Inspiration, Pro Tips

Getting the Shot – Pardon My French


Being a professional filmmaker working on the road is one of the dreams that gets many of us into stock footage. But the road can be pretty rocky, and the way you get there is not always as simple as can be. As Gary Isaacson tells us in his story, the “money shot” sometimes comes at a cost of much more than just preparation and persistence. Sometimes you may actually have to pray for your life!

(Guest story by Gary Isaacson from WorldClips)

Usa, Alaska, Plane Landing On Beach. Click on the image for purchase options on Pond5
Usa, Alaska, Plane Landing On Beach. Click on the image for purchase options on Pond5

Most of my hard-to-get shots have had less to do with my bravery than sheer stupidity or greed.

Years before I began shooting stock footage full-time, I was an independent corporate video concubine, widely trusted and grossly overpaid because I am and speak MBA. As those types of relationships go, the client makes the arrangements and requirements and I did what was asked. Oh, who hasn’t whored as least a little in this business? And I was picky about my clientele, only 5 star resorts in cool places would do.

I was shooting a marketing video for a beautiful timeshare resort in St. Maarten and the marketing VP/”producer” said he wanted aerials of the property. OK, what’s the plan? No problem, he had arranged to have me use a charter aircraft to do the job. So I arrive at the small Grand Case airport on the French side of the island and see just what kind of a bird I’ll be using. It’s a Cessna the size of a go-cart with the entire passenger door removed. I am greeted by a young longhaired blonde Frenchman who speaks virtually no English besides “Hello, I am Jean”, so we get in and take off communicating in my pitiful French and improvised sign language.

Aerial view of timeshare resort

Above the target, I am trying to get a set of steady 5-second shots I can use as cutaways while being harnessed in and shooting with a shoulder-mount camera. This was back in the days when they weighed about 40 pounds with a separate ¾” recorder, but I was younger then. Obviously, a helicopter and gyroscopic equipment were not in the budget. As I was struggling to get something I could use, I noticed that though we seemed to be having a tough time staying steady, the pilot had this strange ear-to-ear grin on his face. When I was satisfied I had finally gotten at least three solid shots, I motioned ‘OK” and pointed, “let’s go back”. At that point he said, “Ce sera mon premier avion professionnel atterrissage” with undue enthusiasm. I understood enough; avion is airplane, and premier is first. Now, I’m unnerved.

I know enough French to approximately ask, “How much flying time do you have?”, “Combien de temps avez-vous?” I speak nervously as I pantomime as if I’m a plane flying. “A qui, onze heures”. I can count to twenty in French; onze is eleven.

This kid has eleven hours of flight experience!

This story would be more dramatic if we had crashed into the sea, but the kid did a great job, a perfect landing. I had gotten the shot, I shook hands with my young pilot and upon returning to see my employer, I said some things one does not usually say to one’s employer, but I got the shot and even worked a little extra hazard pay from the bastard. I speak corporate; he was head of marketing. Should I have been surprised that he had misrepresented the job just a bit? No.