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Selective Packing

The nitty-gritty of filming the East Caicos Expedition documentary.

By Matthew Matlack ~ Photos by Matthew Matlack and John Galleymore

Filming the East Caicos Expedition documentary was a thrilling endeavor. I had not been camping in years, I had just one experience under my belt filming in caves (which had a gift shop with snacks at the entrance), and the film’s budget was modest to say the least. It sounded like a perfect adventure!

I blame John Galleymore for my involvement. I first met John several years ago through our combined love of Potcake dogs and our dedication to helping them. John helped my family with the adoption of our first Potcake which began our friendship. John’s history is worth an article all on its own, but his exploration of the Turks & Caicos Islands has led him on many adventures. (Follow Beyond TCI on social media.)

I also met Turks & Caicos National Museum Director Michael Pateman through John. My wife and I were on a two-day excursion to Salt Cay by way of Grand Turk. Of course, we stopped by the museum on Grand Turk to explore and shoot some photos and videos, and Michael was kind enough to show us around.

When the museum gave the go-ahead to explore East Caicos, Michael knew John Galleymore, and other local guide masters, Agile and Daniel LeVin, would be critical to the success of the mission. John knew that I was a documentary filmmaker and requested that I come along to document the expedition. I was excited to be invited and the logistics began to come together.

I think we had to postpone the trip a couple of times until October 2019 due to weather conditions. The last thing we wanted was to be on an uninhabited island during a tropical storm or worse, and Hurricane Dorian ravaged the Bahamas in early September. We knew it would be a very hot and mosquito laden time to be on East Caicos, but we forged ahead with the adventure.

This is the audio and video gear used on the East Caicos expedition. In addition, a laptop computer was brought along on the journey.

Gear
When necessary, I travel light. Very light. I was the sole member of the film crew. This would be run-and-gun documentary filmmaking. Since the film’s budget didn’t allow for extra days of travel, I had to carry everything on the plane to ensure the equipment wasn’t delayed in transport. I had all the typical things like clothes and toiletries with me, but also cameras, tripods, microphones, drones, etc. So, I had to be extremely selective of what I’d bring. Here is the list of equipment I chose.

Sony A7iii with Tamron 28-74mm Lens
This was my primary camera. It takes great photos and great video. There are cameras that do better photos and ones that capture better video, but this Sony does a fantastic job at both. The lens is a great all-around zoom that has a 2.8 f-stop allowing it to capture decent images in low light conditions like inside a cave.

Canon G7Xii
This is a small point and shoot camera. It’s perfect for vlogging and I keep it on my belt for quick access like a gunslinger with his holster. Throw this camera into auto-mode and it’s hard to miss the shot. This is critical while on a documentary, especially when the travelling is part of the experience you are documenting.

GoPro Session
This is an even smaller camera. It’s a little 1.5-inch cube. I had to make a very hard decision to leave my underwater housing for the Canon camera at home. There just wasn’t room in the carry-on bags. I thought, “I’m going to one of the most beautiful ocean locations in the world and I’m not going to take my underwater camera housing. What?” But, the GoPro Session was going to have to suffice for any underwater filming. It does a decent job, and I knew 99% of our time would be on land.

Energen Dronemax
This is the unit that took up the space of my underwater housing. We’d be on East Caicos without any power for three days. I have several batteries for the cameras, but not for three days of filming, especially flying a drone. It’s heavy and it’s bulky, but it would allow me to charge all my batteries at least once and perhaps a couple times during the trip. It proved most helpful!

DJI Mavic Pro
This is the drone I took. It wasn’t my best drone, but it was my smallest drone. I knew that a long, hard hike would probably be part of the expedition. I didn’t want to carry a large, heavy drone for miles across treacherous terrain, not to mention space in the travel bags.

Microphones
One Rode VideoMic Pro and two Tascam DR-10L lapel mic/recorders made up my audio capture equipment. I feel that audio is the most important part of any video, so ensuring we had decent audio capture was essential—while keeping things simple. This proved to be difficult regardless of the equipment. Usually, you’d have an audio person focusing on just the audio. But again, I was a one-man crew doing run-and-gun shooting. You have to keep it simple.

Accessories
There were many other accessories needed too. A Lume Cube light, a small travel tripod, memory cards, extra batteries, portable hard drives, a stabilization gimbal, plus a MacBook Pro laptop and all the charging cables needed for the cameras and computer.

Travel
Once I had my bags packed to the max, I was ready for the expedition to begin. My travel from the U.S. to Providenciales was fairly uneventful. John and I packed up the camping gear after I landed, along with all the camera equipment, and we were ready for an early morning start to the adventure. We took a car to the ferry dock, the ferry to North Caicos, a rental car to Middle Caicos, then two flats boats to get us and the gear to East Caicos. We’d also use the boats to get from basecamp to various places on the island to begin hiking to the caves and other points of interest.

Mat Matlack films former Museum Director Michael Pateman on the beach at East Caicos.

Filming
I was very happy with my choice of equipment. The Sony A7iii performed fantastically. It’s low-light capability worked great in the caves for both photos and video capture. The Canon G7Xii kept its spot as the most convenient camera I own and was there to capture many critical moments of the story.

I had some issues with the DJI Mavic Pro drone, with it operating a bit sporadically and changing how it was capturing video randomly. I thought I was going to lose control of the drone a couple times when it was being unresponsive. Some of the footage was very hard to recover with strong color changes being applied in-camera to the video. But, the aerial footage ended up adding some majestic imagery to the documentary.

The GoPro was a bit disappointing. Most of my underwater filming with this camera had been in open water with lots of sunlight coming through. The darkness of the cave proved a bit too much for this small camera to handle and I really missed my underwater housing for the Canon. But, having the Energen battery bank in lieu of the housing due to the lack of space in the luggage was the right choice.

Releasing the documentary
We had plans to submit the film to the Turks & Caicos International Film Festival in 2020. But, due to the pandemic, it was postponed until 2021. With our eyes set on several festivals in the coming months, the film will be released as those come to fruition. Keep up to date with the release of the film at EastCaicosExpedition.com.



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Marta Morton, owner/operator of Harbour Club Villas (www.harbourclubvillas.com) took this photo of the native Turks & Caicos rock iguana on Bay Cay. This endemic animal is being threatened by the invasive green iguana. See article on page 36.

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