“The Beekeeper” – A mini Documentary

While driving around country Victoria Australia, in early 2009, I stopped by an old Sawmill near Jubilee Lake in the township of Daylesford. Daylesford has an amazing history including playing a large role during the 1850’s – 1950’s Gold Rush era. Today it’s Melbourne’s weekend escape with many Spa & Massage Centres, thanks to the naturally occurring mineral springs, Restaurants and Art Galleries. However Daylesford has many hidden gems, including the subject of my mini documentary.

My family has a long history with the township of Daylesford, including my Grandmother who taught at the local High School. So I remember traveling to various peoples homes to get things like eggs, milk, bread and honey. For some reason, there are several families that make honey in the district. However I remembered one particular place that looked more like an industrial sawmill then a place to get honey. Having recently fallen in love with my Canon 5DMKII’s ability to record HD video, I thought to myself, why not go back to the mill and ask if I could walk around, take some videos and stills. So on a slightly wet and dreary day, I rocked up with nothing more then my camera.

Barry is the Beekeeper. He’s been working the property for ever, having built the place by hand from scrap. It’s difficult to find words that describe what exactly Barry has built other then I would like to describe it as a “Terry Gilliam” inspired work of art! In all fairness, Barry has built everything he needs to make Honey, including growing the Timber to make the Bee Boxes! Hence the Sawmill’s purpose. After logging the forrest, his small team then turn the raw timber into planks that make Bee Boxes. He makes the Wax inserts that will eventually house the honey, as well as obviously taking the Boxes out into the fields where the Bees do all their work. After the Bee Boxes are recovered, he produces Honey & Wax and sells it all over the world. There are people who travel from as far away as India to buy from him.

So I didn’t really arrive at his door step with a great plan. I just wanted to record some of the visuals before time took it all away and have some fun with my camera. Barry is a very kind and generous man. Not only did he allow me to film him and ask questions, he took me on a detailed and frank journey about his life’s work. With my handheld 5DMKII camera with no external microphone or any lighting, I followed him around the property as he explained a few things to me. In my haste, I forgot to switch off the Image Stabiliser on the 24-105mm lens I was using and the sound has a nasty rattle running through everything I shot. I don’t think it matters because the industrial setting does allow for such mechanical noises but I did also reduce it in Post Production. I used Final Cut Pro and Soundtrack Pro to edit “The Beekeeper”. Using the noise removal tools in Soundtrack Pro greatly helped the audibility of the dialogue.

At the time of filming, I was using the 1.0.4 firmware so everything was 30fps only. I converted all the footage to Sony’s XDCAM 35mb/sec format because mostly I was cutting on a laptop and I didn’t want the files size to bog me down. It’s actually a really great codec that looks nice without getting silly on the file sizes. Because Canon hadn’t released it’s FCP plugin, the conversion was done in Mpeg Streamclip. Back in Final Cut Pro I did add some colour adjustments here and there but not on everything. I loved mostly how it looked as it came off the camera. Because the day was quite gloomy and dark, I was shooting wide open and the resulting depth of field is very pleasing. The tones in the scene were largely monotone browns and blacks, which helped give the images an amazing look. So not much was needed to enhance the overall look and feel.

In less then two hours, I had shot an interview, a good amount of cutaways that I could add as overlay and said goodbye to Barry. I can tell you as practicing filmmaker, that is very fast. To add to it, I was completely by myself. In the professional world I can’t do that! So the power of my 5DMKII is not lost on my at all. Some would argue, “Well hang on, I could do that before with my camcorder!” That’s true, but we could never do the job with such film style and aesthetics. At best we could approach Television style news gathering quality but not a rich Cinema experience. Armed with my laptop, I was also able to do most things on battery power and in the field with no other resources such as tape decks, edit suit, or sound studio! Does that change the ability to tell a great story? – I certainly think it helps.

Several months later I went back to see Barry but this time I took along good friend Tibor Hegedis, who lives in Daylesford as well. He’s an experienced filmmaker in his own right and he was gracious enough to come along and help me re-shoot the doco but this time with more gear, more time etc. We shot for most of the day and I used a Dolly, Lights and Pro level Sound Gear to record interviews etc. However, a really strange thing occurred later. As I was cutting the new footage, I felt it looked manufactured and fake. It looked setup! I actually felt crestfallen by it because I had worked so hard to make better the situation. So for the next few months I kind of left it and moved on to other work. Recently I looked at the original raw edit and was surprised that it was actually quite watchable. The rawness of the interview and the unplanned nature of the questions even seemed to be more honest and believable then the revised version. So after much indecision I decided to post it on Vimeo.com so the world at least could pass comment. Barry’s story is worth watching and he really is an engaging individual. Hopefully, with so many DSLR’s now out in the world shooting video, the lives of individuals, Societies and their hard work can be better recorded for the future. It’s exciting to see technology advance but when it has such a profound impact on our own lives and the lives of the next generation, I can truly appreciate the importance of such a technological change.

Feel free to comment yourself. Enjoy!

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Easter – New life in the forest!

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Almost three months later, I visited the Wombat State Forest again, having ridden on bikes through the area over the New Years break. More then a month later, the same beautiful section of forest was decimated by the recent Bush Fires that plagued Victoria. Together with Cinematographer Tibor hegedis, I spent a day photographing the burnt out sections. My brother in-law and I  also took a Helicopter survey of the region. It was obvious to me that massive damage had occurred and that it would take a great deal of time to heal the wounds inflicted by the fires.

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I should make this clear. I don’t intend to harp on this subject matter, it’s just I have found this event quite amazing. Daylesford or more precisely the Bullarto Hogen’s Rd Fire in the Wombat State Forest, did not effect people on a scale like the Kinglake Fires or those at Marysville. For me personally, Daylesford is my second home. I virtually grew up in the area, I got married in Daylesford and both my Grandparents are buried there. So for me it’s only natural to be involved in some way. This is now the third blog entry that I have written on the subject and I promise not to bore you with more.

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It’s Easter now, and I took the opportunity to revisit the same areas that were burnt out. While huge sections of the forest are clearly dead, there is some hope in small sections of the park. Life is springing from some of the trees although I do have to say that this is occurring only in maybe less then 10% of the areas I visited. Mostly I saw nothing but burnt out logs and dead ghostly looking trees in a field of brown leaves covering the ground like a carpet. It’s strangely beautiful in an apocalyptic way??! As I stood in the forest taking photos, I heard nothing but air movement between the trees. No birds and no animals at all. However at my feet, some grasses had broken through the blackened ground, providing at least some green colour to the scene. It’s eerily strange taking photos of a tiny fern, or a tree breaking out into what looks like some sort of strange disease as it sprouts new shoots. Life is coming back. However it is clear to me that this will be a very long time.

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At my brother in-laws farm, the charcoal colour of their fields had been completely replaced with green. Grass had sprouted in the rains that followed the fires and the place was awash with green! For me this was amazing because it had completely changed the way the farm looked. A total transformation is the best way to describe it. I once again took photos of the same subjects on the farm. The Sheep, the Donkey, the House and the large Sculpture nick named “Star Gate”.  I have included a mix of shots from before the fire, directly after the fire and photos I have taken this weekend to compare. I think you will agree its a pretty incredible change.

Riding in the forest

Riding in the forest

StarGate by Greg Johns

StarGate by Greg Johns

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The following photos were all taken over the Easter Weekend. Enjoy!

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Ground Survey of the Daylesford Fires.

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Nearly ten days after the Bush Fires broke out in the Wombat State Forest near Daylesford, a group of friends and family decided that it was time to go back to Daylesford and see if there was anything we could do to help clean up. The Farm at Daylesford had been fully burnt out by the fire but remarkably, it did not damage the buildings. The fencing will need to be replaced, however there is a government funded program that will provide assistance in the replacement. So in the end there was not much for us to do. I had been in contact with a good friend of mine Tibor Hegedis, who does work for the local animal shelter as a volunteer, and he had expressed an interest in taking a 4×4 tour of the burnt out section of the Wombat State Forest. He wanted to document the devastation photographically. All access to the State Forest had been cut off until the day before, so we were entering into the Forest at the earliest possible time. The day prior, a good amount of rain had fallen so the conditions were a little slippery but relatively safe. I certainly didn’t want to put myself or Tibor at risk so we acted very cautiously. We drove around the burnt out section of Jubilee Lake and headed up to Paddy’s Point. From there, we traveled down some of the fire trails to investigate some of the more remote sections of the park. This is the same area I drove through only recently in January. It looks utterly different now! In several places, we found stumps that were very much still burning and in the photos below, you can see Tibor extinguishing them. These photo’s represent my record of the event. Cheers.

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Daylesford Helicopter Fire Survey

Daylesford Fires Helicopter Survey rough Video

For the last couple of weeks, while I have been in Singapore, Victoria Australia has suffered the worst natural disaster in it’s modern history. Extremely high temperatures (reaching 50?C +) and strong winds, combined with a very long period of draught, has seen to the perfect conditions for this disaster to take place. By now the world has heard of Black Saturday, where 210 + people died at Bush fires around the State. Of a particularly sad note for me personally was the loss of a very fine Actor I had the pleasure of working with many years ago. His name was Reg Evans and he was a true gentleman. We had worked together on a Television Commercial for Landrover at a place called Narbethong. The irony of it all was that while he past away at Kinglake, Narbethong was also completely burnt out in the fires.

The day I returned back to Melbourne, the temperatures soared again and fires broke out near the township of Daylesford. I grew up here and I’m extremely attached to the district. My Grandmother taught music at the local high school and my Grandfather settled here for a while. Later my own parents continued to bring myself and my sisters to taste the naturally occurring mineral waters, swim at Lake Jubilee, and go hiking in the National Park. So when I heard about the report of fire in the Wombat State forrest, my heart sank.

I have been a Twitter user for some time but slowly had formed the opinion that it was another useless web 2.0 technology I really didn’t need. Well on this day I found out how amazing a technology like Twitter really can be. I had subscribed to the CFA (Country Fire Authority of Victoria) feed and was getting realtime updates on events. That night, while all other media was vague and sketchy, I was glued to the Twitter feed as the fire spread rapidly across the district. From what I was reading, I knew my Sister and her Husband’s farm was in serious danger. Having spent New Year there only recently, the Farms proximity to the huge Wombat State Forrest was ringing alarm bells for me. I contacted my good friend Tibor Hegedis, who lives in Hepburn Springs only minutes away, to see what he knew. The strain on his voice said it all. He had packed up all his most important possessions and thrown them into his car and was heading for the Daylesford Town Hall to spend the night there. An Emergency shelter was erected at the Town Hall. He was telling me that he was confused as to what was going on. An Ember storm had began on the outskirts of town and people were gathering on the top of Mt Wombat to get a view of the approaching fire storm. It was choking with smoke in the center of Town. Alert Messages were issued for Daylesford and the surrounding areas, warning of direct interaction with the fire. Then suddenly, the Twitter feed announced that the wind had changed and the town was no longer directly inline with the advancing flames. I quickly rang Tibor who wasn’t able to get much information before, to let him know. I slept not knowing what had happened to my Sister and Brother in-laws farm.

Simon, my Brother In-law, contacted me to see whether I would be interested in going up to Daylesford by Helicopter. Many of the roads were still cut by fire and given that there were probably dangers such as hot metal objects and other hazards, a Helicopter was a good choice. For a couple of days he tried to negotiate clearances to fly in, but the fires around Daylesford were huge and took much longer to quell. Eventually we were given clearance to fly up and today we conducted a survey of his farm. Simon is a very pragmatic person, who is extremely grounded and realistic when it comes to his outlook on life. I have seen him under all sorts of stresses related to his work and other matters. On the flight up, he told me of how he and his wife had their rather expensive bikes stolen outside Feds Square in Melbourne. So I knew that what ever had happened to his farm in Daylesford, he was prepared to handle it. When we arrived and overflew the house, I looked back at him. He was excited.

On landing and looking around, we could not believe how lucky the Farm house was. Fire had literarily licked the building but somehow left it be! Every building had survived miraculously. In some instances fire went right around them. The Sheep had some how skirted the flames also. Only two Rams had to be put down down for burns. A Donkey called Diego, which originated from the Northern Territory (along with another Donkey called Moses) had also survived. Moses was killed by lightning a couple of years ago leaving Diego on his own at the farm at Daylesford. Diego has lived through snow storms, draught, and now bushfire! All in all a very happy ending. The entire property was burnt out. So there is no feed for the animals. For the time being they will have to fed by hand. In places, fire was still smoldering and even at one point burst into flames in front of us! A CFA truck had to be called in to put out a fire in an old tree in the gully but overall, incredibly lucky. There are some photos of Sheds that have been burnt down. They belong to a Neightbour to the South of the Farm and another to the North. Both are also very lucky to still have a roof over their heads.

These photos are from this survey by Helicopter of the Daylesford Fires.

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