Brazil 2012 Fieldwork Diary Entry 9: Watch Where You Walk

Screen grab from a video clip showing team members seeking shelter during a sudden downpour. (from left to right, Dr. Juan-Carlos Cisneros, Dr. Roger Smith, Dr. Martha Richter, and Dr. Jörg Fröbisch). Image by Jeff Johnson.

Today we have a guest entry by Jeff Johnson, the videographer who is accompanying us in the field.

brazil fieldwork 2012 from Jeff Johnson on Vimeo.

Documentary filmmaking and paleontology are a lot alike. Its all about being in the right place, at the right time, with the right kind of eye. We are eight days into this expedition and I’m learning a lot. Not just about paleontology, geology, and biology but also about the people who do this work and what it takes to be successful at it. As a documentarian, it's always hard to know what you’re getting yourself into until you’re in the thick of it. Will your subjects be willing participants? Will the visuals translate into a compelling story? And in this particular instance, what kind of creatures will I shake out of my boots in the morning? But my biggest concern at the start of this project was how to dissect the scientist’s process so that an audience with little or no concept of scientific method could learn and appreciate the work. Every day here the team makes discoveries. Some important, others not as much and I have already accumulated hours and hours of footage (a preemptive apology to my editor). Much of it consists of team members walking or staring intently at the ground (it must have been a paleontologist who coined the phrase “looking for a needle in a haystack”). However, in between the somewhat mundane reality of this sort of fieldwork are some of the most beautiful moments I think I have ever captured. And I’m not talking about the fossils or even some of the breathtaking landscapes that northeastern Brazil has to offer. No, the most valuable footage I have collected thus far are of the team members themselves. Enraptured and passionate, they are beaming with enthusiasm for what they do, not necessarily about their own specific field of work but more so with all the possibilities that come with new discovery. Their curiosity for our world knows no bounds and it’s something I profoundly admire. When this trip is over and the final edit is complete, the story will surely be one of a paleontological expedition, but also one that will hopefully inspire us all to reflect on how we perceive this world.

Dr. Claudia Marsicano walks down the road between Pastos Bons and Nova Iorque, on the way to a new fossil locality. Photo by Jeff Johnson.