Written by Shona Smith on Jun 16, 2020. Posted in Interviews

On location in Palau with local Media Producer/ Camera Operator Richard Brooks

TLG talks to Richard Brooks, local line producer and founder of Lightning Strike Productions on what producers should expect in Palau, in the Pacific Ocean.

How did you become involved in the film business and what has been your career path that got you to Palau and your current role.

Back in the year 2000 I was working as a DiveMaster in Thailand. One day the owner of a production house offered me a camera and gave me the most rudimentary of lessons in underwater filming. After that first outing I was hooked. I worked for a while as a Dive Instructor but I knew that filming was what I wanted to do. I took various jobs around the Caribbean gaining experience and honing my craft. Fast forward to 2009 and I came to Palau with my own camera system to work for a local dive shop knowing that I wanted to start my own production company. I started to diversify and film on land, learning audio and eventually aerial filming with drones. In 2015 Lightning Strike Productions (LSP) was officially founded here in the Republic of Palau.

Please tell us about Lightning Strike Media Productions?

LSP is a small production house, we aim to keep it simple and our costs low. We cater to national and international clients offering fixing and pre-production services, underwater filming and photography, land based filming, interviews etc, time-lapse photography, 360 VR, drone filming, drone mapping, wildlife filming, editing and post production. Basically a bit of everything.

I’ve also accompanied scientific expeditions to some far flung places of the world to document their work.

Lately we have been commissioned with a number of public education films that required animation and for that we outsourced to many of the local talents here.

Currently we are shooting with the Canon C200 for most projects and have the Nauticam Housing for that. We have used both RED and Arri cameras for numerous shoots though. Stills are supplied by the Canon 5D3 also housed in a Nauticam. A range of lenses are available from Ultra Wide to Macro. We have sliders, tripods, light rigs, wireless and shotgun mics, screens and silks, DJI Drones for aerials. An assortment of GoPros and time-lapse rigs from both SYRP and Rhino. I also dive with the AP Inspiration Rebreather for extended bottom times and closer wildlife interactions.

Many of our clients are environmentally themed TV productions and have included Animal Planet, Al Jazeera (pictured right), Nat Geo, the BBC, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and a host of others.

Ours is a small operation with only 2 full time staff but a number of part time artists and collaborators help us out when required for bigger projects.

Like I said, much of our work has an environmental theme as Palau has a huge number of such stories available.

What can you tell us about Palau as a filming destination? 

Palau as a location offers huge amounts of natural beauty, it’s renowned worldwide for its reefs and aquatic wildlife. The postcard perfect Rock Islands are incredible both from a boat and from the air. It’s relatively easy to get to and from hubs like Manila, Guam, Taipei and Narita. It’s remoteness has been its blessing but production teams need to also realise that things take time to get here, and for high value productions you will need to bring equipment with you as there is very little in the way of camera and gear rental opportunities on island.

Local crew are available and talent can be sourced. As you fly in you will no doubt see one of our productions being aired, “The Palau Pledge”.

All filming undertaken by international crews require a filming permit for each state you wish to film in, Palau has 16 states though the majority of reefs etc are with one or two. Prior authorisation is required for all productions but the local government is easy to work with and permitting is a relatively simple process, but this is a service we provide to maximise production efficiency.

Infrastructure is probably at the upper end for a Pacific Island but still a fair way behind Hawaii. Internet, electricity and even water supply are still at times sporadic and wobbly. Weather is typical for the tropics with the wet season usually between June and October although we have also known tropical storms and Cat 5 Typhoons coming through in December. Peak biological activity on the reefs is between January and May and is the peak season for tourism. Generally the people are warm and welcoming, officials keen to have productions showcase their country.

What locations are most commonly used by foreign or out of state film and TV crews when they come and film in the Palau Islands?

Most productions that we cater to want to get out into the Rock Islands where stunning locations, beaches and bays await. Palau is blessed with the Jellyfish Lake which is both accessible and reliable and stunning for filming and is a favourite with productions. The reefs however are the real draw and there are locations where large numbers of Sharks and Mantas and huge aggregations of fish can be found reliably. Palau’s environmental protection efforts have also been documented in the past with productions such as the Animal Planet series Ocean Warriors being filmed in part on board a patrol boat looking for illegal fishing. There are also remote inhabited atolls far to the north and south which offer truly incredible experiences and stories.

What locations worldwide can the Palau Islands easily double for? 

Palau stands on it’s own as a location with not many other places coming close to its scenery and wildlife. The closest would be parts of Indonesia like Raja Ampat and the Maldives.

What productions / production companies have used the Palau islands locations in the past five years?

Over the last 5 years numerous productions have utilised Palau. Nat Geo covered the WW2 battleground of Peleliu for one of their Mega Structures programmes for which I provided aerial filming support.

As mentioned earlier we had Animal Planet here for Ocean Warriors which to date was probably the most challenging shoot we have assisted with, both logistically and physically. Filming for 10 days onboard a naval patrol boat on the high seas, chasing down suspect fishing boats and boarding them in the middle of the night was an intense experience but we had the incredibly experienced and patient producer Thomas Backer with us from Deadliest Catch so we were in good hands.

The best thing about Palau I think is still the enormous amount of potential it has for productions. There are still so many stories left untold, interesting locations and wildlife to be shared, people who care about their country.

What would you recommend crew and cast do to have fun and relax on down days or pre / post filming in the Palau Islands?

The diving of course is still world class and it’s always my recommendation to crews to get out there and experience it.

What do you do to relax and chill out yourself after looking after an incoming production?

Myself when I want to chill, I like to grab my kayak and go and explore all the hidden places amongst the numerous islands of Palau.

Where did you last take a vacation?

If I do take a vacation it’s to go back to the UK, rent an Air BNB in Devon or Cornwall with my wife, daughter and my parents. It’s hard to argue as so many of my filming assignments are on many peoples wish lists for vacations. I can’t go and sit round a pool for day after day though, I’m always looking for filming or photography opportunities

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