We caught up with Ash Bhardwaj a filmmaker, adventure journalist and founder of video storytelling company Digital Dandy. Ash travelled with Levison Wood for 700 miles, as part of his Walking The Nile expedition, filming in Uganda and the Sahara. He has also filmed part of Wood's Walking The Himalayas series that aired on C4 recently.
Hi Ash, we're delighted to have you here at R&E! What was the highlight of your adventures with Levison Wood whilst walking stretches of the Himalayas and the Nile?
My favourite part of the Nile was the Bayuda Desert, Sudan. The sense of insignificance I felt in such a vast and starkly beautiful landscape was strangely reassuring. I loved the rhythm of the days - waking up before dawn, walking, resting in the midday heat, then continuing until evening. The sheer physical ardour, and sense of achievement that each evening brought, meant the anxieties of modern life just melted away.
In the Himalayas I saw parts of India I never expected to, such as the Line Of Control, where Indian soldiers cooked us lunch. But meeting the Dalai Lama had a profound effect on me.
Wow, that must have been incredible. What has been your most technically challenging shoot up to now?
Sudan was hard because of the heat.
Getting lost in Kashmir was a challenge in a different way. Our lives were at stake. We had minutes before sunset and we needed to find shelter whilst climbing rocks above a raging river. We needed to work as a team to support each other - with morale as much as anything. The challenge in high-risk situations is striking the balance between filming and surviving.
Well, it looks like you got it spot on when filming on Lev’s expedition, as it was both exciting and interesting to watch and you are all still alive! What are your main considerations when setting up a shot in a difficult or extreme environment?
The first thing to think about is the output: what am I filming and why? What story am I trying to tell, and how does it fit into the wider context of the series? We plan much of this before-hand. Then I can work out what shots or sequences I need to tell that story: a long-shot from the distance of Lev walking alone tells a different story to a drone-shot from above. Much of what we encounter is unexpected, so I'm going through this process constantly. Then I need to work out where to be to get that shot.
I mostly filmed Lev with the Sony NX30 - a very robust, easy-to-use, idiot-proof camera, which starts up quickly. But dust, light and moisture will always affect whether or not it actually operates. Sound is very important - you can get away with "gritty' footage when situations are extreme, but if you can't hear what someone's saying, then it can make a shot unusable.
What difficulties do you face as an adventure cameraman?
Before I go on the shoot it's balancing my kit list - making sure I have the kit for the environment, plus the kit for filming. Batteries are the heaviest and bulkiest item - but they're essential for the remote sections.
Once on location, I have to do the same terrain Lev does, but also film him. Lev has to make all the decisions - where he's going, what route to take. But I have to be aware, too, as I need to anticipate routes he will take, in order to get the best shot of what he's doing. Sometimes that means going up a hill, or waiting behind him to get a long shot, then catch up. Anticipation and always being ready for the unexpected is important; as far as the viewer is concerned, if you didn't film it, it didn't happen.
Sounds tough - Lev has it easy! Are there any people, locations or expeditions that you would particularly like to film?
Lev's next series, of course! Personally, I'm developing something on poaching, and the units being trained to stop it, in Gabon.
But I really want to do something about the Silk Road - not just an historical documentary, but an expedition to show the lives of people on that trail today. I'd also love to make a film about space exploration. It absolutely thrilled me as a child and we are on the verge of the next leap forward in human space travel.
Thanks Ash, we’ve thoroughly enjoyed chatting to you and will look out for your next project!