Adventurer Ed Stafford talks solo filming challenges
Adventurer Ed Stafford has discussed the challenges of filming his own global exploits as a one-man crew.
The talk took place in central London on 12 October and was organised by RTS Futures, which offers advice on developing careers in television.
Stafford spent four years in the Army and later moved into television by filming himself becoming the first person to walk the length of the Amazon River. The feat took 860 days, finishing in 2010.
He was then stranded alone on a remote Fijian island for 60 days for the documentary Naked Castaway before shifting to Marooned with Ed Stafford, a series where the adventurer spent shorter spells in different remote locations.
“Walking the Amazon was definitely an adventure but getting it on television was always the long-term aim,” Stafford said of his epic first project.
Filming on his own inevitably proved a steep learning curve for Stafford. His lack of formal technical training was revealed during the talk when he struggled to recall basic filming terminology when discussing the challenge of self-filming.
This hasn’t impacted his rapidly-developing skills with the camera, as well as his producing talents, which appear to have been a happy by-product.
“I use a combination of GoPros and handheld cameras,” he said. “You set up locked-off cameras in fixed positions and then capture the personal perspective using a head-mounted GoPro, which is really a lifesaver to get a bigger variety of shots.
“Now it’s at the point where I have a rough shot list and I know what footage I need for the day – I have to avoid the temptation to relax a bit after that!”
He now makes sure he captures his extremes of emotion on camera, as he’s aware those moments help create more interesting television.
This is a marked contrast to his Amazon trek, where at various times he was accused of drug trafficking and even arrested on suspicion of murder – neither of which he filmed as he was so scared at the time.
Stafford suggests he underestimated the psychological impact of being alone on location, especially for his 60-day experience on Naked Castaway, and he sought extensive professional help afterwards for his own mental health.
A support team visits a designated location every few days to pick up data cards, but they have no contact with Stafford himself. Crew may leave technical instructions but there is strictly nothing “morale-boosting”. The loneliness can be potent.
“I’ve not shared this before in public, but there was one time when I sneaked to the place where the support team were scheduled to make their pick-up,” Stafford said.
“I basically spied on them as they came in – they didn’t see me but I just wanted to see people!”
Stafford has a psychological edge as a result of his military background. However, he voiced concern for the wellbeing of ordinary members of the public taking part in other survival reality shows, especially when their motives for taking on such an ordeal may be less obvious.
Images: Discovery Channel