Thursday 3rd December
It was cold, dark and early, with rain battering down when I drove my nice Mercedes for the last time on the way to catch my flight to Gatwick.
At the Monarch check in I met up with Sarah the producer and Jo Monarch’s head of PR.
It took no time to get the kit checked in and sent off down the belt to into the baggage system.
That process had just finished when our travelling companions, the Beardsmith family arrived with there bags, guitars and a drum
They were the winners of the GMTV No1 Family competition. Their prize was to record an album for Christmas and it is due to be released next Friday.
We were going off to Lapland to play one one of the tracks to Santa. That is of course if we can find the elusive jolly old chap.
We got all their hold baggage loaded equally as quickly as mine had been
Then Sarah told me that we had a few things to shoot.
I mentally kicked my own ass for not checking first before letting my run bag disappear into the abyss that is baggage handling.
I would just have to make sure that the camera mic would do it’s job on this one.
We did a very quick piece to camera with the family near the check in area.
Alice the only female member of the group did the talking on this one.
That should have been OK on the camera mic.
The slightly more problematic thing to shoot from a sound point of view was a little performance that was going to take place onboard the aircraft.
Even with all my sound kit it would not be an easy thing to do.
The thoughts of that upcoming scenario playing in my head we all sauntered off in the direction of departures and the trauma that is security.
On the short walk Jo checked that we all had our passports and in those few meters from check in we had not lost our boarding cards.
I nudged her and said that it must be like looking after a bunch of kids when she takes groups of the media.
We’d be much more grown up of course I said.
Was there a hint of scepticism in her slowly nodded reply?
There was a happy excited atmosphere on the aircraft. The cabin crew were all dressed with Christmas hats and broad smiles. The kids and the families were all well up for having a good time.
In the true TV tradition we took over for a little while when the family did their song.
We tried to use the mic from the PA system to help me get some kind of usable sound and allow the passengers to hear and join in.
I was glad it was a join in song that they sang because I was pretty sure the only usable audio would be when the whole of the plane was going for it.
It would only make a tiny bit of the film but should look quite good, giving a real flavour of the good time that everyone was having.
As soon as the plane landed and the door was open we knew we were north of the arctic circle. It was around -13C with a very gentle breeze.
The first thing we all did was go into a big warehouse building on the airport. We were quickly and expertly sized up and issued with warm snow suits and cosy waterproof boots.
Now with the appropriate attire and the thermals etc. that we had brought with us we were ready to start shooting in the morning.
Friday 4th December
My camera was all tucked up inside the special thermally insulated polar bag with a few heat pads strategically placed to prevent the batteries succumbing to the bitter cold.
It was dark and very early when we set off on our first adventure.
The constant very light wind swirled tiny ice crystals in the air that sparkled and twinkled as if the very stars in the sky had come down to play.
The lights on the buildings and trees joined in the fun and really did make the place look and feel magical.
The things to shoot this morning were the guys having fun in the snow doing a bit of tobogganing, which is posh for sledging, having a reindeer sleigh ride, driving snowmobiles, being pulled on a sled by huskies and just generally cavorting in the snow.
There were also a few little pieces to camera to shoot.
In normal conditions none of this would be in the least bit difficult to do but, in the cold conditions it takes at least twice as long to get things done. On of the main reasons is that just to get to the controls of the camera meant taking off one layer of thick gloves and inserting my hands now with thin liner gloves through elasticated sleeves in the thermal camera bag.
Attaching microphones and headphones involves opening and closing a series of zips whilst all the time not having them open long enough for the sub zero temperature get inside to do its energy sapping worst to the camera and more importantly the battery.
Out at the location where the things were going to happen the aura of magical mystery continued. The paths were lit with storm proof candles. There were welcoming log fires at strategic points and there was plenty of warm berry juice to make sure we did not get too cold.
Even although I could not work as fast as normal I still had to be as quick as possible with what we were doing because we were being slotted in with people who had paid a fair bit of cash for what would be a once in a lifetime experience for most of them.
It would not have been fair of us to in anyway inhibit other peoples expensive enjoyment by holding things up whilst we faffed around.
We were lucky that Rod on of Monarch’s bosses was running the show here and had a huge amount of experience in knowing what we would probably want and the most efficient way of getting it done.
He knew the best places to get the best angles on the activities and I did not need to explain about tracking shots from snowmobiles. There was one laid on all ready for me to sit backwards on.
The guys had a great time and I got all the shots I needed without any angst or stress.
The only stress that I had was having to ask Jo if anything had been found on the plane.
I had lost my phone.
I was remembering her knowing nod back at Gatwick when she said that she would make a call.
Thankfully it had been found and would be waiting for me at Gatwick on the return.
Sarah had also managed to leave a little souvenir onboard and like me she’d get it back when we got home.
Nothing like blowing your professionalism on day one!
There was only a few short hours of what passed for daylight.
The sky was an unceasing blanket snow filled grey. I was having to work the camera pretty hard. It was at full stretch from an exposure point of view all the time.
The shoot I needed to do in the evening pushed it a bit beyond its limits.
Not far from the floodlit ski slopes we were going to do some filming of the family doing a bit of carol singing.
Along with the families that were on our flight they were round a bit of a Finish camp fire.
I used that to light not only the communal singing but another track from the album, “In the Deep Midwinter”.
I am sure that these shots of flickering firelight dancing over smiling faces send engineers mad because on their scopes it all looks wrong. There is not a lot of video level there and there’s probably a bit of picture noise for them to jump up and down about.
However, I resisted the very slight temptation to fire up the only other light I had, the camera toplight. I wanted to convey the atmosphere and intimacy that only comes from real flames.
Putting the light on would give the techies their volts but kill the mood and more than likely piss people off.
The Beardsmiths Singing Round the Fire.
After that we decamped to the much brighter slopes to get some shots of the guys doing a bit of sledging by floodlight.
The Family with their Sledges.
It was then time for bed. We had an earlyish start in the morning.
Well at least some of us went to get much needed beauty sleep.
Others decided that a night club would be the order of the night.
I don’t think that they bargained for the genuine Lap Club experience.
The bouncers on the door were asking for ID.
Our boys had driving licenses and passports.
The locals had their pension books.
Our boys and girls were on the beer and wine.
The locals were on the Sanatogen and Sherry.
Our clubbers were ready for a bit of body popping to gangsta rappin’.
The locals managed a bit of sashaying and waltzing to the sound of Euro cheese.
Of course that did not stop the visiting team playing on 'til after extra time.
Saturday 5th December
Today was the big day.
We were going to see if we could get an audience with the great man himself, Father Christmas.
But, before that in the darkness before dawn there would be the Arctic Circle Ceremony.
We had been well warned that the location up in the hills for this Lap ritual would be a bit windy which would add a wind chill factor to the extra drop in temperature at height.
Sarah and I were ready with the extra layers that Rob and his team recommended.
The guys were getting into the rock’n’roll spirit by needing to be woken up as the bus was about to leave.
We managed to get up to the icy mountain top location that would not have looked out of place in a James Bond movie. The buses that got to the bottom of the road soon after us had to wait for the best part of an hour before they could get up the slippery slope.
The wind had been so strong that the recently spread grit had been blown off.
The local Lap in traditional dress and banging a reindeer skin drum danced around small flaming vertical logs chanting. It was like a scene from a bad cowboy and indian movie only with more clothes and thick snow rather than dusty plains.
He got all the folk, kids and adults to crawl towards him on all fours making grunting reindeerlike noises. He then anointed them with charcoal.
When the people stood up they looked like they had just escaped from a mad priest on Ash Wednesday.
The whole thing was so bizarre that I felt I was in on some Candid Camera joke.
Back down the mountain and in the heat of the hotel Sarah and I did a series of very short interviews with the band asking about their highlights so far and how they had enjoyed making their album.
Why does a quiet peaceful location suddenly turn into a cross between a training camp for bad jugglers, a venue for the “Who Can Talk the Loudest Championships and somewhere that produces noises so strange that even the guys from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop would be amazed when a camera is turned on?
As a result of this transformation the interviews took a bit longer that they should whilst we either waited for weird sounds to disappear or ask folk to stop doing things in a peculiarly noisy way.
The very few hours of light that had passed for daylight was gently fading from dark grey to total blackness when out of the trees there were twinkling lights outlining pretty wooden buildings.
The kids on the bus were getting even more excited than they had been since our arrival.
Screams of “Elf Alert!”, came from all over the bus.
The agitated youngsters piled out of the bus hardly able to contain their joy and anticipation as a group of elves had come to the bus to welcome us to Santa’s village.
Santa was no where to be seen.
Our job, along with all the others was to try and see if we could find him.
We needed to find him or the trip would not have been worth it.
He needed to hear the Beardsmith family sing.
We were split into groups and lead on ito the village, hopefully to find Santa. There were no guarantees.
Snowy Zoe our enthusiastic Geordie guide took us around Santa’s workshop, his post office, his bedroom and the elves bedroom.
My main focus was on the Gil the youngest member of the family as I filmed the guys on the hunt for the elusive man.
All the groups had looked in all the locations. We had asked all the elves if they had seen Santa.
They all had but not for a few hours.
There was no time left we had to get back to the bus.
Gil was still clutching the Beardsmith Christmas album that he was going to give to Santa.
The disappointment was palpable. Children had long faces. Parent’s had long faces and we could see, mainly the dads counting how much it had cost to get the family here not to see Santa.
Rod and I gently and slowly moved away from the crowd that was starting to get restless.
Rob with a huge grin on his face nudged me and nodded in the direction of the dark woods and said, “Don’t get trampled in the rush.”
Out of the trees I could see a lantern slowly move. It was lighting a huge white beard.
I rolled the camera and got ready to put the light on.
I did not have to wait for long until there came a jubilant scream from dozens of tiny voices and the noise of stampeding kids thundering towards the large red caped old man.
I banged the light on and got some fantastic shots of little faces enthralled by the sight of the man himself.
It was a terrific experience to witness all the kids breathless words tumbling out as they told him where they had been looking for him and that they had even been in his bedroom.
When the excitement had died down we had our own audience with Father Christmas.
Gil gave him the gift and the family sang their song.
Our audience was only going to last a very short time.
We were in the biggest of the rooms in the village, the post office.
Although beautiful, it was not ideal for filming without a bit of lighting. I would have loved to have spent an hour or so lighting it.
That was not going to happen so I had to use the camera top light for my illumination and once again work the camera hard.
I bounced the light off the ceiling to give a bit of glow to the faces without killing the practical lights that were creating a nice cosy mood in the room.
I shot three passes of the family singing to a backing track as Santa watched and visibly enjoyed the music. I got a lovely shot that should please the record company. He was tapping away to the song with the Beardsmith album cover.
Once we had done that and a few promos and pieces to camera the job was done.
All that was left to do was enjoy the gala dinner with Santa as guest of honour and perhaps try the evening entertainment in town.
Once again the majority of the revelers were well over 21. However we did manage to find a place where we stayed until kicking out time.
Needless to say the flight back to the UK was less boisterous than on the way out.
Although I had a bit of excitement on the approach to Edinburgh.
The pilot was having a bit of bother with the very blustery wind conditions. So much so that just before the plane touched the runway we went bouncing back up into the lumpy air.
As we flew the go around and made a fine landing there was total silence.