a filmmaker, I typically spend a few months on the road every year for various
productions. Each is divided up between one- and two-week shoots. The rest of
the time, I am in McGillivray Freeman’s beautiful offices in Laguna Beach,
California—sitting behind a desk working on preproduction, which involves administrative
work such as phone calls, scheduling, budgeting, research, and project organization.
It’s tedious occasionally (after the 10th phone call discussing
permitting minutia) but rewarding, as I know it’s all working towards the same
goal—securing locations that are A+ for the giant screen. We’re always
searching for the hidden gems that the audience has yet to see, some place that
will rouse audiences to the edge of their seat in excitement when it appears on
the biggest screens in the world. We are able to bring these experiences to
audiences because of the giant screen cinema industry we are connected to—it’s
a one-of-a-kind film experience—and I’m so honored to be a part of it.

year was different. I indeed spent a great portion of time behind my desk and
on the phone, but I was also working on two vastly different films that took me
to wildly different areas of the world.

I traveled to Dublin and Belfast to do location sites for the film Ireland in January and February, greeted
by the bitter cold. Then, May and June brought our team back to Ireland for a
grueling six-week shoot. We traveled almost the entire island, 174 miles wide
by 302 miles long, in our small team of five vehicles, holding a 12-person crew
and five incredible characters. Working the typical (for production) 12- to 17-hour
days and surviving on little sleep was somehow inconsequential as we were
treated to some of the most stunning scenery in the world. The lush Irish
landscape was exquisite as we traveled from one charming town to the next,
covering all corners of the island within our six weeks.

journey started in Dublin, where we met all of our central characters, four
bright and bubbly teenagers that all knew each other from participating in an
orchestra, and Manchán Magan, an established travel writer for the Irish Daily
News. We were all thrust together at once, with a plan to start filming the
next day. In Dublin, we filmed iconic locations such as the Guinness Factory
Storehouse and Trinity College. Both allowed us to film with our drone team and
camera—using a Freefly Alta UAV attached
to our RED Monstro Camera. Filming took place in the courtyard of Trinity
College during finals. I think some students were slightly dismayed that their
studying was interrupted by a group of filmmakers arriving outside their dorm
at 4 a.m., but they were all extremely polite and curious. Fortunately, we were
allowed to film inside the Long Library at Trinity College, something that is
extremely rare. The library houses over 200,000 of the oldest books in the
world. We used our 18-foot jib arm on a dolly within the library allowing the
camera to extend up to the second floor and track the students as they made
their way down the corridor to get one-of-a-kind shots. Working with Trinity
College was a stressful pleasure. They run an extremely tight ship, but it’s to
be expected when you have a group of filmmakers working with equipment next to
priceless books.

Greg MacGillivray examines the shot as we prepare the jib arm and camera


Greg MacGillivray checks out the shot with the jib arm behind him at Trinity College, Dublin

Our entire team caravanned
from location to location, traveling to the Cliffs of Moher, the town of
Lahinch for surf lessons, the town of Cong where The Quiet Man was filmed, the town of Sligo that Yeats poetry made
famous, and then we moved north to Northern Ireland and Giants Causeway. We met
with various supplemental characters along the way, such as scientists,
geologists, surfers and more, providing interesting scenarios for our talent to
engage in and learn more about their own culture and land. It was fascinating
discussing and seeing the country from the viewpoint of local Irish teenagers
who had never truly ventured beyond a few miles outside of their hometown. Each
location we went to was a fresh experience for them.

The culmination and climax
of our filming was traveling to the Skellig Islands. The crew included our five
characters plus two aviary scientists. It was a two-hour bumpy boat ride that
took us to a UNESCO World Heritage site to see the most amazing pristine
geological features that supports some of the biggest breeding populations of
seabirds in the world. The most adorable one is the puffin. These brightly
colored, ambulatory-challenged birds were the inspiration for the Porg animal
in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which
was filmed on Skellig Michael. You could tell that a major feature film had
recently been filmed there by the number of hoops we had to jump through,
especially since we wanted to film with a drone. No helicopters are allowed
anywhere near the islands due to the flying seabirds nests, yet we were given
special permission to bring in our drone team and fly with the
Freefly Alta UAV. Our pilots
are two of the most experienced UAS and fixed-wing pilots in the country, with
over 2,000 UAV hours of flight time, yet even they were anxious about flying in
this remote and scraggy location.

we first arrived on Skellig Michael, storm clouds loomed and rain seemed imminent.
Landing on the island is very temperamental, as you have to wait for each swell
of the ocean, timing it to the tiny dock—right next to steps that were built by
eighth century monks who inhabited the island. Once we landed and unloaded our
camera equipment, we had to climb the 600 steps winding 700 feet up to the
monastery where we were able to offload and organize in the rain. Dodging
puffin excrement and rain and watching the ticking clock that counted down the
time we were able to film—everyone was ecstatic when the skies parted and we
were blessed with sunshine. That meant it was time to get out the drone. Since
part of our permit dictated that we could only fly eight flights over the three
days allotted to film, each flight was precious. We debated with each other
again and again about when to launch, and finally on the first day we flew.
Capturing stunning images within the two-minute flight time, we were able to
see the incredible scope of the island itself. Landing on the saddle of the
island was harrowing, but our competent team of two managed to defy the odds—we
got the shots. And with sunshine no less!

The crew relaxes in the sunshine near the Cliffs of Moher

The drone hovers above the steep steps on Skellig Island, just outside Portmagee

Drone cameraman Justin Ostensen and drone operator Chris Newman at the Cliffs of Moher

Meghan MacGillivray with drone team Justin Ostensen and Chris Newman near the cliffs of Moher

The crew on Skellig Michael with blue skies

our time filming in Ireland, the locals kept reminding us that we truly must
have the luck of the Irish, or Macgilliluck as we call it. Over the six weeks,
we only had four to five days of un-filmable weather due to rain. The other
days were almost continually sunny people were even getting sunburned. How does
that happen in Ireland! It certainly served the theme of this film, which is to
inspire children to get outdoors—to put down their cell phones and reconnect to
nature. Our main character, Manchán Magan, has made it his life’s work to
reconnect the people (especially children) of Ireland to their past. He is
fluent in Irish and his television show, No
, is completely in Irish, and he even teaches classes in Gaelic on
making traditional sourdough bread. Magan is an eccentric and likable
personality, with such a quirky nature you never know if he is serious or
pulling your leg. Watching him work with the teenagers was enlightening, as you
could almost see their brains expanding as they learned from him. Two of the four
students also spoke fluent Irish and listening to them speak together in the
ancient tongue was spellbinding. These kids all grew up as we progressed
through the filming, and I can’t wait for world audiences to experience Ireland
through their eyes.

filming all over Ireland from north to south, coast to coast, coming back to
the states was a bit of a shock for my family. For two weeks of the Ireland
shoot, I traveled with them, including my two sons (ages 2 and 4). While there,
my older boy came to believe that he lives in Ireland. He’s continually telling
people that his friends and family are all in Ireland.

back home, our team was immediately faced with the task of planning out our
next film that focuses on the wild places, hidden gems, and natural world of
the United States. This film follows two amazing characters: the first Native
American astronaut in space, John Herrington and young Inuit bush pilot named
Ariel Tweto. John and Ariel both seek to motivate and inspire kids, in
particular other Native Americans, to expand their horizons and look beyond
their own backyard and to learn that the world is open to them. They are both
dedicated to involving children both in nature and science. These characters so
reminded me of working with Manchan, as they both want young people to put down
technology and rediscover the natural world.

had a daunting task ahead of trying to film all over the United States,
exploring these hidden gems and natural places in an eight-week time span. Months
were spent researching locations, speaking to scientists, historians,
specialists, photographers, and researchers to discover the most picturesque
and unique locations that would inspire people to explore nature. Our list was
extensive. Once Greg MacGillivray whittled the list down and gave us our
marching orders, we planned an eight-week shoot driving from upper New York, to
Oregon, Washington, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina, Illinois,
Florida, and Texas. The drive time alone was grueling. Our 15-person crew
included the usual suspects plus our drone team and our two characters. We had
a caravan of two trucks and three minivans that carted us thousands of miles
around the United States. Because we were limited by the amount we could carry,
we would often have to get creative with our setups.

one sequence, we filmed in Durango, Colorado, aboard the Durango-Silverton
Train. This old-fashioned steam locomotive takes passengers between Durango and
Silverton, up into the San Juan National Forest, and explores some of the most
picturesque mountain scenery I’ve ever had the chance to see. A scouting crew
was sent the day prior to filming the train to see what equipment was needed.
The crew quickly changed from scout mode to rigging in a matter of minutes. The
train needed to be rigged and approved by the train company within a few hours
while keeping in mind that all the rigging had to be easily mounted and removed
within minutes while out on the track. It also had to be extremely safe since
it was going to hang 10 feet in front of the massive steam engine while
barreling down the line. And, the crew needed to use whatever was available to
them from the train yard as rigging.

Rob Walker, our First AC said, “After we scratched our heads for a minute, we
came up with a plan. We adorned our hard hats, safety glasses and got ass-to-elbows
deep in grease to get the job done. We used every piece of speed rail and
cheeseborough clamps we had. We mounted our Red Helium Camera with Canon 8-15mm
lens on the front of the train. After a few trials we completed the task at
hand just in time to tear it off again for the first morning shot.”

was nervous for when Greg would yell, “Let’s rig the front of the train,” but
it was such a joy to see the camera mounted (safely!) in front of the steam
locomotive hurling down the track. Needless to say, we got the shot.

came across many scenarios such as the Durango train where we were forced to
improvise and think outside the box in order to create the desired outcome.
Whether it’s fixing the camera position last minute at a balloon festival in
order to ensure you’re getting the proper down angle, while the balloon is
slowly being inflated and taking off, or figuring out the safest way to strap a
camera man and camera to a zip line 1,200 feet above a gorge, our team is all
about creating solutions to problems quickly, efficiently, and safely. By placing
the audience and kids “IN” these moments and creating perspective that makes
them feel as if they are really there, we hope that people will want to create
their own adventures in the outdoors and truly connect to these unique places
and experiences. We made these films to inspire audiences to get outdoors and
reconnect to nature.

The Durango-Silverton Train passing through the San Juan National Forest


AC Rob Walker hangs out of the Durango Train to get the shot

The crew rigs the Red Monstro camera to the front of the engine

The camera rigging on the front of the train

The crew near the Appalachian Trail inside Smoky Mountain National Park with talent Ariel Tweto (yello jacket) and John Herrington (blue jacket with hat)