A New Respect for Heights


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by Molly Tait
Associate Producer

If you’ve ever thought that working on a television series would be glamorous, first you should intern at Nat Geo. They will put you to work. Second, it’s usually quite the opposite.

As an Associate Producer, my job is being a mobile secretary, treasurer, and assistant all in one. There are budgets to be made, schedules, emails, legal documents, and travel arrangements. Really, it’s enough paperwork to drown in.

Part of my job on this show is to send our insurance agents a formal statement listing every dangerous stunt Riley and our cameraman will be performing on a given shoot. On this show it went a little bit like this…

Locations:

-Top of a 100 story building
-Cliff overhanging Niagara
-Exposed wind turbine blade

Stunts:

-Working with explosives while hanging off a cliff
-Filming from a piece of steel 1 foot wide 900 feet in the air
-Repairing a wind turbine blade in high winds with toxic materials

    Safety Officer: TBD

    We’ve become pretty accustomed to crazy stunts on this show, but this episode really raised the bar! The first big stunt took place about 100 stories up and involved changing out two shock absorbers on a ride known as the  X-Scream. We all woke up at 2:45 in the morning and started shooting in a casino at 3:00am. After a little coffee and slot machines, we took the elevator to the top.

    Our cameraman, Eric Cochran has been in the business for years, and has been on our show since the beginning. So far he has come within inches of half a million volts while hanging on the outside of a helicopter and has scampered up a 2000-foot tower. He’s done this with no complaints, all with a 30-pound camera strapped to him, and while matching Riley’s every move. He’s a tough guy, and has proved himself a nonchalant daredevil time and time again.

    Filming the repair on the X-Scream, however, was a stunt I could barely watch. While basically free-standing on a one-foot wide track, Eric captured the scene where Riley is in the bucket on the end of the X-Scream. He was attached by a safety line to a small bracket running along the track that he had to pull along with him like a dog while he “walked the plank”. He shot from that plank with a thirty-pound camera for about 3 hours! I really had a hard time watching since just one misstep would have sent him over the edge. Although he was harnessed in, it wouldn’t have been pretty!

    The last segment of the episode was shot at Niagara Falls following the CAN team. The objective here was to show the CAN team clearing boulders with explosives and crowbars while repelling down a cliff. I was shooting b-camera down below on the trail, which they had been closed off for safety. It was the perfect place for me to be shooting — at least from the perspective of getting a good shot! It was a lot of waiting since you never really knew when a car-sized boulder is going to break free and in which direction it’s going to fall! The scariest part was the guessing game of where to set up. I wanted to get as close as possible, but have enough time and space to get out of the way! The crew from up top would yell down to me if they thought I was in the line of fire. This was only slightly comforting. I took a huge sigh of relief after the boulders came within 50 feet and the shot was a success. I’m glad it worked out because it certainly wasn’t the way I wanted to go.

    The height of the danger really hit home when one of the CAN guys ended up, quite literally, caught in between a rock and a hard place. Just like they warned us, you never knew when the boulders were going to come loose, so you had to be on your toes. They had been working on this one for hours and one of the guys was still dangling in front of a boulder when it decided to go. His legs were taken out from under him as the boulder took flight below him. He was ok, but he was left with a face full of dirt and a bloody leg.

    I certainly have new respect for heights and what rope access crews accomplish behind the scenes to keep us all happy! Ignorance is bliss!

    World’s Toughest Fixes: “Extreme Heights” premieres Thursday May 27 at 9P et/pt.