NEAL CONAN, host:
When filmmaker Greg MacGillivray set out to film the Louisiana Bayou country in the summer of 2005, he planned to make an IMAX film that championed the cause of saving the Louisiana Wetlands, an area two to three times the size of the Everglades.
Greg argued that if these wetlands continued to erode, the results could be catastrophic if a hurricane ever hit. Then with much of the filming complete in August of 2005, his plans changed.
(Soundbite of film, "Hurricane on the Bayou")
Unidentified Woman #1: Let's take a look now at where Hurricane Katrina is at this very moment.
Unidentified Man #1: Here it is two days ago but getting stronger.
Unidentified Woman #2: The storm is huge.
Unidentified Man #2: This is definitely a category five hurricane.
Unidentified Man #3: And it's heading right towards New Orleans.
CONAN: The crew took an extra six months what became the final project, now titled "Hurricane on the Bayou."
Joining us now is the film's director Greg MacGillivray. And he's in our studies at NPR West in Culver City, California. Nice to have you on the program today.
Mr. GREG MACGILLIVRAY (Director, "Hurricane on the Bayou"): Well, thank you, Neal. It's a very big pleasure.
CONAN: And I wanted to ask you a little bit about the logistics involved with this. Tell us a little bit about filming particularly an IMAX film, where you're using this large format camera and special film magazines that gives you obviously the ability to put out huge, amazing, beautiful pictures, but also makes you - gives you some restrictions, too.
Mr. MACGILLIVRAY: Well, I think the biggest obstacle is the fact that the camera is so large. You know, you're shooting film that's 70 millimeter film going through the film gate horizontally.
Each frame in an IMAX theater image is 10 times the size of a 35 millimeter normal motion picture frame. And so the film is big. The camera is big. The lenses are giant. The tripods and the dollies and the helicopters and everything that you use to move the camera have to be that much beefier and big in order to make really smooth shots.
And so it's cumbersome. But still, it's a lot of fun because you're ending up getting a result that's almost lifelike.
CONAN: Yet you - in order to shoot this kind of footage, you have to plan your shot - each individual shot I would think - exceptionally carefully. And then all of a sudden, when you're trying to improvise in the middle of a hurricane, it's not so easy.
Mr. MACGILLIVRAY: Yeah. Here we are shooting a documentary, all life, true life adventures, and doing it with an IMAX camera makes it even doubly difficult. You know, you try to plan - as you mentioned - try to plan things out and do a ton of research.
We usually spend about a year doing our research to try to determine exactly who to shoot and how to do it. And then once you get into the field, though, you have to wing it.
And of course winging it with Katrina on the way was winging it in a big way.
CONAN: Your audience for an IMAX film obviously is focused around family groups. These films are generally shown in places like natural history museums and the like of that.
And how does that affect the way you produce and write the film?
Mr. MACGILLIVRAY: Quite a bit. You know, besides being G-rated and completely factual from beginning to end, you want to give the audience an experience of being there, because that's really what they come to these gigantic screen theaters to feel.
And so you write a film. The films are generally only 40 minutes long. So you write a film that has a very well rounded story, perhaps follows four characters, as we did in "Hurricane on the Bayou," four musicians, and try to weave an engaging story involving people but also involving experiences that those people go through so that the audience can feel what kind of life they lead.
And it's a different kind of filmmaking than I used to do when I worked on Hollywood features or doing films in 16 millimeter for television.
CONAN: We're talking with Greg MacGillivray. He's the director and producer of "Hurricane on the Bayou." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Tab Benoit is a big part of this film. He's a Grammy nominated musician and native to Louisiana and wetlands activist. Tab joins us from the studio at member station KCFR in Denver, Colorado.
And Tab, nice to have you on the program today.
Mr. TAB BENOIT (Musician, Wetlands Activist): Thank you all for having me.
CONAN: And tell us, you live - as one of the characters in this film says - right down in the wetlands yourself. Tell us a little bit about that and how you came to be involved in this film.
Mr. BENOIT: Yeah. I live - I live in a place just south-southwest of New Orleans called Homewell(ph), Louisiana. And a lot of beautiful wetlands and a lot of, you know, beautiful swamps.
And when they were looking for people for the movie I was lucky enough to get mentioned. I had started an organization in 2003 called Voices of Wetlands, to try to gather - you know, I felt like the music of the area and the culture of the area was an untapped resource for awareness, you know?
Mr. BENOIT: And you know, growing up where I live, I have watched the land disappear. The Gulf is literally 10 miles closer than it was when I was a kid. Now we've lost that much land. We lose an acre an hour.
And I spent a lot of time flying down there and seeing it from sea planes and from the boat and seeing it, you know, seeing it happen. And as, you know, you start putting all these things together, I realize that as bad as we were, New Orleans was in way worse shape.
So I was really trying to get the group of musicians from New Orleans, you know, Dr. John, Cyril Neville from Neville Brothers, and Big Chief Mark Boudreau, get all these guys together to give the people of New Orleans and the rest of the country to understand that we've got a major problem here. And we have to do something about it.
And you know, lucky enough, here comes Greg and these guys with these big old cameras. And they're talking about the same things we're talking about. And this was all, you know, before the hurricanes.
And we were - I think everything was about awareness up until the point where Katrina actually hit. You know, honestly, I thought after that storm, well, there goes the movie, you know, because it was an awareness tool, you know, that was done.
I mean Greg could tell you. I guess it was what about two months before Katrina hit that they were actually finished filming, huh, Greg?
Mr. MACGILLIVRAY: Oh yeah. It took at least that much. And good to hear your voice, Tab.
Mr. BENOIT: Hey. You too, man. I miss you all down here.
CONAN: He mentioned the music. And the music underlies a lot of this movie. And in fact you set up a sort of musical group, Greg MacGillivray, that you used to sort of tell the story that you want to tell just to avoid - including Tab - just to avoid this just being a lecture about the, you know, our need to reconstruct the wetlands.
Mr. MCGILLIVRAY: Well, music is such a big thing in New Orleans and in the Bayou area below New Orleans. And it's one of the distinctions that makes that area such a treasure of our nation and so worthy of saving.
Not only are we saving with the wetlands a wonderful habitat for animals and people, but New Orleans, of course, is a unique city. And really, we don't have enough unique cities in this country.
CONAN: I'm afraid we're going to have to leave it there. Greg MacGillivray as to his film, "Hurricane on the Bayou," will be appearing in IMAX theaters around the country. And Greg, nice to have you on the program today. Good luck with your film.
Mr. MACGILLIVRAY: Well, thanks. And great to hear Tab.
CONAN: And Tab Benoit, thank you for your time today, too. Appreciate it.
Mr. BENOIT: Thank you all for having us. And everybody go out and see this film. It's a great piece of work. And it'll tell you the real story from the ground up.
CONAN: Tab Benoit with us from KCFR in Denver. Greg MacGillivray with us from NPR West in Culver City, California. I'm Neal Conan, NPR News in Washington.