Watch RJ’s “The Story of P” on TERRA.
Hugo’s love for the outdoors and photography started with a manual Nikon camera he received as a gift in high school. Interested in helping restore and conserve the natural places he photographed, Hugo went on to receive a B.S. in Environmental Engineering from Lafayette College, a PhD in Environmental Engineering Sciences from University of Florida, and is currently an MFA student in Science and Natural History Filmmaking at Montana State University. His PhD work focused on phosphorus with a specific interest in developing combined chemical and biological treatment systems to combat the phosphorus problem in the Florida Everglades. After graduating with his PhD, he decided to pursue a career in filmmaking in the hopes of helping scientists communicate their research to the general public. When he is not making films, he enjoys exploring his new home in Bozeman, Montana through mountain biking, photography, and fly-fishing.
TERRA: What inspired you to make a film about Phosphate?
RS: I did my graduate work at University of Florida on phosphorus. My lab group did plenty of research about the potential phosphorus shortage we are facing in the next few years. After arriving in Bozeman, I always thought it would be interesting to make a film about phosphorus and why we need to start thinking about conserving it before we run out.
TERRA: Give us a behind-the-scenes snapshot of what life was like in the field.
RS: Most of my time was spent in pre-production trying to visualize how to tell the story of phosphorus to a wider audience. Then the challenge was how to make those ideas a reality once the camera started rolling. I ended up having to redo a lot of things a second or third time to get them right.
TERRA: What types of equipment did you use? Do you have a favorite piece?
RS: I used the Canon 5D Mark III for the whole film excluding the aerial footage. My favorite piece is actually the Magic Lantern software addition to the Canon 5D Mark III, allowing me to shoot full RAW footage. This gave me much better control over the final product. I should caution that this add-on is not officially supported by Canon, so filmmakers should do their homework before taking the plunge.
TERRA: Did you have any particularly rewarding or dangerous moments while making the film?
RS: Getting the aerial footage of the Bozeman wastewater plant was probably the most rewarding part of shooting this film. It was a great learning experience pre-visualizing the shots and then working with a skilled aerial operator, Casey Kanode, to make them happen. I thought they were crucial to the film, and it was awesome to see them come to life after so much planning.
TERRA: What are the 3 things you’d never go into the field without and why?
RS: First, a solid tripod. Cameras continue to get better and better. Even budget models produce acceptable frames, but you’re not going to get the most out of your camera if you don’t have a steady tripod and smooth fluid head to go with it. Second, an assortment of lenses. After I capture my initial idea for the shot, I’ll often switch lenses and look for a new angle on my subject or scene. Finally, plenty of batteries. I often end up shooting longer and further away from electrical power than I expected. Having more than one spare battery has saved me on numerous occasions
TERRA: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
RS: The need for compelling stories about science. I did a Ph.D. at the University of Florida and during that time I realized that most scientific research around the country is not being shared with the public. Scientists tend to publish their work in scientific journals, which most people never read. I wanted to help scientists share their work with a broader audience.
TERRA: What would be your dream project?
RS: My dream project would be to work on a documentary about the current state of the Everglades restoration project. At $10.5 billion dollars and 35 years, the project is one of the most ambitious restoration projects the U.S. has ever undertaken. I would love to try to tell the complex story of restoring the so-called “River of Grass”. It would be a daunting project to say the least, but I think a well-executed film could really highlight the current issues and help bring all the stakeholders together.
TERRA: What’s your favorite aspect of filmmaking?
RS: Being behind the camera. I started as a photographer first, so I love being out in the field trying to make dynamic, interesting shots a reality. It is always fun to push the boundaries of what you think is possible, both from yourself and your equipment.
TERRA: Do you have a favorite project you’ve worked on and why?
RS: I don’t think I have a favorite production because all of them have been great learning experiences. Plus, anytime I am shooting with a camera, I am having fun. All my projects so far have taught me one or two important lessons.
TERRA: Anything else you’d like to add?
RS: Try new angles! I think sometimes filmmakers get stuck shooting from one perspective. Oftentimes they don’t work, but it is fun to experiment. Not everything works, but when you get it right, it can be very rewarding.