It’s Not All About Cocaine

For me 2013 is all about Colombia and the feature I’m working on there for Off the Fence Productions in Bristol and our Colombian clients “Ecoplanet”. I know it’s still 2012 but I’ve just had a sneak preview of this country with a 3 week recce and camera test.

First Impressions of Bogota- Cooler that I was expecting (it sits at 2600m), very clean, well cared for, amazing restaurants and very stylish. Drug lords were not much in evidence at all and the only mounds of white powder I saw were at the salt mines on the north coast.

The film’s director, Mike Slee and Producer, Allison Bean, had already had a whirlwind tour of Colombia earlier in the year with our hosts from Ecoplanet, Francisco Forero and Laura Feged. One sequence we knew we wanted was the wildlife on a cattle ranch in a region of the Colombian Llanos called La Aurora. This is where we shot the camera test.


Some Aurora Wildlife we hope to film in 2013

The ranch, the cows and horses and of course the cowboys here are the real deal. These are barefoot cowboys even when they’re wearing spurs and wrestling cows to the floor. They live, eat, sleep and no doubt dream cows and at night they sleep in hammocks between the horses.

We timed our visit to coincide with the annual roundup. The ranch covers a vast area and through the year the cows split into small herds and spread out. So once a year the ranch hires in the cowboys and the roundup begins. They bring them in a few hundred at a time, separate the calves from their mothers, wrestle the calves to the floor with much bravado and whooping , vaccinate and brand them.


Some Aurora cowboys we actually filmed

I’ve never seen a proper lasso before but they are incredible things. About 15m long and made from a single strip of twisted cow hide with the hair still on. They’re well greased everyday with a chunk of beef fat and then tied between a fixed post and the pommel on a saddle and stretched by the horse. And when the cowboys use them, it’s just like the movies with bucking broncos and clouds of backlit dust!

This was the action I was aiming to capture for the movie. I’d already filmed the sequence with the long lens and in slo mo and we’d engineered some beautiful crane shots but then it was time to go handheld into the thick of it. This was a brand new £70K camera kit and there I was kneeling down in front of a very angry cow with a lasso around it’s neck. Behind me was a man on a horse holding the other end of the lasso. I switched the camera on and the first thing I saw through the viewfinder when it flickered into action was a cow that literally seemed to be fuming and it appeared to be looking straight down the lens barrel. Being on my knees with 18Kg of camera on my shoulder in front of a charging bovine is not a good position to be in. It’s impossible to move quickly so the cow didn’t even need the element of surprise. I could see it coming for a full 10 seconds before the charge and indeed my premonition was absolutely right. All I could think about though was the brand new camera especially when the cow smashed it into my face and then again when it managed to wrap the lasso around the matte box (lens hood and filters) before heading due south! As the lasso tightened I could see metal bending until eventually the matte box was ripped away completely, silence prevailed and I was left spread eagled in the dust.


The Real McCoy

Well, we hadn’t yet finished with the cow and as it turned out, the cow hadn’t finished with us either. After I’d dusted myself down a bit we released the cow so we could film it being lassoed again, this time with a longer lens on a tripod from a safe distance and with the added protection of a pickup truck right next to us. It was only with sheer skill that one of the cowboys managed to veer the charging cow away from the camera just before it hit. It was clear by now exactly who and what the cow blamed for it’s predicament. It was me and the camera. We moved everyone and the camera onto the back of the pickup to film from there. Surely we’d be safe there and we were, but the cow was now not only angry it was frustrated and so she attacked the truck, completely caving in the driver’s door.

The camera was actually fine…p relief; I suffered minor bruising and a bloody cheek, the matte box was wrecked and the cow got branded so a fair result I reckon.


An Aurora cow resigned to being branded

These paintings are by Nelson Barragan (hotel manager, guide, driver, singer and painter) in Aurora.


We called him Lee Van Cleef


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