My first production when I graduated from film school was a public service announcement (PSA) with Gene Hackman about shipwreck preservation back in 1994. I was a summer volunteer in the National Park Service’s Volunteer in Parks (VIP) program at Dry Tortugas National Park with the Submerged Cultural Resources Unit, or SCRU. I was the project grunt with little responsibility except filling dozens of tanks nightly, holding the dumb end of the tape measure for archeological site maps and photographing the occasional site features. I even managed a small inventory of Nikons IV’s and V’s for the team. Sometime during that field project the SCRU staff photographer/producer came down for a couple weeks to shoot the Hackman PSA’s and a documentary about the park. I spent most of that time trailing behind him carry equipment, being yelled at and trying to act like I knew what I was doing.
Although I have been back to in the Tortugas several times in the past 16 years, this trip is different. This time I am working on my own documentary. I am here directing a talented 3D production team for the second shoot in the Underwater Wonders of the National Park Service which is a 3D film highlighting the spectacular diversity throughout the NPS. The crew consists of my stalwart production assistant Jim Koza, the new photographer with the NPS SRC, Susanna Pershern and a team from the Advanced Imaging and Visualization Laboratory team from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
From the earliest discussions of production design, the Dry Tortugas were always at the top of the locations list because the phenomenal coral reef environments, shipwrecks and historical Fort Jefferson. Ever since my first summer on this tiny island overshadowed by a fortification of 16 million bricks surrounded by tropical waters, I have wanted to make movies here. In fact, technically, my first NPS production was a type of video diary of spectacular (and often out of focus) underwater footage that I made for my mom (still my biggest fan) when I was here that first summer.