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How far do filmmakers go for that perfect shot?

We’ve all heard stories about actors taking their craft so seriously that they place themselves in dangerous situations. Common practices such as method acting are something we are now all used to in the tabloids. We don’t flinch when we see an actor or actress lose or gain significant weight in a short space of time - look at Jake Gyllenhaal in Southpaw.


However, we never question what goes on behind the scenes. What are some filmmakers risking behind the scenes to get that perfect shot?

Tragic consequences

One of the biggest stories last year was the death of camera assistant Sarah Jones on the set of Midnight Rider. This tragic incident occurred because the crew had been instructed to film a dream sequence on a train track. Normally filming in certain areas requires a great deal of preparation, paper work and insurance cover.

Reports suggest that this move from flat ground to the train track was somewhat spontaneous. The crew had apparently been told that they had 60 seconds to move out of the way if a train were to come. The result of this was a death of one crew member, an injury of another and two year jail sentence for director Randall Marshall with ten years’ probation for executive producer Jay Sedrish.

Animal dangers

One film set that was particularly shocking was Roar directed by Noel Marshall. The film stars Marshall as a wildlife conservationist living with hundreds of big cats in Africa. During the making of this film Marshall, his family and other crew members were attacked by wild animals.

Marshall’s wife was hurled through the air by an elephant, resulting in hospitalisation and a fractured leg. Cinematographer Jan de Bon had his scalp ripped off by a lion – again hospital treatment was needed for over two hundred stitches. This was all done to get the right shots for a film that actually lost $16m.

White rhino

Real life risks

It is not just feature films that can be dangerous: documentary filmmakers have been known to place themselves in compromising positions. This is often in order to expose misconduct, malpractice or political and social issues.

Christian Povedo made a documentary film called La vida Loca about a notorious gang in El Salvador. He worked extensively to gain the gang’s trust, which allowed him to create the film that he wanted. In 2009, a year after the film’s release, he was found shot dead. Ten gang members were convicted over his murder.

Other filmmakers have faced fates such as imprisonment. Mahnaz Mahammadi, a prominent women’s rights activist and documentary filmmaker based in Iran has been imprisoned numerous times. Her current charge is collaborating with the BBC against the Iranian state. Mahammadi is currently serving five years for this.

It is interesting to understand the lengths to which these filmmakers will go to get the perfect shot or most sensitive information to make that perfect film for their audiences. Programme makers have reaslied how fascinating the making-of process can be to an audience, with segments such as those shown at the end of David Attenborough’s Life Story dedicated to revealing the challenges faced.

Next time you watch a feature film or documentary think about what may or may not have happened to the filmmakers and their crew just to get a perfect shot over Mount Everest or that rhino charging at the camera lens…