Written by on Jul 2, 2015. Posted in Production News

Archer’s Mark films underwater Mexican cave for Ballantine’s Scotch whisky

Archer’s Mark filmed on location in an underwater cave in Mexico for an ambitious photo shoot promoting Ballantine’s Scotch whisky. Working with photographer Benjamin Von Wong, the team staged the shoot above a toxic sulphur river.

The campaign - Ballantine's Presents Benjamin Von Wong's Underwater River - was filmed in the submerged cenotes of Tulum on Mexico’s Caribbean coast.

The campaign involved staging an ambitious photo shoot featuring a model as a Chinese Cormorant Fisherman – in a nod to Von Wong’s own Chinese heritage – steering a ‘boat’ on the underwater sulphur river.

Von Wong was drawn to the project partly because he specialises in a ‘hyper-real’ style of photography that marries innovative concepts with the creative use of special effects.

“This type of location and the visual effect of the sulphur layer are unique to the cenotes of Mexico,” said director William Williamson: “It’s the best example of the naturally occurring chemical reaction that creates the ‘underwater river’ effect in the world. There was nowhere else we could do it as successfully.”

A team of 35 specialists helped make the project a reality. Filming in the cenote was complicated by the 100-foot depth and the need for an underwater lighting rig in an environment barely penetrated by the sun.

“The most challenging element was building and lighting a set 100 feet below the surface because, even with the most high tech equipment, you’re limited by how long you can stay at that depth for,” Williamson explains.

“The underwater team worked on rotation, factoring in all of the necessary decompression times above and below the surface.”

This type of location and the visual effect of the sulphur layer are unique to the cenotes of Mexico.

William Williamson, Director

Once the lighting rig was lowered into the cenote, the bigger challenge became how to alter the equipment settings to achieve the precise effects the team was looking for.

The team wrestled with communication between the underwater set and the surface, and also with the technicalities of the lights and the cameras.

“Even the lights we took down there with us didn’t penetrate very far so all of our cameras had to be set up with the fastest lenses we could take underwater and all of the operators were shooting wide open and pushing their sensors to the limit,” Williamson adds.

“We were shooting on Red Dragon 6K, which thankfully dealt very well with the conditions.”

The expertise of the crew was of course paramount to the success of the shoot.

Von Wong spent a few days getting qualified to dive to the 100-foot set to physically take the pictures and the team worked with several experienced local cave divers.

Lance Lee Davis, an expert in free-diving - the art of diving without breathing apparatus - was Von Wong’s model.

“Lance needed to hold his breath for several minutes at a time, control his own buoyancy and strike a pose on the boat,” Williamson recalls.

“Between takes he’d put a mask on so that Ben could communicate with him through written messages and then apply any changes to his performance. And he was doing this for nearly 40 minutes, in 100 feet of freezing, semi-toxic water!”

The film is part of Ballantine’s Stay True campaign, which includes the brand’s Space GIF-ITI shoot that took place in Nevada recently.

Client: Ballantines
Agency: M&C Saatchi Sports & Equipment
Agency Producer: Alex Wilkinson
Director: William Williamson
Production Company: Archer’s Mark
Producer: Paz Parasmand
Production Service Company: Yucatan Productions
Local Producer: Dominque Duneton
Underwater DoP: Robert Franklin
Land DoP: Will Hanke


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