Studio Lambert’s Race Across the World follows the journey of contributor teams who hand over their phones, credit cards and first world luxuries in an attempt to cross numerous countries, spanning thousands of miles, with as much money in their pockets as a large round of drinks would cost. Throughout this journey, these daring contributors are required to hit certain checkpoints in order to showcase some of the more spectacular towns and cities en route to the finish line.
As a concept, Race Across the World is highly ambitious, yet utterly terrifying, both in front of and behind the camera. Every member of the production team and crew is asked to go above and beyond their usual responsibilities. I was asked to come along to be the camera operator at the checkpoints as well as fly the drone for checkpoint content and GVs to add the extra ‘epic’ feel which in itself brought a whole host of its own challenges.
For the most part, the main purpose of the GVs I was shooting were to establish the checkpoints as destinations and I was then responsible for covering the arrival of the teams into the checkpoint hotels. As the teams were relying exclusively on public transport, accurate ETA’s were few and far between. Thankfully, with the support of the editorial team using a laptop-shaped crystal ball, I was constantly given updates on arrival times of teams into our checkpoint towns. They were generally pretty good, but more often than not, the unpredictable whims of Mother Nature and of the contributors themselves could not be ruled out. Some of the most memorable from the first series being the storm in the Caspian Sea that left the teams stranded for days on end or the typhoon in Vietnam that turned the race on its head.
The group of us providing the coverage at the checkpoints tried to pick up the teams at their first arrival into a town or city and then cover their ‘run route’ to the checkpoint hotel. We weren’t able to offer any clues to the contributors to the whereabouts of the hotel, so we had a few sketchy moments. China in particular became an issue when the lights in the town were turned off after a certain time, so we had our fingers crossed that contributors arrived before then, or else they’d have spent the night fumbling around in the pitch black – something we’d have struggled to cover even with the expanded ISO on the A7s. As tough as this was though, the PDs and APs that sat, and in some cases stood, on those buses and trains for hours and hours on end in sometimes appalling conditions, while still managing to provide the core content of the series, really are incredible and deserve the lion’s share of the credit for how well the series has been received.
While the embedded crews provided the content during the legs, we were there to provide the overall scene-setting wide GVs, mainly from the drone. As anyone who’s tried to fly a drone professionally is aware, the number of hoops you need to jump through to get just UK permission, firstly for your own license, then for the locations you’re filming in, seem to be endless. With drones becoming more and more available to the consumer market, governments and aviation authorities are rapidly closing in on UAV pilots worldwide. However, with the technology still being relatively new, there is yet to be a worldwide or even European standard. No matter where we were operating, we made an effort to work within the standard limits set by the UK Civil Aviation Authority and my own operations manual as a benchmark and adapting our workflow for anywhere that had different rules.
For example, in Series 1 of Race Across the World, the fantastic production team fought tirelessly with various different aviation authorities and government departments and were able to source permissions in a huge variety of countries, each with their own bespoke set of rules. Uzbekistan, as you may or may not expect, were relatively relaxed about drones. In the capital, Tashkent, they were happy to allow us permission to fly almost anywhere. The only place we were expressly refused permission was the high-walled, CCTV riddled, ex-KGB building – somewhere I was more than happy to avoid. On the other end of the scale, Azerbaijan had an outright ban on any drones even entering the country, let alone allowing us permission to film.
In addition to the drones, we used a mixture of kit to make sure the natural excitement of the race to the checkpoint was translated to the audience. The main workhorse of the run route kit was the DJI Ronin S with a Sony A7s II and in the circumstances, it was ideal. The A7s matched what the PD teams were using, but the Ronin ensured that we could run at the same speed as the contributors without getting the jelly effect you tend to get with a rolling shutter. You’d be amazed at how quickly some of them can run when they can see a comfy bed, warm shower and a cold beer are within reach. At first, the Ronin seemed a little ‘vlogger’ for my liking, being used to using the larger gimbals such as the DJI Ronin 2 and Freefly Movi Pro. The lightweight Ronin S soon came into its own as it was principally used to capture the live reactions and jeopardy of that final sprint into the finish line of a checkpoint. For series 2 especially, there were times where I was one-handedly climbing up steep scree or running barefoot through jungle paths while trying to maintain a useable shot for which the Ronin S was second to none.
To complement the chaos on the ground, the ‘epic’ that we were briefed to capture was achieved by cutting those frantic sprints in with the big drone wides and tracking shots that we tried to choreograph as best we could. We opted to use a combination of the DJI Inspire 2 and the DJI Mavic Pro. The Inspire was mainly used for the big establishers and setting the scene or if we were chasing any vehicles that the contributors got into on their run routes, for example, the boats the contributors took to arrive onto Koh Rong on series 1. I spent an awfully long time sitting on the end of a jetty in blazing heat (particularly ill-advised for someone ginger) gazing into the distance for the arrival of a speedboat, however as soon as it made an appearance, the speed at which you can get up to on the Inspire allowed me to reach the boats within seconds. A large sensor, interchangeable lenses and the ability to have dual operators on the Inspire also meant we were able to add much more of a cinematic feel to the hasty chase scenes into checkpoints while still maintaining an element of portability and low set up time compared with any bigger drones. For series 2, the Mavic 2 Pro gave us the ability to experiment with aerial hyper-lapses. I was particularly pleased with how these came out and I feel they add even more to that epic feel, combining the grandeur of a drone shot and the technical skill of producing a high-quality time lapse.
Race Across the World is a particularly volatile beast and everyone, both on the ground and in the office, is reacting at a moment’s notice to developments from the racers as well as real world events, so it does make it a challenging series to produce in every aspect. During Series 1, we had everything from Acts of God to nerve-inducing border crossings, that production did extremely well to deal with, and you can expect the same and much more from Series 2. As much as it’s a cliché, Series 2 really was a rollercoaster and has everything from incredible drama, edge-of-your-seat suspense and truly comical moments: it had everyone behind the scenes gripped from the off and I don’t doubt that once the edit have worked their magic, audiences will be just as deeply invested as we all were while we were making it.
From the custom sound solutions that SAB provided, the bespoke camera and drone kit provided by Shift 4 and ANTIS to the camaraderie everyone has, right from the top to the bottom, the entire series feels very unique and I feel very lucky and proud to have been asked to be a small part of it.