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Spotlight on: Peter Rowe, CSC by cinequipwhite
January 26, 2010, 12:22 pm
Filed under: Spotlight | Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Spotlight on Peter Rowe Peter Rowe has long been popping by CinequipWhite to play with some of the newest gear, and to find equipment options for his shoots that will have the ability to withstand some of the more extreme situations that he often finds himself in. It’s always a pleasure when he drops by because his stories are always second to none.
   Most recently Peter has been working on a wonderful TV show called “Angry Planet”. It’s an adventerous travel show that takes the viewer to the most extreme and dangeropus places on earth to show how amazing and deadly our world truly is.
   The below article – written by Peter himself – details some of his most recent treks into the world of travel extremism and how it has effected himself and his gear. So without further adieu:


Shooting Angry Planet
December 2009
By Peter Rowe, csc 



Peter in Stomboli, Italy, Kitum Cave, Kenya
Stomboli, Italy, Kitum Cave, Kenya. All photos courtesy of the Filmmaker.
Peter Rowe csc

We’re charging south on US Interstate 95 through the swamps of eastern Georgia. I’m jammed into what I call my “office” – the thunderbird seat of the Stormobile, a battle-scarred, hail-dented CRV tricked out with radar, anenometers and ham radio to follow and capture wild weather and other extreme forces of nature. On the floor beneath me is a jumble of video cameras, invertors, chargers, guidebooks and telephones.

Behind me my waterproof housings, Spintec rain deflector, soaked microphone softies, cables, raincoats and boots are doing their best to dry out. We’ve just come through two hurricanes – Gustof and Hanna in Louisiana and the Carolinas – and the sodden Stormobile is taking on the familiar sweet, sickly smell of the bayous.

Beside me at the wheel is the series host/presenter/stormchaser/adventurer George Kourounis. I’m on the phone to a lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force. After a long conversation, I hang up and whoop with excitement. After two years of negotiations and missed connections, it’s finally on. We’re flying into the eye of a hurricane with a USAF hurricane-hunting Lockheed-Martin WC-130J. George puts the pedal to the floor, and we head west across the Florida panhandle towards Biloxi, Mississippi.

Niger River MaliNiger River Mali.
Peter Rowe csc
Peter in Iceland.

The next day, we’re lumbering down the runway at Keesler Airforce Base, heading up into the sky to intercept the massive storm. As luck has it, we almost have the giant plane to ourselves. A visiting general has come along for the ride, and a local print reporter has jumped on at the last moment, but basically it’s just us and the aircrew heading into Hurricane Ike – the biggest storm of the season. Right now Ike is over Cuba, which adds another whole element to the day’s filming. It’s one thing to fly into the eye of a Class 4 hurricane. It’s another to do that while flying into Cuban airspace with the United States Air Force.

After eight hours of that bumpy and invigorating ride, we’re back on terra firma and back on the road again. Ike is heading for Galveston, and we’re going to meet it there. Now, there’s another whole set of negotiations, for the town has an official evacuation order, and so virtually every hotel, building and parking lot is closed and boarded up in anticipation of what NOAA Weather Radio is warning is a “life-threatening, highly dangerous” storm.

We hunker down with the police and emergency services in the one bullet-proof hotel in town that remains open, and are there to record the carnage as the vicious 20-foot waves crash across the breakwater, flooding most of the city. The Spintec gets another major workout.

The next day, we’re towed out of town. Our cylinder heads are filled with seawater, but eventually we find a cure for that, get the engine running and head north. We have our first episode of our new third season of Angry Planet in the can. Twelve more to do. At the time of this writing, they are almost all done, and the new season begins airing across the country in January on the Outdoor Life Network. The series also plays (as Planete en furie) in Quebec, and across Europe, Russia, South Africa, Hong Kong, Korea and Australia.

Within a few days, I’m back in my (real) office, making final plans for our next road trip. This one is going to be wild. On a season-one shoot in Congo, I learned of a huge cave high on Mount Elgon, on the Kenya-Uganda border, that has been carved out, over millennia, by elephants. It seems elephants need a daily salt fix. On the savannah plains they can get this from the grasses, but high on this mountain they have found the only way to get it is by digging and tusking for it inside this giant, dark cave. Hyenas, buffalo and other wild African beasts also join them in the cavern. And here is the kicker, two people – both visitors to the cave – have recently died of Marburg Hemorrhagic Fever, a close cousin of the gruesome Ebola virus. Some scientists believe the thousands of bats that live in the cave may be the source of the disease.

Perfect. Sounds like our kind of place. Only trouble is Kenya (and particularly this part of western Kenya) has been in turmoil for the last year. There have been bombings right on the mountain. But it looks like the fighting has calmed down to a manageable level, so we’re on our way. At Heathrow, we meet up with our fixer for the shoot, cave biologist Don McFarland, and the three of us head for Nairobi. En route to the cave, I get an opportunity to film one of the most extraordinary sights in nature – the biannual migration across the Mara River of millions of zebras and wildebeests. The Mara has several obstacles – rocks, rapids, crocodiles and vultures. Not all the zebras or gnus make it. It’s an extraordinary spectacle.

At the cave, we begin exploring deeper and deeper every day. My lighting set-up is simple but effective. Every day, two porters climb up the mountain and down into the cave with us with a large truck battery and an invertor hanging from a bamboo pole. I plug a 300-watt soft light into it, fire up some sun-guns, and away we go.

On our third day inside the cave, we are exploring a bat roost deep inside. Our lights disturb the bats’ daytime slumbers, and thousands of them begin flying out past us. In the excitement and confusion, one of the bats bites George through his thin gloves. It’s one of the worst crisis we’ve had on the series. What if he has contracted the Marburg virus? If not that, what about rabies – neither he nor I are vaccinated for it. Should we abort – head for the nearest hospital, many miles away. There are no symptoms, so we keep shooting. It’s supposed to be an adventure show – so we shoot the adventure. He gamely carries on.

With that shoot complete, do we head back to Canada, home of our wonderful health care system, where he can get a check-up. But no, we’re booked to carry on to shoot another episode – this time in the Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan (home of a health care system that is, let us say, somewhat less renowned). We fly from Nairobi to Moscow to Tashkent, on to the city of Nukus and then by Landrovers to Moynuk, a village that looks like it has changed little since the 1600s. The one change, and it has happened in just the last 20 years, is that the body of water it used to be on, the Aral Sea, once the fourth largest body of fresh water in the world, has now shrunk to one-sixth its past size, the victim of a botched Soviet experiment in irrigation.

An island in the sea is now just a peninsula of the land. And the island, Vozrozhdeniya, was for 30 years, from the 1950s to the 1980s, the centre of Soviet bio-weapons research – a nightmarish spot where monkeys and chimpanzees were tested with gruesome concoctions of anthrax, smallpox and plague, while scientists figured out ways to jam the deadly cocktails into warheads.

So here I am, travelling within a (long) stone’s throw of this mad place, filming Angry Planet host George who may be carrying (though we are becoming rapidly convinced is not) an even more deadly virus than the Soviets used on the spooky island. If anyone does get sick, what will we blame it on?

Peter Rowe csc
“While it may be an angry planet, there’s never been an angry moment shooting it,” Peter Rowe csc

Finally, we return home. George gets checked out. He’s healthy – but still needs a long series of rabies shots for safety’s sake. We have three shows in the can – 10 more to do. In another few weeks, we’re back on the road. And so over the past year, we’ve kayaked in the Antarctic with humpback whales, crossed Frobisher Bay and Baffin Island by snowmobile, dogsled and skis, filmed fer-de-lances and bushmasters in the Costa Rican rain forest, descended with refrigerated suits and respirators into the deadly but spectacular Cave of Crystals, Mexico, been pummeled by larger than golf ball-sized hail (they make things big in Texas), and sailed to the newest land on earth, a still-steaming, brand new island in Tonga that we were the some of the first people ever to see.

My cameras have suffered through minus 45-degree arctic temperatures, 225 F humidex readings. They’ve been blasted with volcanic dust, sulphuric acid, saltwater, rainwater and snow. Sandbags have been tossed by Antarctic winds, cameras have sunk to the bottom of the ocean, microphones turned red with rust. But we’ve always got the episode done. And, while it may be an angry planet, there’s never been an angry moment shooting it. Sometimes an exhausted one. I have five cards – two hours of memory. Sony keeps sending emails promoting their new 32-gig cards. More memory? No thanks. After a day climbing a volcano or hanging out in a hurricane, if you’ve shot two hours of material, I say the camera’s out of memory, and so am I. Let me get back to the tent, gimme a beer and I’ll download it all into the hard drive, re-format the damn cards and start all over again tomorrow.


Thanks again to Peter, as well as the CSC magazine for the article. If you are in the office take a look at the plasma display and every so often you will see some of Peter’s work on “Angry Planet”.

~Jonathan Stainton
CinequipWhite Inc.


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