to kind of chase or is the narrative created from your footage?

Jeff Hester: [00:24:00] Uh, Uh, yeah, we’re, we’re definitely given a storyboard at the beginning. Um, you know, so for we just did. This shoot, uh, on a giant black sea bass, uh, which is this really big fish that, um, was almost fished to the point of extinction. Um, but it was all all done at Catalina Island.

And so we basically went into the shoe knowing that, okay, we want to capture these behaviors. And, you know, we’re telling this story that this fish is coming. Kind of back from, uh, back from the dead almost, you know, starting to recover. And, um, a lot of that is, uh, you know, sort of show about courtship and meeting.

Um, and so, you know, we kind of go into it and, and know the general idea of where we want to go. Um, and a lot of that too comes from scientists. Uh, we work with a lot of collaborators who, you know, through their research, we’re able to chat with them and. They can kind of tell us a bit of, um, you know, the behavior or, um, you know, go to the recovery aspect.

So yeah, we’re trying, we’re trying to follow those storylines and then, uh, uh, yeah, but you know, once you get there and yeah, you kind of see for yourself, it’s very different. When the, when a scientist says something does something and then when you get there and experience it for yourself. Um, and so then we kind of run with it from there.

If it can take off in a different angle or, um, you know, the initial storyline was, was great. Then we just keep going with that.

Brett Stanley: [00:25:20] And are you like, so when you’re down there, I’m assuming there’s a team of you and very, very often you’re down there by yourself. Are you on comms? Like, are you discussing with the surface or are you, have you got a producer or are you the producer making the calls on? Oh, maybe we should pivot this direction.

Jeff Hester: [00:25:36] Yeah, depends on the shoe. Um, so most of the time there’s just two of us down there. So, um, I’ll have, you know, myself on camera and then have a safety diver and assistant who’s with me. Um, and you know, sometimes we’re on comms with each other, especially if it’s a, if it’s a really technical thing that we’re trying to accomplish, um, or if it’s, you know, setting up gear, then it’s just a lot easier to, to chat with each other, then try to try and do the sign language.

Um, and then, you know, sometimes we’ll have someone up top on the boat that, uh, we have comms with, but most of the time that’s not really for the, the, the story or the narrative. Um, it’s, it’s mostly for, uh, for safety pretty much.

Brett Stanley: [00:26:15] right. Yeah. Just to check in and make sure everything’s still okay. On the surface and that you guys are doing okay down there.

Jeff Hester: [00:26:21] Exactly.

Brett Stanley: [00:26:22] Yeah. so you’re, you’re dealing with, um, you know, information from scientists and from Marine biologists. I do have times where they’re like a week, there’s this, there’s this animal and we think it does this.

We’ve seen it like a couple of times, but we’re not sure if it’s a real thing that it does. And then you go out and film it and you’re like, Oh my God, it totally is a thing that it does. Like, are you confirming things out there?

Jeff Hester: [00:26:45] Yeah. Yeah, yeah, definitely. And I think, yeah, not only that, but we are also getting to experience things that, that. Scientists aren’t necessarily aware of. Um, and so it almost is a bit of a two way street, um, where, uh, like we just did this shoot Hawaii on humpbacks and February, March, right. For cope with it.

Uh, or, yeah, how you, how you put that. Um, but we found that new behaviors that, that scientists studying there had never seen before. Um, Because we have the opportunity to spend a lot of time with the, with the animals. Um, you know, and, and a lot of times scientists are, are restricted by budgets or by, um, you know, things that the university or the institution they’re working with, you know, might not allow them to do.

Like, they might not allow them to dive at night. And so you misbehaviors at night or, um, might allow them to dive on rebreathers. And so they can’t get the intimate interactions that we can.

Brett Stanley: [00:27:41] Yeah, so, so you’re basically, they’re giving you the information to go and find these things, and then you’re giving them back some, some amazing footage so they can confirm their, their kind of hypothesis. That’s incredible. And it’s such a beautiful kind of, as you say, two way street, and then the people at home like myself who just get to enjoy these things.

Um, just take it all for granted.

Jeff Hester: [00:28:00] Yeah.

I was gonna say too on that note, if it’s, if it’s okay to roll with it. I don’t think I completely answered your question earlier about the jump from Marine science to camera work and I, this might be a good. Decent segue into that because that, cause I originally got into camera work, um, because, uh, I want it to be able to communicate the science that I was doing or that other researchers were doing with the, with the general public.

Um, cause I feel like there’s a lot of breakdown right there where, uh, I, I don’t think scientists are often too well versed at. Uh, communicating what their research is, and they can have the most groundbreaking research in the world, but if you can’t communicate it to the public, then it’s kind of, you know, it’s lost.

Brett Stanley: [00:28:39] Yeah. And so, so you found by filming this stuff, think by getting decent footage of it, that was communicating it to the public a bit better.

Jeff Hester: [00:28:46] Yeah. Yeah, exactly. You’re creating these little videos or, or, you know, now with the, the blue chip wildlife stuff, um, you know, hits a bigger audience and, and we are able to tell a little scientific bits in it.

Brett Stanley: [00:28:58] Yeah, I see. I see what you mean. So, so you’re saying that you can, then you can package this, this footage into something that the general public is going to sort of take more notice of and create more of an awareness around, around these things.

Jeff Hester: [00:29:10] Yeah. Yeah, yeah, exactly. And kind of impacted it in a way that’s a bit more digestible than maybe a scientific paper is.

Brett Stanley: [00:29:19] Yeah, and I think that’s, that’s the beauty of a lot of these shows and, and I’m seeing more and more of them coming out. Cause Netflix is doing shows. Um, and I, and I think they’re, they’re, they’re creating an awareness of these issues whilst packaging them up into some nice and fluffy little. You know, kind of, um, beautiful documentary, but it’s also some, some kind of horrifying changes are happening out there in our oceans.

Jeff Hester: [00:29:44] Yeah. Yeah, definitely. And I think we’re starting to pivot more as an industry into, into recognizing those and to, um, communicating those. So I think a lot, you know, prior was just, you know, documenting the most beautiful, most incredible aspects of, of the ocean. Um, when, when in reality there are a lot of issues that, that we’re facing.

And so it almost feels like a responsibility to tell those stories, you know, to tell about. Or to tell, to tell people about, um, you know, the plastic pollution or the overfishing or, uh, ocean acidification. Um, you know, I think, I think there is hope and the stories can often feel a bit hopeless, but, uh, you know, I think they’re also very important to tell, because if you don’t know what you’re doing wrong, there’s no opportunity to change.

Brett Stanley: [00:30:28] Oh, absolutely. Yeah. And I mean, you guys are out there and I just say you’ve got the budget to spend time in these areas. And if that’s an area that you’ve gone to, you know, every year for the last three years, and you’ve noticed a change in that one area over those three years, that you can really rebuttal report back and.

And kind of give data on those kind of areas.

Jeff Hester: [00:30:47] Yeah. Yeah, definitely. And that’s, that’s another, uh, interesting aspect and it’s a, it’s a. Term called shifting baselines where we see the world now, or, or, you know, for me, you know, I see the ocean now. And if I didn’t have any, uh, any input or, you know, going back to it the same, same place year after year, I might think that this is normal.

Um, and you know, I, that’s where I think it’s really important to these, with what we’re documenting, um, that, you know, years down the road, we’re going to be able to look back on it and say, Uh, you know, this, this wasn’t normal. Look what it used to be. Um, or, or that’s where I really enjoy it. I’ve got some, some older mentors.

Um, there’s one guy is a cameraman underwater cameraman in San Diego here. Who’s 70 and he’s been diving in, I mean, he’s dive, dove all over the world for the past, you know, 45, 50 years. And he can tell stories about what used to be here, what used to even just be off of San Diego. Um, and for me, I would never have any idea that.

That those things were there without his, his input and knowledge.

Brett Stanley: [00:31:49] no, exactly. I think it’s that collective memory that, that is going to help us identify these problems because without, you know, without some, some footage of it, or even just looking at old photos of places, you don’t get an idea of how much has changed because of it. In a lot of cases that happens so slowly that you, you don’t really notice, but it’s not until you see a snapshot from three years ago that you go, wow, that’s, that’s a radically different. Um, in, in that kind of vein, are you spending a lot of time on each project? Like have you got projects where you’re filming certain animals or certain behaviors for a production over years or are they shorter sort of timeframes.

Jeff Hester: [00:32:28] Uh, yeah, it’s kind of, it depends on the production. Um, there’s um, most, most of the larger productions we take about three to four years the film. Um, and so yeah, some of them will go back. Uh, you know, two, three times to, to, to them in the, in the spot or to get the different behavior, um, or sometimes it might have just a year long production where, uh, you know, you gotta, you gotta get the seasonality right.

Of the, of the animal and the behavior, and then go and make sure you nail it.

Brett Stanley: [00:32:52] Yeah, and those are not to kind of, you know, uh, pull back the curtain on the, on the Hollywood magic too much. But if we’re watching a sequence of a, of an animal and the behavior in something like blue planet, is it possible that that, that footage used for that interaction is, is from different different years.

Jeff Hester: [00:33:08] Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Potentially.

Brett Stanley: [00:33:10] Wow. So that’s, that’s great. So you can, if you’re missing something from the story, you can go back and kind of do a pickup of it.

Jeff Hester: [00:33:16] Yep. Yeah. A hundred percent.

Brett Stanley: [00:33:18] Wow. So do you get every time you’re going back, are you given it like a shopping list of the shots that thereafter? We kind of need these pickups for the previous thing, but if you happen to get some new stuff, then that’s a bonus.

Jeff Hester: [00:33:29] Yeah. Yeah, exactly. That’s, that’s pretty much, uh, pretty much how it works. A lot of times they’ll, uh, within. Yeah, six to nine months of coming back from a shoot. They’ll do a pre edit, um, and see kind of where the sequence is at and the, and the holes that we’re missing. Uh, and then, yeah, the next year we can, we can go back and, and fill those holes and elevate also the, the different spots that might be a little bit weaker.

Brett Stanley: [00:33:51] Right? How is that for you as, as a, as a creative though? Like, so having these projects that, that might not come out for three to four years after you’ve filmed it,

Jeff Hester: [00:34:00] Yeah, it’s, uh, uh, it’s tough at times. I think, especially for me, I’m pretty, so I started in 2014, so I’m fairly new to the industry. Um, and especially being a, uh, a younger camera man, when, you know, I’m trying to prove. Prove myself basically. And I can’t show anything for four years of what my work is. Uh, you know, it was like, like, like I mentioned to you, I’m pretty much unsearchable on the internet, but a lot of the times it’s cause a lot of the stuff is it’s under, under NDA or under wraps.

Uh, but yeah, starting, I think starting next year, a lot more of the stuff will start rolling out and so I’ll be able to share a bit more, but um, Yeah. These, these first few years starting out, it’s it’s been, uh, I would say it’s rough, but yeah, it’s just, it makes it a little bit tougher to get clients that don’t know you.

but that’s all been fine.

Brett Stanley: [00:34:52] So, what do you do? How do you get around that? Do you end up, do you, are you able to do like a bit of a sizzle reel of your own, own work to send them? Or how do you get work out? Do you get started in an industry that, that you don’t have things to show for?

Jeff Hester: [00:35:08] Yeah. So it’s such a, I mean, I think. I don’t really know much outside of the wildlife industry, but I imagine it’s probably fairly similar in that most of these industries are, are pretty small. Uh, and so once, once you kind of get one good job and you did well, then it’s word of mouth basically from there.

Um, so that’s, that’s pretty much every job that I get now. Uh, every contract I get now is. It’s all word of mouth or someone that I’ve worked with previously that, um, thought I did well and wants to hire me again.

Brett Stanley: [00:35:40] So, so who does hire you? What is the kind of hiring chain are you getting? I’m assuming you’re not getting hired by Netflix itself. Like you’re probably getting hired by a producer.

Jeff Hester: [00:35:50] Yeah. So typically yeah, typically hired by a producer. Um, so for like Netflix, their wildlife arm right now is a, it’s called wild space productions. And that’s a company in the UK that was some former, um, BBC executives started that. And, uh, yeah, so they’ve got a few shows they’re working on. And so then I would get hired by.

A wild space. Um, or yeah, BBC, it’s usually pretty direct because they’re their own, uh, their own channel as well. but yeah, mostly it’s through this like kind of a second tier production company that are not second tail, so that’s not the proper term, but, um, it’s a contracted production company.

Brett Stanley: [00:36:29] Right. Yeah. Like a third party or something.

Jeff Hester: [00:36:33] Yeah, exactly.

Brett Stanley: [00:36:34] Yeah. And so what was your path into it? Cause you, did you end up having to like assist to start with, or were you safety to start with that? Or did you come in straight away as a, as a camera operator?

Jeff Hester: [00:36:47] Yeah, so. Kind of, yeah. Going back to my, my journey, I guess. So I was working at Noah and, and realize that I don’t really want to spend ton of my time in the lab and inside I’d rather be outdoors. Uh, you know, there’s kind of this misconception that when. You become a Marine scientist. You’re going to spend all of your time out on boats and playing with ocean animals.

That’s not cool, not quite accurate. Um, and so I kind of started like looking for different opportunities and was actually I had this fellowship. Um, that’s also a mouthful. It’s it’s from an organization called the R world underwater scholarship society. And it’s in partnership with Rolex and it’s the, uh, it’s the longest running partnership that Rolex has with, uh, with an organization?

Um, I think you’ve actually Pete Romano you’ve had on here before he was involved with organization, like back in the seventies or something. And so.

Brett Stanley: [00:37:34] okay. Yeah.

Jeff Hester: [00:37:35] uh, yeah, I actually got to go on, on set with him, um, during, during the year. And he kind of like showed me around the tank and they’re working on captain America too at that point.

And so it was cool to see that side of the industry. Um, but yeah, so through that scholarship or the fellowship, um, you basically spend a year. Uh, it’s pretty tailored to what you want to do. And, and what I wanted to do was, um, you know, underwater, filmmaking or photography. Uh, and so I spent a lot of time traveling around and learning from different people.

They also sponsor you with camera equipment. And so I was able to, to document a bunch of the things that I was doing, I was getting to go places that, um, you know, most people might not get to go visit at all. Seven continents that year and, um, got to go to Antarctica with national geographic. And, um, so it was all, it was all pretty exciting.

Brett Stanley: [00:38:20] Yeah, pretty, pretty incredible.

Jeff Hester: [00:38:22] Yeah. Yeah. So I came out of that year and it was kind of like, yeah, I want to, I want to pursue this full time. Um, you know, let’s see if I can make this happen. And right after that, I, um, we’re working on a show called the hunt, which you’d find on Netflix right now. Um, But the first, yeah, my first roles were as a, an assistant cameraman and a safety diver.

Um, and so that’s been, you know, a few years, uh, assisting CA uh, you know, different camera, people that were already in the industry and, and just learning a ton and learning as much as I could from them. Um, and then slowly started rolling into shooting myself.

Brett Stanley: [00:38:58] Oh, nice. So you kind of started in, so you went into the narrative world and then, and then sort of came back out into the wildlife world.

Jeff Hester: [00:39:05] Yeah. Yeah, exactly.

Brett Stanley: [00:39:06] that’s great. That’s a good, that’s a good pivot. It’s a good way to get the experience. And then, and then come back to the thing that you. Particularly wanted to do.

Jeff Hester: [00:39:14] Yeah, yeah, yeah, no, it was, it was really great. And I think too, like, I really enjoyed the things that, uh, you know, the crossover that there is, or, you know, you learn things in a different type of industry that you can then bring to, to your craft and, and wildlife and, um, you know, especially enjoy those types of things.

Brett Stanley: [00:39:32] So that’s really interesting. So when you’re doing stuff on set, or if you’re in, um, you know, sort of more produced stuff, uh, with lighting and all that sort of stuff, are you taking lighting setups when you’re going and shooting wildlife stuff?

Or is it mostly natural light?

Jeff Hester: [00:39:46] Uh, yeah, majority of it actually is natural light, but there are w we do take, um, you know, lighting setups with us, uh, when the subject calls for it, uh, you know, anything that’s. That’s small enough that you can, you know, you can kind of control the light and, you know, if it’s, if it’s a large animal, then it’s just, it gets way too difficult.

Um, but you know, any, any type of benthic work, um, you know, stuff that we’re, we’re on the sea floor and, you know, it might be shooting a little new to Branks or, um, other little fish, um, then yeah, we’ll, we’ll create these different lighting setups for it.

Brett Stanley: [00:40:18] What do those setups  look like? Are they, are they all on the housing? Like you would with a normal scuba setup or are you setting up lights on, stands around the area?

Jeff Hester: [00:40:26] Uh, Uh, yes, pretty much just, uh, on stands. Um, Around the area and sending up the lighting based on that. Um, a lot of the, we pretty much never shoot, uh, with lights on the camera. Um, just cause it typically washes out the subject. It makes it look, it just gives it a, I don’t know what the look is, what the right term is, but

Brett Stanley: [00:40:47] looks a little fake. It, it, it,

Jeff Hester: [00:40:49] exactly

Brett Stanley: [00:40:49] it’s the wrong angle. It’s such a, it’s so close to the

Jeff Hester: [00:40:52] so harsh and.

Brett Stanley: [00:40:53] Yeah. There’s no shadowing.

Jeff Hester: [00:40:55] Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So, so most of the time we’re either trying to recreate the sun where we might go overhead or come in with some, some side lighting. Um, occasionally we’ll, we’ll do some, some, uh, you know, backlighting for him, you know, more creative look on it cause it’s pretty unnatural. But, uh, yeah,

Brett Stanley: [00:41:14] no, that’s great. And do you enjoy that creative side of it?

Jeff Hester: [00:41:17] I really do. Yeah. It’s it’s uh, So there’s just, it opens up so many possibilities. Um, and you know, when you really nail the lighting, it’s really rewarding. Um, I would say I enjoyed the amount of extra effort it takes. Cause usually we haven’t, you know, a ton of gear when, when you bring lighting setups with it.

And so we’ll often have. There’ll be hours and hours of, of trying to set everything up where, um, we have these lift bags that are, they’re basically, uh, you know, inflatable things that can we carry the equipment around with. And, you know, sometimes when we have a lighting set up, we’re going to have, you know, six different lift bags that we have to take the, the lighting equipment, the stands, you know, everything out.

Um, it just makes, just makes the whole setup take a lot longer, but it is really rewarding in the end to see the final product.

Brett Stanley: [00:42:04] Yeah. Especially if you’ve, if you’ve set up all that lighting and then the animals moved.

Jeff Hester: [00:42:08] Yeah, exactly. That’s yeah, that’s never good.

Brett Stanley: [00:42:12] No. So recently we had a KC Sapp, uh, on here as well, who, who runs a company that does, you know, underwater VR and three 60 work. Um, he mentioned that you’ve, you’ve worked with him. On some of the productions,

Jeff Hester: [00:42:25] So, yeah, I’ve worked with Casey on, on a few productions. Now, one of the ones we worked on was a production called swimming with humpbacks that we went out to Tonga with. And so, yeah, Casey makes these, these bespoke camera systems. And so the one we took out there was this three D three 60 rig.

Um, and that was honestly, probably one of the most challenging shoots of my career. Uh, because you have these math, you know, It’s it’s a massive rig. Um, because it’s, I think it had 13, um, black magic cameras inside of it in order to capture the resolution and the three D aspect of it, uh, in an, in Tonga, they don’t allow you to be on scuba of any sort.

So you have to, you have to free dive everything. And so, you know, it was basically, it was so tiring. You’re just kind of driving around, finding humpbacks, trying to get in the right position. And then I would drop in the water camera would be dropped in after me. And I have to like swim as fast as I possibly could and then hold my breath for as long as I could, you know, let’s try and to get the shot.

It was, it was definitely challenging.

Brett Stanley: [00:43:29] H how, how aerodynamic is, is that housing?

Jeff Hester: [00:43:32] uh, it’s, it’s good. But. The issue. So it’s on this, uh, uh, you know, it’s exciting about six, seven feet out in front of you. Um, and so you almost have this pivot point with the control housing that you have to, you have to really think through what you’re going to do before you do it. Because if I move that house, you know, even just an inch up the, the end of it, where the cameras are going to swing down and all of a sudden that all of that water is going to be pushing on the top of the housing, and it’s going to want to dive as fast as it possibly can.

Brett Stanley: [00:44:01] wow. Okay.

Jeff Hester: [00:44:02] so you just have to really think through exactly what you want to do before you do it, which is tough when you have a wild animal that is not going to perform for you.

Brett Stanley: [00:44:12] Yeah. And it’s like driving a Mack truck in reverse through the water

Jeff Hester: [00:44:15] Yeah, yeah. Pretty much.

Brett Stanley: [00:44:17] Jack knife yourself.

Jeff Hester: [00:44:18] Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:44:19] It’s been crazy. I mean, I spoke to him about, um, about those cameras, about those housings, but what was it like to operate the cameras themselves? Like, it sounds interesting. Pushing the camera through, but what sort of controls do you have over the camera? Is it just like start and stop?

Jeff Hester: [00:44:35] Oh, yes, you have most of the controls. Um, you know, a lot of times we would set a white balance and they’re all, they’re all, um, instinct. So when you change the settings on one, it changes all of them. Um, so you have, you know, white balance control, uh, ISO, uh, aperture was all set on the lenses, so we didn’t have control over that.

We had shutter control. Um, and so, yeah, and then, then the record, of course, Um, but yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s, it was cool challenge. It is an interesting challenge with these three 60 rigs because, you know, prior. I would set up my shot for where I wanted lighting and three 60, you don’t have that. It’s everywhere.

Exactly. So, you know, so I think some of the first shots that I took, I did really didn’t take that into account and, um, you know, cause on the, on the control panel, you see one of the cameras to see you don’t get to see what all of them are saying. You can, you can scroll through and see what they’re all saying.

But, um, you typically just have one, which is the one pointing straight out ahead. Uh, because that was kind of the focus point. Um, but yeah, a few of the shots I exposed for the front camera, the sun was behind me. And then, you know, when you looked at the, at the, you know, the rushes at the end of the day, those cameras that were behind were just completely blown out.

Cause it was all sun. And so, yeah. So you almost have to either make adjustments, um, to some of those cameras. Uh, you know, prior where they might be stopped down a little bit more than the other cameras, um, or you just have to, you know, you’re probably gonna underexpose, you know, what’s, what’s on the other side of that.

Brett Stanley: [00:46:01] right. So you kind of got to average it out, going to hedge your bets and hope that it all works.

Jeff Hester: [00:46:05] Yeah, exactly.

Brett Stanley: [00:46:07] Was it interesting knowing that you’re in, in, in camera as well, like that the you’re being filmed at the same time?

Jeff Hester: [00:46:13] Yeah, that was so the narrative changed a little bit for, so for that, um, shoot in particular, they ended up having me as this like Marine scientist character that was going out to try to find pump backs and learn more about them. Uh, and. Yeah. Initially the storyline wasn’t quite like that. So I didn’t think I was going to be on, on camera at all.

Um, uh, because the, uh, the final, um, the final way that they were, that they’re played is in this seat. So you can go to these, these different VR centers around the world. Uh, and you sit in this chair basically that has, um, I think they’re called positron chairs where they, you know, they move around in, um, In reaction to what the camera’s doing.

And so they’re, they’re pretty much just like one 80. Uh, so you’re, you’re mostly only seeing what’s forward, cause you’re not really looking behind you. Um, but then for this story, yeah. They ended up using that one 80 is like the back half that was looking at me for some of the aspects, um, which was kinda, it was kinda funny, but it didn’t look like too much of a goober most of the time.

Brett Stanley: [00:47:06] I was going to say, cause if you didn’t know ahead of time, you might’ve been, you know, I wish I didn’t pull my pull that face the whole time, or, I had   boogers hanging out of my mask the whole time, you know?

Jeff Hester: [00:47:16] Exactly. You’re just snot everywhere.

Brett Stanley: [00:47:18] Yeah. Um, Um, what have you got coming up? Have you got, um, um, I mean, you’ve just come back from projects.

Um, have you got stuff coming up? That’s that’s booked in that you can talk about.

Jeff Hester: [00:47:28] Yeah. So I, I mean, it’s, it’s an amazing time to be in the industry. I mean, there’s so many. And for me, I think it was all serendipitous, you know, I think regardless of whether it was. A great time to be in or not. Um, you know, I think I would be doing this, uh, just because I love doing it. Um, but yeah, I mean, with all the streaming platforms, yeah.

They all want, they all want content. Um, and so it’s kind of this, this mad grab right now to, to get as many and as many things commissioned and as many programs out as they can. Um, so I think currently I have like, Seven different active projects. Um, three of which I am a director of photography on. Um, but yeah, I think let’s see which ones can I talk about?

Um, uh, I mean, it’s also been really interesting this shift with, with COVID in the, in the business model, even, um, you know, previously I might’ve been. Hired or, I mean, I still am hired as a, as a, an independent contractor, uh, this shift with COVID. I can now, um, get hired and contracted as a business to where, um, you know, a company hires me to take on a sequence basically, and I give them a budget and then.

Go from there. Um, but, but the, the really nice thing about that is that I can kind of do it on my own schedule. Um, you know, as long as there’s no seasonality to the animal or the behavior. Um, so I’ve got, I’ve got like three or four projects like that, right through, uh, the end of this year. And so kind of just chipping away at those.

Brett Stanley: [00:48:53] I mean, it must be such an interesting time right now because we’ve got so many people at home wanting to watch content, but at the same time, it’s really hard for productions to get up and running because there’s no crew and there’s, you know, infection involved and all that sort of stuff. It feels like wildlife because it’s such a small crew would be really like a kind of a short bit right now.

Jeff Hester: [00:49:14] Yeah. Yeah, yeah, definitely. And I mean, we still have had, I had, you know, a few shoots that have gone down because of COVID related things. Um, but that’s where to taking on this. This role as a contracted company. That means that now I assume a lot of that risk, um, which honestly I’m a bit more comfortable doing because I’m here on the ground, uh, you know, with the team, uh, you know, I can see why a company in the UK isn’t going to want to, you know, send a team out when they don’t really understand the situation or have control over the situation.

Um, No, but for me, it’s like, you know, it is a small team. There’s typically, uh, four of us or so, um, and so, you know, we’re, we’re able to travel in kind of a small pack and, and, uh, you know, stay pretty much almost quarantined together while we, while we do these shoots.

Brett Stanley: [00:50:03] Yeah. And that must be really attractive too. Like you’re saying like people at the BBC where they can go, you guys just deal with it and get us the footage we need. Um, and then you’ve got the crew and you know, what their status is like in terms of infection or in terms of, um, you know, testing and all that sort of stuff.

So you have a really good handle on it. I think that’s, it’s kind of, it feels like it’s the way forward for a lot of this stuff.

Jeff Hester: [00:50:23] Yeah. Yeah. I really think so too. And especially thinking about, um, just even capturing new wildlife behavior, uh, you know, kind of like what I mentioned before, you’re so different and, and you can’t really, you know, say you want to go film blue whales, um, you know, previously it’d be like, okay, we’re going to go film July 10th to August 2nd.

And you probably have a pretty good chance of making it happen. Now with the way things are changing. You’re you’re not having. That, uh, you know, that reliability. And so also, you know, hiring. Contracting and as a company, I can now be reacting. Yup. If it’s obviously, you know, she that’s local to me, um, that can be reactive to when those blue whales around.

So maybe, you know, it wasn’t July, it’s August this year, but, uh, you know, it was in September. Um, yeah. You know, if you would have come out July to August, you had gotten nothing for your shoe, but you know, now I can go and, and make sure that the company, uh, you know, get some success out of it.

Brett Stanley: [00:51:18] are you going and shooting your own projects as well? Are you shooting stock footage? Are you shooting things that you can then sell on to someone else

Jeff Hester: [00:51:25] Yeah. Yeah, yeah, definitely. Um, yeah, I do quite a bit of, of stock footage, um, casts, a lot of the times something pops up for a day and then it’s gone. Uh, and so if I can get out onto it, then yeah, that’s great. And it’s it’s footage that people will want.

Brett Stanley: [00:51:41] and how much of your business is that stuff? I mean, the stock footage is probably it’s. I mean, it’s something that you can sell on repeatedly, I guess, you know, once the licenses, uh, kind of expire and stuff, is, is it a large part of your business

Jeff Hester: [00:51:55] Uh, not so much at this point. And I’ve kind of been trying to focus on that a bit more this year, um, because you know, Pros and cons of course, but previously all my stuff was contracted. And so I couldn’t, uh, you know, none of that footage is, is owned by me. And so, uh, you know, I didn’t have a ton of ton of stock footage, but you know, starting this year, I’ve been focusing on that a bit more.

Um, but yeah, I’d say at this point it’s maybe, well, that’s only about 10% or so of my business.

Brett Stanley: [00:52:22] right, but is it at that? That’s probably something you want to kind of ramp up a bit more.

Jeff Hester: [00:52:26] Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. And even getting creative with, you know, working out deals with companies where I might charge a little bit less if I can keep my outs. So anything that they don’t use in the show so that I can use it for stock footage down the road. Um, just having a little bit more, you know, future thinking in my business.

Brett Stanley: [00:52:43] Yeah. I mean that stuff’s perfect. Cause you might be out on a shoot for yeah. Like you say, like for gray whales. Um, and you’ve shoved all the footage and any for that, but then, uh, like a part of men arrays come past. And if you happen to be there and shoot that, if you’re a contractor, you can’t use that footage.

Right. Because your work for hire.

Jeff Hester: [00:53:01] Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. I pretty much just hand off everything to the company and they, and they deal with it.

Brett Stanley: [00:53:07] Yeah. Yeah. So, yeah. And diversifying and kind of splitting your business up, I think is a really good kind of future proofing kind of way of doing stuff.

Jeff Hester: [00:53:17] Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It’s been good. And also, and, and really trying to diversify my skillset in this time too. Cause I, you know, I recognize that there are a lot of, um, Yeah. There’s a lot of opportunity out there right now. And, you know, really are trying to focus on shoots where I might not have gotten the opportunity to do that thing before, uh, you know, like working a shot over or a Cineflex or GSS, uh, because I, you know, previously didn’t have any experience in it, but you know, at this point right now I might be the only one that can go.

And do it. Uh, and so, you know, really trying to diversify skillset. So, you know, if, if the industry does come to you or if it slows in pace that I’ll have these skills for later use that I can be hired with

Brett Stanley: [00:54:00] Yeah, exactly. And are there people in the industry or, or in, uh, just in this whole wildlife world that, that, that inspire you or are there people that you kind of look up to and kind of, uh, get inspired by their work?

Jeff Hester: [00:54:12] Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Um, there, uh, a couple of guys that I actually assisted for a bit, um, one of them is this guy named Doug Anderson. Um, he’s been. He’s been shooting underwater wildlife for, I think about 25 years. Um, so he did a, he did a lot of the original, you know, believe planet, frozen planet. He worked on a lot of that stuff.

Um, and I really appreciate that. He. Uh, you know, he takes a lot of the things that are happening, uh, you know, top side or in studios or things like that and, and applies them to underwater. I think we don’t do that enough. You know, this classical look underwater is you stick it on a tripod and you have this locked off shot.

Um, and I think Doug is really pushing the boundaries of, you know, making these things really dynamic, uh, and you know, constantly. Yeah, keeping pace to the shots and, um, yeah, I’m just really impressed with his work.

Brett Stanley: [00:55:03] Yeah, that’s great. And then, so he’s kind of putting a bit more dynamic movements in there to kind of, uh, give you less of a sense of, of a cameraman.

Jeff Hester: [00:55:11] Yeah. Yeah, yeah, exactly. Um, yeah, a lot of these things that I, you know, I feel like Hollywood has been doing or, you know, for, for ages that, you know, underwater is just, I mean, it’s just a lot tougher to cause you’re working in a hostile environment almost. Uh, but, but yeah, I think, you know, we’re a bit behind in that.

Brett Stanley: [00:55:29] Yeah. I mean, it is hard. And as you say, like it’s, you know, it’s all down to so many factors all coming together at once to make that perfect shot. But when it happens, I mean, that must be like a screaming underwater sort of situation.

Jeff Hester: [00:55:42] Yes, definitely. I have a, I’ve had a lot of those moments when the patients finally pays off.

Brett Stanley: [00:55:48] Exactly. Exactly. Jeff. It’s been awesome having you on the show, man. It’s um, it’s been so educational and stuff that I’d never even really thought of. So it’s, it’s been really good.

Jeff Hester: [00:55:56] Oh, I appreciate it. Thanks. Yeah. Thank you so much for having me, Brett. It’s been, it’s been good to chat with you.

Brett Stanley: [00:56:01] You too. Thanks, Jeff.

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