julia dimon/for metro Toronto
As we trek through Jordan’s Wadi Rum, the crew is on high alert. We’d survived the humid, bug-infested jungles of Venezuela, now we had to film under new, but equally difficult, climate conditions. With dry heat, intense sun and lots of sand, the desert is the mortal enemy of expensive camera equipment. If a few innocent granules burrow their way into the lens or the camera’s inner body, it means big trouble for the new travel show we’re filming, Word Travels.
Ready to dodge another bullet from Mother Nature, a cautious crew follows Robin (my co-host) and I as we camel-trek single file through Jordan’s famous desert.
Lugging heavy equipment, Sean (camera man), Zack (sound guy) and Mary (director) race through the sand to get ahead of our camel fleet. They set up the tripod, hook cables into the sound mixer and give us hosts the signal that cameras are rolling. Our camels advance slowly toward them, casting over-sized shadows on a nearby sand dune. As Robin and I blab about travel writing, a wicked solar wind stirs up snarls of sand. A scratched lens would delay production, so Sean is quick to cover the gear.
When the wind dies down I hear a faint “Stop! Go back. Do it again!” from the crew. I sigh and the camels grunt.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about television production, it’s that getting that perfect shot takes time. What may seem like a no-brainer often requires multiple takes at different angles and film speeds. I’ve become accustomed to hearing things like: “Stand here. A little to the right please. Stop. We need cutaways. Sorry, battery change.” In the TV world, reality is massaged, constructed and manipulated in favour of aesthetics. I’m happy to go with the flow but following direction isn’t so easy atop a camel.
I whisper a few gentle words of encouragement but the stubborn camels won’t move. I look to our Bedouin guide for help but, since he doesn’t speak English, it’s tough to communicate. I launch into an awkward game of cross-cultural charades. Sean runs over to explain that, for the shot to look fantastic, the guide needs to lead the camels in the sun, along a precise path. The guide quickly gets the picture. Though camel trekking is the best way to see Wadi Rum, a few hours is tough on the inner thighs. It doesn’t take long before I’ve reached my camel capacity.
It’s been a long day and, though it was a struggle filming in the heat of the desert, the final product is perfection. Sitting atop a camel with a gossamer scarf on my head, I feel like a modern-day Lawrence of Arabia; a 21st-century explorer with a laptop, iPod and TV crew following behind me.
Word Travels premieres on the Outdoor Life Network in January.