The making of “18 – Rise of the Snowmen”

Snowmen

Snowmen: not to be trusted.

The 48 hour film festival is a winter tradition organised by McMurdo, the huge American base on the other side of the continent. The idea is that, one Friday afternoon, all bases across Antarctica are emailed a list of five subjects which must be incorporated into a five-minute long film. This must be written, filmed and edited ready for submission by first thing the following Monday morning. Once all of the entries from across Antarctica are in, they are electronically distributed to the dozens of stations for voting, with prizes on offer for various categories such as “Best film”, and “Best use of subjects”.

It was late last Friday when George, the Winter Base Commander, took delivery of the list of topics for this year’s competition. The material that we had to work with was:

  • The line “I’ll save you!”
  • The sound of ice breaking
  • A map of the local area
  • A computer mouse
  • The Queen

As soon as dinner was finished on Friday we headed for the bar to discuss ideas. One suggestion that we kept coming back to was a re-enactment of the Spartan war epic “300”, with our version including brutal fight-scenes involving scantily-clad warriors battling a sinister horde of invading snowmen. There were two downsides to this idea. Firstly was the risk of not being able to film outside if the weather was bad, having been battered by 40-50 knot winds for the previous couple of days. Secondly, there were certain logistical difficulties involved with building a vast army of invading snowmen, whilst still having time left over to film. However, with more ambition than practicality we voted on the idea and gave it a unanimous thumbs-up, before spending the rest of the evening thrashing out the finer details of the plot.

Snowmen

Me, building the first of many snowmen before sunrise. Thanks to Phil for the photo.

First thing on Saturday morning, conscious of the huge task ahead of us, the snowman-building team headed out to our chosen filming location and started constructing with gusto. Fortunately it was a calm but chilly day and, crucially, there wasn’t too much low cloud to ruin the contrast that we’d need for filming. With all hands at work in the pre-dawn half-light, sinister-looking figures were springing up everywhere until, eventually, the sun rose and revealed a spectacular army of over 30 snowmen marching over the hill towards the base.

Dressing

Rosey and the costume department kit out the Spartan warriors. Thanks to Phil for the photo.

Meanwhile, the costume department, headed up by Rosey and Mairi, had been hard at work kitting out our Spartan army. As our snowman army neared completion, the actors arrived on location looking like the awesomely fearsome warriors that they were, and not at all like a bunch of caped, underpant-wearing table-dancers. Dave, who would be playing the part of the Queen, looked amazing in a Geri Halliwell-style Union Jack dress and armoured breastplate, while George, as the General, had (for reasons best known to himself) mysteriously donned a pair of lederhosen and fashioned a pipe from one of our Government-issue dessert-spoons.

Filming

Fox and I film one of the death scenes, brilliantly acted by Rob and Tim. A moving moment. Thanks to Phil for the photo.

We immediately got to work, filming various important scenes surrounding the great battle. For each one, the actors and actresses would reluctantly peel off their boiler suits and jackets, perform their parts as quickly as possible, and then dive back into the warm clothing and shiver violently for a couple of minutes. As a heavily clothed cameraman, I could sympathise with them – my gloved fingers also got a bit chilly on a couple of occasions.

Everyone did their jobs brilliantly. Phil, on makeup, splattered tomato ketchup liberally in all of the right places and Steve, the effects coordinator, raided the stock of out-of-date flares to provide the authentic smog of war as the actors strutted their stuff. The actors themselves were tireless and brave, sustaining various bumps, bruises and scrapes as they performed all of their own stunts (there are no stunt-doubles available in Antarctica). At one point, Tom even reckoned (mistakenly, as it happened) that his nipples had fallen off due to the extreme cold.

Filming

Actors looking cold in between scenes. Thanks to Phil for the photo.

Eventually we came to shoot the battle scene itself. In a superb re-creation of the original film, our small Spartan clan charged the snowman army and fought them valiantly with a variety of weapons. Swords crunched against snow and ice; bog-chisels whistled through the air like Olympic javelins, and one warrior even resorted to whipping a snowman to death with a computer mouse. In the end, with all of the construction crew’s hard work now lying in a large heap of snow on the ground, we decided that it was probably time to head to a very late lunch.

There was no spare time for sitting around, so as soon as lunch was over we started to film the various scenes leading up to the battle. The library had been redecorated as a war-office. The Rothera snow-cave had been fashioned into a makeshift prison and, inexplicably, various other snowmen had appeared all over the base. Maybe our nightmare was coming true?

Filming

Checking on the footage we were getting. Thanks to Phil for the photo.

By dinner-time we had got all of the material we needed, and it was down to the small production team of me, Tim and Phil to head to the computer room to start what would become an exercise in endurance – a 24-hour editing marathon (broken up briefly by the occasional need to eat, sleep and do some washing-up). Meanwhile the rest of the crew were still hard at work. Tom, the musical director, headed off to record the superb soundtrack. George disappeared off somewhere and came back with some perfect recordings of ice breaking, one of the essential components of the film.  Ash provided us with the photos of snowmen edited into great battle scenes from throughout history, and Steve, the unsung hero of the day, spent hours tidying up the debris that we’d left up on the hill.

Filming

Our outdoor filming location, just as the sun is coming up.

By Sunday evening our five minutes of film was coming together nicely. The weary production team were seeing double from staring at the editing software for too long, but it was with a great sense of pride and relief that we eventually hit the ‘save’ button for the last time. All that remained was to submit our footage before heading to bed for a good night’s sleep, filled, as it turned out, with dreams about editing short war movies.

So that’s a wrap. The next stage of the competition is the voting, which comes in two weeks’ time (this big gap is essential – downloading the entries from every base on our pipsqueak Antarctic internet connections is no joke). I’ll let you know how it goes!

~ The End ~

dead

The aftermath of the battle. But does the human race survive?

Snowmen

Sinister.

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5 Responses to The making of “18 – Rise of the Snowmen”

  1. Jenny and Alan Stroud says:

    Deserves gold.

  2. Dina says:

    Beautiful images, aren’t you lucky to spend this time down there! 🙂
    Enjoy your stay, I enjoy your blog and will follow you closely all the way – from the other side, far up North.
    Your header is great.

    Greetings
    Dina

    • Thanks Dina! So what are you doing up at Svalbard? It looks like a stunning place to work from your photos. I’m almost getting iceberg-envy from some of them…

      A couple of my colleagues here have been on the archipelago and have brilliant stories to tell from up there. I’m hoping to make it up there sometime when I get back from Antarctica.

  3. MichB says:

    This is pretty epic. Sitting here in my nice wam Leicestershire office I am shivering in horror at the mere idea of so many under-panted men wandering around in the snow. A feat of true endurance!

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