How These Freelancers Found Their Fascinating Stories
Sometimes a story will stop you in your tracks and make you wonder how the filmmakers even found it. While there are dozens of incredible stories created through the Storyhunter platform, these two short documentaries caught our eye — they take place in remote locations, show incredible and surprising access, and made us wonder how they even met these characters in the first place.
For their Great Big Story film about Tony, a spearfisher, Michael Potter and Manuel Lavalle of Jose Remi Productions travelled to Culebra, a small island off of Puerto Rico. From trouble contacting Tony to footing the bill of the film (which they sold afterwards), the two cinematographers stuck it out and got this beautifully shot video:
Storyhunter: How did you come across this story?
Michael Potter: We were on the Island of Culebra, Puerto Rico for a month shooting a longer documentary project, and in the process, we got to know people in the community very well, including Tony. It was clear through speaking with him how articulate and poetic he was when he spoke and how unique his lifestyle of spearfishing was. He told us his story of how he came to the island of Culebra and essentially raised himself — he had a mentor who showed him how to freedive. There were many aspects of his lifestyle and personality that were very interesting and if you find someone like that it’s just a matter of putting a film together that can do their story justice.
S: Did you face any challenges with production?
MP: Culebra is just such a small island that it’s hard to communicate with people sometimes. They have this saying on the island called ‘coconut line’. Essentially it’s that if you’re trying to relay a message to someone, odds are it will get to them faster by word of mouth on the Island than trying to call them directly — it’s pretty funny…but can be frustrating if you’re a producer. But with that said, Tony changed his phone multiple times and even though he was active on Facebook, he wasn’t getting our messages. So we ended up getting a couple of locals’ phone numbers and reaching out to try to relay messages to him (via ‘coconut line’) or get his new telephone number. But at the end of the day, we ended up going to Culebra and going to the town’s coffee shop we knew he went to and then got the information for where he now lived and staked it out for about 24 hrs. Since he’s a fisherman we knew he got up very early in the morning and didn’t come home until late in the day. Finally, Tony came home at night and we were immediately able to talk to him and he was on board!
S: Was it hard working on this project when you weren’t commissioned for it?
MP: Since it was not commissioned beforehand, we had to pay out of pocket, which influenced how we traveled. For instance, we stayed in a sketchy motel and the two of us shared a single bed.
S: Were you happy with the resulting video?
MP: The journey of making this project was incredible. When we look back at what kind of films we wanted to make years ago, this was it. A travel adventure around the world, overcoming unknown variables through the power of human connection, creating spectacular visuals to tell a great story about sustainability and the environment.
The second film that caught our attention is from the National Geographic. Filmed by John Dickie — sometimes in the dead of night — it tells the story of villagers in Mexico whose illegal turtle egg poaching has been a way of life for generations:
Storyhunter: How did you come up with the idea for this story?
John Dickie: I always wanted to film the landings — I’d never seen it in person. I knew about the egg poaching — it’s kind of well known in the area, not just the fact that people are poaching, but in the market they’re a local delicacy. I knew it would make an amazing film.
S: How did you get interviews with poachers? Were they afraid to be on camera since taking eggs is illegal?
JD: We basically just started driving around different villages with a local guide who introduced us to a few people. And it got kind of easy, because he was talking about this organized group of poachers that is led by one guy. We went to talk to this guy and he was fine with being filmed. I was quite excited in the beginning because it felt like I was going to infiltrate this egg gang. They flaked out on us, which is normal. People are scared, they don’t want to be on camera, they don’t know who we are. In the end, there was just a couple people who would speak to us, but it was difficult because they didn’t want us to use lights. There’s this little LED light on the camera, but they didn’t want us to use it because it was going to call attention to them. So a lot of the nighttime footage was just unusable. It was easier the next morning, when the sun came up and you could see horses arrive and people taking the eggs. They were fine with being filmed in the morning. It’s like the nighttime created this weird tension and then when daylight came up and they could see who we were, I got a few interviews and was allowed to film people digging up the eggs.
S: What was your biggest challenge making the film?
JD: The biggest production challenge was the fact that it was so remote and it was uncomfortable. It’s like 40°C heat and it’s really humid and you’re in the middle of nowhere. There’s no cafes, no restaurants, there was only one point of electricity where we could charge up the batteries on our cameras, and it was a solar panel which is like a twelve volt system. So that was really difficult. And then we had to walk three or four miles down the beach with all the equipment.
S: What are you most proud of in how the film turned out?
JD: The most rewarding part is that I went down there with a vision to tell the side of the story of the local people as opposed to wildlife nuts who were there to protect the turtles. These villagers have gotten a bad rep in the news for being criminals taking these turtle eggs. I think we did a fair job of showing their side of the story, which is the fact that they use to fish for turtles, then it was outlawed. And there’s no opportunities in the region, there’s no work, no income. Not much fishing. Then the federal government started sending in armed guys, the marines, to basically pressure and threaten them, when really they should be setting up social programs to help these villagers. So I think that’s what we were most proud about in terms of the film.
How have you come across your favorite stories? Tell us in the comments below!
By D. Simone Kovacs, Writer at Storyhunter