Field Notes – Kevin Collins

Watch “InSex” on TERRA
and check out Kevin’s website at Kevin Collins Film.

Kevin's Biography:

Kevin's Biography:

Kevin Collins is a science and wildlife filmmaker and photographer from Newport News,Virginia. In 2009, he graduated from the University of Virginia with a B.A. in biology and a minor in media studies. In 2015, he graduated from Montana State University, Bozeman with an MFA in Science & Natural History Filmmaking. Forever fascinated with the various wavelengths of the EM spectrum, Kevin has experimented with thermography, radiography, and UV photography. His primary passion is insect macro photography, an interest fueled by the extraordinary biodiversity of arthropods.

TERRA: What inspired you to make a film about bioluminescence and firefly communication?

TERRA: What inspired you to make a film about bioluminescence and firefly communication?

KC: In 2009, I took an animal behavior course at the University of Virginia. The professor had everyone watch a few episodes from the 1990 BBC series The Trials of Life. In Episode 10, "Talking to Strangers," David Attenborough demonstrates how to attract male fireflies using a penlight. A few weeks after watching this episode, I replicated his technique in my backyard in Virginia, and much to my delight, it actually worked! Half a dozen fireflies swarmed around me and landed directly on my hand. It was a wonderful experience, and from that moment, I was determined to make a film about fireflies.

TERRA: Give us a behind-the-scenes snapshot of what life was like in the field amongst the fireflies.

TERRA: Give us a behind-the-scenes snapshot of what life was like in the field amongst the fireflies.

KC: Around 10PM, my first night filming at the Blandy Experimental Farm in northern Virginia, I'm all alone, looking out at a field. Hundreds of twinkling fireflies, more than I've ever seen in my life, are putting on a spectacular show. I'm thinking to myself, "This is why I'm here." In the midst of this special moment, I hear a strange whoosh coming from the east, which I quickly realize is an incoming storm. Within seconds, rain starts falling and I'm running with my camera toward the shelter of my car, unleashing a string of expletives along the way. Totally worth it though...

TERRA: What surprised you the most about working with the insects?

TERRA: What surprised you the most about working with the insects?

KC: One behavior I filmed was the predation of male Photinus fireflies by female Photuris fireflies. I feared this behavior would be difficult to capture, but it ended up being pretty straightforward. I placed some Photinus males in a jar with a single Photuris female, and before long, the female began devouring one of the unlucky fellows. She was so engrossed with her meal that I was able to dump her out of the jar - still clutching the male - onto a tiny "film set" I'd constructed on my bathroom countertop. I do a lot of insect photography in my bathroom since it's a small space with few places for the insects to fly and hide.

TERRA: What types of equipment did you use? Do you have a favorite piece?

TERRA: What types of equipment did you use? Do you have a favorite piece?

KC: I shot most of the footage in RAW using a Sony FS700 attached to an Odyssey 7Q recorder. Owing to its good performance in low light, my lens of choice was a Nikon 50mm f/1.4 mounted on a Metabones Speed Booster. I coupled the lens with various extension tubes to achieve macro focus. For lighting, I used a Zylight F8 LED fresnel, and occasionally, the LED on my iPhone. Other fun items included breakaway bottles, fake blood, and glow stick liquid. My favorite piece of equipment was my aerial image device, a collection of lenses that allowed me to optically composite insects in front of the moon in real time. One of InSex's opening visuals features a caterpillar crawling on a stick in front of the moon. Although the caterpillar appears gargantuan in the shot, it was only 4mm long.

TERRA: Did you have any particularly challenging moments while making this film?

TERRA: Did you have any particularly challenging moments while making this film?

KC: One scene required that a fake wine bottle be smashed over a man's head. This ended up being far more difficult than I'd anticipated. First, at around $20 each, the fake bottles, known as breakaways, were insanely expensive. Second, the bottles never behaved as expected. I set one bottle down gently on a countertop and it shattered to pieces. Then while filming, I had my female talent (Charis) forcefully strike my male talent (Steve) over the head with another bottle, and THUD - the damned thing didn't break! On the bright side, we were left with a funny shot for the blooper reel.

TERRA: What are the 3 things you’d never go into the field without and why?

TERRA: What are the 3 things you’d never go into the field without and why?

KC: First, my 50mm prime lens. It's compact, fast, and versatile. Second, a set of extension tubes. They can turn all my lenses into macro lenses. Third, my old Manfrotto 718SHB tripod. It's not designed for video cameras, isn't super stable, and it's got a cracked leg clamp that I had to fix with surgical wire. But it fits in a backpack, sets up quickly, and lets me stick my camera in tight places.

TERRA: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

TERRA: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

KC: My interest in filmmaking started in high school, when I played around with camcorders for class projects. I quickly realized that filmmaking is one of those precious things where I can do work without feeling so much like I'm doing work. Hence I gravitated toward it.

TERRA: What would be your dream project?

TERRA: What would be your dream project?

KC: To work on a high end insect documentary with a veteran macro filmmaker - someone I could learn lots of useful tricks from. For instance, techniques to boost the odds of capturing certain insect behaviors on camera.

TERRA: What’s your favorite aspect of filmmaking?

TERRA: What’s your favorite aspect of filmmaking?

KC: Visiting photogenic locations with fascinating creatures.

TERRA: Do you have a favorite project you’ve worked on and why?

TERRA: Do you have a favorite project you’ve worked on and why?

KC: In 2013, I did some macro work for Secrets of the Hive, which debuted on Smithsonian Channel back in September 2015. I got to film several species of bees, including bumblebees, squash bees, and leafcutter bees. At one point, I was given the task of filming a bumblebee colony inside a specially constructed box in my backyard. The biggest challenge was transferring the bees - all 75 of them - into the box. After sedating them with CO2 from my dad's kegerator, I had just 2 minutes to move them, one by one, before they woke up.

TERRA: Anything else you’d like to add?

TERRA: Anything else you’d like to add?

KC: I'm drawn to macro filmmaking because it alters perception. Viewed on even the tiniest screens, insects become much, much larger than they are in real life. Familiar becomes alien. Minuscule becomes monumental.