Updated: Aug 26, 2021
Locations and Production Manager
I overheard the idea of a Wim Hof documentary being filmed in Queenstown, New Zealand and my ears began to prick immediately with questions. I knew the idea would be visually stunning but thought it would need some careful considerations to make it a reality. Access to Queenstown locations for film crews and production companies can seem obvious on the outside with our international airport so close to the mountains, but more often than not these initial creative ideas need detailed consultation and logistics built around them to be safe working environments and suitable to our local conservation, communities and land owners.
I was originally hired to assist the Sydney based production company a few weeks prior to the productions first attempt to get the shoot into action, but with COVID spreading through Australia it was unfortunately delayed with hope that the New Zealand - Australia boarder would open again in the not so distant future. Unfortunately it didn't, and as the previous episodes were already live in campaign it was decided to subcontract the production to Wanaka, New Zealand based production company Two Bearded Men to work alongside me.
When the new dates were organised it was revealed that we were given a tight window of 2 days, with no backup weather days, to make this experience and film all come together. To nail down the ideal location was a challenge, each suggestion came with it's own set of unideal restraints such as access, fee, land owner consultation, and what would be best in all types of weather conditions.
First up, we'd discussed using a helicopter to get to a local alpine mountain with glacial lakes. Questions were asked around whether or not these lakes be too frozen over, would we be able to break them up? It was an unknown and a costly recce to go explore prior to the shoot, with the narrow production window and unpredictable weather it was decided this idea would pen us in too much.
Second of all, we had the beautiful Lake Whakatipu at the base of Queenstown to consider, but would the snow line be ideal? It was a budget friendly option, but It didn't quite fit the aesthetics of the brief. But it was decided to have this location as a back up just incase. Third, the many lower mountain that surround Lake Whakatipu, Deer Park Heights and NZ High Country all have glacial lakes with good road access. But they were all too close to Queenstown Airport and it would be a difficult space to capture clean audio at.
Lastly it was to visit a local ski-field, many of the ski-fields in Queenstown are on land managed by Department of Conservation which requires a special permitting process and with the type of activity we were performing it offered several unique challenges that made it prohibitive to use them. However, there were 2 ski-fields we could consider. Cardrona Alpine Ski Resort was on private land but offered no access to a pool of natural water. And then there was Snow Farm, a Nordic Cross Country Ski Resort that had a glacial river running through it, we heard of a couple of places where the water pools together, but would the flow of the water fit the aesthetic? We weren't entirely sure but we decided to go take a look and consider whether or not it was worth proposing to the client and agency for sign off.
The proof was in the mahi, big wide open winter landscape, with a gentle river running through it with several areas where the water pooled together. Musterers Flat, Snow Farm was the one, and with the green light from all those involved it was time to plan the logistics around the location to get everyone there for the right time, safely, and with as much ease as possible.
The logistics around the hero production day had to be tight, there were many bodies to move safely to the spot. We departed our accommodation at 06:00 to arrive at Snow Farm for what was an epic Southern Alps sunrise and with typical New Zealand work days being 10 hours we had to attempt to done and back at base by 16:00.
We'd secured the services of several transport professionals in Altitude Tours for our road trip Queenstown - Snow Farm return (75 mins each way), and then also Torte Lyons who was our snow mobile operator who provided safe passage to Musterers Flat which was a 10 min ride in and out. With 13 crew we needed 5 shuttles, which ate into our production time, but it was a necessary piece of the puzzle. We devised a plan to get camera crew in first to set up to capture plates and details, followed up by the talent to start working through the shooting schedule, lastly followed by the client and talent management.
The production team built the shot list around capturing our talent traversing through the baron winter landscape before arriving at our water spot. Musterers Flat was suitable for many reasons. The big wide snowy flats, the river that ran in proximity to it and it's relative ease of access to groomed trails.
With our key activity being the Wim Hoff method, many health and safety procedures were put in place to make sure we kept a tight and healthy team. We also wanted the experience to be as natural as possible, so we allowed Laura, who is an accredited Wim Hof level 2 instructor, to go through her process as normal as possible with limited interruption.
To be on the safe side we had plenty of spare clothes, emergency blankets, hot drinks, first aid kits, first aid trained crew (I myself am trained at First Aid Level 2), blankets, heat packs, and of course our snow mobile and driver on hand if anyone were to need immediate medical attention. One of the benefits of using Snow Farm as the location was that they would be able to assist us with their team and facilities capable of managing an emergency in the event that one were to occur.
Two other locations were still needed to complete our story, somewhere to kick the film off with an element of being at ground level, and a wellness studio.
We had previously planned for contingencies for our hero location, and with that I had secured the shores of Lake Whakatipu as a back up option if the weather had turned to custard on us. This location actually came in handy as the scene for this opening location where our characters first meet their instructor Laura Warren. It grounded our talent at an accessible location close to Queenstown, still offering a winter vibe, but obvious to Queenstown with The Remarkables, Cecil Peak and Walter Peak all sitting in the background.
The last location we had to secure was that of a studio space in which Laura could go through her workshop with SWIDT. With our production HQ and crew accomodation based at The Sherwood, Queenstown it was no a brainer to use their yoga studio. It was a secured easily and offered a nice documentary styled aesthetic with light sources from two windows opposite from each other, one being offering more dominant light than the other. The space was built for peace and quite, so we had perfect sound and little interruption.
This was an incredible project to be a part of, with the client, agency, remote production, on ground crew and talent all praising what a pleasure it was to be a part of, and the proof is in the film above.
Without a doubt, the work that went into securing these locations played a valuable part in building the aesthetic and tone of this piece of content, it wasn't a straight forward idea and it needed much consideration but that was half the fun, finding a solid location, and building well oiled logistics around it.
Ultimately it was a team effort, each and every member of the creative and production crew were vital to it's success in building the story, selecting talent, creating the visual characteristics, cinematography, the soundscape, the crew, the client and agency to have the vision and the trust in us all to execute this great piece of branded content. Check out a behind the scenes instagram reel from the SWIDT boys below.
If you're a production company, director or brand looking to use Queenstown's stunning locations and facilities for your next video, TVC, film, documentary, or photoshoot then make sure to consider using a local expert to help navigate the logistics and consulting process for you. Reach out to me if you'd like an informal chat about your next production, I would be happy to help. Remote Production Company: VICEau Client: Kathmandu
Talent: SWIDT represented by Universal Music & Laura Warren Wim Hoff Instructor
Agency: We Are Social On Ground Production Company: The Beards Remote Executive Producer: Anna Lawrence Remote DOP: Simon Knox Remote Director: James Millynn
Remote Creative Project Manager: Charmaine Viscayno
Producer: Toby Crawford
Locations and Production Manager: Jonny James (me) Director of Photography: Tim Pierce
B Cam Operator: Chris Mansuell
Sound Op: Danny Fairley Campaign Stills: Oscar Hetherington Transport: Altitude Tours Snow Mobile: Torte Lyons Locations: Snow Farm, Queenstown, The Sherwood