It’s March 28th 2017, northern France. The Citroen rental car is giving it’s best possible performance, but we don’t seem to be catching them up. For more than an hour now, we’ve been heading across country, no Peage, simply those lovely French D Roads, often tree lined, always well surfaced, a driver’s heaven.
Or at least it would be if we were driving something a tad more sporty. And if we could only get those French truck drivers to slow down a little so that would could catch them up.
The Citroen C4 Grand Picasso is actually a very capable little thing. Even though loaded with a couple of cases of Canon cameras, Manfrotto tripods, MacBooks, grip gear and our personal belongings, it was doing a good job.
We were chasing a Mirage. And these French truck drivers don’t hang around.
Eventually, I see a set of flashing orange lights on the horizon. It’s the escort vehicle for the convoy. Thank the Lord.
We’d been swapping text messages for most of the morning as, even though they were only parked a short distance away the previous evening, they had set off at a pace that proved hard to crack. And when you consider that the cargo consisted of a Dassault Mirage IV nuclear jet, dismantled and secured onto two huge, rear wheel steer trucks, I had imagined that their progress would be a little more leisurely. As we close the distance on them, Adam winds down the rear window and assumes his shooting position, the Canon C300 and 17-40 f4 lens combo proving relatively easy to hand hold in the 100kph breeze, despite the weight of the camera. We start shooting tracking shots as we pass that long, slender fuselage secured onto the rearmost truck chassis.
We had caught our Mirage.
This was a fascinating project to have been involved in. It was one of those projects where any number of things could have happened and we had to plan for every eventuality. The momentous event was the movement of the Dassault Mirage IV jet from long term storage at the huge Chateaudun Air Base between Paris and Le Mans, to a new home in Yorkshire. You can read the full story of this jet and how it was gifted to The Yorkshire Air Museum here.
Our task was to document the move and gain the best possible publicity for the Museum across social media and news channels, while also film at a high enough resolution to enable the creation of a broadcast standard documentary film in the future.
As the date grew nearer, various TV production companies expressed an excitement and interest in documenting the move. However, as the deadline for documentation, accreditation and French approval for access to the air base grew closer, it became obvious that every single company has simply been putting the story forwards as a speculation idea. No-one was stepping up.
This event would never be repeated. We knew it simply had to be done and that an iPhone or two wasn’t going to cut it, so we got busy on a little speedy pre-production.
Given that we really had only the roughest of ideas of what final format this would be produced into, shooting at the highest resolution possible was the obvious thing to be doing. If you’re not into digital then the simple rule is, you can take information away and make a file smaller, but you can’t add what wasn’t there afterwards.
Reaching out to Canon Professional Services, a Canon C300 Mk2 was secured, together with some CFast memory cards. The C300 Mk2 shoots Canon Log footage and our Canon EF mount lenses fit straight on. With built in ND filters for the wide open f2.8 look that Adam loves so much, plus XLR sound for on the fly interviews the C300 Mk2 had all things that we knew were going to make our job so much easier. Sound was through a Rode NGT2 mic with an extra long XLR cable for those grabbed interviews, no time for lavelier radio mics.
The usual B Roll cameras, Go Pros and Zoom Audio all packed down into a couple of Think Tank cases. And as we had the Citroen to ourselves, we could be expansive in our stowage.
At the same time, we needed to plan exactly what access we needed, not only on the air base itself, but also en-route. French Air Force access was taken care of so our attention turned to the route.
In typical French style, haulage company Sarrion were slow at providing any details of what route, which channel ferry crossing, what schedule or anything in particular. It wasn’t that they were being obstructive, it was simply that their own plans were fast and loose and they struggled to understand what could possibly be interesting about a couple of trucks driving along with an aircraft as cargo?
Eventually, Brittany Ferries was specified as the carrier of the jet, though we wouldn’t know where or when until very close to the date. Brittany Ferries’ PR and media department were simply superb. Access was not a problem, the staff being incredibly accommodating. Compared with the evangelical health n safety regime that seems to prevail everywhere today, they were chilled out and relaxed, while remaining professional at all times.
Arriving at Chatueaudun in France gave us the first chance to properly test the C300. Before leaving, we’d check ed that everything was working and that was about it. So an early evening foray into the old town gave us a little time.
Where of course, we found that it’s menu system was exactly the same as all the other Canon cameras we operate, both stills and video. Simple, logical, everything where you’d expect it to be. One of the major strengths of the Canon system
The following couple of days were intense, immensely satisfying and rewarding on many levels. Both in the satisfaction of shooting and filming this unique event, the level of engagement we were able to achieve through social media and news channels and also in the satisfaction of knowing that the pre-production planning time we invested in paid dividends when we were driving across country in France, with no time to change a plan had we not covered all of the bases.
So what became of the final footage? As ever, once the story had gained momentum, suddenly everyone wanted a slice of it. News footage clips and B Roll was edited out and made available, we also ran several Facebook Live streams at various points on the journey which ere incredibly well received by followers of the project.
In the weeks that followed, the BBC licensed some of the footage for use in their own short production of the story of the jet once assembled in Yorkshire, plus an edit for the Museum was then added to their own channels.
And the rest of that beautiful 4k footage that the Canon C300 Mk2 captured?
It’s safely archived, in readiness for the next stage of this story. The jet arriving in Yorkshire is only the first element. There’s far more to discuss about this remarkable aircraft and the French Air Force pilots and aircrew who flew them at the height of the Cold War period.
Sometimes in my work, I have to admit to feeling a little guilty. For many people, work is a penitent thing. It’s something to be endured, to create the income to pay the bills and then hopefully have enough left over to spend a little time and money on what we love.
So to be able to do something you love and be paid for it is indeed a privileged thing. As it says in my social media bio, “I tell everyone that this is work. We know it isn’t not really. “